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The railway changed much of the valley’s history, as did the paddle-steamers on the Ottawa River. Bridges and dams came next. Until bridges spanned the rivers, the only way to cross was by scow, and only in summer. Just as the steam-operated vessels which plied the Ottawa River between the mid-1830s and the mid-1940s could only operate in summer, so the ferries crossing larger and smaller rivers in the region were also entirely dependent on the season. People had always crossed the waterways individually, by canoe or by rowboat, but eventually there were ferries which would take passengers.

Scow. (Sketch by Gunda Lambton)

Some of these, sturdily built and provided with railings, could take entire teams and wagons. John MacIntosh’s ferry between Norway Bay in Pontiac County, and Sand Point on the Ontario side, provided a useful service for those who wanted to connect with the railway line on the Ontario side. This ferry was operated by a horse, which trod a circuit on the deck of the craft. It turned a centre pulley, attached to a main gear, which via a bevel gear drove a shaft to a paddle wheel on either side. The horse replaced the steam power used on the large paddle steamers. Steering was done with a long oar which protruded through a notch in the gunwhale. Enough tack had to be used to offset the strong current; and on days with a strong wind, passengers would lend a hand with the steering. This was the ferry used in the 1870s, as described by S. Wyman McKechnie.

Another ferry in Pontiac County took people from Bryson to Calumet Island. The man who operated this between 1880 and 1890 was Antoine Lagarde. This ferry, like many others, was eventually replaced by a bridge, but the ferry-man Antoine Lagarde lives on in a song written by William MacCuaig.(1)

On the Gatineau, a few of the many ferries once operated there live on in names like Kirk’s Ferry or Mulligan’s Ferry, both at one time of great importance to residents. By 1850, the ferry run by Thomas Kirk was well-established. Before the Alonzo Wright Bridge was built at Limbour in 1866, mail had to cross the river by ferry from the stage coach stop at Kirk’s Tavern. Sunday traffic brought many Catholic families across to attend service at Old Chelsea, just as the McSheffrey scow at Alcove would ferry across Sunday worshippers to the Methodist church, and Mulligan’s Ferry, north of Kazabazua, gave access (for those living on the east side of the Gatineau) to the mother church of all Anglican churches on the upper Gatineau, St. John’s in the Wilderness.

Of the eighteen ferries that operated between Kirk’s Ferry and Low from about 1850 to 1940, all were operated by oars, though five had an elevated cable. One of the latter was the one at Alcove; another, on the town line of West Hull (now Chelsea) and Wakefield, near Farm Point. South of Wakefield, a municipally-run scow was operated by the Copelands. To the south of Copelands, the Bradley scow also had an elevated cable.Livestock could be transported on the large scows; but if the cattle moved to one side, there was danger of that side being submerged, as once happened to Bill Mahon, who lived between Alcove and Farrellton.

Another scow operated on an elevated cable about a mile south of the present Farrellton bridge at Daly’s landing. There were two other scows between Farrellton and Low, but once the Paugan dam was built, they were difficult to run, so that the families living on both sides reverted to rowing across.

ICE BRIDGESIn the winter, all ferry traffic ceased. Then, places where the ice was firmest were chosen for ice bridges. For several nights, water was shovelled out of specially opened holes to strengthen the ice; the bridges were then marked by evergreen boughs stuck upright to show the way.

Covered bridge. (Sketch by Gunda Lambton)EARLY WOODEN BRIDGES
The first bridge across the Gatineau was the Alonzo Wright Bridge, a wooden structure consisting of beams and trusses made of pine timbers arranged as in a barn. It was washed away by spring floods in 1878 but rebuilt. The next wooden bridge was replaced by an iron one in 1902. In Maniwaki, the Oblate fathers in 1896 obtained government help for a bridge there. Narrow rivers and creeks were crossed by small wooden bridges, but no wooden bridge could long withstand snow rain and sun. To protect them, the beautiful covered bridges of West Quebec came into being.

Structures of covered bridges. (Sketch by Gunda Lambton)COVERED BRIDGES
A roof over a bridge, to keep off snow and rain, made it outlast non-covered bridges by decades. Only eight covered bridges survive in West Quebec, which once had twice that number. There is one across the Stag Creek both of Fieldville named the Barry Kelly Bridge; another over the Picanoc west of Gracefield, taking its name from the Cousineau sawmill nearby. Two more are not much used these days; one, named Marois, at Point-Comfort; and one at Montcerf north of Maniwaki.The longest surviving bridge is at Fort Coulonge, in Pontiac County (505 feet, 56 inches long); it is also the oldest, built in 1898. To save this bridge from destruction, Andy Lusk of Pontiac County, wrote a song, “The Covered Bridge of Fort Coulonge.”(2)

The shortest [covered bridge] is a little bridge over the Meech Creek near Farm Point (only 66 feet long). One of the longest (352 feet) is the covered bridge across the Gatineau at Grand Remous, north of Maniwaki; it is also one of the oldest, built circa 1907[…]

In the Gatineau Valley, two major covered bridges were damaged by Hurricane Hazel in 1954: one over the Picanoc at Gracefield, and the other over the Gatineau at Farrellton. The latter was built by the same Gendron after whom the Wakefield bridge was named. It was built a year before the Wakefield bridge, in 1914. Farrellton inhabitants hoped to attract the traffic on both sides of the river. But once the Wakefield bridge was built in 1915, the traffic going to the mills there made the Gendron Bridge in Wakefield one of the major crossing places until it was destroyed by arson in 1984.(2) Eventually, metal bridges, constructed at strategic points, accommodated all the traffic. The old crossing places of the scows are now mainly remembered in such names as Kirk’s Ferry and Mulligan’s Ferry. In Pontiac County, one ferry remains, crossing the Ottawa at Quyon.

End Notes:
1. Venetia Crawford, Pontiac Treasures in Song and Story, Shawville, 1979, 120.
2. After the Wakefield bridge was destroyed by fire, local residents got together with the view to reconstruct this bridge. For a benefit performance in aid of this project, James Drynan composed the song “The Wakefield Coverd Bridge.”

Photo captions:
1. Scow. (Sketch by Gunda Lambton)
2. Covered bridge. (Sketch by Gunda Lambton)
3. Structures of covered bridges. (Sketch by Gunda Lambton)