Hidden history in Bristol's far east

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Added: Wed, 11/07/2018 - 2:46pm
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Historian and Friends of Chats Falls president, Maude Lambert, (centre) tells the story of Union Village.

Deborah Powell

BRISTOL – The Friends of Chats Falls and guests participated in a historical hike October 13, beginning at the east end of Pontiac Station at the cottage of host Hope Cadieux and ending with a lunch at Pontiac Station.
While many participants were local, the history tour brought others from farther away, such as Bob Cavan from Manotick. History buff, Michael O'Keefe, recently purchased a cottage that sits on a steep hill passengers once had to climb to access the horse railway. “I just happened upon the property and when I learned about the history, I felt I'd hit the jackpot!” said O'Keefe. 
From Cadieux’s, hikers walked the now defunct CN rail line and a path cutting off through the woods that follows, in part, the still visible trail of the horse railway. The service ran for 30 years, beginning in 1847, carrying passengers and goods around the impassable Chats Falls to continue their steamship travels up the Ottawa River.
The trail ended at what was once the upriver station of the horse railway, Union Village, named for the Union Forwarding and Railway Company that built and operated the rail service, as well as the steamships on the stretch of the Ottawa River between Aylmer and Pembroke, known as Head-of-Chats.
From there, hikers headed east, following a trail that leads to the upper end of the unfinished canal that was supposed to bypass the rapids, part of a grand scheme known as the Georgian Bay Shipping Canal intended to link up to the Great Lakes. Before ‘sinking’ under the weight of cost over-runs due to the immense effort required to hand-drill and blast the very hard rock, significant progress was made to bring the project almost to completion in the 1860s.