Up the Gatineau! Online Articles
The following article was first published in Up the Gatineau! Volume 25.
Summer Hotels of the Gatineau
by Ernie Mahoney
Summering in the Gatineau has been a pastime for more than a century although, sadly, there is no known record of the first cottage that was built in the valley. By the mid-1870s, cottages were built on Chelsea Island, later to become the site of the Gatineau Power Company's hydroelectric plant at Chelsea; this may have been the start of the summer migration from Ottawa. The Island was probably the first cottage area on the Gatineau River as it was the most accessible to the city on the primitive roads of the day.
For those who did not own or rent cottages, summer hotels offered an alternative for summer tourism north of Ottawa. These summer hotels for vacationers are distinct from "stopping places," those accommodations used by weary travellers on the road system, which were spaced about 12 miles apart, a day's travel by horse. The summer hotels developed after the coming of the railway, which extended from Hull northward after 1887. The majority were built in the early 1890s, as the Ottawa and Gatineau Valley Railroad pushed its way up the valley, with the first section from Hull to Wakefield opened to traffic in 1891. The line beyond Wakefield to Low, and then on to Kazabazua, was completed in 1893 and passenger service to Gracefield began on October 24, 1895; in 1903 it reached Maniwaki. Of course, the train stopped at the stations in small hamlets along the way, so passengers could get off close to where they were staying. Most proprietors of summer boarding houses and hotels would arrange to meet their guests at the station and bring them to their destinations by horse-drawn wagon.
Tourism or "summering" north of Ottawa began in earnest at that time, but there is no definitive history of the various summer hotels that abounded in the Gatineau Hills from Chelsea to Blue Sea Lake. A number of hotels, especially those built close to the rail line and the Gatineau River shore, had life-spans of less than 40 years. Many fell victim to expropriation by the Gatineau Power Company when the land where they were situated was flooded in 1927. The huge power dams at Chelsea and Farmer's Rapids backed up the Gatineau River over a ten-mile stretch and widened its expanse to a mile in some places. The railroad and main road were relocated to higher ground, and villages such as Kirk's Ferry and Cascades largely disappeared under the waters of a tamer and quieter river. In the former case, Hellard's and McAllister's hotels were victims of progress. Other hotels north of Wakefield were spared the flooding fate, except above Low, where the Paugan Dam inundated a great acreage, including the then village of Mont Ste. Marie. Many of the Chelsea Island cottages were moved to Tenaga in 1926 prior to the flooding of the river.
The Ottawa and Gatineau Valley Railroad listed in an 1898 brochure 20 hotels and five boarding houses from Chelsea to Blue Sea Lake, "Convenient to Stations." In Chelsea these were: O & G House, Royal, Peerless and Beaver; Cascades: Hillsden; Kirk's Ferry: Cowden; Wakefield: Wakefield, Riverside, and boarding houses operated by Mrs. Malone, Mrs. Coté and Mrs. Morrison; North Wakefield (Alcove): Moore's Hotel; Farrellton: McCaffrey's; Low: Brooks', and boarding houses run by J. Smith and Matt Brooks; Venosta: Haverson's; Kazabazua: Iroquois and Kazabazua. At Aylwin there were the Stage and the Temperance, while in Gracefield there were the Pickanock, Victoria and St. Jacques. At Blue Sea Lake there was Rowan's Hotel.
The price per week for room and board ranged from $3 to a high of $5 at the Pickanock. Although no "review" of accommodation and meals survives, the considerable amount of repeat business, with whole families coming summer after summer, suggests that the food was hearty and nutritious and the rooms adequate. Father would, of course, be able to commute daily by railroad to his job in Ottawa.
While there were any number of hotels not adjacent to the railway line, the one that comes to mind is Meach Lake House, run by the Alexander family. In 1915 it must have been popular with city folk: Mr. Alexander had a fleet of three touring cars that met the train at the Chelsea Station and transported the guests the six miles over gravel roads to the hotel. Sheila Strang's article in Vol. 10 (1984) of Up the Gatineau! describes the Meach Lake House during World War I:
VIn those days keeping summer guests comfortable and happy was no easy task. Food was rationed and there was no electricity, running water or telephones. But this spacious rambling old home, with Mrs. Alexander as its kindly hostess, was, from its opening day, filled to capacity with summer vacationers who revelled in . . . swimming, boating, tennis and hiking amid the beauties of the picturesque Meech (Meach) Lake. Guests would arrive as early as May and the last ones would end their holiday by October.
