The Blackburn Cemetery: A Memorial to Cantley’s Founding Settlers

Cantley 1889 Articles

<em>Echo</em> Cantley <em>Echo</em>

The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 32 no 9, April 2020. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.

The Blackburn Cemetery: A Memorial to Cantley’s Founding Settlers

by Margaret Phillips (with much help from the late Carol Martin*)

A white fence protects the two monuments. Outside of this fence are an unknown number of unmarked graves, in the surrounding grassland and on its west side alongside the roadway. Photo March 2020, Cantley 1889 collection.

When Canada’s first settlers arrived, before churches were constructed with their accompanying cemeteries, early farmers created their own “homestead burial grounds” for their deceased loved ones. Over time, these places disappeared – forgotten, hidden underneath natural growth or human development. A significant exception is the Blackburn burial ground on Gary Blackburn’s property on River Road.

The Blackburn Cemetery was created in 1842. Its last burial took place seventy-eight years later in 1920. This historic burial ground provides the final resting place for at least thirty-two members of five generations of the Blackburn family and their neighbours. Historians believe many more Cantley people are buried here because Cantley’s other cemeteries were not established until 1858. In early times, burials were not always officially documented and gravestone markers were often not affordable.

Buried here is one of Cantley’s first settlers, Andrew Blackburn (Senior). He and his wife Isabella Lennox arrived in Canada from Scotland in 1829. Within a few years, they and their three adult sons established four Blackburn households on both sides of the Gatineau River.

Imagine the hardships the early settlers endured to create farms out of our wild, rocky Cantley landscape. The burial ground provides clues to their stories.

Gary Blackburn, with the monument of his ancestors, is current owner of the historic Blackburn Farm where the cemetery is located. Photo 2011, Cantley 1889 collection.

Child and infant deaths were common. We think the burial ground was first designated to bury two grandchildren of Andrew (Senior). They both died on March 27th, 1842 - Isabella (age five years) and James (age four years). During the following nine years, their parents, Margaret and Andrew (Junior), buried three more of their children (ages one, three and five years)! The 1851-1852 census shows one of them died of “consumption” (ie tuberculosis). That same year, on August 11, 1842, their 19-year-old cousin was buried with them.

Fireman John Knox Blackburn was buried here in 1907 when he was crushed by two railway cars in a tragic accident on his first day on the job. Five minutes before leaving for work, by chance he had signed a life insurance policy!

Thanks to generations of Blackburn family members who have been caring for this burial ground, it survives as a rare and important heritage site. The Blackburn Cemetery is one of the few remaining historic places which honours Cantley’s communal founding ancestors.

All three Cantley cemeteries are historic. All deserve our respect and protection so they can serve as historic memorials for us and for future generations.

“Cemeteries are historic communities in their own right, and the most important source of monuments to the people of our rural centres...are especially valuable because they offer a window on a more typical Canadian and local pioneer past.”*

* Quotation and information for this article are from the book “In Memory of Chelsea’s Historic Cemeteries” by Carol Martin, acclaimed local historian (available from the Gatineau Valley Historical Society).

Inscriptions on the only two monuments in the Blackburn Cemetery. From “In Memory of Chelsea’s Historic Cemeteries” by Carol Martin.
From “In Memory of Chelsea’s Historic Cemeteries” by Carol Martin.