Visiting 179, Promenade du Portage, Gatineau, Québec / Quebec: Remembering a defender of the French language

Flag of Quebec
Flag of Quebec | Source
Hotel Chez-Henri, Gatineau
Hotel Chez-Henri, Gatineau | Source
Map location of Gatineau, in Quebec
Map location of Gatineau, in Quebec | Source

For your visit, this item may be of interest

A fine property with interesting features

This fine building at 179, Promenade du Portage, Gatineau, Québec / Quebec, dates from 1900 and belonged to Dr. Louis Duhamel (1835-1915)(1). The latter was a Pronotary for many years and, unusually for professionals in 19th century Québec / Quebec, he used signage in the French language to advertise his services (2).

Today, with a body of language laws in the Province defending the status of French, this measure with which Dr Duhamel was identified may seem like a small matter, but in its time it was significant among professional people.

The house at 179, Promenade du Portage was considerably refurbished several years after Dr Duhamel's death and became a hotel known as Chez Henri. This Hotel was thus named for its Swiss owner Henri Burger (1879-1936). In its definitive form, the house had 3½ stories, and included a conical tower as a prominent feature. At the part of the elevation nearest to Promenade du Portage, it also has a somewhat ornate frontage. While its roofing is not genuine mansard, yet its styling tastefully gives it a mansard appearance. The whole is sometimes referred to as being in 'Renaissance castle' style.

Interestingly, although the hotel was ostensibly known for the quality of its cuisine, it was also significant that its years of prosperity coincided with Prohibition in force in Ontario (but not in Québec / Quebec); and consequently also, when Prohibition was repealed in Ontario, many of the Hotel's clientele ceased to patronize the establishment, which led to a downturn in the business's fortunes. This episode serves to illustrate something of the curiosities and anomalies which the Prohibition period featured in Canadian history.

A few years ago, a thorough program of rebuilding and refurbishment was carried out and the property is now is a fine condition again, having been made subject to a heritage designation at the beginning of the 21st century. While there was for a while some question whether the responsible contractor had obtained the necessary planning permission for the rebuilding of the structure which had fallen into disrepair (3), the quality of what has been achieved at 179, Promenade du Portage is not in serious doubt.

The building forms part of the Kent-Aubry-Wright sector of Downtown Gatineau, an architecturally preserved area of the city (4). Both from the perspective of massive development in Gatineau and from the history of fires which in the 19th century left much of the old housing stock in Hull (as Downtown Gatineau used to be known) destroyed), the city authorities have thus been very active in recent years in efforts to preserve its architectural heritage.

March 14, 2106

Notes

(1) Dr. Duhamel also served as a member of the provincial Parliament.

(2) See also: http://www.historymuseum.ca/cmc/exhibitions/hist/hull/rw_35_ie.shtml

(3) Of particular concern to some observers was the temporary disappearance of the conical tower at the property which had been regarded as significant when the building had been given its heritage designation. The tower had become structurally unsound, necessitating its rebuilding, and this has now been accomplished according to a fine standard.

(4) See also: http://www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=1512

In Gatineau itself, the Musée canadien des civilisations / Canadian Museum of Civilization is Canada's most visited museum. Gatineau's Masion du citoyen / Citizen's House has a noted art gallery and the Hall des nations / Hall of the Nations containing valuable cultural artifacts from around the world. Parc de la Gatineau / Gatineau Park has exceptional recreational and scenic possibilities.

In Ottawa (distance: 2 kilometres from Downtown Hull, Gatineau) possesses cultural treasures, structures of architectural excellence and noted museums which are too numerous to mention properly here; but a few of these include Parliament Hill, Rideau Hall, the Chateau Laurier, Laurier House, the Rideau Canal, and the Bank of Canada's Currency Museum.

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How to get there: Air Canada flies from various North American destinations to Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport / Aéroport international Macdonald-Cartier d'Ottawa, where car rental is available. However, travellers may prefer to use OC Transpo public transit for travel within Ottawa / Gatineau. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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