The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 23 no 1, July 2011. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.
Popular Tour of Local Cemeteries Recalls our Pioneers
It was a lovely visit on a balmy summer evening with the Browns and the Gows, the Prud'hommes and the Pattersons, the Milks and the McClellands. More than 50 Cantleyans visited the people of our past in a tour of three Cantley cemeteries that are the final resting place of many of Cantley's pioneers.
Organized by Cantley 1889, the community's association to preserve and promote our heritage, the "Century of Cemeteries" began with the Blackburn cemetery, a private graveyard that pre-dates the earliest church-owned cemeteries which came only in the 1850s and '60s. It was the private plot of the original settler, Andrew Blackburn from Scotland, and his wife Isabella who died in 1855 and 1860 respectively, both at age 85 - though the first burial was in 1842.
Andrew Blackburn is cited as the 'highest-up white settler on the Gatineau' - or the white pioneer who, by 1892 when he arrived in the region, had gone furthest north from the settlement of what became Ottawa, according to Gourlay's 1896 book, History of the Ottawa Valley.
Tough as the original Blackburns were, they suffered hardship and tragedies that are written on the tombstones. One child lost at 5 years old in 1842, one at 4, 7, another aged 1... " The Blackburns buried six children in less than 10 years," said tour guide Bob McClelland.
Descendant Gary Blackburn still lives on the property and says the two handsome remaining stones belie the extent of the original pioneer cemetery. "My father, my grandfather and great grandfather always said that there are at least 32 people buried here," he said, gesturing to the encroaching forest that is just beyond the plot enclosed by a neat white picket fence and planted with the traditional orange lilies.
The visit moved on to the St. Elizabeth Church cemetery, where guide Mary Holmes says the gravestones ôl the tale of the Irish who died the potato famine in 1847 - "like my ancestors who are here".
She recalled that this church and cemetery were established sometime after the local community petitioned the Bishop of Bytown around 1850. Until then, the settlers of Cantley had to make their way across the waves by ferry or over the ice of the Gatineau River to worship or be buried at St. Stephens in Chelsea - "not just a trip, a real excursion," said Mary.
The first stone in the cemetery bears the name of John Cashman, who died in 1848, suggesting that the cemetery was used well before it was an officially sanctioned cemetery after the adjacent chapel was completed in 1857 and the parish was established in 1868.
She pointed out World War I veterans, William Smilley killed in the Battle of Gallipoli, and Sapper Michael Maloney who fought and died after the Great War in 1920. Anthony Milks was another "character" - he was one of 386 Canadian Voyageurs hired by the British army in 1884-5 to negotiate the treacherous waters of the River Nile to rescue a British Major General, trapped with his forces in Sudan.
Most eminent, is the grave of Cantley's first mayor, Alexandre Prud'homme who led the municipality of what was then called East Hull from 1889 to 1894. He was a farmer and trader who lived at the corner of Highway 307 and River Road, just opposite today's town hall.
The crowd made its last stop at Cantley United cemetery, which Bob McClelland pointed out was on a bluff with a marvelous view of the Gatineau hills. A good place for a cemetery, he noted, and the ground is sandy and easy to dig - another distinct advantage.
Cantley United, established in 1858, is replete with the names of many more of the venerable names that settled the area, including the oldest stones which mark the graves of James McClelland, 1865, and Christianna McClelland, 1860.
Samuel McClelland was Mayor from 1933 to 1947. The Wilson family of Wilson's Corners fame is buried here, as is William Hamilton who chose the name 'Cantley' for our community. There are many Gows, and Henry Easy was a fine carpenter whose handiwork Bob McClelland admired in wayward moments as a boy during church services at St. Andrew's United Church.
There lies Joe Hupé the fondly remembered postmaster of Cantley who saw the number of mailboxes go from 160 to 1700 in his lifetime delivering the mail. The McGlashans are remembered for their General Store in Wilson's Corners and for Murray, the Minister of the United Church.
Apart from the fascinating history and anecdotes offered by Bob McClelland and Mary Holmes, the visit provided a wonderful chance to wander through the tranquil setting and historical monuments to our past. And, as many participants noted over refreshments at the close of the tour, it was a valuable reminder of the value of our heritage as an anchor for Cantley's future development.
The tour was a free public event of Cantley 1889, a volunteer organization to discover, catalogue, protect and promote the heritage of Cantley. For information or to become a member of Cantley 1889, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call President Margaret Phillips at 819-827-1969.