Cantley’s Monument of the Ice Age

Cantley 1889 Articles

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The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 30 no 9, April 2019. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.

Cantley’s Monument of the Ice Age

Margaret Phillips

Geologist David Sharpe was first attracted to the Cantley Quarry in 1976 while driving with friends. Its beautiful, smooth curving slopes looked different from any of the other international geological sites he had explored. Then, in 1983, he was introduced to a revolutionary idea that helped explain the Cantley Quarry’s uniquely sculpted rocks. Since then he has written scientifi c papers about our quarry and visited it with interested groups, students, artists, journalists and scientists from around the world.

Geologist David Sharpe explaining sculpted rock cliff during Cantley 1889’s Quarry Tour, October 2013.

The Cantley Quarry (aka “The Cantley Pits”) was unknown prior to 1954. It was hidden, buried under a hill of gravel, soil and the McClelland farm pasture. In 1934, Hubert McClelland (senior) sold four acres of the hill to Harry Hailey of Ottawa who wanted its high-quality gravel to manufacture cinder blocks. In 1954, Trevellyn McClelland sold the remainder of the gravel hill to J. P. Chenier Co. Ltd., which also acquired the Hailey pit. Later, Mr. Pageau obtained the mining rights to the Cantley Pit from Chenier as well as the two McClelland properties to the south. From 1954 to 1970, four to five trucks per day transported gravel to Hull for cement-making etc., thus exposing the Quarry’s sculpted rocks.

The sculpted rocks of Cantley were shaped partly by glaciers, but more so by fast-moving glacial meltwater that rushed from under the melting ice sheet. Glaciers with sediment at the base of the ice acted like a sanding block that wore down the rocks. Other rock surfaces have smooth depressions that apparently did not result from such sandpapering. The smooth hollows of these surfaces have no glacial striations, no sanding marks. Uniquely, they were formed by the swirling, erosive action of turbulent glacial meltwater flow... therefore of great interest to geologists!

This water deposited a ridge of sand and gravel on top their eroded surface creating a land ridge, or esker, while a river of meltwater flowed beneath the glacier. Next to the esker is the kettle (or “The Killpot” as named long ago by local residents), formed when a huge block of ice created a depression with no drainage escape for the meltwater. Eventually, this kettle became muskeg filled with moss, muck and tamarack trees, unique in Cantley. Hubert McClelland remembers venturing to the edge of The Killpot as a boy and being stranded thigh-deep in muck. Luckily, he escaped. Perhaps this is the reason for its name!

In 1991, citizens and landowners proposed the idea of a geological theme park. They believed that the Quarry’s geological heritage should be protected as an educational resource, and for tourism and recreation. A headline in the Ottawa Citizen reads, “Ancient secrets just aren’t safe here in Cantley”.

On April 28, Dr. Sharpe will guide interested walkers through the Cantley Quarry explaining why the sculpted rocks are so significant and revealing new discoveries since our last tour there in 2013.

For more information and a link to the video “Cantley Québec – Monument of the Ice Age”.

*With thanks to “The Sculpted Rocks of Cantley” by David Sharpe in Up the Gatineau, Volume 41, 2016, Gatineau Valley Historical Society, and to Hubert McClelland, director Cantley 1889.


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