Up the Gatineau! Selected Articles

The following article was first published in Up the Gatineau! Volume 21.

A Century of the Gatineau Fish and Game Club

by Archie Pennie and Carol Martin

The following article is excerpted from the recently completed history of The Gatineau Fish and Game Club, written and compiled by Norma and Stuart Geggie. Published by the Club in a limited edition, this 162-page, lavishly illustrated voLume is available through the Manager, Gatineau Fish and Game Club, R.R.1 , Gracefield, Quebec, JOX 1WO.

A Century of the Gatineau Fish and Game Club
Thirty-One and Pemichangan Lakes, showing Club house and Big Loge.

On March 5th, 1894, four Quebec businessmen met in Hull, Quebec and decided to form a hunting and fishing club on Pemichangan and Thirty-One Mile Lakes in northern Quebec. They were Alexander Maclaren of Buckingham, and Dr. W. F. Scott, Charles Leduc and J. M. McDougall of Hull. The original membership included four others to make a total of eight charter members: Albert Maclaren of Buckingham, S. P. Franchot of Niagara Falls, N.Y., and John Scott and Joseph Bourque of Hull. On June 27, 1894, a meeting of the stockholders was held and it was agreed that the Club should lease these two lakes from the Quebec Government for a period of ten years at a rate of $500 per annum. Incorporation of the Gatineau Fish and Game Club dates from November 16 of that year.

The lakes are situated east of the Gatineau River, approximately 120 kilometres north of Ottawa, and by 1894 standards, were still extremely remote. In fact, prior to 1825 they had only been visited by the nomadic native people. A fairly crude map of 1845, drawn by Anthony Swalwell, Public Land Surveyor, shows the farm of the late C.C. Wright on the east bank of the Gatineau, about three miles north of Bitobee Creek. As well, two chantiers or shanties are shown, also belonging to C.C. Wright, one at "the head of the Grand or 31-mile lake" in the Vicinity of the present Club house, the other possibly close lo Rat Lake.

F. Jerome Tone Jr. described his great-grandfather's introduction to Thirty-One Mile Lake:

...One winter evening in 1893, S.P. Franchot and Alexander Maclaren were seated before a warming fire at the Franchot home in Buckingham, Quebec. They were planning their camping trip for the coming summer. S.P. Franchot owned a potash business in Buckingham, and Alexander Maclaren ran extensive logging and lumber interests in the Gatineau Valley. When the summer arrived, buckboards were loaded with provisions, tents and canoes. These sportsmen traveled north by wagon along the east bank of the Lievre River from Buckingham to Notre Dame du Laus and eventually, after many portages, reached Lake Pemichangan and made camp at the site of the present Club house.

The other members of the newly formed club did not make the circuitous and challenging trip which their friends Alexander Maclaren and S.P. Franchot undertook. To enjoy their anticipated hunting and fishing, they followed the road which hugged the west bank of the Gatineau River north from Ottawa. The drive from Ottawa by horse-drawn vehicle could take days, with stop-overs at numerous villages. However, in 1894, the Ottawa and Gatineau Railway had completed a line as far as Wright, and two years later, to Gracefield.

The train took less than three hours to cover the distance from Ottawa to Gracefield, stopping at all eighteen stations en route. Even with this relatively convenient and comfortable conveyance over the longest stretch of the journey, there still remained four hours of travel over fourteen rough miles by horse and express. A ferry crossed the Gatineau River at the site of the present iron bridge at Gracefield. This was operated by Joshua Ellard, a merchant and owner of the Pickanock Inn - a most reliable contact for the Club. He contracted to have members met at Gracefield, ferried across the Gatineau River and transported to the Club. The fee for this service was $4.00 per trip going in the morning and returning the same night, and $4.50 per trip at night and returning the next morning, Ellard paying for the ferry in each case. The Club provided sleeping quarters for the driver if he had to stay overnight.

This rather exciting and uncomfortable trip remained the only way to go until bridges were built at Calumet and Gracefield in 1909. It was not until after World War I that motor transport was available from Gracefield.

Club Facilities

Enthusiasm for the newly established club is evident in the rapid sequence of events which unfolded during the monthly meetings in 1894.

A considerable area around the Ridge was purchased from Mr. I. Belanger for $50.00 and a construction program begun. This included boathouses on both main lakes, stables for horses and sleeping quarters for men. Some of these buildings are still in use today. An existing shanty was renovated as the Superintendent's residence and an icehouse was built.

A Century of the Gatineau Fish and Game Club
Club house, 1903. Photo: courtesy of Frank Sherwood.

The Alie brothers had established a saw mill at the north end of Pemichangan and with an increase in timber operations, several families settled in the area and provided operating help for the new club. Aldemar Alie was given the contract for construction of the Club house, meeting the agreed price of $2300.00. No time was lost in purchasing furniture, as well as boats and "other necessary articles that would be required for the use and convenience of members."

