The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 28 no 11, June 2017. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.
Imagine burying a husband and child in Ireland during the 1847 famine, only to lose the rest of your family on the perilous ocean crossing to Canada.
Imagine being quarantined in Kingston and then walking nearly 200 kilometres to Ottawa to work as a maid.
Imagine marrying again and raising nine children on an isolated farm in Wilson’s Corners—without electricity or reliable roads — where, despite the numerous demands of your daily life, you become an active member of your community.
This was the life of Catherine Holmes, one of the ten remarkable women (and one of four Cantley women) celebrated in the Fairbairn House’s upcoming exhibition, Notable Women of the Gatineau Valley.
The bilingual exhibition, opening at Wakefield’s Fairbairn House Heritage Centre June 3rd, celebrates ten area women who lived between the years 1825 – 2015. Their accomplishments range from building bridges to running businesses, establishing social services to changing environmental law. The goal of this exhibition was to highlight how these inspiring women altered the physical and social landscape of the Gatineau Valley in ways that continue to shape their communities, which include many of their descendants.
It can be difficult to find research about women’s accomplishments because their work often happened behind the scenes and in the margins of history books. But thanks to the collaboration of the Gatineau Valley Historical Society and Cantley 1889, this exhibition brings these women’s accomplishments front and centre, offering a thoroughly researched glimpse into their busy lives.
The exhibition also offers a peek into life in the Gatineau Valley from its early days to today. What was Cantley like before electricity? How would a young woman have made her way to Barriere Lake, north of Maniwaki, to teach for the summer? (Hint: it involved four separate methods of transportation). How did Chelsea become one of the first municipalities in Canada to ban the cosmetic use of pesticides? What was it like to run a busy hotel in Cascades during the log drive? How did Cantley residents get their supplies when the McGlashan Store burnt down? Visitors will learn the answers to these questions, and much more, as they read these women’s stories, see photographs and artifacts and, thanks to an exciting collaborative project with Theatre Wakefield, watch short videos dramatizing key moments in their eventful lives.
The exhibition content was developed with financial support from the Department of Canadian Heritage, CLD des Collines-de-l’Outaouais, and the Municipality of La Pêche. Following its June 3 opening, it will run at the Fairbairn House until October 15, 2017, before touring the MRC during the fall and winter of 2017/18.
Beyond this exhibition, the Fairbairn House will be a hub of activity with an oldfashioned barn raising in July and August, Musical Mondays on its outdoor stage, and programming and special events throughout the summer.
For more information, visit the Fairbairn House website (www. fairbairn.ca) or find them on Facebook at maisonfairbairnhouse.