Up the Gatineau! Articles

The following article was first published in Up the Gatineau! Volume 1.

Early Kirks Ferry, Quebec

by Patrick M.O. Evans

Originally researched in March of 1965, much of the information being supplied by Aunt Maud (Brown) which has since been supplemented and corrected where necessary by Arthur Reid, Aunt Maud's nephew - May 1968. Patrick M. O. Evans

Aunt Maud, living at Kirk's Ferry, is aged 93 (May 1968). She is the daughter of the late Norman Reid and is the widow of the late Ferguson Brown. She can trace her descent from Philemon Wright, who was her great great grand-father. Strangely enough, Aunt Maud can claim descent from Philemon Wright's father through two branches of the family tree. This is the result of earlier marriages which permit Aunt Maud to be both the great great granddaughter and great great great granddaughter of Thomas Wright, Philemon's father, at one and the same time.

Now to the early days of Kirk's Ferry. From J. L. Gourlay, who in 1896 wrote the "History of the Ottawa Valley" we quote:

"Mr. Thomas Kirk from Londonderry, Ireland, came to the Gatineau shortly after the Blackburns and got land on both sides of the river and at a place where the stream is flat and placid for some distance, a thing not very common on that rapid river, there established what was long known as Kirk's Ferry. Teams and loads were ferried on a scow. That seems to have ceased as nothing larger than a small boat has been seen there for years. Mrs. Kirk was a Miss Green, whose brother was a shipping merchant of Londonderry. Their family (that is the Thomas Kirks) consisted of eight daughters and two sons. The eldest son was a surveyor and dwelt at Stratford, Ontario. John Kirk, the other son, married a Miss Brooks and lived on the right bank of the river opposite his father." An old gravestone at Chelsea is marked "Lydia A. Kirk daughter of John and Mary Kirk died September 10, 1869. John and Mary had two other daughters both of whom married.

The Blackburns, mentioned by Gourlay, like the Kirks occupied the two sides of the river, there being two families of Blackburns, one on each bank. The Blackburns, it is understood, moved to Toronto after the river was flooded. No doubt Blackburn's Creek is named after one of the families. More recently a bright green and white sign indicates a side road, adjacent to the Gleneagle roadway, as being named Blackburn. Another edifice connected with the Blackburns, not too far removed from the Blackburn sideroad and on the opposite side of the highway (No. 11) is the house (now owned by Carson Cross), which once served in this century as a small hotel or boarding house. This was John Knox Blackburn's home.

The calm and placid area of the river beside which the Blackburns and Kirks were established was above the falls known as Eaton's Chute. One can conjecture whether the chute was named for Kirk's eldest daughter who became Mrs. Eaton. Eaton's Chute extended across the river from the island now owned by the Gatineau River Yacht Club, which was then part of the mainland and only became an island at the flooding of the river.

What would be more natural, with property on both sides of the river, than putting in a ferry; this Kirk did. At first the ferry was propelled by oars but later it became a scow ferry worked by cable. The ferry ran between a spot at the end of a road now known as Hellard Road and the green shack, once occupied by Jack O'Connel, which was torn down in 1966. It was situated north of Blackburn's Creek on the east shore, from whence a road, still a municipal road and known as Ferry Road, leads over the hill to Cantley.

Kirk was apparently quite a business man, for apart from running the ferry he established a tavern or hotel near his ferry and it became a stopping place for horse-drawn traffic on the river road, which by then must have been somewhat improved. Gourlay notes in his "History of the Ottawa Valley" (1896) - "There is a fine macadamized road on the west side of the river from Hull to Wakefield." Kirk's Tavern was much used by shantymen and was a stopping place for the stage. The stage also stopped on its way at Desjardin's stopping place at Ironside, used more latterly as a bee farm where honey is sold. The house has since been torn down - like Jack O'Connel's green shack - in 1966-67. Another stopping place was at O'Neil's in Chelsea. Incidentally, in addition to O'Neil's there were four other licensed inns or hotels in Chelsea. Mrs. Jean Vivian, who compiled a history of the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Chelsea (1875-1965) notes, "In Chelsea in the 70s there were half a dozen hotels and a dozen stores." O'Neil's was diagonally opposite to St. Mary Magdalene's when the church was situated on the east side of the highway.

But to get back to Kirk. He was, as has been said, a business man. In addition to running the ferry and hotel he sold machinery, and it was said that those who bought equipment from him had better make sure that they obtained receipts for money paid over to him.

