This article is the result of special collaboration with Apartment 613, an Ottawa-based entertainment and lifestyle blog and radio show. Reviews of restaurants, bars and shops visited on the research trip and a copy of Fuck Yeah Gatineau broadcast on CHUO will soon be made available on their website.
Sometimes you’ll see the expression “Québec-Canada” written: it’s usually not a redundancy, but rather a codeword that suggests Quebec and Canada are on the same standing and that reveals the political aspirations of the person or institution using it. It is shorthand for everything and anything associated with the Quebec sovereignty-association movement, including the questioning of the distribution of wealth in Canada, the idea that Quebec is French-speaking and the rest of Canada is not, and the belief that government intervention can fix everything. FuckYeahQuebec.com doesn’t get into politics - especially not language or constitutional politics - but when you’re talking about Gatineau, the province’s third largest city, it’s hard not to.
The Gatineau region seen from Ontario, with Ottawa in foreground. Credit: Daniel Raillant-Clark
Gatineau implies Ottawa. Even if you tried your hardest (and many people in Quebec do), you can’t ignore the fact that these are twin cities, in an albeit almost false sense of the term. Ottawa, the oft-overlooked epicenter of British North American politics, positioned on a princely precipice overlooking the Outaouais or Ottawa River, a spot chosen by Queen Victoria herself. Canada’s masterpiece looks sideways at Gatineau, a muddle of municipalities merged in the 2000s in a rush of modernisation managed in the best revolution tranquille style (i.e. top-down), of which the former city of Hull was and is the most known and identifiable place. More important than the physical barrier that separates the two is the psychological one that overlays it: the national-provincial border.
The gorgeous lookouts along the Ottawa side offer the opportunity to gaze upon Hull, and from this angle you can admire a façade of effectively nameless and monolithic modernists hulks nay hives for federal employees. In other words, it looks like the Upper Canada side. In other words, this poised glimpse of Quebec doesn’t really reveal anything about what Gatineau is or was.
Gatineau seen from Ottawa. Credit: CBC.
It is in fact very easy to walk or cycle across one of the bridges to get a proper look, but despite claims to the contrary, your correspondent gets the feeling that not many tourists do (other than to perhaps visit one of the federal museums slotted along the river bank.) Crossing the Portage or Booth Street bridges takes you through the ruins of the Domtar (Dominion Tar) paper mill, an echoing introduction to the “have-not” half of Canada’s National Capital Region.
Hull sector of Gatineau, Quebec. Credit: Daniel Raillant-Clark
Domtar these days is effectively owned by the Government of Quebec and has its headquarters in Montreal, which seems strangely appropriate as the way Hull and Ottawa operate today evokes stories of Montreal of yore, where English, money and a form of secularism reigned in the Western half of the city, and French, labour and catholic mysticism dominated life in the East. “We’re in Quebec now, we should speak French,” I overheard. Not many English-speaking Quebecers would favour that sharp dissection of our social and physical geography, and not many French-speaking federalists would appreciate the non-dit implication (that Ottawa is for speaking English.)
Hull sector of Gatineau, Quebec. Credit: Daniel Raillant-Clark
In any event, Hull does feel like the Eastern part of Montreal, and in particular the areas around the Port of Montreal and the Molson Brewery: small apartment blocks and homes clustered as closely as practicable to industry. It in fact looks poorer, but it does not have the sometimes menacing atmosphere created by Hochelaga-Maisonneuve’s sex and drug trade. On the contrary, in fact. The strip on rue Eddy, with its lively bars and restaurants strangely shoved into awkwardly adapted buildings, is an incredibly, honestly and earnestly warm, welcoming, and unpretentious place to be. A great place to get started and make a friend is the Café aux Quatre jeudis. Welcome to Quebec.
Aux quatre jeudis with federal government buildings in the background. Credit: Jean-Sébastien Chevrier
Both the Federal and Provincial Governments have taken turns altering the hemlines and seams of the Gatineau region’s urban fabric, each in their own very specific way. The Federal government’s plonked installations look and act more or less like UFOs, settled on planet Quebec with the intention of increasing the border region’s economic (and ergo political) dependence on the Confederation. And the Government of Quebec has tried with the stroke of a distant pen to contrive community where there is none, yet another failed call to unity in order to achieve a mystical and blurry immediate-yet-unattainable goal. In other words, the layout of Gatineau is unnatural, and so the city’s gems are scattered about much like proverbial diamonds in the rough. Apartment 613 offers reviews of some of these hidden pearls - in particular, your correspondent recommends the gourmet ice-cream sandwiches chez Edgar, which can only be described as orgasmically satisfying.
“Odile”, an excellent gourmet restaurant owned and managed by the same chef as “Edgar”, co-habitates in a former house with second-hand appliance store. Credit: Daniel Raillant-Clark
Quebec’s relationship with Ontario, English-speakers relationships with francophones, and Gatineau’s relationship with Ottawa are incredibly more complex, sophisticated and dynamic than the red-blue tit-for-tat all-or-nothing dichotomy that continues to exist in the popular collective imagination of many French-speaking Quebecers and anglophone Ontarians. And so it is with Gatineau itself: beyond the Hull neighbourhood is a wonderful mix of stunning nature, storied history and multicultural suburbs. Gatineau is blessed with the Gatineau River, of which the “Queen’s chain” forms a stunning and massive wildlife park, driven like a wedge into the heart of urban sprawl. Following the river up in to the mountains brings the explorer to Old Chelsea and then Wakefield, two delightful, bilingual villages nestled into the unspoiled wilderness that surrounds them that are renown for their cultural vibrancy and historical heritage.
Wakefield, Quebec and the Gatineau River. Credit: Daniel Raillant-Clark
Gatineau is all too often ignored by Ontarians as being too much of the “other” and reviled by Quebecers for more-or-less the same reason (with a healthy dose of stereotypes about government towns thrown in for good measure). In your correspondent’s opinion, that’s a damn shame because Gatineau and the communities it represents have a lot to offer Quebec and Canada. What’s your opinion?
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- montrealcom answered: Interesting. Never been there.
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- paranymph answered: I hope you were being sarcastic when you referred to Ottawa as “Canada’s masterpiece” because that title belongs to Montreal!
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