Friday, September 28, 2012

Primal Wilderness Rambling From Gatineau Canada

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” ~ John Muir

My hometown is the capital of my country. Ottawa is a nice city to live in - as long as you ignore the politicians. It’s nestled on one bank of the Ottawa River, and the valley itself has always struck me as one of the beautiful places in Canada, full of character, areas to explore, and a lot of history, on both sides of the river, in two provinces.

Over on the Quebec side, past the streets and homes of our sister city Gatineau is a rise of hills and bluffs viewable from many places here. The Gatineau Hills are a southern reach of the ancient Canadian Shield and a western prelude to the Laurentian Mountains. A good portion of the hills are federal land, such as Gatineau Park, a refuge of wilderness, peace and quiet only a short drive away from the cities. Here you can find time for hiking, relaxation, mountain biking, cross country skiing, and rock climbing... which happens to be my favourite pastime.

When the fall colours are changing, the Hills draw motorists to roam its roads, taking in the annual flourish of brilliant reds, oranges, and browns as the leaves reach their final phase. You’ll find photographers everywhere during that time and more than a few painters capturing the vivid colours. In a few weeks, the changeover to winter will come, and the roads themselves will become cross country ski trails. This is also a favourite activity of mine, though I can say from experience that one must be careful not to have close run-ins with deer crossing your path. That’s the sort of thing that leads to leg injuries, ego bruising, and friends teasing you mercilessly.

Spring and summer bring new life to the hills, with hikers walking the trails and bikers sharing the roads. Lookouts give grand views of the valley. Places like Pink Lake, King Mountain, Meech Lake, or Lusk Cave draw trekkers, explorers, and those just seeking some downtime. Plus, the Hills themselves are a refuge for a great diversity of wildlife, including the aforementioned deer, moose, beavers, bears, birds, all in a great swath and variety of woodlands, meadows, and bogs. For me, the place has a restoring, rejuvenating effect. It’s a paradise on my back doorstep.

The Hills have a human presence as well, not to mention ties to Canada's history. Scattered through the park are still some private residences, gradually returning to public ownership over time. Small towns and hamlets can be found on its flanks, including the picturesque village of Wakefield on the eastern side of the park. Here, in a quiet cemetery near the village, is one of those ties to history. The grave of our finest Prime Minister, Lester Pearson, rests alongside his wife and among the tombstones of people whose families have lived in the area for generations. It’s a secluded, peaceful spot for eternal rest.

Another historical site lies in the heart of the park. It is the legacy of another prime minister, left in trust to the country. William Lyon Mackenzie King guided Canada through the Depression and World War Two - when he wasn’t too busy conducting séances. He owned a tract of two hundred or so acres up in the Hills. Over time he built two retreats, Kingswood and Moorside, a few minutes walk from each other. Kingswood is nestled alongside a lovely lake and consists of a pair of cottages and accompanying buildings, filled with items from the man himself. It was the first of the homes he built on the site.

Moorside is a short stroll away, a larger and more formal house surrounded by gardens, spacious lawns, and the occasional ruin. A structure fitting a Prime Minister. Over time, Mackenzie King gathered relics from stonemason’s work, such as columns or arches from ruined buildings, including stones from the original Centre Block of Parliament, which burned down during the First World War. He reassembled the relics on his estate.

Today, visitors stopping at Moorside for a cup of tea may wander among the great man’s gardens and find themselves staring at a column that once stood in front of a bank, or a sculpture lurking among the trees, or a masonwork assemblage resembling an old abbey. This is a tremendously appealing place, perfect for wedding photos and reflecting the sentimental, superstitious side of Kings personality.

I’ve long since lost track of how many times I’ve wandered the Hills with friends. The Hills are the sort of place that stay with me. I feel a sense of connection to this land. So, as a writer, it’s no surprise that I plan to make use of the place in a future book. As appealing as the estate is by day, what might it be like to stand among the Abbey ruins late at night and find yourself on the business end of two guns, held by two people whose father you had killed? This scenario came to me a while back, and it’s something I’ll put into a book down the line. I wonder what the Prime Minister would have made of my staging a murder at his home….

William Kendall is a writer, photographer and rock climber from the Ottawa Valley. When he's not working on his world domination scheme (no golfers allowed), he can be found writing the forthcoming Heaven & Hell, plus his personal blog Speak Of The Devil.


  1. You live in a beautiful place, William!

    You haven't reach a truce with the deer yet?

    I knew you'd include at least one pic of rock climbers....

  2. I know that particular rock face rather well!

  3. Sir Wills,

    Those pictures are breathtakingly beautiful. Did you take them?

    And too, no matter where we go in the world, all politicians should be ignore. Liberals. Conservatives. All of them.

    Hugs and chocolate,

  4. Not my shots, Shelly, though I've taken photos in each of these places.

  5. Absolutely beautiful and on my vacation list! Must be nice to live there:).


  6. very beautiful photos, I hope some day to travel to beautiful places like you, and is not nothing boring your page, just that a great detail, everything is in English, jejeje