Up the Gatineau! Articles

The following article was first published in Up the Gatineau! Volume 14.


by Patrick M.O. Evans

Toponymy is the study of placenames. Herewith is a short list of Gatineau places and how they received their names. Should you know of others, please send them along for future publication.

The Gatineau River and the city of Gatineau were named after Nicolas Gatineau dit Duplessis, notary of Trois Riviere, Quebec. In about 1650 he tired of the hum-drum life and, wishing to return to his beloved France, turned to hunting and trapping on the Gatineau River to gather the needed cash for his voyage home. Gatineau did not realize his dream; legend tells us that he drowned in the river that now bears his name.

Hull was known in its days of settlement as Wright's Town after its founder, Philemon Wright of Woburn, Massachusets. There are those who believe the name Hull came from the Hull in Yorkshire, England, from whence Philemon's parents came. This is an error; genealogical study indicates that his parents and grandparents were descendants of John and Priscilla Wright who came from the county of Kent, England in 1630 and who settled Woburn in 1640. It is uncertain how it received the name of Hull, but it is probably after the Township of Hull in which the town was situated. (Incidentally, John Wright was one of the founders of the then new community of Woburn, Massachusetts, next to the older Charlestown, named after King Charles II, which was called Charlestown Village during its first two years.)

This community has had three names. Originally it was known as Turnpike End, being appropriately situated at the western end of the turnpike road that was constructed by Philemon Wright, some eight miles from Wright's Town (Hull). Farmers used a building here for the temporary storage of their grain. It was picked up from here and taken to Wright's mills for grinding, after which it was returned to the building for retrieval by the owners.

Charles Symmes was a nephew of Philemon Wright, the son of his older sister. He came from Woburn in 1819 to work for the firm of P. Wright and Sons, but had a falling out with the Wrights and in consequence moved to Turnpike End. Symmes took a leading part in the development of the village, establishing an inn on the waterfront and opening up trade westward along the Grand (Ottawa) River. The community's name was changed about this time to Symmes' Landing. Still later it became Aylmer in honour of Lord Aylmer, Governor General of British North America from 1830-35.

Chelsea was named after Chelsea, Vermont. Thomas Brigham, who operated both a grist- and saw-mill at Chelsea, came from Vermont. He married Abigail, one of Philemon Wright's daughters, and in due time became heir to the Chelsea property. Brigham used the waters of Chelsea Creek. (formerly Brooks' Creek) to power his mills, which were set up by Josiah Chamberlin, one of the four brothers who came from Lowell, Mass. to set up Wright's mills. Brigham's nephew, Thomas Brigham Prentiss, also moved from the Vermont Chelsea, settling at the Quebec Chelsea where he ran the first store and post office. Later on this operation was moved to the newer Chelsea where Prentiss' son conducted the business after his father moved to Aylmer.

As Chelsea spread towards the Gatineau River the road between the older and newer Chelseas was called High Street -this link did not come until later because of a swamp. In addition to being called Old Chelsea, the western portion of the village was also known as Upper Chelsea, with the inference that the eastern end was Lower Chelsea. Scott Road was once named Peel Street, this name being changed to Scott after Mark and Michael Scott, each of whom owned property bordering the road. Finally, Padden Road was once North Street.

Kirk's Ferry
This village took the name of Thomas Kirk of Londonderry, Ireland. He owned property on both sides of the Gatineau River - and what was more natural than to put in a ferry? There was quite a thriving hamlet here including a church that also served as a school. A Mrs. McAllister kept a hotel and boarding house and an amusing tale is told of the first hotel sign. The order for the sign was probably conveyed to its painter by word of mouth, and when it was delivered it showed "Fairy Hotel" instead of "Ferry Hotel". The faulty sign was erected as it had been painted!

A Kirk daughter married a Mr. Eaton who gave his name to Eaton's Chute, slightly south of the ferry. Both Kirk's Ferry and the chute were "drowned" by the erection of the Chelsea power dam in 1925-26.

Farmer's Rapids
This is a small area on the east bank of the Gatineau River named after William Farmer, a wealthy Englishman. The property belonged to Tiberius, second son of Philemon Wright. Farmer acquired the land for his family, servants, horses and cattle which he brought from England on a chartered ship.

An arrangement was made in the contract between Wright and Farmer specifying that the property was to revert to Tiberius should Farmer not make a go of it. After several years it became apparent that Farmer was no farmer, so as stipulated, the land was to be returned. In the meantime, Tiberius died. The property passed to a son, Alonzo Wright, who himself became wealthy by his marriage to Mary Sparks, daughter of Nicholas Sparks a landowner in Bytown, (Ottawa). Alonzo Wright was a highly respected Member of Parliament. Nicholas Sparks once worked for P. Wright and Sons, being brought over from the old country by Ruggles Wright, third son of Philemon. Nicholas made a lucky purchase indeed when he bought what was to become the core of the future nation's capital.

The word Tenaga is believed to mean water tank. It was at this spot that the north-bound train stopped in order for the engine to take on water. The name Tenaga probably derived from the Spanish tanque meaning tank and agua, water. (This is mostly educated guesswork, and if anyone knows the proper story, please pass it along to the editors!)

Larrimac is a contraction of Larry McCooey. Larry spent his summers at a cottage in the area and, being an enthusiastic golfer, obtained permission from farmer Augustin Lacharité to develop a hole or two on the meadows in order to practice his chip shots. One or two others saw what was happening and joined McCooey. It was not long afterwards that the Larrimac Golf Club was organized. Not too many of the present members know that for a short period of time there were 18 holes, but for some reason the course reverted back to the earlier nine. Incidentally, it was Lacharité's sheep which kept the grass cut short in former days!

Ironside developed as a small community on the Gatineau River, originally being a shipping point for the iron ore that came from the Forsyth Mine (on the Mine Road). Room here was also found to pile logs from the operations of the lumber companies upriver. The site was as far as powered boats could proceed up the Gatineau River. Workers from both projects built their homes nearby, and thus the village came into being.

Gilmours' Mills
This community received its name from the Scottish family named Gilmour who had a substantial sawmill operation on an island in the Gatineau River adjacent to Chelsea. The mills were the mainstay of the area's economy for a number of years. When the mills closed down late in the 19th century, the site was used by cottagers as a summer resort and picnic area. Eventually the island was submerged by the Chelsea power dam in 1925-26. The Gilmours built and occupied Garryhinch, just off the east side of the present Highway 105, about a mile south of the centre of the newer Chelsea. The Gilmour Company served the area well as a benevolent entity. The gatehouse of the Gilmour Mill served as a residence for a number of years prior to being moved to Old Chelsea where it was used for a variety of commercial purposes. It is now (1988) the L'Agaric Restaurant.

Meech Lake
Meech Lake, Meech Creek and Valley are named after the Reverend Asa Meech, an early settler in the area bordering the lake that bears his name. Meech had many talents; he was a minister, was trained in medicine, and was an educator, shorthand expert, and farmer. He gave of his knowledge and skills to his fellow settlers, caring not what religion the recipients professed. Meech was much revered by all in the neighbourhood. His grave is located in the Old Chelsea Burying Ground.

Editor's note: It is interesting to note that near Boston, Massachusetts, are towns named Wakefield, Hull and Chelsea - could there be a connection?

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