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  • Ontario, Canada

LaPasse (Gower Point)

LaPasse began life under another name.  The Gower Road ran east from Front Westmeath, straight across the peninsula, to again meet the Ottawa River at Gower Point.   The village grew along the river frontage; along the north-south river road that is  now named LaPasse Road east of Gore Line and Lacroix Bay Road, west of Gore Line.

The Gower: The word Gower probably was taken from the name of a peninsula in South Wales – the truth will never be known. There is a similarity in the peninsular-setting. Even today the similarity rings true with “The Gower” a peninsula in S. Wales, in Swansea county on the Bristol Channel,  mainly known for agriculture with several resorts. In old writings from  Westmeath Township, quotes would use the two words as in “Going down The Gower”.  If interpreted as “Going down the Peninsula”, the Gore Line is still doing just that.

LaPasse -From Ontario Place Names 2007.

Pop. 97 (2007). In Westmeath Township, Renfrew County. on the Ottawa River. and County. Rds. 49 & 50, 32 km E of Pembroke.

When Alexander Sherriff travelled through the Ottawa Valley in 1829, he described this area as La Posse and La Beauce Settlement. La Passe may relate to the flight lines of wild geese along the Ottawa R. during their spring and fall migrations. At this point on their travels they fly across the 9-km-wide peninsula formed by Westmeath Township instead of following the sharp loop of the Ottawa River.

In 1852 the community was called Gower Point but in 1906 it was renamed La Passe.

This is the smallest community of the township but very early in the 1800’s, settlement was started.  Gower Point was well known because it was at the top of the channels that went around Calumet Island downstream.  In this section of the Ottawa, the river was in one deep, fast, narrowed channel.   On some old maps the name Lapasse appears on the Quebec side of the river opposite Gower Point.

Also downstream, on the Upper Canada side, the water churned and whirlpooled in the rushing whitewaters of the Rocher Fendu.  What is now a multi-million dollar tourist attraction, was to be avoided by the travelers in the 1800’s, who used  the calmer channel north of Grand Calumet Island,  on the Lower Canada side of the river.

Looking upriver from LaPasse. Photographed from steeple of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church. The white house in the bottom foreground is still in use as the community general store.

The name LaPasse originates from “Lapasse des outardes” in reference to the passing of thousands of migrating Canada Geese, to and from their northern and southern ranges.  This migration flyway  still exists. It is a common thing in the fall and spring to see large flocks resting during their long journey, either on the river or in surrounding farm fields.

This billboard now displayed in the village shows the early settlement and the gray stone Roman Catholic church with its white spire which is still a prominent landmark of La Passe

To nurture their strong Catholic faith, the first chapel to be built by the early settlers was a log building erected on the site of the present presbytery, but fire later destroyed it. In 1886, a stone building was constructed which today still serves as Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish.  Opposite stands a parish hall, formerly used as the village school and behind on the hillside is the LaPasse Cemetery.

In 1963 Le Droit Newspaper published an article by L’Abbe Joseph E. Gravelle, which contains some information about the early settlers in LaPasse and  in Fort Coulonge on  opposite shores  of the Ottawa.  LaPasse Le Droit 1963.    This article has been translated into English:  The Origins of La Passe

La Passe was well known for its ferry that traveled from La Passe to Fort Coulonge, Quebec, a distance of three miles.  The first ferry used a horse-powered engine while in later years, a larger gas engine was used and a wooden scow. Arnel Laporte who operated the ferry from 1939 to 1961 used a steel scow that could carry six large cars at one time.   (For more on the ferry service  go to Ottawa Shoreline .)

There was also a well kept ice road in the winter. Many families had relatives on both sides of the river so visits were frequent.  Also the ice road was used heavily to transport supplies up to the winter lumber shanties.  Local men could find work in those shanties to bring home some hard-earned cash come spring; plus the lumber camps bought a lot of supplies from the local farmers – everything from beef- often driven in “on the hoof” to ensure freshness in a time before refrigeration, – to hay and oats for the horse teams, to butter,  lard and beans for the camp cook.

Lacroix’s General Store, LaPasse

For Jimmy Lacroix, 74 and his wife Frances, 65, their general store in LaPasse has been as much a way of life as a business.

Mr. Lacroix started working with his mother in the store as soon as he was old enough to count change. He was one of four sons of the family. His father worked as a labourer for farmers and the store was his mother’s project.

It was a progressive business, and a gas pump was installed in 1928.  Those were the ones where you could pump up to 10 gallons at a time up into a clear glass cylinder marked off in gallons.  The gasoline then flowed by gravity into the vehicle and you calculated the amount of the sale by the amount the gas had gone down. He took over the store in 1942 and in 1947 married Francis, who had come from Fort Coulonge just across the river to work as a clerk there.

“I trained her to work in the store before I married her,” says Mr. Lacroix.

Mr. Lacroix added an automobile repair garage to the business but was forced by ill health to retire that line of work in 1972.

Mr. and Mrs. Lacroix continue to serve their customers seven days a week year round.

“We open at 8 a.m. and close at 10 p.m. every day,” says Mrs. Lacroix.  She adds “Well, not every day. Easter and Christmas we don’t open until 9 or 10.”

The Lacroix’s have no plans to retire. “We’ll think about retiring when we have time,” chuckles Mrs. Lacroix. “But let’s face it, at our age it doesn’t take much to keep us busy.”  They find running the store a lot of fun.

“We think about all the people that come in, people we just wouldn’t see anymore if we closed; a fellow from Quyon came in the other day and he looked at Jimmy and said ‘Last time I was in here was three years ago and you’re still standing in the same spot,’  you just never know what people will say,” says Mrs. Lacroix.

– Excerpt  from article “The general store is surviving in the twentieth century”  by Marie Zettler,  The Cobden Sun, April 10, 1985