Quebec's transportation ministry has issued a mid-August deadline for a buyer to come forward to purchase the Deschênes Rapids ruins, or they'll be removed.
That's according to a memo obtained by newspaper Le Droit and confirmed by Radio-Canada.
The deadline has sparked an outcry, however, from politicians and businesspeople alike who wanted to turn the 135-year-old ruins into a whitewater rapids park.
The memo sent June 12 by François Asselin, the ministry's regional director, announced the province's plans to remove the ruins within two months.
Aylmer district Coun. Audrey Bureau believes the ministry isn't listening to local residents and businesses who have long campaigned to save the site.
She said a group of local organizations hopes to transform the ruins into a world-renowned nautical centre, and they've already completed a soon-to-be-filed feasibility study.
"It doesn't make sense," Bureau said in a French-language interview with Radio-Canada. "The ruins are a collective asset for the entire population."
She's asked the ministry to meet with the group and to allow time to review the feasibility study before going ahead with their removal.
'A witness to our history'
The president and CEO of Tourisme Outaouais, France Bélisle, received the minister's memo last month. She said she considers the removal plan premature, given local companies' interest.
"This project has immense potential that would generate economic spinoffs and would also help strengthen Gatineau's position in outdoor and sport tourism," she told Radio-Canada in French.
The president of the Deschênes Residents Association, Howard Powles, expressed similar concerns about the Aug. 12 deadline.
"It's the most beautiful place," said Powles. "With the rapids and the ruins and the green spaces around, it's a glorious spot, and it's a witness to our history."
The site was home to sawmills that gave way to power plants, he said, which powered a tram that connected Aylmer to Ottawa.
Ruins also dangerous
According to the government's memo, however, the combination of the ruins and the fast currents make rescue operations at the Deschênes Rapids perilous for both Gatineau and Ottawa first responders.
Between 2007 and 2017, six people died or went missing in the water near the ruins, the province has said.
Powles admits the waters around the rapids can be dangerous, but points out there haven't been any serious incidents in some years.
Mathieu Lacombe, MNA for Papineau and the provincial minister for the Outaouais, told Radio-Canada he's prepared to support local MP André Fortin in pushing back the Aug. 12 deadline, noting the area's popularity with whitewater enthusiasts.