While that hotel appeared to be an unpretentious place offering simple pleasures in the countryside, the description of the Lnwarn Lodge printed in its advertising brochure provides an amusing account of a hotel which aspired to be-or was-somewhat upscale. Its name, pronounced "Len Warren," was derived from the names Leonard and Warren Cox whose family had a cottage at Farm Point. The lodge was located on the site of the present Farm Point Community Centre on River Road, and may have been built just before the turn of the century. The connection between the owner of the lodge, Allan P. Thompson of Bermuda, and his neighbours the Cox family is unknown. The person who wrote the lodge's brochure, probably Thompson, may have been trying to be understated when he pronounced:
The Lnwarn Lodge is not in one particular a hotel of extremes. New, but not offensively so. Big enough to accommodate one hundred guests. High priced, far from the highest price. Well served but not overserved. Well filled with guests, who come again and again, not overcrowded. Lnwarn Lodge is situated on fifty acres of land bordering on the Gatineau River, with tennis courts, nine-hole golf links, gardens and groves, instantly accessible to the City of Ottawa. House and grounds lighted throughout with electricity. The dining room at Lnwarn Lodge is supplied daily with every possible delicacy. Prime beef from the Ottawa Market. Little chickens that come unplucked from neighbouring farms, home grown vegetables. Everything that is best to begin with, cooked most simply, beautifully served, piping hot from the ranges. ... With my mahogany staff from Bermuda, I will be in a position to give you the very best service and cuisine. ...
Sometime within the following 20 years the lodge went into a decline and, regrettably, little else could be found out about the establishment or its proprietors.
The 30-room Peerless Hotel owned by the Wilson family, built in the early 1890s, just a couple of kilometres south of the Lnwarren at Cascades, was another popular spot and a hub of the community as it housed a post office, telephone exchange and a general store. The large brick structure was closed when the Gatineau River was flooded by the dams at Chelsea in 1927.
Wakefield was a magnet for summer tourists and its accommodations were renowned for their excellence. These included a variety of boarding houses and two hotels. Mrs. Malone's boarding house, in the years before World War I, had a large following that returned year after year to enjoy the countryside. Mrs. Morrison's on Burnside Avenue was also a favourite because it was near the Wakefield Beach, a swimming spot on the Gatineau River that was enjoyed by visitors and the locals alike. Another early "stopping place," Earle's Hotel, became a fixture on the Wakefield summer scene when it was taken over by Jean and Mabel Lindsay, two sisters who renamed it The Wakefield Inn and ran it as a summer spa for genteel ladies from the city. But not only that, they managed to snag custom from no less than Rideau Hall. Vice-regal parties stayed there and Lady Byng, wife of Baron Byng of Vimy, the Governor-General from 1921-26, enjoyed sleigh drives over the snow-covered roads. Lord Tweedsmuir (John Buchan), Governor General from 1935 to 1940, was a frequent guest at the Inn along with his wife and mother. The Inn was sold in the 1950s and later became famous for its dining room, but its days as a "summer hotel" ended long before it closed in 1984. Another Wakefield summer hotel of a later era-the 1940s-was the Chateau Diotte, built on the site of the Temperance Hotel, another early stopping place that was built in the 1850s.
The cottage phenomenon followed in parallel with the establishment of the railroad and the boom in hotels. As noted earlier, Ottawa's "cottage country" began only a few kilometres from the city. Chelsea was the favoured spot, with summer communities at Tenaga, Summerlea (later Gleneagle), Kirk's Ferry, Larrimac and Burnett. It was an adventure to move each year to the cottage, traditionally "opened" on May 24. Most cottages were somewhat primitive, with wood stoves for cooking and heating and a hand pump on the kitchen sink (for the more upscale premises) or the pump in the yard of the farmer from whom you bought the land for the cottage. Cottaging came to an end on Labour Day weekend, as children had to return to school after an idyllic summer in the country. Of course, the summer would soon turn to winter and the impossibility of reaching the cottage in the deep snow was also a consideration. In later years, hundreds of cottages were "winterized" and became year-round homes. But that's another story.