1819 -2019 — The Remarkable Lives of La Grange de la Gatineau

Cantley 1889 Articles

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

The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 32 no 3, September 2019. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.

1819-2019 — The Remarkable Lives of La Grange de la Gatineau

Margaret Phillips (A personal account with quotations from Bob Phillips’ articles)

1819 was the dawn of a new era!

Queen Victoria was born ... and in Black’s Corners, Ontario, its first settlers built a uniquely large barn. Its gigantic cedar, tamarack and 40-foot oak logs created 4,000 square feet of floor space of four structures joined together into a T-shape. This magnificent barn served its farmers for 150 prosperous years.

La Grange de la Gatineau 2019

By 1974, the farm had become “Tamarack Acres”, an antique/ refinishing shop — a business deemed too hazardous for insurance unless the nearby barn was demolished. The owners were devastated. Then they met Bob and Mary Anne Phillips, who had already rescued three pioneer log cabins from demolition and reconstructed them on their Cantley property.

“We do not like moving history. Log buildings from the frontier of settlement should remain where they began... but sometimes they are unequal to the fight with time or progress...”

The decision was made. The barn would become Bob’s and Mary Anne’s retirement home! With help from summer students, family and friends, they began what was “the largest log building reconstruction project ever attempted in Canada”.

It took the entire summer to shovel “tons of petrified hay” from lofts and dismantle the roof, stalls, cupboards, windows and 150 years of accumulated stuff, including “a million rusty nails”. Finally, the interior was empty.

Next, more than 700 logs, spacers and lumber were carefully numbered with marine paint. Using antique ice tongs, the crew loaded each piece onto one of the Cantley trucks hired for this unusual job. “Our worst crisis was when an innocent garter snake looked sleepily from a log about to be lifted. All those brave men fled in terror to their trucks.” After the 57 km drive to Cantley, the logs were dumped in an enormous pile on the snowy hilltop above the building site. Once frozen, the hill became a slide for the logs to reach their final destination.

In 1975, logs were sorted and the building site prepared. In June 1976, using a restoration architect’s plans, diagrams of the numbered logs, volunteers and summer students, the barn raising began. The heavy upper logs were raised by using home-made scaffolding, ladders, ropes and pulleys. By September, the exterior structure was up. During 1977, the interior was finished, just in time for winter occupancy. By then the barn had been named: “The Grange”.

Bob and Mary Anne spent thirteen happy years together in The Grange until Mary Anne died in 1990. Interesting and interested visitors from all walks of life visited this special place – even a couple of governors-general! It inspired Canadian and international heritage preservation and reconstruction projects, many stories and articles.

In 1992, tragedy struck. A devastating fire destroyed most of the Grange interior. This was rebuilt within a year. Amazingly, the original structure – all the exterior logs, survived. After a bit of sandblasting, they are as handsome and strong as in 1819. Bob lived in his beloved Grange until his death in 2003.

In 2005 the Grange began life as “La Grange de la Gatineau”. Now the public can appreciate its history and beautiful river setting for their special occasions, meetings and concerts.

Owner Brigid Phillips Janssen invites Cantley to the Grange on Sunday, September 29th, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., for a community celebration of its remarkable 200-year history!

April 1992 – The Grange after the fire.
April 1992 – The Grange after the fire.

The position of each log was labelled before being dismantled by hand.
The position of each log was labelled before being dismantled by hand.

Bob and Mary Anne Phillips were recognized locally and nationally as pioneers of Canada’s heritage movement. Bob was founding executive director of the National Trust for Canada (formerly Heritage Canada Foundation). He received the “Order of Canada” for his work on Canada’s heritage.
1980s – “The Great Hall” of the Grange.