Gatineau Park – Exploring Carbide Willson ruins

Gatineau Park is undoubtedly one of the jewels of the National Capital Region and one of the most popular attractions in the Outaouais region. Imagine, more than 350 square kilometres of greenery, miles and miles of trails for hiking, biking, skiing or snowshoeing and many lakes and streams.

And yet, I had never visited it before last weekend. Yes, I know, shame on me for not having gone there earlier. I stopped counting the number of friends who looked at me in a bizarre way after I confessed to them that I had never gone there. Living in the Ottawa area and never having visited Gatineau Park is like living in Paris and never having visited Versailles. Well, I’m exaggerating a bit, but let’s just say I had to go.

Especially that, beyond its natural attractions, Gatineau Park is rich in history. So I decided to explore the park and one of its unusual places: the Carbide Willson ruins. A place that has already been part of the list of “40 most beautiful forgotten places in the world” of the Geneva daily Le Temps (a list in which we also find the Eastern State Penitentiary that I visited a few weeks ago).

Carbide Willson ruins in Gatineau Park
The river that used to feed the turbines of the mill

Thomas “Carbide” Willson was a scientist and inventor of the early 20th century who made a fortune in developing a process for creating carbide calcium (hence his nickname). In 1907, he settled on the shores of Meech Lake (in what is now Gatineau Park) and built a laboratory mill a little further in the forest to experiment with the transformation of phosphoric acid into fertilizer. Rumor has it that he has settled deep in the woods to avoid getting his ideas stolen by competitors.

Carbide Willson was passionate and believed that his experiments would revolutionize the world of fertilization. He invested all his savings in his projects and eventually found himself unable to pay his creditors. Its properties on Meech Lake were passed over to a tobacco giant, who did not see the point in continuing the fertilization experiments and left the mill falling into ruin.

Carbide Willson ruins in Gatineau Park
Inside the mill

These ruins are today a particularly photogenic place. There is something magical when you finally arrive in front of them after walking about twenty minutes in the forest. They reinforce the impression that Gatineau Park is full of enchanting and secret places … just waiting to be discovered!

To get to the ruins, you must follow Trail 36 from the P11 parking lot, up to the signs indicating the path to the ruins. It’s a beautiful walk in the forest, and not very complicated!

And another interesting fact … Willson’s former home on the shores of Meech Lake is now used as a conference centre for the federal government. This is where the famous Meech Lake Accord was negotiated … But that’s another story!


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