The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 24 no 1, July 2012. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.
Even though Cantley's western boundary is the beautiful Gatineau River, it is only relatively recently that anyone sensible would establish on the river for the view, swimming and boating.
Until 20 years ago, it would have been foolish... yet fortunate... to purchase land here for a summer cottage because from shore to shore, huge booms full of logs packed the river leaving no clear water.
My family was among the fortunate ones who did build a cottage on the Gatineau, back in the early 1950s, and were lucky enough to have a tiny log-free inlet "boomed off" so that we could learn to swim. We would lasso the smoothest largest logs to practice our log-riding skills, perch on submerged "dead-heads", and balance on booms, leaping across the big chains that joined them. A neighbour kept in shape by cross-country skiing across the logs to the opposite shore! The comforting sounds of the tugboats chugging, and the friendly waves from the rivermen, added to happy summer memories of growing up in Cantley on a log-filled river.
In 1832, when our river was a turbulent torrent of rapids and waterfalls, Philemon Wright's three sons were given logging rights here from the Crown Timber Office. Logging remained an important local industry for 160 years. The log drive employed many tugs and hundreds of men to break the jams in the rapids and unsnag the wayward pieces caught on the shore.
Even with the construction of the Farmer's Rapids and Chelsea Dams and the flooding of the Gatineau River in 1927, booms full of logs filled its now-placid waters. A log chute more than a mile long was built to guide every log past the dams.
Every one of the millions of logs used to be branded with the mark of the company owning it.
At Gatineau Point, until the 1960s, rivermen on long booms sorted them out according to owners, nudging each individual log into the appropriate channel for its mill. When E.B. Eddy Company decided no longer to use the Gatineau river, that process became unnecessary.
About 50 men and 20 tugs worked on the river and some 400,000 cords of wood passed along the Cantley section of the river every summer.
With rising labour costs after the World War II, serious consideration was given to abandoning the river route in favour of chipping at the logging camps, with the chips being carried by truck and rail to the mills on the Ottawa River. The sudden escalation of world oil prices ended those prospective plans for trucking, and the prospect of using freight cars was ended forever with the hasty abandonment of the rail line above Wakefield in the mid-1980s.
Even after logging stopped on most of Canada's rivers, the Gatineau was one of the last to give up logging in 1993.
Today, along the rocky shoreline and on the islands, you can still see evidence of the logging era, such as iron hoops imbedded into the rock. If there was a south wind, the rivermen had to winch their boats along, tying them to these "rock boats" which acted as anchors set into the rock along the river. They were also used for attaching the booms. You can still see these and discover bits of large chain and huge hooks along the shore.
Cantley 1889 has created a fascinating exhibit of original artifacts from our logging era... pike poles, peaveys and cant hooks, binders and chain joiners, saws and axes... and other artifacts representing this important history along our shore. These artifacts, enhanced by the accompanying NFB film "Log Drive"/"La Drave", were on public display at La Grange de la Gatineau during the Heritage Paddle event on June 10th. We have had requests to take this exhibit to other venues in the area... so stay tuned.
Of course, you can also see Cantley's historic tugboat, currently on the beach at Parc Mary-Anne-Phillips, where you can also take a dip in our clean and log-free Gatineau River.