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Monday, 17 October 2016

Wakefield, Quebec - A Trip Down Memory Lane


Wakefield, Quebec - A Trip Down Memory Lane



Our recent house/pet sit in Manotick, near Ottawa, put us in the vicinity of the Gatineau Park, just north of Hull, in Quebec. We had gotten permission from the home/pet owners to take their dog, Jazzy, out for day trips in our car, so we took her with us across the provincial border on two occasions. We wanted to enjoy the Fall colours in 'La Belle Province', while providing Jazzy with the opportunity to sniff out new areas. 

On our first visit, we decided to visit the village of Wakefield - a place that has some fond memories of when I first came to live in Canada, back in 1989. 


We love the various village and town signs - and this one, in Wakefield, is no exception.


My first Canadian friend was a teacher/associate at the school where I had been assigned. Pat, a wonderful woman who is full of the 'joie de vivre' -and someone whose company we thoroughly enjoy - used to have a chalet in the Gatineau, overlooking Lac Bernard, just north of Wakefield. 

At the end of June, in my first year of teaching here, Pat and her husband, Robin, invited me to spend a weekend with them at the cabin, so we left Scarborough on the Friday night and traveled over 6 hours to get there. (This was my first experience of long-distance treks in this huge country - and it certainly whet my appetite for more). 

Passing through Wakefield on our way to the cabin, Pat promised that we'd visit the village during our stay. Being a railway enthusiast, I was thrilled to learn that the station, in Wakefield, was now a restaurant (called the 'Cafe Pot au Feu') that overlooked the Gatineau River. Little did I know that this restaurant would become a favourite destination for our visitors from the U.K. whenever we took them into the Ottawa Region. 


The heritage railway station is now a restaurant, overlooking the Gatineau River

A view across the Gatineau River from the restaurant
The 'Cafe Pot au Feu' sign


I will never forget one such visit where we were enjoying a delicious meal with our visitors, while taking in the surrounding scenery. I remember sharing wistfully with our guests how wonderful it would have been in the olden days to have been standing in this spot and hearing the whistle of the train, and seeing the whisp of smoke as the steam train made it's way around the bend in the river to arrive at the station. 
The village of Wakefield - as seen from the restaurant. Although it looks like it is on the other side of the river, it's actually on the same side, just round a bend in the river.


Lo and behold... I had barely uttered those words when we heard a train whistle and saw a white puff of smoke across the river!!! I couldn't believe it! I had not been aware that there was a regular tourist steam train during the summer months taking passengers to Wakefield from Hull, via Chelsea

To my utter delight, we watched the train as it chugged alongside the river and finally came to a stop at the station. It had been years since I had seen a steam train, and I was truly in my element. The only thing was, it had come to a stop right in front of the platform (obviously) where the outside seating of the restaurant was now located, blocking the view of the river! Suddenly, people were pouring out of the coaches, ready to tour the village and/or find a seat in the restaurant. Luckily, we had just finished our meal, so we were able to vacate our table. 

I was totally enthralled when I saw the steam engine being uncoupled and moving slowly along the track towards a manual turntable, to be turned around in readiness for its return journey to Hull. I had never seen this in real life, so I was mesmerized with excitement at witnessing this, first-hand. 


Turntable of the Hull-Chelsea-Wakefield railroad. 



Years later, when our friends, Alan and Elaine, visited us from the U.K., we decided to strike off an item from our bucket-list - to travel to Wakefield on the train from Hull. The trip gave tourists a couple of hours to spend in Wakefield before the return journey. Sure enough, we booked ahead, and thought we would surprise our visitors during our stay in Ottawa. My excitement grew as we crossed the Ottawa River in the ferry and made our way to the station. 

Happily seated on the train, we waited patiently until the whistle blew, and the engine pulled us slowly out of the station. The old familiar smell of the steam train added to the sheer joy of the experience, as we started to watch the outskirts of Hull pass by. 'This is it!', I thought to myself. I'm actually going to Wakefield on a steam train - just like so many people had done in the past. This was history in the making!! 

Alas, it wasn't to be... just 10 minutes out of the station, the train (which had been traveling fairly slowly) came to a gentle halt and we sat there, unmoving, for several minutes. The conductor informed us that there was a mechanical hitch and that we would be returning to Hull!!! So we found ourselves slowly moving in the opposite direction of where we had hoped to go, and back to where we started. How disappointing! 

Not to be outdone, we made our way back to the car and drove the 30 minutes or so that it took to get to Wakefield. Parking at the Pot au Feu, we trundled into the restaurant and found seats on the outdoor platform. The waitress told us that they were waiting for the train to arrive and that they were expecting the usual throng of patrons. We informed them that this would not be happening that day as we had been on that train and it was still in Hull. I'm sure that, unfortunately, their profits were down that day. After enjoying the meal, we took our friends on a tour of the village, with its artsy attractions, making sure that they saw the covered bridge and, of course, the railroad turntable!

After seeing so many covered bridges during our house/pet sit in Vermont, earlier this year, it was good to visit this one, which is a short drive beyond the Pot au Feu. A commemorative plaque near the bridge provides the following information: 

'A committee of local volunteers established the Wakefield Covered Bridge Project in 1987 - three years after the Gendron covered bridge, built on this site in 1915, had been destroyed by fire. Their goal was a new bridge, faithful in structure to the original one, but restricted in use to pedestrians and cyclists. 

'More than 1000 donors and volunteers contributed to reconstructing this treasured landmark.'

It's brightly painted exterior sets it up for some beautiful photographs... and crossing over the bridge is like a little trip back in time to the early 1900's and how life was in those days. 


The Covered Bridge crosses the Gatineau River

Mark takes Jazzy across the bridge


Nearly every visitor we have hosted has been given the tour of Ottawa, and we always ensured that a trip to Wakefield was included in that tour. I suppose we've visited the village nearly ten times over the years. 


All of these memories came flooding back as we drove through the village last week. 

Unfortunately, the railroad tracks alongside the river are now overgrown with grass and weeds as the train tour was discontinued in 2011. I have learned that it's sometimes better to hold cherished memories of the past in your heart and not try to recreate them because things never seem to stay the same, and the memories are then coloured by those changes. After all, ten years had passed since our last visit there, and it was inevitable that it would not be quite the same as our memory served us. However, the Cafe Pot au Feu still seems to be a main attraction for visitors, as is the covered bridge. 

I asked Mark to drive through the village, from one end to the other, while I filmed the experience for readers of this blog to get a feel of the village. 


A Drive through the Village of Wakefield

If you are in the Ottawa area, we would certainly recommend a trip to Wakefield, with its picturesque setting - possibly stopping in Old Chelsea on the way for a coffee and a treat. You will not be disappointed by this charming village, nested on the Gatineau River with all the splendour of the surrounding forest - especially in the Fall. There are several eating establishments in the village; but the Pot au Feu will always be my favourite. 


#happyfitandfree  #travelguys



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