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Up the Gatineau! Selected Articles

The Hetherington Farm

Volume 19, page 31

Michael Reford

The farm was the home of the Hetherington family from the time when the land was cleared by Joseph Hetherington in 1823 until his great grandson, George Hetherington left the place in 1970. Family tradition is that Joseph came from Carlisle, Cumberland in England, and that when he was seventeen years old, during the war of 1812, he was captured by the Americans. Sent with another lad to fetch water for the camp, they found a boat on the river bank and escaped to Canada. The Lower Canada Land Grants show that Joseph was given a 200 acre grant, Lot 19 Range 6 of the Township of Hull in 1827. This was the result of a petition for land made by Philemon Wright on behalf of some fifty settlers. The petition stated that Joseph came to Canada in 1816 from the United States. Curiously it gives his name as Harrington instead of Hetherington.

Joseph Hetherington married Charlotte Clements, and their first child Joseph was born in 1821, in all they had six sons and one daughter.1 As the family grew up, evidently the older sons struck out on their own. Joseph, the oldest son, married Lucy Benedict, granddaughter of Samuel Benedict who had come up from New York State in 1801 and taken up 600 acres of land on the Mountain Road. They were living at the northwest end of Meech Lake in 1851, as recorded in the census, but later moved to a farm in Eardley. Descendants still live on the farm in lot 6A Range 7, beside the Mountain Road. This Joseph Hetherington used to work in lumber camps during the winter. Family tradition is that he did not come home in the spring of 1869. Instead, someone brought back his belongings from the camp, reporting his death but giving no explanation. The next son John also looked north, for he married Harriet, the daughter of the Reverend Asa Meech, who lived at the east end of Meech Lake. John probably had a farm on Harrington Lake, and living members of the Hetherington family recall being taken to see the site on the clearing at the south end of the lake, near the Prime Minister's house. The surveyor Driscoll in 1850 recorded the name Harrington Lake, repeating the error in the 1827 land grant. This could easily result from the local pronunciation of the name — Hernton. But John did not stay at the lake, and in 1890 was living in Salem, Oregon. The next son Isaac farmed in Eardley, while his brother Wesley moved to the northwest part of Hull Township. It was the youngest son, Alvy, who stayed at home and inherited the family farm when his father died in 1873.

Hetherington farm
Hetherington farm houses: circa 1908

It must have been very difficult to make a living from the farm in the early years, when it was entirely covered with forest, the north end on the hard rock of the Gatineau Hills, the south end a cedar swamp, and a narrow strip in the middle being the only part with good soil and drainage. Piles of stones around level spots on the mountain still mark the clearings made to grow the first crops of potatoes. In 1870 a great fire swept across the farm from the west. In two hours it burned a strip two miles wide and four miles long, going clear across the mountain and beyond Ironsides. Charred stumps of large trees burned in this fire could still be found in the swampy bush a hundred years later. The Hetheringtons lost all their buildings and much else besides. But they carried on and built a new house of square cut logs.

Joseph Hetherington died in 1873. His will, written in 1864, has survived. He left the farm and all his property to his youngest son Alvy, provided that he would furnish his mother "with befitting comfortable boarding, lodging and clothing". Joseph also bequeathed to each of his children the sum of two dollars. There was an extra provision for his daughter Mary to have a home and place for herself and her daughter Mary Clementine Kenny with her brother Alvy, so long as she lived apart from her husband John Kenny. Since Mary Hetherington and John Kenny had four more children, evidently their separation was only temporary. Joseph's wife, Charlotte Clements, died six years after him in 1879. Her will, also written in 1864, has survived. The terms were very similar to her husband's, except that Mary was also to receive a cow.

Alvy Hetherington died in 1890, unmarried, and without leaving a will. This meant that his estate had to be divided into five shares. Three brothers were still living: John in Salem, Oregon; Isaac in Eardley; and Wesley in Hull Township. The other shares belonged to Joseph's family in Eardley and to Mary's family in Aylmer and Eardley. Wesley bought the farm, and complicated legal documents record the sale. The farm was valued at $1882 for this sale. The total area can be calculated as about 107 acres, so part of the original grant must have been sold — the northwest corner on the mountain, and the south end, beyond the swamp. A fascinating document from this period is a complete inventory of the goods and chattels of the late Alva (Alvy) Hetherington made by his brothers, Isaac and Wesley, starting with a grey mare aged 11 years and continuing through a half dozen knives and forks to end with three cords of wood.

In 1903, Wesley donated the farm to his only son Alva, who already had a family of four children. It was about this time that a large new brick house was built, which still stands today. The Hetheringtons were famed as builders and the classic barn which they built is entirely of post and beam construction, held together by wooden pegs, without a single nail in its basic structure. Wesley's wife, Mary Ann Moss, was the daughter of Joseph Moss, schoolmaster at the Tabernacle, just down the Mountain Road. In 1898 Wesley subscribed to the erection of the Mountain View Methodist Church at Simmons. Wesley died in 1915.

