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DESERTED VILLAGES, DESERTED FARMS

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Abandoned farm near Portage-du-Fort. (Photo - Matthew Farfan)As the occupation of settlers shifted from farming and working in the shanties to working in whatever industry opened up – often at a considerable distance – the pattern of settlement changed as well. New buildings went up near railways and good roads. Whole stretches of land, cleared but unprofitable, were left by those who had claimed them. Between Danford Lake and Otter Lake, dozens of farms once claimed by French settlers were deserted, as were the “Polish Hills” on the Picanoc (settled in the 1870s by immigrants who had first followed the Opeongo trail) or the Irish homesteads in what is now Gatineau Park.

The once thriving village of Cawood, south of Danford Lake, where Jack Foster’s father had his sawmill, and where an Anglican church, St. Peter’s, had been established, now consists of a few of the original log houses. The church was deconsecrated and torn down, like its companion close to the Gatineau River, St. John’s in the Wilderness.

Portage des Chats. Engraving by W. H. Bartlett, 1842. (Source - Private collection)

PONTIAC VILLAGE
A much larger, once prosperous village in Pontiac County shared the same fate. Pontiac Village was located a few miles above Quyon, where the Ottawa River is churned by the Chats Falls. While, in the early 1900s, the river was the main means of transportation, the Chats Falls portage was a natural place for a settlement to grow. Steamers travelling up the river from Aylmer had to stop at Pontiac Bay to avoid the rapids. Here, passengers and cargo were unloaded and portaged three and a half miles upriver to Chats Lake, where they could resume their journey on the next steamer to Portage-du-Fort.

Timber Slide at Les Chats. Engraving by W. H. Bartlett, 1842. (Source - Private collection)

To make this portage easier, a railway was built in 1847 by the Union Forwarding Company. This was one of the first railways in Canada and it was quite unique, since it was run by horse power. Several open-sided cars were drawn along wooden rails by two horses hitched in tandem. After a one-hour ride, passengers and luggage were reloaded on to the next steamer.By the mid-1800s, Pontiac Bay was a busy place, with three or four boats arriving every day. The Wrights had a timber slide there, and there was a sawmill at the foot of the chute. The village grew and plans were made to build a canal around Chats Falls.

In 1862, work began and many men from the surrounding area were employed on the project. A boarding house was built to accommodate workers who stayed in town during the week and other businesses were established to serve the growing population. There was a Catholic church and cemetery, a blacksmith shop, a bakery, a draper’s shop, a general store and a hand-ball alley. Local lumberjacks and sawmills were kept busy providing lumber for the new homes, cookeries and stables.

Two and a half years later, after spending $480,000, the canal was nearly completed. Then, unexpectedly, work on the Chats Falls system was halted. The reasons were never explained, but all the workers were suddenly let go. It was conjectured that the MacDonald Company, which was in charge of the job, had gone bankrupt.In 1886, the Pontiac and Pacific Junction Railway was built through Pontiac County, causing decline in steamboat traffic and eventual discontinuation of the service. Pontiac Village ceased being a busy port and gradually the town was abandoned. Now only a few crumbling building foundations remain to remind us of the village that was once there.(1)

End Notes:
1. Venetia Crawford, Pontiac Treasures in Song and Story, Shawville, 1979, 85.