The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 23 no 8, March 2012. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.
It's the depth of winter in 1874 in Canada. What better winter-time outing for Queen Victoria's representative in Canada, the Governor General and Lady Dufferin, than a trip by horse and sleigh to Cantley, in the wilds of the Gatineau Valley bush. They set off to visit what we now know as Laflêche Cave on Thursday, February 19, 1874. According to reminiscences of one of the drivers, John Regan, in an 'Old Time Stuff' column in the Ottawa Citizen on April 7, 1928, they went up in the vice regal carriages, accompanied by a couple of Weldon Champness's best victorias (carriages) which were driven by Mr. Champness's best drivers. One of these was John Regan himself. Pelissier's Cave had only been discovered a short time before their visit.
Lady Dufferin wrote her own account of their visit in her weekly letter to her mother:
We had a great expedition today. Our party filled two sleighs, and we started at eight o'clock in the morning, and drove three miles along, or rather on, the Gatineau River, and then eighteen miles through the bush, enjoying the winter scenery. It was a prettier drive than I had expected, being more open, less shut up in wood, and the horizon more varied than it usually is here. We saw the Gatineau rapids, rushing along, black-looking through the snow; also something of the lumber trade, for we met all the little sleighs full of wood coming to market. As they were loaded, we had to make way for them, and on two occasions we met in most awkward places, when we all had to get out, and lift our sleigh sideways on to the bank, and once we had to take out the horses.
We arrived at last at the house of a farmer, the owner of a cave, which cave was the end and object of our expedition. Here we lunched (their own "eatables" prepared and served by the coachman and footmen), and then, guided by the farmer, we proceeded on our way two miles along a lumber snow road, very narrow and bumpy. We left the carriages on a lake, and climbed up a hill to the mouth of the cave, where we took off our fur cloaks, and, each taking a lighted candle entered the cave.
After examining a part of it, which I may call the hall and anteroom of this subterranean mansion, we proceeded on hands and knees through a very low passage to the drawing room. We ladies had great difficulty with our petticoats, especially when in this doubled up position we had to cross a pool of water on a narrow plank, and were greatly relieved when we were able to stretch ourselves upright again. New perils were, however, before us, and the gentlemen were astonished to find that Lady Harriet and I really did intend to descend the ladders which, in the darkness, appeared to lead down to the middle of the earth. But, as we very naturally observed to them, we had not driven twenty miles, and crawled on hands and knees to the spot, to be deterred by a small difficulty; so down we went, and saw two more large rooms in the basement of said mansion. Of course the place requires a geologist's eye to appreciate it thoroughly.
It snowed most of the day, and at the end of our drive we looked ideal Canadians.
This account was published in 1891 in "My Canadian Journal, 1872-8: extracts from my letters written while Lord Dufferin was Governor-General" by Harriot Georgina Blackwood, Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava. For further reading on the Laflêche Cave, see also Up the Gatineau, Volume 14, pp 25 - 30, "Gatineau Labyrinth: The Laflêche Cave" by Joanne MacDonald.
Mary Holmes, who adapted this account, is on the board of Cantley 1889, an association to 'discover, catalogue, protect and promote Cantley's heritage'.