Hull is located on the unceded territory of the Algonquin, an Anishinaabe people who have occupied the entire Ottawa watershed for thousands of years. One of the most important and sacred places for the Algonquin is Chaudière Falls on the Ottawa River in Gatineau.
Prior to the arrival of Philemon Wright from Woburn, Massachusetts, in 1800, Hull shared a common history with all the areas along the Ottawa River, which was the primary water route to the West. Explorers, missionaries, fur traders and the French and English military used the portage paths that crossed Hull. One of these, the Second Chaudière Portage, situated in Brébeuf Park, still shows the crudely hewn stone steps built there by the voyageurs.
Hull was the first permanent town established on the Ottawa River. Wright and his associates were given ownership of large tracts of land in Hull and Templeton townships. The small agricultural community, called Wrightstown, quickly turned to the production of squared timber for the British market. The first lumber raft from the area, the Columbo, reached Quebec City in 1806, heralding the beginnings of the lumber industry in the Ottawa Valley.
Ezra Butler Eddy, a citizen of Vermont, settled in Hull in 1851 and built up his equity by manufacturing handmade matches, washboards and clothespins. In the 1870s, he became one of the leading sawmill operators at Chaudière Falls. His match and indurated fibreware production, as well as his pioneering efforts in pulp (1889) and paper manufacture (1890), made Hull one of the main centres of the pulp and paper industry. Axe factories, meat-packing establishments, textile firms and other related industries followed.
The industrial development of the mid-1800s attracted numerous French-Canadian workers to Hull and radically changed its ethnic and religious composition. From 1861 to 1871, Hull Township’s French-speaking population increased tenfold (from 420 to 4,461), while its English-speaking population grew by less than 20 per cent (from 3,291 to 3,857). As of the 2016 census, 64 per cent of people in Gatineau speak both French and English, but French is the mother tongue for about 75 per cent of the residents.
Hull’s core is an island linked to Ottawa by five bridges. It has been shaped by its original division into half lots by the Wrights, for rental purposes, and by the Great Fire of 1900, which destroyed two-thirds of the town.
In the early 1960s it was a typical medium-sized industrial Quebec town, with two-storey brick worker dwellings surrounding a few public parks and buildings, linked together by its business section. As fire, demolition and renovation took their toll, the main public landmarks fell, the city core was changed radically and large developments, for example, Place du Portage and Terrasses de la Chaudière, were built.
The city extended into suburbia, with typical bungalows and shopping centres, and the old business section started to decline. Hull's population fell from 63,580 in 1971 to 56,225 in 1981, while that of its suburban sister cities (Gatineau and Aylmer) swelled from a combined 72,163 in 1971 to 101,683 in 1981.
Hull's economy, essentially based on manufacturing in the 1940s, has changed radically. The majority of its labour force are now white-collar workers, with civil servants forming the largest bloc. The change began after the Second World War, with the closing of steel foundries and textile factories. The Pierre Trudeau government's decision to relocate a large number of federal civil servants to Hull accelerated the rate of change.
In 1989, the Canadian Museum of History moved from Ottawa to a new complex near the Alexandra Bridge in Hull.
Hull and its surrounding area, including Gatineau Park, provide many recreational opportunities and places of scenic beauty in all seasons. Residents and visitors enjoy cycling, hiking and, in winter, cross-country skiing into the Gatineau Hills. The Ottawa and Gatineau rivers offer numerous water recreation opportunities.