The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 30 no 2, August 2018. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.
In 1920, a group of artists dedicated to creating art inspired by direct contact with nature, founded “The Group of Seven”. In spite of initial rejection, members of the group became famous and well-loved Canadian artists. Some of them were inspired by Cantley’s landscape.
J.E.H. MacDonald (1873-1932) was a founding member of the Group of Seven. He painted several pictures of Cantley, including Mont Cascades and Lorne Mountain, from Cascades (on the west side of the Gatineau River). The interesting features of the rapids, log jams and two high hills, with the convenience of arriving by train at the Cascades station, made this a natural venue for artists.
In 1914 MacDonald painted a series of brilliant on-the-spot studies along the banks of the Gatineau River, including painted sketches of the Cantley hills for his major 1915 canvas, “Logs on the Gatineau” (see photo). These small sketches, 8 x 10 inches, were typical of the size used by the Group of Seven at that time, often painted on wooden cigar boxes. Portraying the annual spring log drive down the Gatineau River offered dramatic action - popular at the time.
MacDonald's sketches might have been partially inspired by Canada’s 4th Governor General (1878 to 1883), The Marquess of Lorne, who enjoyed climbing to the top of the Cantley hills to get a view of Ottawa, the newly-formed capital of Canada. Lord Lorne and his wife were patrons of the arts and encouraged the establishment of the National Gallery of Canada, even selecting some of its first paintings.
After Group of Seven artist A.Y. Jackson moved to Manotick in 1955, he and artist friend Ralph Burton also found the area attractive. They often stopped at Cascades to sketch the Cantley hills and the now-docile river.
The Cascades station has long since gone and, with the construction of the dam in 1925-27, the rapids disappeared, but amazingly the two Cantley hills remain relatively untouched. They represent the last remaining undeveloped natural area along the river between Gatineau and Wakefield. Hopefully they will remain that way for future generations of artists, photographers, boaters and hikers to enjoy.
Painting venues of famous artists like the Group of Seven have become popular tourist destinations. Examples include: “Following in the Footsteps of the Group of Seven” and “The A.Y. Jackson Trail”.
Lorne Mountain and Mont Cascades could become the focal point for highlighting contemporary and heritage art inspired by the beauty and wonder of the Cantley hills and the Gatineau River.
John Almstedt has painted for over 40 years, strongly influenced by his friend Ralph Burton, who painted for many years with A.Y. Jackson. Some of his paintings have been inspired by the landscape along the Gatineau River near his chalet in Cantley.