The Wheeler family (first part)

For generations, the names Wheeler and Gray Rocks have been inseparable. For most, the names evoke a magical site, excellent food and fine vacations.

For the Wheeler family, which was behind this success, Gray Rocks represents an adventure marked by a succession of ups and downs and many sacrifices. It required relentless work and unshakeable determination.

It all started with a wedding in 1893, when George Wheeler and Lucille Aldridge were married in Chazy, New York. Born into a well-to-do family, Lucille undoubtedly believed that she would continue to live as she always had.

After their honeymoon at the Chicago World’s Fair, they settled in Chazy to live a “normal” life like so many others.

But George dreamed of adventure. He knew that the forests of Québec harboured enormous potential and that the forest industry was in full growth mode. He bought the cutting rights for the full length of Lac Ouimet (called at the time Lac Séraphin).

He and his wife came to settle in the Laurentians and life was not easy. Having no running water, they lived with the loggers. Lucille’s only female company was the cook. They were already the parents of a son, Frederick Haskell. He was rapidly nicknamed Tom, a name more easily pronounced by the mill workers, who were almost all French-speaking.

A few months later a baby girl, Francis Ellen, was added to the family. To help his wife with the housework, George hired a young local girl, Lizza Emond. She was only 12 years old.

A difficult time

The peace was short-lived. Only three years later, a fire ravaged the Wheeler home and destroyed everything. All that remained was the boathouse, the barn, a cow and two horses. Lucille and the children took refuge with a young English-speaking couple recently arrived in Saint-Jovite.

George rolled up his sleeves and, in a few weeks, transformed the boathouse into a home for his small family. They were ready to face the winter.

One ordeal followed another: a third child, Ruth, fell victim to meningitis at the age of 16 months. The forest industry business was hit with restrictions and new government regulations.

For several years, heavy snowfall made tree felling and log transportation difficult. The Wheeler business profits collapsed.

On a business trip to Chicago, George contracted typhoid and, upon his return, spread the illness to his wife and children. The family had to rid themselves of the wood-cutting rights and find a new kind of work in their area.

The birth of Gray Rocks Inn

Their house, called Gray Rocks – because it was built on an outcropping of grey rock – was about 10 metres from the lakeshore. In summertime, they welcomed relatives and friends. As a result, they decided to change their home into an inn. Gray Rocks Inn was a rapid success. The cost to stay there was a dollar a day and the operating costs were minimal, as the family took care of everything.

The hotel built a guest base of people from Eastern Canada and the United States. Visitors came to enjoy winter sports such as snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. The majesty of the site and its surroundings was inviting, as was the Inn itself.

The Wheeler family developed a reputation as excellent hotel-keepers thanks to their warm welcome, the services they provided and the good food, which was produced by well-known chefs.

I wanted to start telling this lovely local story before it was forgotten. There’s so much to tell. I’ll be back with a second chapter of “The Wheeler Family” next month.

 

By the same author: The Wheeler family (part two) (Click the image below)

 

Peter Duncan68 Posts

Membre de l’équipe canadienne de ski alpin de 1960 à 1971, skieur professionnel de 1971 à 1979 et champion américain en 1965, Peter Duncan a participé aux Jeux olympiques de 1964 à Innsbruck ainsi qu’à ceux de 1968 à Grenoble. Intronisé au Temple de la renommée du ski au Canada, au Panthéon des sports du Québec et récipiendaire de la médaille du gouverneur général, Peter a longtemps été commentateur de ski à la télévision./ Peter Duncan is a Canadian former alpine skier who competed in the 1964 and the 1968 Winter Olympics. He was named to the Canadian National Alpine Team in 1960 at the age of 16 and competed at the national level for the next 10-years until 1970 before retiring.

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