What with all his business this early tycoon found little time to run his ferry, so he employed a ferryman. In later years the ferry was operated by Paddy Fleming. Paddy ran the ferry in the summer and in winter cut wood on the Cantley side of the river. He built himself a house, which was eventually moved to the bank of the river on a point near the old station. Aunt Maud recalls going to school with Paddy. Later, Paddy married Minnie McAllister, but he died comparatively young.

Still later another ferryman was Christie Fleming, who had a farm on the east side of the river and operated the ferry from there until the flooding of the river in 1927.

Aunt Maud recalls a humorous incident at the ferry. One day the ferry came to a very sudden stop on reaching shore, causing the horses harnessed to an express to rear up and upset the vehicle which was carrying some lady passengers across the river. They were tipped into the water in all their finery. Gourlay also recalls a similar, but more tragic mishap to a Mr. Brown. Mr. Brown, it appears, drove his team down and the horses got on the scow, while the wheels struck with some force but did not get on. The ferryman either had not made it very secure, or the shock drove it from its moorings. The wagon went down between the bank and the boat, taking horses and man with it, and there was no help or means to save the life of either man or animals. Gourlay does not make it clear whether this tragedy took place at Kirk's Ferry.

In 1871, almost a century ago, the population at Kirk's Ferry was sixty. Aunt Maud remembers, as a little girl that there was a post office, run by her uncle, William Reid, who also mended shoes. Years later her nephew, Ernest Reid, conducted the Kirk's Ferry post office now run by his widow, Sirri. Aunt Maud also recalls a butcher's shop run by Harry Hellard (remember Hellard Road) who was eventually, after Cowden, to buy Kirk's Tavern. She remembers Kirk's Tavern itself, and the church which also served as a school on week days. There were two hotels at Kirk's Ferry, neither of them licensed, which mainly catered to summer residents. One, Kirk's Tavern, as has been noted, was run by Harry Hellard and the other by Mrs. McAllister (remember Paddy Fleming, the ferryman who married Minnie McAllister; Minnie was her daughter).

Another amusing occurrence took place at Kirk's Ferry in those days. Apparently Harry Hellard ordered a sign to be painted for the hotel to read FERRY INN. It appears that the sign painter must have received his order by word of mouth, for when the sign was received at the hotel it indicated FAIRY INN, and that's the way it was erected.

A church was built in 1898, then known as the Union Mission Church. It was situated in front of what is now the Selwyns' cottage. It was torn down at the time of the flooding of the river by the Gatineau Power Company and was replaced by another building, on the west side of highway No. 11, opposite the Brown farm. Mrs. Vivian mentions this church at some little length in her history of St. Mary Magdalene. A framed notice in the church reads:

"Union Mission Church, 1898. This building was erected by Public Subscription as a Union Mission Church and opened for Divine Service on the first day of August, 1898, and is under the control of a Board of Trustees who are responsible for all matters of maintenance and regulation of the Services to be held therein."

Further recollections of Aunt Maud brings to mind the baker coming out from town from time to time with loaves piled high on top of his horse-drawn vehicle - of course, in those days unsliced and furthermore, without wrapping of any sort. The baker is thought to have been a man by the name of Proulx, who operated a bakeshop on the site of what is now the Quebec Provincial Police on St. Joseph Boulevard.

Mail came from town daily and was apparently carried from the post office at Kirk's Ferry across the river by ferry to Cantley. The stage also brought passengers for a fare of .75¢, the trip being advertised as eight miles.

Mrs. Vivian, in her history of St. Mary's, quotes as follows from the 1871 Dominion of Canada Directory: "The Directory lists Chelsea as a village on the River Gatineau in the Township of Hull, County and District of Ottawa. Its population was 400 and there was a daily mail delivery. The fare to Ottawa by stage coach was. 50¢. There was also a Montreal Telegraph Office located there." Apparently, it cost another .25¢ to carry on by stage to Kirk's Ferry from Chelsea.

Incidentally the road, now highway No. 11, was used mostly in the very early days for winter travel by sleigh, and with its many windings, jigs and jogs, it was a day's journey for the shantymen from inn to inn (some of which have previously been mentioned by name - Desjardin's, O'Neil's and Kirk's). Then the fine macadamized road noted by Gourlay in 1896 was built. This was a toll road, controlled by tollgates. The first tollgate was at the Esso Gas Station in Wrightville, the second gate was at Chelsea just south of the present railroad track. The third tollgate was at Cascades, at the foot of Pine Road. The toll was based on the number of horses and the type of vehicle - express or wagon.

