Aylmer residents urge province to save 130-year-old dam ruins

Residents on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River want the provincial government to fence off the ruins of a dam built at the Deschênes Rapids some 130 years ago instead of demolishing the site.

'Integral part' of local history also site of 6 deaths in 10 years

Howard Powles, president of the Deschênes Residents' Association, is urging the Quebec government to hold off on a plan to destroy the Aylmer hydro ruins. (CBC)

Residents on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River want the provincial government to preserve the ruins of a dam built at the Deschênes Rapids some 130 years ago.

Transport Quebec owns the land where the hydro ruins sit, and the ministry wants to demolish them to ensure public safety.

The ministry says six people have died or gone missing in the water near the ruins over the past 10 years.

The stone ruins, however, are an integral part of the industrial history of Gatineau's Aylmer sector, said Howard Powles, president of the Deschênes Residents' Association.

The dam was built in 1885, and the electricity generated at the site once powered a train between Ottawa and Aylmer, Powles told Radio-Canada on Tuesday.

The site was also home to numerous sawmills, he added.

"It's a whole story of our past that's there. We feel that the vestiges should stay to tell people of what happened in the past," Powles said.

The Aylmer hydro ruins on the Deschênes Rapids date back to the 1880s. (CBC)

'Part of our heritage'

Quebec's Ministry of Culture should study the historical merits of the site before a plan to demolish the ruins goes ahead, said Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin.

"There are two issues. There's a safety issue, and there's a heritage issue. And I think that we must look at the dam from both points of view." he said.

"It's part of our heritage. It's part of our history. And if it can be preserved, we must look at it."

The city may decide to give the former dam an official heritage designation, Pedneaud-Jobin said, but the designation may not have much effect since the Quebec government owns the land.

Kayaker seeks compromise

Ottawa kayaker Joel Kowalski said the rapids are world-class and he wants the government to come up with a compromise to let thrill-seekers like him continue to enjoy it.

"I will tell you that it is one of the absolute best river waves in the world. In fact, every single spring quite a few people travel to this region to enjoy our rivers," Kowalski told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Wednesday. 

Kowalski, a member of the Canadian Men's Freestyle Kayaking Team, said while he understands the safety risks, he believes there is a way to mitigate them.

Water funnels at the main area of the site are what officials are worried about, but the kayakers actually surf near a different, "low-risk" area of the ruins, he said. 

"If you're going to put in the work to demolish parts or the whole site, the work to improve the site and make it safer and preserve it wouldn't be that much different," he said. 

Listen to the full interview with Kowalski here. 

No signs, no fencing

The province only took possession of the lands a few years ago, even though it was expropriated back in the 1970s, Powles said. 

His association would prefer fences on the shoreline and a "floating barrier" in the water, Powles said, instead of outright demolition.

"There's a lot of erosion. There's no fencing. And there's no signs, really, that advise how dangerous it is."

Powles said the association is planning to meet with André Fortin, the MNA for the region, to try to come up with a compromise.