The mouth of a big river feeding into the trade route that was once the Ottawa River, or a portage detour forced by rapids was just the place for a fur trading outpost. It is therefore hardly surprising to learn that a small fort once stood at the mouth of the Lièvre River, on its east side, in the early days of the English system. But by around 1800, when the North West and Hudson's Bay companies were facing off against each other, it was no longer there.
Ports from which wood is shipped always spring up at such confluences. The case of Masson, at the mouth of the Lièvre River, which at the time was called the Bassin de la Lièvre, or simply the Bassin, is original because the sites where the wood was processed for shipment were in Buckingham, further upstream, unlike Hull, where the port and sawmills were co-located. The effervescence that sparked the birth of the village in the late 19th century stemmed from the shape of the Lièvre River in that spot, where it forms a large placid basin.
Ideal for floating and assembling squared timber into cribs and then rafts, the Bassin, after which the community was first named, later became a natural harbour for the barges onto which the dried milled wood was loaded and then shipped east or to the United States. The role of Masson─originally called Le Bassin─as a hub would be strengthened by the arrival of the railway: because the steep slope prevented the laying of railway tracks along the Lièvre River, Masson became the main station in the region.
This village, which was originally built by a seasonal working population that was vulnerable to shifting economic conditions, would catch its second wind with the construction of a paper mill and a hydro plant. The presence of these giants was a tremendous windfall for the village, enabling it to survive the devastation of the fire that broke out in 1930.
Coordination: Sonia Blouin, Ville de Gatineau
Writing: Manon Leroux, historian
Research: Gérald Charron, Manon Leroux and Michel Riberdy
Translation: Katalin Poor, Traduction Al Punto
Editing: Michel Bédard, Ville de Gatineau
Photos: Ville de Gatineau
Photo 4: Les commerces et entreprises de chez nous, fascicule du centenaire de la paroisse Notre-Dame-des-Neiges de Masson, no 11, 1989
Photo 10: Servants of Jesus and Mary
Photo 11: Buckingham Historical Society, collection Jean-Bastien
Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec
BAnQ-Gatineau, fonds James Maclaren Company, photos Rodolphe Léger
Photo 1: Les cours à bois du « Bassin » à Masson et l'église Notre-Dame-des-Neiges en arrière-plan, vers 1890 (P117, S1, SS1, D28, P24)
Photo 2: Transport et entreposage du bois, en billots ou scié, sur la rivière du Lièvre, vers 1890 (P117, S1, SS1, SSS2, D3, P1)
Recognized for its quality of life, Gatineau is a city of 290,000 inhabitants. It is located on the north shore of the Ottawa River, and extends east and west of the Gatineau River.