Deschênes celebrates 100th anniversary
On Saturday, July 11, just over 100 years after the Incorporation of Deschênes as a village, and almost 200 years after a trading post was established there on the banks of the Ottawa River, the Deschênes Residents Association will celebrate these milestones with conferences, concerts, and maybe even a fireworks display. Howard Powles, President of the Deschênes Residents Association, tells us that the celebration will be centred around Parc Madaire and the Deschênes Community centre across from the Hotel Deschênes. Everyone is welcome to come and not only celebrate, but also learn about the history through a set of interpretive panels along Vanier Road, and a historical walk through the neighbourhood. Mr Powles adds that funding has been applied for and, with any luck, murals will be painted on Hotel Deschênes and the Deschênes Community Centre to depict key events that are integral to the story of how Deschênes became Deschênes.
The Deschênes Rapids was an important portage site for the hunters and trappers in the early 1800’s. It lead to over 40 kilometres of the beautiful and plentiful Ottawa River. It was an obvious spot for a trading post, which was set up in 1821. It was also a perfect place to harness the power of the river to power mills and, when the time came, to create electricity. A canal was dug to channel water to power the wool, grain, and saw mills that were erected. Robert Conroy and Mary McConnell were responsible for all this development. They became true Lumber Barons and operated a huge farm as well into the early 1900’s.
The mills operated throughout the mid-1800s. Also during this time, a railway was built linking Ottawa to Aylmer, which passed right through Deschênes. This provided a huge boost to the local economy. Then, in and around 1885, a dam was built. Two sawmills were now able to operate along with the wool and grain mills. In 1895, an electric generating station was built. McConnell’s sons were responsible for the generating station, one being a great inventor. Unfortunately, the mills burned to the ground around 1899, but adversity sometimes spawns prosperity. The boys put two more generating stations on the dam, and The Hull Electric Company was born. They powered everything in and around Deschênes including the electric tram that ran from Ottawa to Queen’s Park, in Aylmer. The beautiful grey stone building on the corner of Vanier and Lucerne was the home of the tram workshops.
Towards the end of World War I, a nickel refinery was built at Deschênes and iron ore was trained down from Sudbury for this purpose. Business was booming, and this drove the village to incorporate in 1920. Before its incorporation, Deschênes was part of the South Hull municipality. A school was built, Ecole St. Medard, and the parish was then established. Parroise St. Medard. It is still there in Deschênes to this day. In 1922, when the demand for nickel dropped after the war, the factory closed and sat empty until the mid-1980’s, offering young boys and girls a grand playground. As early as 1930 all the buildings on the dam were gone. Today, all that’s left are the ruins in the water where once stood powerful mills and generating stations.
Further information can be found online at vive-deschenes.ca and at the Deschênes Residents Association Facebook page.