The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 32 no 10, May 2020. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.
“If you were to rate all the ancient geological sites in Canada according to a combination of scientific value and accessibility, one stands out. It is in Cantley." 1
In the waning light of a June evening, 100 curious spectators pick their way along the side of a gravel pit to look at evidence. David Sharpe gathers his flock together and points to the streaked and pitted rock face that rises above them.
“If the radical idea of flooding water under the ice is true,” he says, “the erosion of these rocks took place in a couple of months.”
Sharpe is a glacial geologist with the Geological Survey of Canada. The rock face is in a gravel pit on Hwy. 307, a half-hour drive north from Gatineau.
For upwards of 40 years, quarry operators have been removing gravel and marble from the site. On the west side of the highway the pit is now about 500 metres across and 20 to 30 metres deep. On the east side, excavators have cut deeply into a hill that rises above the road.
The gravel, and more important, the rock, support a radical new geological theory.
The pattern of gravel deposits suggests they were carried there by waters in flood. On the marble rock face, long horizontal streaks slanting from north to south indicate that water flowing uphill pounded against the rock.
We were taught in school that our landscapes were formed over thousands of years by advancing and retreating glaciers. But a new theory suggests some changes could have taken place in months, even weeks.
Water melting under the ice might have built up tremendous pressure, until it finally escaped out from under the glaciers in a spectacular flood that scoured and reshaped the earth beneath it.
Sharpe says the rock faces in Georgian Bay, the Niagara Peninsula and Saskatchewan support the theory. “Among glacial geologists, half of them think we’re pure idiots, the others think we’re on to something.”
The Cantley site offers scientists a particularly intriguing set of clues into the origins of the Gatineau landscape. Because it was buried by gravel, the rock was protected from the effects of erosion. Since the rock was only unearthed over the last few decades, it is, in geological terms, pristine. Sharpe says 300 geologists have visited the site in the past three years to examine the rock.
The quarry is in Cantley, which is interested in acquiring the site to prevent future excavation from destroying the evidence that’s been unearthed, and possibly to convert it into a tourist attraction.
A first, very promising, step has already been made. Fern Pageau holds the mineral rights to the quarry. He’s retiring and has decided to transfer those rights to the village for one dollar.
“I love the stone,” he says. “I’ve worked with stone all my life.”
There is more to be done. Agreements with the owners of the land will have to be negotiated. Quebec City will have to decide how much, if at all, it wants to get involved.
But there is time. Gravel quarrying doesn’t harm the rock, and markets for the marble are currently poor.
Sharpe is just happy the future of the rock face is, at least for now, secure.
“It is a spectacular display of erosion”, he says.
“And it’s there for anyone to see.”
On April 14, 2020, Cantley municipal council unanimously agreed to the purchase of the “Cantley Quarry”.
1 Bob Phillips, “The Ottawa Citizen”, February 19, 1990