The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 22 no 9, April 2011. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.
It only takes a drive past the peaceful cemeteries on Highway 307 or St Elizabeth Road to be reminded of those who have gone before us in our recent or ancestral past. But most of us have never seen the six other family burial grounds created and tended over the years by Cantley's early settlers.
The oldest recorded burial in the municipality is of Francis Smith, an 11-year-old boy, who died on June 2, 1836 and was buried on the family farm just north of the present site of St Andrews United Church on Highway 307. There are also burial grounds located on two former Brown farms on what is now Prud'Homme Road and on two McClelland farms on Highway 307.
During the early years, churches and cemeteries were distant, and travel, especially in winter, was difficult. The result was that pioneer families often buried family members on their farms. Before the middle of the 19th century the closest churches in the region would have been in Aylmer and Hull. Much of the rich detail of Cantley and Chelsea burial grounds is recounted in a book by Carol Martin, In Memory of Chelsea's Historic Cemeteriesoach on the Blackburn Cemetery.
The largest private burial ground in Cantley is the Blackburn Cemetery located on River Road. The Blackburns were the first permanent settlers in Cantley. Andrew Blackburn Sr. and sons David and Andrew arrived in 1829 and were the family to settle furthest up the Gatineau, according to J.L. Gourlay's History of the Ottawa Valley, published in 1896.
The first documented burial in the Blackburn Cemetery was recorded in the St James Anglican Church (Hull) record book, by Missionary Priest John Johnston:
Andrew, son of Robert Blackburn of Hull, late of Scotland and Robina his wife was buried by me in the burial ground near the Gatineau River this eleventh day of August 1842 aged 19 years.
While many private family burial grounds do not contain headstones, the Blackburn Cemetery is dominated by two large stones with 15 names inscribed on them. Seventeen other burials, in unmarked graves, are recorded in various church records but not on the tombstones. The family believes that some non-family members are also buried in the cemetery -- not surprising when we consider the earliest burials in Cantley's Roman Catholic and Protestant cemeteries were not until around 1860.
For the past 169 years the cemetery has remained undisturbed in family hands, but recently, concern has been raised because a proposed access road for developments north of the River Road would encroach on the Blackburn Cemetery.
Cemeteries are not only a window on our past, but are considered sacred ground by many, and protected under provincial law. We owe it to the pioneers who settled our community to honour them and let them rest in peace.
Bob McClelland, a director of Cantley 1889, lives in the family homestead - one of the original houses of Cantley.Cantley 1889 is an association that explores and promotes Cantley's heritage: firstname.lastname@example.org