Ward 3 election issue:
Candidates speak up on the future of the Deschênes Rapids Ruins
Brendan Shaughnessy and Lily Ryan
Gatineau’s first responder services are not equipped to handle rescues in the Deschênes Rapids, a finding that was made public in the last year. Ottawa services are called when a white-water intervention is required, reducing response time and thus increasing the safety risk. The union for workers in first response notes their members cannot be put into unsafe situations without appropriate tools and training. While the ruins belong to Hydro Quebec, the public corporation defers to Gatineau in the matter of whether or not to knock them down. The Heritage Committee of Gatineau, chaired by councillor Richard Bégin, was asked to make a recommendation on the site and has met in private on the matter a number of times over the last 18 months. The ruins attract visitors, are constructed remains of Deschênes early industry and are beloved by the majority of letter-writers to the Bulletin on this topic over the last two years.
Mike Duggan says his position on the Deschênes Rapids Ruins has evolved, and that it now stands as this: “Let’s make it safe and then enjoy it.” The Lucerne district councillor says he initially felt that the ruins were too dangerous to remain after hearing reports from security officials. He says he rethought his stance after doing more research and consulting nearby residents.
He says those in the area told him that they want the ruins to remain, but that there should be proper signage. Duggan says risk reduction is still paramount. “For me, public safety is the priority, and then we do what we can about heritage,” he says, “because we can’t have heritage at the cost of human lives.”
The councillor says he’s in support of ecotourism at the location, as it is a popular kayaking and rafting area. Duggan says he also wants to develop the nearby corner of land into a public park. “It wouldn’t take much,” he says, “to make that a nice little meeting place for friends and family.”
Duggan says he would try to work alongside stakeholders from the NCC, Hydro Quebec and other organizations to make the park a reality.
Richard Bégin says an ongoing study has to be completed before changes are made to the land bordering the rapids.
The incumbent says he has been working on the study with the city’s Urban Planning division and the Deschênes Residents’ Association since council approved funding for it in 2014, but progress has slowed. “I wish the study were done by now, but there have been so many changes to Urban Planning,” he says, “so I understand that the (department) is no longer as concentrated on this matter, but they’re working on it.”
Bégin says the end result of that study will be an action plan for the area, following discussions with the main stakeholders involved. The councillor says he has always been in favour of keeping the ruins, given their historical significance; he adds that his preference is for the structure to be reinforced, and for the area to be made more suitable for tourist and outdoor activities.
The waters are no more dangerous than any other rapids, he says. “If someone wants to go out in a kayak, it’s a risk,” he says, “just like downhill skiers can fall down a mountain, or a skydiver’s parachute might not open.”
Bégin says the ruins are one of his highest priorities, and that he would continue to fight for their preservation even if he loses his seat.