Leaving the estate, we head for the Champlain Lookout atop the Eardley escarpment. Forming a dividing line between the Canadian Shield and the St. Lawrence Lowlands, the escarpment’s unique positioning creates a warm and dry microclimate.
Many visitors share this bird’s-eye view of the Ottawa Valley with us. The park receives more than 1.7 million visits a year, with fall a particularly busy time — the colours displayed by over fifty species of trees draw admirers from far and wide.
The next morning I direct my car along a narrow, winding route on the south side of Meech Lake, named after the Reverend Asa Meech, who arrived in the mid-nineteenth century.
Mining and logging were starting in earnest here then. Towering white pine trees, highly valued for ship masts, were felled and run down the Ottawa and Gatineau rivers, along the same route that iron ore, molybdenite, phosphate, and mica were shipped out after mining.
Logging intensified during the Great Depression, prompting a lobby by preservationists bent on stopping wholesale cutting in the Meech and Kingsmere sectors. King’s government responded with the creation of Gatineau Park in 1938.
I see no remaining signs of clear-cutting as privately owned cottages and homes of all sizes and pricetags dip in and out of view. Across the lake stands the former summer home of Thomas “Carbide” Willson, who made local industrial history by manufacturing calcium carbide.
He was also the first person in Ottawa to own a car. His home was built in 1907 and was eventually converted to a government conference centre. It’s most famously remembered as the 1987 site of constitutional talks leading to the Meech Lake Accord.
Taking highways skirting the park, it takes me thirty minutes to reach Parent Beach on Philippe Lake in the less-busy northwestern area of the park.
A welcoming picnic table allows fuelling-up for the two-hour, five-kilometre walk to Lusk Cave. I carry two flashlights and rain gear in preparation for the naturally formed marble cave. Inside, I can move fairly easily, with no chance of getting lost.
Other cave explorers wear hard hats, and I am careful of my head as I ease through the dripping, murkily lit interior. The lake’s shoreline leads me back to my car. Campers in canoes slide by, and a loon cries eerily before slipping beneath the water’s silky surface.
This is Canada’s capital backyard.