The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 28 no 7, March 2017. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.
Two of Cantley 1889’s current projects* involve researching and interviewing Cantley’s elders. It is fascinating to learn what life was like in Cantley from the 1800s to mid 1900s. We are discovering that Cantley had a strong community spirit with a rich social life, due in most part to Cantley’s women.
Farms were scattered, work was long and hard, travel was difficult, there was no village centre, people were physically isolated. A sense of community spirit did not come naturally. Yet, against all odds, Cantley was an incredibly proud and caring community. Unlike many neighbouring villages in the Pontiac and Gatineau Valley, Cantley’s people lived together in relative peace and harmony. Historically, Cantley’s French and English, Catholic and Protestant were good friends and neighbours.
Cantley’s farm women worked hard and assumed many responsibilities: the milking and separating of cream to sell, the vegetable gardens – growing then preserving the harvest. Many kept the farm going alone in winter while their husbands went north working in the logging camps. They raised large families. They cooked, cleaned and sewed with no electricity (until the late 1950s). Baths were taken in a tub with hand-pumped water heated on the wood stove. Childbirth happened at home with a friend or neighbour attending.
It is hard to imagine how these women found time and energy to organize community events (without telephones or email). The biggest was the Cantley Picnic. The women spent months making and soliciting donated prizes for the games booths that they also set up and operated. They made all of the food – baked hams, buns, salads and pies (records show over 100 home-made pies most years). They still had energy to “dance the buckles off their shoes” until midnight!
The Thanksgiving dinner at the Orange Hall was another popular highlight of the year, again with homemade food and dancing. All were welcome at the Orange Hall for the regular Saturday night dances, card games or bingos. There were many renowned house parties, particularly around the festive seasons, and neighbours regularly hosted nights of card games and get-togethers for each other.
Through the stories our elders tell us, one senses the strong connection Cantley’s people had with one another and how they cared for each another. Survival meant helping your neighbour. Enjoying life meant making your own fun. Cantley’s women made this happen. They were the heart and soul of Cantley.
Note: Quebec women did not get the vote until 1944.
Cantley 1889 will profile individual Cantley women in future editions of the Echo.
* Cantley 1889 volunteers are working with the Fairbairn House Heritage Centre on its “Notable Women” exhibit scheduled for later in 2017 and with Theatre Wakefield on its “Spread the Word” project of animating local heritage through stories and theatre.