At this stage, and for many years to come, there was no running water in the Club house. Water basins, ewers, urns and pails were provided in the bedrooms, but toilet facilities consisted of an "eight-holer" outdoor building. Water for all purposes was drawn from the lake by a washing line device with a bucket at the end. Lighting at the outset was by oil lamps and candles; wood stoves and fireplace served for cooking and heating. In 1910 the old bucket brigade water system at the Club house was replaced by a brand new pump and for the first time, members had the great pleasure of running water and the long awaited toilet facilities that one associates with indoor plumbing.

Around 1895 Thomas Willson, of Chelsea, invented a process for producing calcium carbide in crystalline form. Recognizing the great commercial possibilities, he sold his U.S. patents to what was to become Union Carbide. This was the beginning of acetylene lighting. "Carbide" Willson and S.P. Franchot were acquainted. The Franchot and Tone families were connected with the carbide plants in Niagara Falls, and were instrumental in seeing an acetylene plant installed at the Club house in 1904. Thomas Willson was a member until his death in 1915. The acetylene plant, with replacements, was the source of light for the Club house until the early 1930s when Rodolphe Alie installed an electric generating plant at his mill and was able to supply the Club and cottages on a limited basis. The turbine driving the generator consumed a fair volume of water; however as a special concession to those with electric washing machines, Alie agreed to run it for a couple of hours each Monday morning, and the service was extended from about 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. in the summer. The cutting off of power at 10:00 p.m. caused many mishaps and inconveniences. Bridge games came to a halt at critical times, and the readers of "whodunits" had to wait until daylight to discover the killer! Hydro-Quebec moved in and took over the system, bringing it up to date some time in the mid-1950s.

By March of 1895, Club property was leased to members to erect buildings for their families. Initially, the charge was one dollar per year. Over the years, charges in creased for rental and supply of water. In the 1950s, the Club sold the land to cottagers, but water is still supplied for an annual charge.

From its inception, the Club also acted as mail carrier from Gracefield, and operated a post office. Mail was picked up in Gracefield once a week in winter and twice weekly in summer, the Government paying the Club $150 initially. This amount was increased to $350 per annum in 1903. The Club withdrew from this arrangement in 1917 after a disagreement over the rate paid for the service.

Club Organization

The Club house was a strong male bastion but in 1901 the question of providing accommodation for wives was first raised and the problems associated with a ladies' annex discussed. Corrective action followed Swiftly. In 1904 a cottage was purchased by the Club for the use of members and families; however when it was found to be very inconvenient to supply meals to this annex, the rules were finally bent to allow women to dine in a separate room in the Club house, while the rest of the building remained off limits to them. But exclusion from the Club house did not mean exclusion from the Club. Widows of Club members (Mrs. Ahearn was probably the first) more or less automatically inherited their husband's memberships. In 1947 Miss Ethel Pew was the first woman member elected in her own right, upon her purchase of two members' cottages.

In 1901 the Club President noted that...

The position of manager of the Club requires peculiar and special qualifications. He must necessarily be a married man, with a small, or no, family and a wife who has housekeeping capabilities. A thorough knowledge of country life is required, and a capacity to do somewhat heavy work. Sufficient intelligence is requisite to keep accounts, to render monthly statements, and to attend to the post office work. Above all he must be honest, temperate and especially qualified to see to the comfort of members.

The wives, and in some cases daughters and sons of the superintendents, were employed in various capacities. Annual salaries in 1905 were $480 for F.M. Fuller and his wife, $240 for the son, $100 for one daughter as cook, and $60 for another daughter as housemaid. The superintendent's salary gradually crept up, to $900 by 1924, and $1000 five years later.

From the inception of the Club, all fishing parties were transported to their favourite spots by boats rowed by guides. These guides were all drawn from the local area and many of them today are descendants of the originals: Blais, Kenney and others. Over time seventy-four men worked for the Club as guides. Their practical knowledge and competence was broad and deep and most of them still take a pride in their expertise: they were good teachers, good fishermen, good companions on the lake and in the bush.

Both lakes were used equally for fishing and picnicking, and most members who owned boats maintained at least one on both lakes. A luncheon place at that time was any bay or point that had some element of charm and consisted of a few shoreline rocks pulled together to make a cooking fireplace. In the early 1930s, there were relatively few boats with outboards and still fewer large boats with inboard engines. Fishermen piled into the Club launch, the guides and lunch baskets crowded into the engine room at the back and six to eight rowboats were towed behind. In the vicinity of the Big Loge, the launch would stop long enough to offload two fishermen, a guide, and a lunch basket. The launch would then proceed up the lake discharging fishing parties to be collected at the end of the day. The fishermen would lunch at a suitable place along the shore.

In the late 1930s, a transition began. More people brought boats to the lake and these had larger engines. These boats were either operated by cottagers themselves or by the guides retained for the summer. This development allowed the cottagers to come and go on the lake without having to make arrangements to get on the club launch and order a club picnic basket.

