a peek inside the fishbowl

08 Sep, 2014

Exploring those famous (or infamous?) ruins in Gatineau Park

Posted by andrea tomkins in: - Ottawa for kids|Easy ways to make kids happy|Ottawa

The first time, and last time, I visited the ruins of the old mill in Gatineau Park was sometime in the mid-90s. Back then it was still mostly a secret, and not a place that families would necessarily venture out and explore. I’m happy to report that this area has become a lot more mainstream and accessible. We spotted dozens of families, trail runners and dog walkers along the way. Clearly, times they are a’changin’…  although there are still bilingual signs in place to warn visitors. And they’re not signs about poison ivy or bear sightings either.

Gatineau Park sign No nudism


The Carbide Willson Ruins (a.k.a the Gatineau Park ruins) are a fantastic place to explore as a family. (a) They’re close to Ottawa and (b) it’s a short hike with (c) a very cool destination at the end of it. If you pack a lunch you can easily make a day trip out of your visit. There’s no better time to go.

The ruins here are over 100 years old. The land was purchased by Thomas Willson (often misspelled online as Thomas Wilson, with one L) in 1907, a Canadian industrialist/inventor who dammed up Meech Lake and built a mill to support his experiments around the manufacturing of chemical fertilizers. Apparently he was also the first person in Ottawa to own a car. (You can read more about his exploits right here if you’re keen.)

The trail to the old mill begins at the O’Brien beach parking lot right off Meech Lake Road. (There are outhouses here too, so hold your nose and go because otherwise you’ll be the bear in the woods.) It’s only about 3K, round trip.

The hike up to the Mill is an easy one, although there is a steep hill that may leave some people a little winded. Given the ease of the trail, some folks may be tempted to tackle it in shorts and flipflops, but I truly recommend wearing closed-toe footwear for this one. The final destination is still rather industrial, and even though a century has gone by there’s plenty of broken glass, rusty metal, and sharp rocks to be found there. (Sidebar: it’s always a good idea to hike with a small first aid kit in your pack, no matter the length or intensity of your journey.)

The Carbide Willson ruins are one of the most photogenic sites in Ottawa-Gatineau, so don’t forget your camera. It’s so hauntingly gorgeous, there is truly a photo opportunity everywhere you turn. If you’re smart, you’ll wear your bathing suit under your clothes and pack a towel too.

This is a shot from the wee bridge, just before you get to the mill. It’s worth a short stop and a quick wade in the water. Warning: it may be tough to get your kids to leave.

The youngest is an adventurer.

Meech Lake #latergram

And this is a little farther along as you approach the ruins, if you were to scamper up the rise to the top of the dam:

... although the eldest did her share of daring.

Here’s the view from the top.

If you follow the path a little further and follow the sound of the water you’ll be faced with a big decision: what to explore first. Do you proceed to the large hollowed out building that is resting silently in the shade, slowly being taken back by nature? Or do you move out towards the bottom of the dam, to step across the stones which break up swiftly moving water, creating eddies and pools and superior frog-hunting, dragonfly spotting, and leap-frogging? It is a quandary, but hopefully you’ve left lots of time to explore both sides.

It goes without saying you need to watch your step, no matter which direction you choose:

Gatineau Park ruins, Carbide Mill Ruins

Carbide Willson Ruins, Gatineau Park

Carbide Willson Ruins

Carbide Willson Ruins, Gatineau Park

Carbide Willson Ruins, the mill Gatineau Park

Carbide Willson Ruins, the mill Gatineau Park

You know what’s fun? Telling your kids that TODAY IS A DAY FOR BRAVERY, packing up the gear, heading out, and seeing where the day takes you. If you’re open to adventure, adventure will find you. These old ruins in Gatineau Park are the perfect place to do it too.

If you’re the kind of person who enjoys exploring abandoned buildings and learning about a bit of local history, this is pretty much the perfect outing. Have you been to see the ruins recently? If so I’d love to hear about it.

10 Responses to "Exploring those famous (or infamous?) ruins in Gatineau Park"

1 | Tricia

September 8th, 2014 at 3:12 pm


How have I gone living my entire life in this area and not known about this? I have to go there! Thanks for the new hiking destination!

2 | The Ultimate Ottawa bucket list >> a peek inside the fishbowl

September 8th, 2014 at 3:30 pm


[…] out the old Carbide Willson ruins (the old mill!) in Gatineau […]

3 | Lynn

September 8th, 2014 at 7:42 pm


Wow, I have never heard of this place, ever. Going on our own bucket list. Thanks so much!

4 | If you can, take in a view >> a peek inside the fishbowl

September 9th, 2014 at 9:14 am


[…] the way home from our trip to see the old ruins we decided to check out another famous landmark in Gatineau Park, the Champlain Lookout. Have you […]

5 | Gatinoh

September 9th, 2014 at 2:45 pm


Used to go there often (favourite short hike). Was on our short list of places to get married. I almost drowned there, with my baby daughter (fell into the raging spring river).

6 | Ginger

September 12th, 2014 at 1:24 pm


The 7th photo in this post….is AMAZING! It is print and hang on my wall worthy! :)

7 | andrea tomkins

September 12th, 2014 at 3:20 pm


Thank you Ginger!

8 | Paul

December 6th, 2014 at 6:13 am


Great place! Good snorkling. 8th picture is my family and I after an adventurous swim. Beware the rocks!

9 | andrea tomkins

December 8th, 2014 at 2:26 pm


That is so cool Paul! Wow!

10 | a peek inside the fishbowl » Blog Archive Rediscovering Gatineau this summer (part 1) - a peek inside the fishbowl

July 10th, 2017 at 3:10 pm


[…] And that was all I knew, for many years UNTIL NOW. Ok, maybe that’s not entirely accurate. We have been frequent visitors to the Canadian Museum of History, visited Gatineau in the winter to enjoy the festivities at Jacques Cartier Park, and of course, hiked in Gatineau Park and discovered some amazing and wild gems. […]

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human offspring: Emma (23) and Sarah (21). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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