The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 23 no 2, August 2011. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.
The words "Cantley Picnic" spark many pleasant memories for Cantley residents, past and present, near and far. Children would save their money all year long to spend at the Picnic. Mouths still water at the thought of the Picnic meals, especially the home-made pies. The ladies could produce almost any kind of pie that was asked for.
Cantleyans of a more recent vintage will remember that Jean (Holmes) and Eddie Lawlor ran the bingo booth and worked hard all year long to solicit prizes from businesses throughout the region. Marjorie (Cooper) and Danny Burke, who had a store and gas bar near the Big Gulley in Cantley (the dip in Highway 307 before chemin Denis was much deeper then) looked after the booth with soft drinks, potato chips and chocolate bars. Lola (Burke) Foley, of chemin Summer, and her many helpers kept the wheel spinning all day long and into the night at the paddles booth. The paddles booth? For each game, they sold small paddle-shaped pieces of wood with numbers on them and then spun the wheel. If your number came up, you would get to pick a prize from the great collection of prizes that Lola had. There was always friendly competition among the booth operators to see who could make the most money for the parish.
The picnickers bought tickets for the draw, fished in the "fish pond", watched the horse-pulling or truck-pulling contests, and danced. Some even met their future husbands while "going over the left" in the square dancing. Margaret O'Brien was a young woman visiting relatives in Cantley when she went to Cantley Picnic. She met a tall, dark and handsome Cantley man who later became her husband, Philip Hogan, a descendant of one of the pioneer families. They raised a family of five and one of their sons, David, and his wife, Mary Ann Carss, still live on the family homestead.
Cantley Picnic was held around the end of June or beginning of July, in aid of St. Elizabeth's parish. Unfortunately, over the years, the band of volunteers dwindled until there were too few to organize the annual event. The Picnic ended in 2004, much to the regret of the head of the Picnic organizing committee for the final 10 years, Pauline Pilon, who had put her heart and soul into the community event. How old was it? How long had it been running? What was it like years ago?
There are references to picnic proceeds (of $71.25) as early as 1880 in the annual reports submitted to the Diocese of Ottawa by the parish priests (the present Diocese of Gatineau was not formed until 1963). However, details of a particular year's extraordinary receipts were not always listed in these reports.
The dining room was "down in the pines" and many of yesterday's young ladies remember the fun and foibles of serving dinner in the open air. It was not until a 1938 meeting that the church wardens decided to add a kitchen onto the parish hall. There were a few foibles even when serving supper indoors.
Does anyone remember washing the floor with salad dressing, serving upside down strawberry rhubarb pie, or it being so hot in the kitchen that the whipped cream wouldn't stay whipped?
It was a big event on the social calendar. Buses would bring people up from town. There were races for the children and lots of fun. So much fun, in fact, that those picnickers were apparently too busy to take many pictures.
In June 1916 an obvious enthusiast wrote in the Ottawa Citizen:
"An annual event of increasing importance will be held this year on June 24th in the form of a mammoth picnic at Cantley, Que. Cantley is situated about 23 miles north of Ottawa among the Laurentian Hills. The approach to Cantley along the Gatineau reveals scenes of great beauty. The Cantley picnic grounds are situated on Holmes' Heights, 2 1/2 miles from Kirk's Ferry. From these heights the heavily wooded hills, with their rich foliage, forming a great semi-circle, rising from the valley below and receding ridge after ridge to the horizon, combine to make one of the most beautiful scenes on the continent. The Cantley picnic has come to be the great annual event for lovers of nature. However, apart from the natural attractions, a splendid program of sports and amusements has been arranged. Baseball - skilled and otherwise - will be featured. Various contests, for which handsome prizes will be given, will be also provided. Besides, a couple of prominent speakers will give a talk on some of the important questions of the day
A special committee under Mr. James Birt and Mr. Thos. Holmes, assisted by Father O'Toole, are preparing for the big event."
A "big event" that is no more, but the Cantley Picnic lives on in the memory of anyone who shared the excitement of good old-fashioned country fun and community.
Our thanks, posthumously, to Monica Birt for finding the newspaper article and sharing it. If you have photos or information on the Cantley Picnic, or other Cantley events or landmarks, please contact Cantley 1889.
Mary Holmes is on the Board of Cantley 1889, a volunteer organization to dis cover, catalogue, protect and promote the heritage of Cantley. For information or to become a member of Cantley 1889, please email: email@example.com or call President Margaret Phillips at 819-827-1969.