The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 25 no 11, June 2014. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.
March 17, 1983, is an important day in the history of Cantley; that night 400 angry taxpayers packed St.Elizabeth School to complain to Gatineau councillors about more huge tax increases and the literally ZERO services they received. Long-time resident Arthur Pomeroy had watched the taxes on his River Road farm climb from $300 in 1978, to $872 in 1979 to $1426 in 1981. Almost every resident had experienced similar increases.
The trouble started in the 1960s when hundreds of houses were built in the north part of the Municipality of West Hull, in the area now known as Touraine. Small Quebec municipalities did not have a ward system, so all the councillors and the power was in the South. Things got much worse in 1973 when the municipality became part of the Ville de Gatineau.
In 1983, Cantley had no effective fire protection; the closest fire station was 16 km from St. Elizabeth School. Roads were in terrible condition and the sum total of recreation facilities was one outdoor rink. Gatineau had a huge debt and Cantley residents were paying for urban services they would never benefit from, such as water and a new sewage treatment plant.
Out of that meeting, the idea of an independent municipality, which had been discussed before, was re-born and a "comité" of very active volunteers was formed under the leadership of Bertrand Boily. In August 1983, the Comité produced Document #1 that showed that taxes paid by our residents were two to three times higher than in Chelsea and Val des Monts and that the rural sector of Gatineau comprised 74% of land but only 7% of population. A petition was also circulated and, of 1877 residents contacted, 1660, or 91% were in favour of separation. The documents were presented to the Minister responsible for the Outaouais in the PQ government - Pauline Marois.
The years 1984 - 86 saw more meetings, lobbying and thousands of hours of volunteer work. The Comité produced a "Year One" budget for Cantley of $1.1 million dollars and paid to have it verified by chartered accountants. Throughout the period, the media keenly followed what they called "l'Affaire de Cantley" and although it was clear something had to be done, no politician at the municipal or provincial level had the courage to act. The Liberals won the 1985 provincial election and local MNA Michel Gratton promised he would solve the Cantley problem, but he did not deliver.
During 1986, Jacques Parizeau headed a commission looking into the role of municipalities. Cantley made a presentation suggesting that rural sectors of municipalities such as Gatineau and Aylmer should be grouped with other rural municipalities such as Chelsea and Lapeche.
sion looking into the role of municipalities. Cantley made a presentation suggesting that rural sectors of municipalities such as Gatineau and Aylmer should be grouped with other rural municipalities such as Chelsea and Lapeche.
Years later with the creation of the MRC des Collines and separation of urban and rural areas, many of the ideas Cantley suggested were put into place. Also in 1986, the dump question entered the debate. The region was looking for a new dump and Gatineau wanted to put it in Cantley.
By 1987, Cantley residents decided that they should turn up the heat to get action. Three years of studies, discussion and meetings all the way to offices of Premiers Levesque and then Bourassa had produced no change. Even Jacques Parizeau described the Cantley situation as "... un très beau cas de cancer".
In early 1987 things got interesting. Cantley residents occupied Gratton's office and on March 10, two-hundred cars blocked Hwy 307. Media from across Canada covered the event. If government would not represent them, Cantley residents decided to elect their own. On May 24th, Cantley held its own elections to choose what became known as the "conseil phantom" with six councillors, lead by a mayor; Michel Charbonneau. They also held a referendum - 97% voted in favour of separation. Two more highway blockades followed in Wilson's Corners, the northern boundary with Val des Monts, on July 26th, and August 9th. The second blockade featured Sûreté de Quebec riot squad officers on the North, and Gatineau police on the South. The protesters disbanded, but the media coverage of the ridiculous sight of two riot-equipped police forces confronting peaceful protesters seemed to convince some provincial politicians that something had to be done. In Quebec, the Cantley situation was described as "le dossier le plus hot". Within a few weeks the government announced a commission, headed by Jérémie Giles, would be formed to study the Cantley situation.
On March 27 1988, results of Giles report were released, recommending separation and the Ministry of Municipal Affaires announced that a referendum on separation would be held. On September 18th, 84 % voted for separation. Negotiations took place with Gatineau. On January 1st, 1989, Cantley became the 1,499th municipality in Quebec. On March 19, 1989, elections were held. Six councillors and Bernard Bouthillette as mayor were chosen. It had been 2,000 days since the "petit gang de Boily" started the campaign for separation.
An article of a few hundred words cannot do justice to a six year battle, hundreds of meetings and thousands of hours of volunteer work by hundreds of Cantleans. I have named only three people but many residents played key roles in the 1983 - 1989 campaign. Gérard Bourgeois' book "Cantley: l'impossible rêve tells the complete story" (available fromCantley 1889 - see www.cantley1889.ca).
Bob McClelland, lives on and operates the original 1840s family farm in Cantley with his wife Sue. He is a board member of Cantley 1889.