The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 33 no 4, October 2020. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.
This is Cantley 1889’s 10th anniversary...and its 101st Echo article!
The names of streets and public spaces should reflect the character of our community - its culture, important people and events. When all else disappears over time, place names are a permanent way to remember what was once in that location or what happened there, who lived there, what was important to Cantley.
In 2011, Cantley 1889 suggested the name “Parc du Traversier” for a new park at the river end of chemin Prud’homme - the site of the ferry which provided an essential service to Cantley for 80 years.
For 130 years, travel to and from Cantley was difficult. Montée de la Source was simply a rough gravel trail. The rickety 1866 Alonzo Bridge collapsed twice and had continual problems thereafter. In winter, ice bridges were constructed to connect Cantley to the Chelsea side. Otherwise, the best way for Cantley residents to reach the outside world was by ferry scow - a flat-bottomed raft-like boat with upturned ends. So, by the 1850s, eighteen ferries were established along the Gatineau River.
Parc du Traversier is at the now-underwater site of the first, and only commercial, ferry scow operation on the lower Gatineau River. Owner Thomas Kirk bought land on both sides of the river at one of the few places where the waters were calm enough to have a ferry crossing. At first, large oars ferried the scow to the opposite shore at Kirk’s Ferry. Later, a submerged cable was used, once the high waters subsided in spring.
Thomas’s son John probably operated the first ferry. He lived in Cantley and owned Kirk’s Tavern, a popular spot near the Cantley ferry dock. Later, from the early 1900s until service ended, the ferry became known as the “Paddy Fleming Ferry,” named after its popular Cantley operator. His relative Christie Fleming and then Jack O’Connell, both of Cantley, operated the ferry after Paddy died in 1923.
Paddy’s Ferry was Cantley’s life-line. It transported Cantley residents, their mail, goods and horse teams (later cars) across the river to Kirks Ferry. Here, they could access the train station, roads, churches, the “Fairy Hotel” and other services. The ferry also transported livestock, vehicles, mica and phosphate to the train. Chelsea residents travelled to Cantley for social events and the blacksmith and grist mill on Blackburn Creek.
Paddy’s scow “had room for two cars and two sets of wooden oars for rowing across.... the currents were tricky. The midstream ran south but on either side it flowed back north, so you had to know how to let the barge roll out into the river, drift north, then catch the current running south. Then you had to row like mad 'til you caught the eddy heading north again, to pull you safely to shore. It could be one wild ride.”1
Ferry stories became legendary in Cantley. The Brown family farmed on the Ferry Road (1832-1951), today’s ch Prud’homme. Tragedy claimed the lives of an early Mr. Brown and his horses when the wagon wheel caught on the edge of the scow causing all to tip into the river and drown. Margaret McCelland was thrown into the river when her horses, with their wagon full of produce, bolted while boarding the ferry. A humorous story is of ladies dressed “in their finery” being thrown in the water as the horses reared up when the scow suddenly stopped.
After 1927 when the river flooded, roads and bridges improved. All ferry services finally ended by 1940.
In 2021, Cantley 1889 hopes to create and install a plaque about the history of Parc du Traversier.
Cantley 1889’s 10th anniversary and Annual General Meeting - see poster.
1 Gordon Grant in “Kirks Ferry before the great flood” by Catherine Joyce in Low Down to Hull and Back News, Nov. 9, 2005.