Up the Gatineau! Article

This article was first published in Up the Gatineau! Volume 24.

The Fleming Family Enterprises of Chelsea

Anne Fleming

The Fleming family has been an active part of the Gatineau Valley arca since 1830 when Dominic, with his wife Bridget Mary Holmes and their family, arrived in Cantley, Quebec from Crossmolina Parish, County Mayo, Ircland. Three more brothers, John (Elizabeth Cavanagh), Mark (Margaret Holmes), and Thomas (Winifred — ) and their families eventually followed. This first generation all settled on the Cantley side of the Gatineau River, but later on some of them and their descendants ventured farther afield into Wakefield, Low and Masham townships and the Pontiac region of Quebec, and into parts of Ontario and the United States.

Dominic Fleming was a farmer and stonemason who built many fine homes in the Cantley area and helped lay the foundation in 1858 for St. Elizabeth's Roman Catholic Church there. He also worked on the stonework of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa when they were first erected in the 1860s. John moved later from farming in Cantley to become the first owner-operator of the Fairbanks Hotel in Quyon. Thomas also went into the hotel business, operating the Butler Hotel in Ottawa. Mark, my great-great grandfather, farmed in Chelsea and later owned land in Low and Wakefield Townships.

James, born in 1847, was the second child of Mark and Margaret, and the first of their children to be born in Canada. He was best known in the area as abutcher. James’ son, Reuben Patrick, my grandfather, served with the RCMP, the Canadian Army in World War I and the federal Department of Energy, Mines and Resources in Ottawa. Paddy, another grandson of Mark, though not Reuben’s brother, operated Fleming's Ferry Service at Kirk's Ferry for 25 years, from 1898 to 1923. Paddy had first operated the ferry for Thomas Kirk but later bought him out. Paddy’s brother Christopher later joined him operating the ferry service. Paddy also owned and conducted a livery stable, and ran a restaurant and dance hall where the Cascades Club is today. His obituary in the Otiawa Citizen described Paddy as “widely known among the summer residents of the Galineau, among whom he had won genuine popularity and by whom his passing will be felt as a distinet personal loss. Day or night in all kinds of weather Mr. Fleming was ever ready to turn out to carry passengers across the river and in many other ways proved himself of inestimable service to the community."1

My grandfather Reuben’s brother David was an agent for the Great West Life Insurance Company in the 1930s and '40s. He owned and lived in a cottage on Gauvreau Lake in Masham Township from May until November each year and resided in Ottawa for the other five months. David also dabbled in real estate and mining (Fleming Mines, Cantley) along with his cousin Alan, a lawyer with the firm of Fleming and Leduc in Aylmer.

Ed Fleming
Ed Fleming in the 1960s. Photo: Courtesy of Anne Fleming

The Flemings were independent individuals who were organized and timeconscious, served their communities and went quietly about their business, Jetting their accomplishments speak for themselves. Although actively involved in many community events, they participated without attracting attention to themselves. Local history records show, for example, that John Fleming was one of the first wardens of the St. Elizabeth’s (Cantley) Roman Catholic Church, and his son Martin was one of the first councillors of West Hull (now Chelsea). Some have left their mark in the world, others not. Nearly all members of the family have been liked by their peers and were well thought-of in their chosen fields of work. They tried to do their jobs well and be proud of the resulls.

The work and career fields they entered have been diverse. Some have been in the so-called higher professions including law, medicine and the clergy. Others have worked as engineers, photographers and surveyors, but the majority have held mainstream jobs. Since arriving in Canada, Flemings have been bookkeepers, butchers, clerks, domestics, house builders, innkeepers, law officials, military personnel, railway builders, stonemasons, teachers, and transportation workers. We have been stage coach drivers, ferry transport operators, boat and ship captains, train engineers, airplane pilots, truck and bus drivers. Nearly every member of the family, no matter what his or her line of work, has also held at least one second job at the same time. For instance, my great-grandfather James, son of Mark, was a farmer, cattle drover, butcher, miner and real estate agent. Some have been employed by others but many have owned and operated their own businesses as well. Today in 1998 there are three local Flemings operating their own enterprises in Chelsea.

