The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 29 no 6, December 2017. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.
Once the snow arrives it is difficult, if not impossible, to travel from Cantley farms. Families in remote areas are often snowbound. Many must find ways to cross their fields to reach the nearest “rolled” road. School absenteeism is high in winter months. Cantley’s George Burke has a contract with the municipality to roll the main roads from Cantley to Pointe Gatineau. He attaches heavy iron rollers to his team of horses to pack down the snow. For safety, his horses wear bells to announce their presence in the early darkness of late afternoons.
During the Christmas season, all families manage to make their snowy journey to Christmas and holiday celebrations, often picking up others on the way. Sleighs are heated with hot bricks and families are wrapped in warm buffalo hides. The horses have blankets to keep them warm and bells to ring in the festive season.
At St. Elizabeth Church, horses wait for their families under open shelters. The highlight for the St. Elizabeth children is their Christmas school concert in the Parish Hall organized by their teachers. On Christmas Eve, midnight mass is magical with a lovely choir performing the Christmas concert in the beautifully decorated church.
In winter, many Cantley men work in logging camps or elsewhere, or are returning from the wars overseas. Many Cantley children live far from their families in larger centres like Ottawa or Montreal in order to go to school because of low enrollment in Cantley’s schools or problems travelling to and from their own school. So imagine what a wonderful time Christmas is when families are reunited and friends return home. Houses are decorated with ornaments and Christmas trees. The December 25 feast is the most special family gathering of the season.
There are many house parties during the holidays. Among the most popular are the Gauthier’s party on New Year’s Day and the Chenier’s “Little Christmas” party on January 6th. House parties are family parties, for young and old, with delicious food and square dancing. There is always a fiddler and, of course, Jimmy Smith playing his mouth organ.
Families have little money to spend on gift-giving. Travel to stores is a difficult luxury. “Online shopping” for gifts is by mail-order from the Simpson’s and Eaton’s catalogues. Instead of “email”, Christmas greetings are sent by post. Instead of “Twitter”, the telegram delivers short messages of 10 words or less, quickly, anywhere in the world.
Today a century later, times have changed in many ways. Hopefully for you, December’s festive season continues to be a time for family traditions, fun with friends and moments for refl ection and hope for the coming year.
Best wishes from Cantley 1889!
...watch for the 2018 municipal calendar with photos from Cantley 1889’s archives!