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EARLY COMMUNICATIONS IN WAKEFIELD: LINKS WITH THE OUTSIDE WORLD

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Roads
In 1846, a “group of inhabitants residing near the banks of the Gatineau river” sent a petition with 180 signatures to Quebec asking for assistance in the construction of a road going north from Hull for a distance of seventy-five miles (125 kilometres). The request specifically mentioned the need for a bridge over la Pêche River at Wakefield.

Grading of River Road, near Wakefield, c.1900. (Photo - GVHS / Wakefield Revisited)

The Gatineau Road bordered the west bank of the river, and tolls were levied for its use. The remains of one of these toll gates could be seen in the 1920s at Cascades, not far from the Peerless Hotel. The roads were very bad. In such hilly country the drainage towards the Gatineau meant endless rivulets to cross. Long after the road was macadamized (paved with small broken stones) it was not ploughed in the winter, but rather rolled. Heavy snowfalls built up. As late as the 1940s, the rutted winter road allowed for the passage of a single vehicle. One started off for Ottawa and the car followed the deep ruts. If an oncoming vehicle appeared, one or other of the drivers chopped a turn-out or diversion area wide enough for them to pass and each continued on his way.

Preparing to roll the winter roads. Trowsse Farm, Wakefield, 1930. (Photo - GVHS / Wakefield Revisited)

The winter driving conditions did not deter travellers. The roads “were crowded with sleighs drawing produce to the Pêche. An observer of the time (1920s) tells of meeting forty-two such loaded sleighs in the seven miles from Wakefield to Ste-Cécile de Masham. Loads of loose hay or straw, sleighs carrying frozen sides of beef or pork.” The road from Hull to Wakefield followed the river until 1946, when highway 105 was constructed inland to avoid some of the more difficult areas of the Gatineau Road.

The Stagecoach
In 1851, William Patterson began operation of the first stagecoach between Bytown and North Wakefield (Alcove). As a passenger and mail service, it provided a vital link with the outside world. The coach was a four-wheeled vehicle with four seats set cross-wise and was open to the weather except for leather curtains, which could be let down as a protection against rain and snow. The 7 a.m. daily departure from the Post Office in Bytown arrived in Wakefield by mid-afternoon. George Patterson continued the service that his father had begun until 1876, when Robert Hastey took over the business. During the same period, passengers transferred at North Wakefield (Alcove) to the stagecoach of Marshall and George Brooks of Low, which continued to Maniwaki. The “stage” operated until the arrival of the railway in the 1890s.

Gendron Bridge, 1979. (Photo - Matthew Farfan)

River Crossings
There was no bridge over the Gatineau River above Farmer’s Rapids (Limbour) until 1914, when the covered bridge at Farrellton was completed. The next year, Wakefield was able to boast its own bridge. The Gendron covered bridge, named for Ferdinand Ambroise Gendron, a lumber merchant and politician, was constructed over the narrow part of the Gatineau at the rapids north of the Village. Unbelievably, the construction of a bridge did not guarantee access to it. Connecting roads were not completed until later, making it necessary to find a track through a field, sometimes through deep mud.

Roads serving the eastern part of Wakefield Township were even more deplorable than the west bank Gatineau Road. Merchants at Wilson’s Corners and beyond preferred to pay the road toll and cross the ferry at Farm Point or Copeland’s Landing.

An oar-operated scow, near Farm Point. (Photo - GVHS / Wakefield Revisited)

Several scows operating north of the falls at Cascades were large enough to carry a team of horses or buggy (or a car at a later period), and several passengers… Most of these small ferries were operated by an overhead or underwater cable. They were connected to the cable by a hand-held rod, while a wing-like keel took advantage of the current. The closest ferry to Wakefield, at Copeland’s Landing, 1.5 kilometres south of the Village, was oar-operated, as there was a strong current and eddy. On occasion the swift current required much strenuous pulling on the fifteen- to eighteen-foot oars. Sometimes a fog obscured the landmarks…

Putting in place the trusses of the new covered bridge, Wakefield, 1996. (Photo - Neil Faulkner / Wakefield Revisited)

The Gendron Bridge, a picturesque and vital link with the east bank for almost seventy years, was destroyed by an arsonist on July 11, 1984. Shortly after this senseless act, a group organized by Dr. Norma Walmsley worked tirelessly for thirteen years to achieve the impossible, the erection of an authentic covered bridge with volunteer labour. Basic construction was completed in September, 1996, and the roof, floor and walls were added during the following year…

The Railway
Until about 1920, very few people had cars and the stagecoach service was limited. One can imagine the great impact of rail service when it was established as far as Wakefield, by the Ottawa and Gatineau Railway Company, in 1892. This meant the efficient delivery of all wholesale purchases by local merchants, as well as easy travel by people from all points along the line. With the advent of the railroad, Wakefield became a rapidly developing recreational area. The established boarding houses now were within reach, and more and larger facilities developed.

The train in 1910. (Photo - GVHS / Wakefield Revisited)

Several cottages were built bordering or overlooking the river. Families moved up for the summer season, with the bread-winner commuting to Ottawa by train daily. Most of these turn-of-the-century cottages have now been converted into year-round residences.By 1899, there were two trains in each direction from Monday to Saturday inclusive, and one on Sunday. It was a scenic trip, with the line hugging the shoreline for a great portion of the route. By 1902, the rail line had been completed as far as Maniwaki, and in that year the railroad was leased to the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, being absorbed into that service by 1958.Passenger service ceased at the end of the 1950s and freight in the 1980s. The track north of the Village was irretrievably demolished in 1988, with a widened highway south of Alcove absorbing the track area. The rail right of way between Hull and Wakefield was turned over to the Municipalities of Hull, Chelsea, and Wakefield (La Pêche) in 1986. A tourist train business grew, with substantial government funding initially; it now brings 50,000 visitors to the Village each season.

Mail Services
Prior to the establishment of stagecoach service, one can imagine that letters must have been carried by an individual rider, a courier, delivering them to the most prominent centre in a community for distribution. MacLaren’s store officially became a post office in 1848. From 1851, the driver of the stagecoach picked up and delivered the mail. With a change of government in 1912, the post office franchise (a political appointment) was transferred from MacLaren’s store to that of I. B. York.

After the advent of the railway in 1892, the mail service was excellent…

To learn more about the history of Wakefield village, read Wakefield Revisited, by Norma Geggie, available in local bookstores.