At the time of the flooding portions of both the road and railroad were relocated. Part of the old highway now peters out in the river at the Gatineau River Yacht Club's entrance to its boom. The bed of the railway is now under the water between the island and mainland.

The railroad was put in 1889. It followed the bank of the river until its relocation. Aunt Maud's father, Norman, worked on the railroad. One day after lunch Mr. Reid lay down for a rest and was taken ill with what was proved to be pneumonia. His co-workers, not being able in those days to phone for an ambulance, took the patient to his home on a stoneboat. He was attended by Dr. Davis, grand-father of Dr. Fred Davis of the Ottawa Football Club, but unfortunately Mr. Reid was not to live much longer. The scene of Mr. Reid's sudden illness was the rock cut which, when flooding took place, gave birth to a tiny island at the mouth of the yacht club harbour, on the south side.

Some of the early families in the area were the Reids, Coopers, Hogans, Lacharritys, Maxwells and, of course, the Blackburns and the Kirks. The Selwyns and Sherrins were summer people.

Lacharrity owned property which is now the Larrimac Golf Course. Here was established a small sawmill which permitted Aunt Maud's father to get the wood from his bushland sawn and planed, which, until then, he had not been able to do. Larry McCooey - after whom Larrimac takes its name - aided by Phil Sherrin, started the golf course in a small way, the fairways of which were kept clipped by Lacharritys sheep.

Cooper owned property between Phil Sherrin's cottage and the Selwyns. Hogan also had property in the neighbourhood, between Sherrin's and the Hellard Road. Opposite Cooper's, in the river, was an island, with tall trees and a substantial cottage, complete with a small turret upon it. When the river was flooded the beautiful trees were cut down and the home was removed, and now sail and motor boats pass over it.

The flooding caused many changes to be made in the location of homes and cottages, as well as to the road and railway as previously mentioned. The yacht club's present clubhouse was a cottage on the east side of the river, near the mouth of Blackburn's Creek. It was moved across the river on the winter ice to higher ground, by a Mr. Finn who performed many of the moves of housing at the time of the flood. The raising of the water level caused the high ground to become an island, a pleasant retreat for today's sailors.

Two more anecdotes connected with the railroad. Apparently one of the earlier engineers, by the name of Saul, used to take the neighbourhood children for rides on his locomotive. It seems the train was wrecked up near Low. Whether there's any connection between the childrens' rides and wreck is uncertain, but it's understood a poem was composed called "The Stag Creek Wreck".

The second story concerns the founder of the Connor Washer. In the good summer days old man Connor used to hire a train and bring his employees to Kirk's Ferry for a picnic. He and his family had a summer place at the Ferry, near the Mica Mine almost at the house occasionally used to this day as a polling station. Aunt Maud recalls staying there once with the Connor girls - it had an earthen floor and sleep was in bunks. Later the Connors owned a palatial home up-river on the east bank.

A document now in the possession of Arthur Reid deals with a grant of land to his great grandfather (Aunt Maud's grandfather) Thomas Reid. It reads:


I do hereby certify that in the Letters Patent under the Great Seal of the late Province of Lower Canada, bearing date at the Castle of Saint Lewis in the City of Quebec, the Twenty First day of September in the Year of our Lord One Thousand Eight Hundred and Twenty Seven, and recorded in the Office of the Registrar of the Province: -

The Lot Number Fourteen in the Eleventh Range of the Township of Hull in the District of Montreal, containing two hundred acres of land and the usual allowances of Highways

therein and thereby granted unto Thomas Reid, his Heirs and Assigns for ever

In Free and Common Soccage

Provincial Registrar's Office
Montreal, 9th October, 1847
R. V. Tucker

Thomas was then twenty two years of age, being born in Tipperary, Ireland in 1805 - the home also of Thomas Kirk.

"Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Chelsea, Que. 1875-1965" compiled by Mrs. Jean Vivian
"History of the Ottawa Valley" by J. L. Gourlay, A.M. 1896
"Hurling down the Pine" by Courtney C. J. Bond and John W. Hughson, 1964

This paper was presented to a meeting of the Society in 1968 by its author, Mr. Patrick M. O. Evans.

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