Ed Fleming Cartage delivers sand, gravel, topsoil and stone with his trucks. Ed (Edward), the eldest son and second of the five children of Reuben and Mary O'Neill Fleming, has lived all his life in Chelsea. As very young children he and his brother Bill pretended that their wagons were trucks and they used them to make loads hauling “stuff’ from their home at one end of the village to their grandmother O'Neill's house at the other end. Later, Ed began to show interest in how trucks operated. When he was eleven or Lwelve years old he wrote a school composition on “The History of the Car.” The essay describes in a detailed manner the history of the automobile from its birth pains in the 1880s to that time, 1935. Ilc asked the question “What is the secret of the automobile?” and answered that it was “the internal combustion engine,” which he described in great detail.

Throughout his teenage years he continued to learn and work on engines and, along with his brother Bill, developed his skills as a mechanic. Ed began his paid working career on the assembly line at Connor Washing Machines on Lett Streel in Ottawa, earning 58 cents an hour. From there he moved as a collator operator to R. L. Crain Printers, also in Ottawa, on Spruce Street. Aftter two years he decided that he wanted to be outdoors and moving about more, and returned to mechanics and vehicles.

One of his first driving jobs was working for Pat Lacharity in Venosta. Because of the distance involved, he would board there during the week, and on Saturday afternoon he would haul a load of logs to the E. B. Eddy or Booth Lumber Mills piling yards on Laurier Street in Hull, then stay at his parents’ home in Chelsea until Sunday afternoon when he would return to Venosta. During this time he met and married my mother, Ruth Werrell from Wakefield. Their marriage certificate lists Ed's occupation as mechanic. When he left Mr. Lacharity and moved back to the Chelsea area, he began working for Charles Burnside Sand and Gravel in Chelsea, driving a truck and operating heavy equipment as needed. The pit that they used was just north of Chelsea, and can still be seen today beside the Boucanerie Chelsea. At that time the family lived across the road from the pit in a rented house. My mother recalls that every morning, six days a week, she and my father would haul me as a baby out of bed at 6:30 to carry me over and lay me on the seat of the truck while they hand-shovelled the first load of sand of the day onto the truck box for the seven o’clock deadline. Normally it took two men ten minutes to shovel on the necessary five yards but because of my screaming they managed it in just a little over five minutes. They were young and strong and I — well, let’s just say I've never been a morning person and still don't appreciate cold seats at any time, but especially first thing in the morning. When Burnside left the Chelsea area to open its pit on Moodie Drive just outside Ottawa, E. Bélanger and Sons took over the Chelsea pit. Ed had worked for Burnside for seven years, and continued with Bélanger for thirteen more, driving a truck and operating their loaders both at the pit in Chelsea and in another on the Hogan Road in Cantley during the spring, summer and fall. In winter he worked in their Hull garage repairing the vehicles. His wages at this time had grown to about $1.75 an hour. Still, he dreamed of owning his own business.

In 1958 he took the first steps toward his goal and bought his own dump truck, hired a driver and rented out the truck by the hour. The first rental was to Bélanger in the Chelsea pit, where he continued working al his regular job. After a trial period of about five years, he bought another truck, hired another driver and began delivering loads to customers in the area. When he was certain that his business could support his family, he quit working for Bélanger and began working full-time for himself. Thus, around 1965, began Ed Fleming Cartage.

Over the years he has delivered sand, gravel, topsoil and stone, and done related work like installing laneways and septic systems for many area residents. In the winter he added to the original business by snow-plowing laneways, and spreading sand and salt. His full-time small business over time created employment for several budding young truck drivers as well as for his own five sons. Ed did all of his own mechanical work on both the trucks and loaders.

When other truck operators in the area bought larger tandem trucks to carry greater loads, Ed chose to keep his small trucks. Having two smaller singleaxle trucks allowed him to get into many places on the numerous narrow cottage lots and roads in the area where tandem trucks could not go. He also bought his own gravel pit in. Wakefield, which allowed him to save costs and keep prices down on pit materials. He could deliver smaller loads for a lower fee, especially appreciated by gardeners and parents ordering sand for their children to play in. For a few years the little blue Fleming trucks could also be seen each spring helping out on the annual Chelsea municipal spring cleanup.

The business has gone full-circle over the years and today Ed works alone, driving his truck from May to November. After forty years in business, and approaching his mid-seventies in age, he still shows few signs of retiring, though he has managed to slow down a bit. Over the years Ed had become wellknown for his fair prices, his interest and aid to others and his knowledge of the area and its people. Five of his seven children live and work in the Chelsea area. His sons work mostly as truck and heavy equipment operators and one, David, as a mechanic. Eleven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren also live in the Chelsea area.

