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Our group is in awe at the number of trilliums
Our group is in awe at the number of trilliums

Carbide Willson Ruins Hike in Gatineau Park

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The easy Carbide Willson Ruins hike in Gatineau Park is particularly lovely in spring. If you can do the hike in May, you’ll find the forest carpeted with trilliums – and the birds busy singing their hearts out. But the hike to the ruins is also a great one for fall. Colours in Gatineau Park have a habit of dazzling those who visit. I think this is a hike that will feed your soul.

If you’re a photographer, I’d also recommend a hike to the Carbide Willson Ruins. Nature is taking over the ruins and it’s interesting to see. You could be there for hours, checking out the ruins from all the different angles.

Updated April 2021. This post includes some affiliate links. If you make a purchase via one of these links, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

Our group is in awe at the number of trilliums
Our group is in awe at the number of trilliums
Our group is in awe at the number of trilliums
Our group is in awe at the number of trilliums

Carbide Willson Ruins Hike

I was lucky to be part of a group that had signed up for a nature tour while at an Ottawa conference. One full day was set aside to visit Ottawa’s fabulous Canadian Museum of Nature, followed by a hike to the Thomas ‘Carbide’ Willson Ruins in Gatineau Park.

It’s an easy 3.25 km return hike to the ruins by way of a gently rolling trail that skirts a small section of Meech Lake. Running through hardwood forest, the trail is dog friendly as well – providing they’re on a leash.

From the parking lot take the road past O’Brien House. Meet up with the Trans Canada Trail and cross the bridge between Meech and Little Meech Lakes. Continue on trail #36 until you reach the turnoff to the Thomas Carbide Willson ruins and fertilizer plant. 

This oven bird was singing its heart out - partly for a mate but perhaps also from relief at surviving the long migration from South America
This oven bird was singing its heart out – partly for a mate but perhaps also from relief at surviving the long migration from South America
Our guide Katherine Fletcher pointing out the yellow trout lily
Our guide Katherine Fletcher pointing out the yellow trout lily (I believe)
A dazzling display of trilliums
A dazzling display of trilliums
Purple trilliums are less common in Gatineau Park
Purple trilliums are less common in Gatineau Park

The ruins themselves, situated by a river are a photographer’s delight. Formerly the electrical generating station for the fertilizer plant, they are being taken over by nature.

Carbide Willson ruins history

Thomas Leopold “Carbide”Willson, the first person to own a car in Ottawa, a successful businessman and a pioneer of electrochemistry, settled in the Gatineau area after purchasing 460 acres of land at Meech Lake for a summer home in 1907. It is here that he learned to condense phosphoric acid to produce phosphoric fertilizer. He ended up with with over 70 patents to his name!

Willson died in New York City in 1915 on the street from a heart attack – while on a visit to raise new venture capital.

According to the sign beside the ruins:

He earned his nickname “Carbide,” by developing a method for the production of calcium carbide. This substance is harmless when dry but produces acetylene – an extremely flammable gas, when damped with water. With Wilson’s process, acetylene could be safely stored in the form of inert calcium carbide.

Originally there were three buildings that included an acid condensation tower, a generating station and a dam. The acid condensation tower was destroyed by a fire so only the foundation remains today. When you visit, its the ruins of the former mill and part of the power station that are all that remain.

The National Capital Commission bought his former summer home in 1979 – and today it is used as a conference centre by the Government of Canada,

The mill is located beside a small waterfall
The mill is located beside a small waterfall
Inside the Thomas 'Carbide' Willson Ruins in Gatineau Park, Quebec
Inside the Thomas ‘Carbide’ Willson Ruins in Gatineau Park, Quebec
Nature takes over at the Carbide Willson Ruins
Nature takes over at the Carbide Willson Ruins – and no glass to be seen in the windows
The waterfall is a beautiful spot for a lunch stop
The waterfall is a beautiful spot for a lunch stop

The hike could easily be done in an hour. But allow extra time to take in the beauty of the woods and the area round Meech Creek and the ruins.

According to our guide, Katherine Fletcher, the ruins are a favourite hangout of nude sunbathers – despite being prohibited. If it affects your sensibilities, she suggests timing your visit for early in the day though I don’t know if it’s as much as a problem as it once was. 

Katherine is the author of two books including Historical Walks: The Gatineau Park Story – a treasure of a book filled with historical photos and interesting bits of information as well as detailed trail descriptions.

Katherine, our guide is the author of two books
Katherine, our guide is the author of two books

Getting to the trailhead

From Canada’s capital, Ottawa, take Autoroute 5 north to the Old Chelsea Road exit. Head west (left) on Old Chelsea Road through the village. Turn right before you reach Meech Lake and look for Parking Lot 11 at O’Brien Beach. It’s at the southeast tip of Meech Lake. It’s about a 30 – 35 minute drive from downtown Ottawa.

                       

Don’t forget 

Don’t forget your binoculars as there are lots of birds to be seen. Even though it’s a short hike carry the 10 essentials. If it’s black fly or mosquito season you’d be smart to take insect repellent.

Please don’t climb on the ruins! 

Dogs are permitted to visit in summer if on a leash.

Further reading on things to do near Ottawa

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

The easy hike to the Carbide Willson Ruins in Gatineau Park, Quebec

Thank you to Ottawa Tourism for arranging such a great day – which also included two hours at Spa Nordik in Chelsea, a real treat and a super relaxing way to spend part of a mother’s day. Opinions as always are my own.

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