The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 27 no 10, May 2016. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.
See also article Cantley Cemeteries Tour 2016 in same issue.
July 17: Home on the River - Fairbairn House Heritage Centre
Aug. 27: Island River Pride - Gatineau River Yacht Club
Sept. 19: Stories of the River - Gatineau Valley Historical Society (venue to be determined)
Oct. 2: Cantley River Pride - Cantley 1889 - Parc Mary-Anne-Phillips (47 ch Summer, Cantley)
Everyone welcome ~ free admission
The Gatineau River is teeming with ghosts, if you listen to musician and long-time resident Ian Tamblyn. Indigenous ghosts of the ancestors of the Algonquin Tribe who inhabited this region for 12,000 years when the River was still wild and ferocious, the ghosts of the log drivers, all their old cabling and bolts on the shore line to create log booms still remain, whispering in the waves; the ghosts of the three men locked inside the Chelsea Dam. According to the legend, workers lost their lives with the building of the vast hydro-electric project in the 1920s, victims of "a bad cement pour", if you believe Tamblyn.
Looking at the River today, one sees a calm, beautiful waterway and can't imagine it was ever anything else, but in fact, the River was a conduit for the industry for over 160 years, from 1830 until the early 1990s. It's a part of history most of us don't know much about, but that will hopefully change over the next six months through a series of events linked to the Gatineau River, called River Pride. Funded by Canadian Heritage, River Pride involves three municipalities, Cantley, La Pêche and Chelsea and six non-profit organizations (including Cantley 1889), working together for the first time to coordinate six family-friendly, outdoor events either on, beside, or in the River.
At each event, whimsical artist and felt maker Hannah Ranger will oversee a community art project. Banners will be on display as well, showing historical photographs of the River since European settlement, documenting ways of life long gone. The most dramatic change came with the building of three hydro-electric dams back in the late 1920s that employed a jaw-dropping 6,000 men and cost $50 million (over $1 billion in today's dollars). Almost 50 farms were completely submerged, the most dangerous rapids disappeared, the rail line and highway had to be moved several kilometres, and the River became the relatively docile waterway it is today.
"It's surprising that it's still called a river," says Tamblyn. "Other people would call it a reservoir or a lake now." Tamblyn has been giving the River a lot of thought lately, because he's creating a series of vignettes that will playfully mix the River's colourful history with legends and his own imagination. Featuring four actors and songs about the River, some form of "A River Runs Through Us" (his working title) will be featured at each event of River Pride.
Tamblyn notes the damming of the River changed the relationship between Cantley and Chelsea: "[Until then] there were three ferries running across the River and all the hotels and grocery stores were on the west side of the Gatineau, so Cantley residents came to visit much more often than now in some ways. It had a huge effect."
Wes Darou, President of Cantley 1889, seems to confirm this theory when he calls his organization "the outlier" of the six groups that have come together for River Pride. He has stories of his own, having lived near the River since the time of the log drives. "There are stories about parties on the River where someone would run across it and back on the rolling logs," he says. When asked if it took a lot of skill, Darou replies, "I think it mostly took alcohol." Colourful stories aside, when asked what he likes best about the River, Darou replies refl ectively, "Pulling my canoe out and going paddling five minutes from my home."
Consult www.riverpride.ca for full details of River Pride.