Around the turn of the century, the mineral resources of the Gatineau hills were being explored and many test pits were dug. The Hetheringtons leased out their mineral rights and mica and apatite were taken out of two large pits on their part of the mountain. Rough roads were made up the mountain to haul the rocks out.

A thirty acre piece was added to the south end of the farm in 1921, purchased from Arthur Cook, and giving access to the Cook Road. Then in 1923 an electric power line was built across the farm by the Ottawa and Hull Power and Manufacturing Company. Alva and his son George were paid to erect the poles. In 1928 a bigger hydro line with steel towers was built. A more important change for the farm was the excavation of Heyworth Creek in I927. The work was done for the municipality of South Hull, with a steam shovel. The Hetheringtons would not allow this machine on their land, because it made such a mess. A standoff was finally settled when the contractor signed an agreement for Alva Hetherington to do the work himself for the sum of fifty dollars. This was done, using a horse drawn scoop, which left smooth banks instead of the high berms left by the steam shovel. The drainage must have made an enormous difference to the state of the old cedar swamps. Since the water had somewhere to go, Alva and George put in underground drains through the field, digging trenches through the black peat muck, and then cutting a groove into the clay. Sections of halved and hollowed out cedar logs were laid on top, and the trenches filled in. George wore out a large number of spades doing this work.

As time went by, Alva Hetherington's four daughters married and left home. His oldest son, also named Alva, went off to Ontario, a loss to the community where he was known for his fiddle playing. Alva senior and his younger son George worked the farm. Alva also worked as a boat builder, and he and George were in demand for special skills such as building chimneys. Alva died in 1946, having donated the farm to George. After his mother died in 1953, George lived on the farm alone.

George Hetherington
George Hetherington in 1970, beside the new four-log fence which he had just built along the Mountain Road

George Hetherington may have lived alone, but he had many visitors, for he was one of the most remarkable men in the region, always good humoured, and full of ingenuity. He was a self-taught blacksmith and welder, and with his machinists lathe in the kitchen he could repair almost anything. Neighbours were continually bringing things to be fixed, from watches to back hoes — work for which he would accept no payment. He was, however, willing to accept a gift of home baked pie. He owned three tractors but no car, his neighbours willingly buying his groceries in town for him. He did not like to leave the farm, but once a year he would go on a hunting trip with friends, bringing home deer for his venison stews. The tractors were always in perfect order, and adapted for his one-man operation of the farm. George's oldest tractor is now in the National Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa. He made a special rig for baling hay: the tractor would pull the baler, and behind that, the hay wagon; George could stand on the wagon to stack the bales, and he had arranged controls so that there was no one on the tractor seat. Some people were frightened to see the rig approaching, apparently with no driver. George devised his own machines for special jobs, for instance modifying his two-furrow plough to act as a ditch cleaner, and making a special jig to drill three inch holes at just the right converging angle for cap bunks in the four log cedar fences in which he delighted. To add to his cash income he used to make skis from the hickory trees growing on the farm, steaming and bending the tips on his own special jig.

Two of George Hetheringtons projects continue to be most important for the farm. One is the water system for the farm house. George noted a wet spot on the side of the mountain, and built a cement water tank to enclose it. Two pipes were buried to connect it to the house, one as an overflow. Neighbours helped to dig the ditch across the Mountain Road. The mountain spring flows to the house purely by the force of gravity. The other project also concerns the mountain. George did all his heating and cooking with wood. The necessary hardwood grows on the mountain, and not on the flat lands below. George decided to make a better road, with straight and even grades. He used dynamite to make rock cuts, and then built up the low spots. He must be the only man to have fitted a wheelbarrow with a handbrake. This road is still used for a truck to fetch wood.

For many years George Hetherington and his neighbours, Hans and Ema Hansen dreamed of living in the mountains of the Bulkley valley of British Columbia. The city was encroaching on the farm, and George was particularly upset by an incident when someone tried to set his house on fire. In 1969 he decide to sell the farm, and it was bought by its present owner, Michael Reford. George and Hans drove out to Smithers, B.C., found the place they wanted and made a deal to buy it. But tragically, before they could pack up and move west, the owner decided to back out of the deal. George spent one more winter on the farm, and watched with the greatest interest while the Refords‘ new house was built. More than that, he located the stones needed to build fireplaces and chimney, although they were buried under snow, and split them himself. Hans Hansen found a small farm near Maberly, Ontario and George lived with the Hansens until his death in 1985, aged 84 years. He was the last of the Hetheringtons to live on the farm which his great grandfather had begun in 1823. He was a man to admire.

  1. A genealogy of the Hetherington family has been deposited in the Historical Society of the Gatineau archives.

List of articles - Volume 19