Modern development has obliterated many of Cantley’s heritage structures and sites. Very few remain today. Cantley 1889 is determined the same fate does not happen to this vulnerable cemetery. We have raised awareness about the cemetery’s existence and significance over the past few years with two guided cemetery tours and articles in our community newspaper L’Echo de Cantley.
In 2020, Cantley 1889 learned of a new housing development planned on land adjacent to the cemetery, putting the cemetery at considerable risk. Because of this, we prepared and submitted the documents for a provincial “Demande de Citation” to the mayor. The documents require council's support but have been on hold since July 2020.
In September 2020 we received good news! QAHN (Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network) granted funding to Cantley 1889 to create a descriptive plaque for the cemetery. This is an important step towards the ultimate goal of acquiring official heritage designation to protect this site. Cantley 1889 is very grateful to QAHN for its encouragement and financial support for this project. The funds were provided for QAHN’s “Belonging and Identity” project by the Quebec provincial government’s Secrétariat aux relations avec les Québécois d’expression anglaise.
The descriptive plaque honours Cantley’s first pioneer family while telling the historical significance of the Blackburn Pioneer Cemetery.
After the official plaque unveiling, the Blackburn Pioneer Cemetery will be permanently open to the public.
Imagine the hardships Cantley’s early settlers endured to carve their farms from the wild, rocky landscape. This burial ground and its monuments provide clues to their stories.
When Canada’s first European settlers arrived, before churches were constructed with their accompanying cemeteries, early farmers created their own “homestead” or family burial grounds for their deceased loved ones. Over time, these places disappeared – forgotten, hidden underneath natural growth or human development.
A significant exception is Cantley’s Blackburn burial ground which is currently owned by Gary Blackburn - direct descendant of Cantley’s first settler Andrew Blackburn who arrived in Cantley from Scotland in 1829. He created his family burial ground in 1842 to bury his two grandchildren. Its last burial took place seventy-eight years later in 1920.
The Blackburn Pioneer Cemetery is the final resting place for at least thirty-two members of five generations of the Blackburn family and their neighbours. We believe more people are buried here since Cantley’s church cemeteries were not established until circa 1857.
Before then, official documentation of burials was mostly dependent on circuit riders who performed the last rites and recorded the death. These clergymen travelled to many small settlements spread throughout a large territory so they were not always available when their services were needed.
The Blackburn Pioneer Cemetery’s small grave markers have all disappeared since 1920.
Fortunately, two large stone monuments with legible inscriptions have survived.
Child and infant deaths were common. We believe the burial ground was first used to bury two grandchildren of Andrew (Senior). They both died in March, 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. John Johnson, Missionary Priest of Hull’s St. James Anglican Church, recorded a Blackburn family burial later in 1842, “Andrew, son of Robert Blackburn of Hull late of Scotland and Robina his wife was buried by me in the burial ground near the Gatineau River this eleventh day of August 1842 aged 19 years.”
A tragic accident took the life of twenty-three-year-old John Knox Blackburn. He was buried here in 1907 (unmarked grave). He was crushed between two railway cars while working as a fireman for the Canadian Pacific Railway after only four weeks on the job. He was not married but supported his dependent mother. Coincidentally, he had just signed an insurance policy before his departure by train for his fatal trip.
Andrew Blackburn arrived in Canada from Scotland in 1829 with his sons Andrew (Junior) and David. They travelled north along the east side of the Gatineau River, six miles upriver from the only other settlers (the Wright family). Andrew and his family were Cantley’s first settlers, the first people to build their home and clear their farmland in the Cantley wilderness.
His other son, John, arrived with Andrew’s wife Isabella Lennox in 1830, the same year Andrew worked on the first timber float down the Gatineau River. Within a few years, the family grew into four separate households. The Blackburn land extended to the opposite shore of the Gatineau River in Chelsea where Andrew (Junior) settled. David inherited the original Cantley farm. John moved to Chelsea. His son Lennox inherited the north section of the original Cantley farm.
All three surviving Cantley cemeteries are historic. All deserve respect and protection so they can serve as historic memorials for current and future generations.
Today, Cantley’s two active cemeteries reveal clues about local history and the people who once lived here. You are welcome to visit.
Before church cemeteries were established, family burial grounds were made in a small section of family farmland designated to bury loved ones. Except for the Blackburn Cemetery, none of these plots remains today in Cantley. We know that Cantley’s Smith and the Brown family farms also had family burial grounds.
Evidence indicates Cantley’s first known human burial was on June 2, 1836. John Smith and Jane McClelland’s eldest son died tragically in a brush fire while clearing land on the family farm. He was the first buried in the family burial ground which was used for family interments until 1874.
In 1844, the James Brown family established their burial ground to bury 3-year-old daughter Judith and several other family members thereafter. By 1870 the family acquired another 100 acres where they established a second Brown burial ground. Thomas Brown was the last buried there in 1910.