The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 25 no 3, September 2013. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.
We all know the symbol of Cantley - the little tugboat that plied the Gatineau River pushing logs into booms and pulling booms around the river. But for the "average Cantleyan" it's not a tugboat, or a log boom, but the trees which unite the community.
The Forests of Cantley
Cantley is located on the Canadian Shield, amongst the oldest volcanic rock in the world, 3.96 billion years old, with a thin lens of soil which supports a surprisingly diverse system of trees, plants and animals. About 10,000 years ago, Cantley was under a giant ice sheet so thick and heavy that it deformed the earth's mantle forming many of the features we find today including the Gatineau River valley. The forests of Cantley are typical of the Temperate Nordic (or Mixed) Forest - an area which includes most of the Gaspé, Saguenay, southern Outaouais and the Eastern Townships, 12% of Québec - an area that gives the world over 80% of that nectar of the Gods - maple syrup.
The Temperate Nordic Forest is further divided into the Maple-Basswood subzone in the south of Cantley and the Maple-Yellow Birch subzone in the North typified by sugar maple, basswood, black cherry and ironwood on the well drained rocky slopes, yellow birch and hemlock on the wetter telluric sites, with a smattering of other trees where the climate and soil depth allows: white and black ash, red and silver maple, American elm, butternut, eastern white cedar, white birch and poplar. It is a complex forest, mostly tolerant of shade where natural disturbance takes the form of clumps of trees being toppled by various windstorms and yes, the occasional fire.
The Wood Industry of Cantley
For sure, the famous "Lumber barons" of the region all had some influence on the economy of Cantley. Philomen/Alonzo/Ruggles Wright, Nicholas Sparks, William Farmer, Allan Gilmour, E.B. Eddy, and J.R. Booth, all had some sway over life in Cantley (as they did the entire region!). But it would not be an accurate portrayal if we were to think of 1800s Cantley as a collection of logging camps and "cabooses".... Yes there was a wood industry established to supply wood for the local community, but nothing like the activity in the upper Gatineau Valley where large stands of white pine and spruce were in demand around the world. If anything, Cantley was a silent witness to the millions of logs which were floated down the river moved by our own Raftsmen and River Drivers.
While the Andrew Main Mill near Limbour was reported to saw some 80,000 board feet of lumber/year in 1859, a hub of sawmill activity in Cantley seemed to be the now innocent Blackburn Creek. This included the Blackburn Mill (replaced by McNeil's saw and grist Mill), with its own log drive and the Walter McNeil Mill at the MontCascades Road. Anthony Milks operated a steam generated mill behind the Milks House on highway #307 and there were large sawmills at Wilson's Corners active into the 1930s.
Another mill operated by Lucien Dubois on the Duclos Road was still active in the 1950s and 60s with probably the last operating sawmill run by Mervyn Hogan, on Mont Cascades Road, still going in the 1970s.
That little tugboat we see as the symbol of Cantley may not have moved much of Cantley's own wood but it certainly needed a team of hardworking and dedicated people to keep the big logs flowing to the mills and markets of the world....a fitting symbol of a great community!
Michel Rosen is a long-time Cantley resident and founding executive member of Cantley 1889. He is President of Tree Canada, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to educate and encourage Canadians to care for trees, one of our country's and environment's most important and valuable natural resource.