J. F. Fleming Signs is a Chelsca business operated by Joseph, brother to Edward, and the youngest of Reuben and Mary Fleming's children. Joe, as most know him, is a professional sign painter who paints lettering on vehicles and also does commercial and residential signs and banners. He also enhances and enlarges business logos, makes templates and creates illustrations free-hand.

Joe Fleming
Joe Fleming, 1998. Photo: Anne Fleming

At the age of twelve, while still in school, Joe was designing and painting signs on paper, cardboard and plywood for neighbours. While at St. Patrick’s Technical School in Ottawa, he began lettering vehicles for area businesses, working at night and on weekends. He also successfully completed a correspondence course as commercial artist. After finishing school, in 1954 he went to work for the federal government as a clerk with the Department of National Defence in Ottawa where he met his future wife, Anna Christie. By 1974, when DND was moving to their new building on Colonel By Drive in Ottawa, Joe had worked there for 20 years. He had used his nights and weekends to build up his business, and felt that he had enough customers and was ready to leave the government and sct up business for himself.

Joe never looked back. Next to his home on Route 105 in Chelsea village he built a garage high enough to accommodate transport trucks, and where he could work at his business. He learned to mix specialized paints for just the right shade, and used his sieady hand to produce custom design and art work. Every sign, banner and vehicle had to be done just right.

Over time, Joe has seen many changes in his business. Premixed paints have reduced much of the need for his knowledge of paint mixing, for example. Twenty years ago there was also a greater demand for hand-painting on vehicles than there is now, as quite a few companies now use decals. Although he can point to some disadvantages in durability of the stick-on letters, he finds that he is now doing less letlering on trucks. This has really only changed the balance of his work, however, so that he does more sign work instead. And he recently painted a tractor-trailer unit with a complete country scene mural. Until a few years ago plywood was used for most signs, but a very positive change has been the recent development of a new material with a plasticcoated surface that holds paint much better and reduces fading. Joe also likes this new material, Coroplast, because it is light and virtually indestructible, and best of all, no more splinters! In November of 1997 Joe received the “Business of the Year” award from the Municipality of Chelsea in recognition of his fine work. Joe's business is good and work is usually booked well in advance throughout the year.

Although well known for his business art work, one of Joc's hobbies is painting for himself. His themes are mostly scenery and landscapes. One of these works is a very realistic oil painting of Chelsea School, done while his daughters Mary Anne and Patricia were attending there. Another of his hobbies is riding his bicycle; his odometer Tecords that he cycled more than 5,000 km last year. Joe and Anna, who died in 1992, have three children, two girls and a boy, and four grandchildren.

Bernie Fleming Excavation and Landscaping Limited is a business enterprise of another generation of Flemings in Chelsea. Bernard, the third child of Edward and Ruth Fleming, grew up with trucks and loaders as part of his environment, and as a youngster often accompanied his father delivering loads of sand and gravel, While attending school at Philemon Wright High School in Hull, after school and on weekends, and for a short period of time following graduation, he worked with his father learning the trade. He drove trucks, operated loaders, learned mechanics and how to keep his equipment in good repair, helped install septic systems and make laneways, learned to estimate on contracts and all the other things a small one-owner business entailed. After working for his father, he moved on to other lines of work for a few years but was never really satisfied. He, too, had dreams of being his own boss and following in his father’s footsteps.

In 1986 he opened his own business, assisted by his wife Debbie, daughter of Gerald and Margery Armstrong of Chelsea. Debbie had gained office and accounting experience while working for area firms after graduation from Philemon Wright High School, and took on the office administration for their excavation and landscaping business. Bernie rents heavy equipment (loaders and backhoes) and drives himself or hires licensed operators to work with the leased machinery used for backfilling around building sites, grading driveways, installing septic systems and landscaping. To make a year-round business, they have added snow plowing, sanding and salting to his other services. After more than ten years, this looks like another Fleming business that will continue to expand and do well.

All of the Fleming enterprises have provided satisfaction and success to their owners, and have enabled members of the family (o remain in their own neighbourhoods and be active in their communities. Although no new Fleming enlerprises are in the planning stages, some are being thought about. And there are new generations of Flemings coming along, who have kept their ties with Chelsea and are looking for independent business opportunities.


  1. Ottawa Ciiizen, May 6, 1923.

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