Hunting, Fishing and Conservation

A Century of the Gatineau Fish and Game Club
Fishing in 1934. Photo: courtesy of Frank Sherwood.
The lease which the Club was granted in 1894 was most generous. However, the Club's own limits on size, numbers of catch, and open seasons, were often more stringent than the official ones, if only for selfish reasons. The lease included the sole fishing rights in all of "Thirty-One" and Pemichangan. No-one could dip a line in either lake without permission of the Club. As well, hunting rights were included for an area bordering the two lakes to a radius of one mile. Renewal of leases took place at irregular intervals from three to ten or eleven years, but in the early life of the Club there was little hesitation on the part of the Province in issuing renewals. Occasionally, well-connected members visited Quebec City to do a little politicking. Various requirements were set to ensure reasonable care of the land and fish stocks; indeed, these rules were such as to have been responsible for much of the relatively undisturbed nature of the territory.

As early as 1938 there were rumblings about the generosity of the lease, and local politicians began to question the wisdom of having such a large tract of recreation land held by a private club, the majority of whose members were not Canadian. After the war, these complaints were more frequent and more vociferous and gradually the Club had to give way to the pressures. In 1965, the Province decided that the time had come for Quebeckers to enjoy the wide open spaces of their province witout restriction and the generous lease was canceled.

The earliest game books make interesting reading:

On June 27, 1895, S.P. Franchot with seven friends caught ninety-three bass with a total weight of 195 lbs. One month later John Maclaren's party took 124 bass weighing a total of 271 lbs., while a group of four shot 5 does and three bucks, twenty-five ruffed grouse and one duck. In July and August, 1902, J.A. Maclaren and H. Maclaren reported 121 fish weighing 400 lbs. caught in Thirty-One Mile Lake and noted that they fished for two and a half days catching 42 grey trout of 10 lbs. or more. The following year Mr. Maclaren with a party of three, caught 42 bass, ten of which weighed more than five lbs. In May, 1905, in a period of three weeks, the total weight of fish taken was 2053 lbs., mostly grey trout. On one memorable day, Mr. R.F. Downing and some friends took 48 grey trout weighing 235 lbs., as well as six bass, and shot one buck deer of 240 lbs. In November 1906, W. Gibbs shot "one buck doe, and one golden eagle - 7 ft. tip to tip." In May 1915, C. Magee took a 16 3/4 lb. trout on Pemiehangan; the following week E. Waldo caught a 19 1/2 pounder!

In May of 1919, his Excellency the Governor General, the Duke of Devonshire "and suite" were guests of the Club and took, over a three-day period, thirty trout out of "Thirty-One"; the largest was a nine pounder.

The Game Book was unfortunately not kept up after 1941. The last entry records that Robert Ilsley, with a party of ten, took 31 trout. The rest is silence. However, the 1906 golden eagle, preserved and mounted, looks down on today's members from its perch above the Club fireplace.

A Century of the Gatineau Fish and Game Club
Sportsmen and game - one bear and two deer - in 1916. Photo: courtesy of Frank Sherwood.

The Club was always concerned about the maintenance of fish stocks and there are many notes of discussions among the members as to what action was necessary to preserve fish populations. Stocking, of course, was foremost in these conversations. In 1906 some 100,000 salmon fry were introduced into Lake Pemichangan. These fish were supplied by the Provincial Department of Fish and Game. The following year another 100,000 were put into the same lake. They do not seem to have survived since no trace of them was reported in subsequent years.

A hatchery for small-mouthed black bass was established in 1929 using the inlet/outlet near the Club, between Pemichangan and "Thirty-One". This was apparently quite successful, and in September 1931 a decision to increase the capacity of the hatchery was taken. Subsequently more than 150,000 bass fingerlings were put into the lake on successive years from 1933 to 1938.

During those years also, 1931 to 1937, speckled trout were stocked into a number of small lakes on the lease: these included Butler, High and Murphy Lakes. Later, after the end of World War II, Long Island Lake was dammed and stocked with speckled trout, as was Beauty Lake.

The existence of a stable, healthy loon population is a sure sign of a healthy lake; a northern lake without loons is a lake without fish and a lake in trouble. For many years there were as many opinions about the numbers of loons on the lakes as there were people being asked. The truth was that no one had the slightest idea of what the real situation was. So in 1988 a systematic survey was undertaken with the assistance of Iola Price, who worked for the Canadian Wildlife Service in Ottawa, to find out just what was happening to the loon population.

Although the totals vary somewhat from year to year, the overall picture is one of a stable population. The numbers are unlikely to increase significantly in coming years simply because the number of suitable nesting sites and territories for raising young is limited. In 1989 the Club became an affiliate of the North American Loon Fund, an organization dedicated to the preservation of common loons through education, research and conservation of the lake habitats necessary to loon survival. Club members participate each year in a nation-wide loon count.

The Club membership at any one time would read as a "who's who" of prominent residents of Canada and the U.S., highly successful businessmen in a competitive field. It is not possible to single out and give biographical notes on so many. The Club Register records the visits or innumerable notable figures of the day: Sir Robert Borden, members of a 1932 Commonwealth Conference, Maurice Richard, Jeanne Sauve, as well as Pierre Elliot Trudeau, John Turner and Jean Chretien at different times.

Today, there are very few organizations or clubs that have survived one hundred years in the same location with few changes. The Gatineau Fish and Game Club looks forward to the future with pride and enthusiasm.

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