'It was really alive': Remembering the razing of McConnell-Laramée

Dozens of people came together Saturday to remember the history of Gatineau's McConnell-Laramée neighbourhood, where hundreds of homes and businesses were expropriated in 1972 to build a major east-west thoroughfare.

Homes, businesses were demolished in the 1970s to build Boulevard des Allumettières

Sylvie Bédard holds the number of her family home, which she had to leave behind when the property was expropriated in the 1970s to make way for Boulevard des Alumettières. Dozens of people gathered at a Gatineau mall on Feb. 9, 2019, to remember the expropriation project. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

For Sylvie Bédard's mother, leaving her home in Gatineau's former McConnell-Laramée neighbourhood was "completely devastating."

"She had been born and raised in that parish," said Bédard, one of dozens who gathered Saturday to remember the hundreds of homes and businesses expropriated there in the 1970s to build Boulevard des Allumettières.

"She really couldn't figure out how to actually live anywhere else."

Bédard's parents had lived in the McConnell-Laramée sector in Hull for decades. The family of six were forced to move — into a more expensive home — when Bédard was a teenager.

Her extended family was split up, as her grandparents' property was also expropriated for the multi-lane highway between Hull and Aylmer.

In all, about 225 properties were torn down or relocated — but many more people were affected by the project, Bédard said, because a good number of those buildings were duplexes or triplexes.

As this archival photo shows, whole houses were either moved or torn down during the expropriation process in Hull in the early 1970s. (City of Gatineau)
This photo from 1972 shows Rue Laramée in Gatineau prior to a major expropriation carried out to pave the way for Boulevard des Allumettières. (Ministère des Transports du Québec)

Livelihoods lost

While the expropriation started in 1972, construction on Boulevard des Allumettières didn't start until 2003 and didn't finish until 2008.

The time it took to open the busy east-west thoroughfare, Bédard said, was "probably the hardest thing to really live with."

"To actually look around and see .... nothing came out of it was really very problematic from that standpoint," she said.

Still, Bédard was happy to reconnect with members of the former community Saturday at Les Galeries de Hull, along with more than 15 historical groups.

Bédard's husband, Jean-Marc Renaud, worked at a grocery store his father owned that shut down after the expropriation.

"That was his livelihood," Renaud said. "And then, all of that suddenly shut down."

People look at archival photos of Gatineau's former McConnell-Laramée neighbourhood at an event held Saturday at Les Galeries de Hull. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)
Sylvie Bédard and Jean-Marc Renaud were both happy to relive some of the memories from the neighbourhood they grew up in. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

Important to remember

Renaud's father, who was in his late 40s, had to go back to school. While he ended up being successful, Renaud said the transition was long and anxiety-filled.

He said he's happy the process of expropriation is more "human" now, compared to the 1970s.

Michel Prévost, a local historian, said it was important to remember the history of the community. 

"For these people, it was horrible because it was a very nice sector. A lot of activities. A nice park. It was really alive in this area, and unfortunately with all the expropriation, all that was [gone],"said Prévost, president of la Société d'Histoire de l'Outaouais. 

"And even today, for these people, it was a horrible story."

Saturday's event featured traditional dancing, music, and historical photos from the neighbourhood.


Krystalle Ramlakhan is a multi-platform journalist with CBC Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I., Winnipeg and Iqaluit.