The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 33 no 3, September 2020. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.
Horseshoe Bay is really a small lake, created by the Chelsea Dam which controls the flow of the Gatineau River between Cantley’s and Chelsea’s southern shores.
Apart from the bay’s steep Chelsea shoreline and its dam area, Horseshoe Bay’s shores are Cantley’s. Fortunately, two pristine sections of Horseshoe Bay shoreline are owned by the Municipality of Cantley.
Parc Mary-Anne-Phillips is on the north shore of Horseshoe Bay. Its soccer field was a pasture for generations of Foley Farm cows. On the park’s hill is a “heritage area” with a restored tugboat, mine car and sculpture along with descriptive panels explaining Cantley’s river, logging and mining histories. From the hilltop, is a stunning view of the bay, dam and skyline of Ottawa beyond.
A short walk down the river slope of Parc Mary-Anne-Phillips is Horseshoe Bay where there is a shallow beach in a sheltered cove, perfect for swimming and fishing.
The view from here, looking across Horseshoe Bay to shoreline running north from the dam, is of land the municipality recently purchased for Parc Riverain. Its eight acres of pristine woodland and shoreline has potential for all-season forest walking/snowshoeing, nature trails, and picnic areas. The shore has an ideal spot for a kayak/canoe launch and swimming area.
Horseshoe Bay was created after construction of the Paugan, Chelsea and Farmer’s Rapids dams. In 1927, they flooded the river dramatically. Before the flooding, the bay was narrow and turbulent, ideal for powering the logging industry of the 1800s.
In the 1840s the village of Gilmours1 Gatineau Mills1 evolved on a 20-acre island just off the Chelsea shore with Chelsea Falls (a.k.a. Cantley’s High Falls) on its eastern side. Here, its workers sorted and milled the incoming river logs before sending them by log chute to Ironsides (Alonzo Bridge). By 1861, the village grew to 250 residents with shops and even a farm.
In the early 1900s, after demand for lumber dwindled, the village was abandoned. Gilmours’ Mills became the cottage development of “Chelsea Island” until 1922. Most of the island disappeared underwater in the 1927 flooding.
Meanwhile, a short distance across to the opposite shore, Cantley’s ‘High Falls’ became a popular destination for city people to escape for forest walks, picnics with a waterfall view, swimming, fishing, and even poaching! Though its shoreline is beneath water today, Cantley’s future Parc Riverain is at this same location. It is easy to imagine people a century ago enjoying this small piece of shoreline paradise, just as we will.
After the flooding, the Gatineau River became wider and placid. Logging continued with the help of tugboats and booms to direct pulp logs into a spectacular two-mile log chute along the Cantley shoreline, from the Chelsea Dam past Farmer’s Rapids Dam. Horseshoe Bay was bisected by a large, solid permanent boom blocking off its shoreline side to be log-free, thus enabling the rivermen to more easily direct the floating logs to the chute. On the Hydro Quebec beach, adjacent to Parc Riverain, was the maintenance yard and winter home for the tugboats. Logging ended in 1991.
In June, canoes travel from Kitigan Zibi to Horseshoe Bay to camp for the traditional Algonquin summer solstice sunrise ceremony commemorating 6000 years of First Nation history in the area.
Beneath the waters of Horseshoe Bay are the mysterious remains of the river’s history, stories and ghosts of the past. Cantley’s two Horseshoe Bay parks allow us to connect with nature and the river, with our past and the peaceful beauty of the bay.
Horseshoe Bay and its shoreline must be protected now for future generations!
For more information about Cantley’s river history visit Parc Mary-Anne-Phillips (47 ch Summer) and www.cantley1889.ca
1 “Chelsea Island and Gilmours’ Gatineau Mills” by F. Curry in Up the Gatineau! vol.40, Gatineau Valley Historical Society