Sample walk

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©1988, Katharine Fletcher

The third edition, now published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside, is now available at bookstores.



This sample walk is from from the second edition of Historical Walks: the Gatineau Park story, originally published in 1988. Katharine revised the book extensively in 1992, adding 5 new walks and incorporating changes to trails brought about by both man and nature — most notably beavers! By the end of 1999, more than 10,000 copies had been sold.

In 1997, the book was translated into French and is available as Promenades historiques dans le parc de la Gatineau.

The "Ruins" walk is only minutes from downtown Ottawa and is interesting at any time of the year. You are welcome to print this sample walk to use as a guide. Of course, we'd be delighted if you decide to buy a copy so you can enjoy all the other walks!


Meech Lake 1: The Ruins

Shared bike/hike/ski trail #36 and unnumbered path
3.25 km return; allow 2 hours for the ruins

Walk through a predominantly hardwood forest to find the ruins of Thomas "Carbide" Willson’s fertilizer plant. Only part of this trail is a shared trail (#36).

Please note: although discouraged by the NCC, these ruins are the favourite retreat of nude sunbathers. If your sensibilities are likely to be offended, by all means avoid this area; otherwise feel free to go and enjoy the walk as you would any other. An early morning start (7:30 a.m. or so) may permit you to wander around the ruins freely — and to get your photos before the appearance of a camera causes any misunderstandings!

Access: The most direct route is to take the Meech Lake Road from Old Chelsea and continue to O’Brien Beach P-11 on your right. Or, take the Champlain Parkway, and turn right on Fortune Lake Parkway. Turn right and continue to the Meech Lake Road; now turn left, continuing to O’Brien Beach. Note: in season when the beaches are open, there is a fee for parking.

Facilities: Outhouses at O’Brien Beach; changing facilities and garbage bins at the parking lot. Tips: on summer weekends the lot is often full. You can canoe on Meech Lake: be wary; it is a big, long lake so winds blow up quickly, creating white-cap waves. A brief lift of a portage gets you into Little Meech Lake.

Meech Lake Ruins map
(32KB JPG image)

Trail description: Start at the northwest corner of P–11, at the gravel road. This restricted access road is NCC-maintained and RCMP-patrolled: both the O’Brien and Willson homes are government retreats and barred from public use.

Proceed on foot up the road until you reach the well-worn Discovery trail #36 heading off to your right (north) through the woods: a distance of about .25 km. (If you come to the stone pillars and iron gate marking the entrance to the Willson estate, you must turn back, for you’ve gone too far.)

Head along the footpath going over gentle hills for about 700 metres. You soon come to a wide, steep descent to a sturdy bridge spanning a narrows. While descending, find the small holes in the embankment: this is a veritable "chipmunk condo"! Imagine them scurrying along, sheltered by the mossy overhangs. As you cross the bridge, "big" Meech Lake is on your left; Little Meech to your right. Look for merganser ducks and loons, or listen for the rattling laugh of the kingfisher!

At the end of the bridge, veer right to follow the shoreline for 250 metres. Look for the long-deserted beaver lodge at the side of the trail. There is a fork in the trail at the end of the bay, and your keen eye will spot the NCC sign declaring that nudism is illegal! Stay left, up a short, fairly steep incline for approximately 250 metres. You pass a broad trail leading down to Lawless Bay. Stay on your trail, until you reach another well-worn path to the right. Head right, and continue uphill for .5 km to the ruins. Cross the headwaters of Meech Creek. In winter, this picturesque waterfall has that lovely blue ice. In the early days, logs were floated down the creek to Cascades, on the Gatineau River.

Return to your car by retracing your steps.

Intersecting trails: A honeycomb of trails is found here, most of which should be avoided. Please don’t contribute to erosion of this delicate woodland: keep to the main trails.

Giant’s Trail: A long circuit can be made if you go up the rocky path behind the acid condensation tower. At time of printing, this is the unmarked Giant’s Trail. It goes to Meech Creek Valley’s P-16 at Pine Road. Using Giant’s Trail, you can return to your car at O’Brien Beach and take in the Capucin chapel, too. (See Meech Lake 2 and 3 walk.)

The super-phosphate plant
in 1917. (73KB image)

Points of interest: By 1904, Thomas "Carbide" Willson had purchased 460 acres at Meech Lake. There he built his summer residence, but it is the ruins of the dam, generating station and acid condensation tower that you see today. The super-phosphate fertilizer plant was the first of its kind in the world. In fact, Patrick Farrell had already built a dam here at the start of Meech Creek for his sawmill.

Today, the electrical generating plant stands, its windows and roof victim to time and vandalism. The large cylindrical tube which funnelled water into the station is all but gone: you can see where it once lay, and can appreciate why the NCC fenced off its mouth. On the opposite side of Meech Creek, only the base of the acid condensation tower is left: the rest was destroyed by fire.

Meech Lake is named after Reverend Asa Meech.

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Updated 15-Feb-2011

Katharine would love to hear from you if you've been on one of the walks! She also leads walks in Gatineau Park for private groups or through the Ottawa Board of Education.