Cantley 1889 Articles

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The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 24 no 8, March 2013. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.

The Milks House : Cantley's historic landmark

by Mary Holmes

Many of Cantley's heritage buildings have disappeared. Fortunately, one of our most lovely still stands elegantly and prominently on highway 307 for all Cantley citizens to admire. Its recent "For Sale" sign prompted "Cantley 1889" to research its story. As Mary Holmes has discovered, Cantley's 140-year-old "Milks House" is truly our symbol of Cantley's fascinating history...

The "McGoey" House - The "Milks" House at 694 Montee de la Source had been a landmark in Cantley for over 140 years. There are not many official records or anecdotal records available from the time period in which this house was built, the land registry records having been destroyed in the "Great Fire" in Hull in 1900. We do know that it was built for the first resident priest of the parish of St. Elizabeth's which was founded in 1868, Fr. Patrick McGoey. He was born in Armagh, Ireland, but had been in Canada since at least 1848. Ordained to the priesthood in 1849, he had served in several parishes in Ontario and Quebec before being assigned to Cantley. On his arrival there was no rectory for him to live in, so he had the "McGoey" house built for him. It is reported that he said Mass in the house while the existing dilapidated chapel was being replaced with the present church building (approx 1870-1872). According to Courtney C.J. Bond in "The Ottawa Country", this "Gothic Revival" house was built in 1870, and timbers from the old chapel were used in the construction of sheds at the "McGoey" house. Fr. McGoey was parish priest at St. Elizabeth's until 1877.

The occupation of the house between 1877 and 1885 is open for discussion. Did the subsequent parish priests continue to use this house as a rectory? Or as some historical notes suggest, did the second parish priest take over a house, about 1/2 mile from the church, that was built as a school and used it for a rectory and until 1884-1885 when a rectory was built beside the church? If this was the case, then who lived in the "McGoey" house?

The "Milks" House - The next-known owners of the house were Anthony and Frances Milks. Born in 1859, Anthony was one of the twelve children of John Milks and Mary McAlinden. John grew up in Eardley, the son of Freeborn Garrettson Milks, who had come to Eardley from the United States at the age of 17 and of Sarah (Sally) Moore. Freeborn was a carpenter and a millwright, a tradition carried on by his son, John, and his grandson, Anthony, and his great-grandson, Hector. John lived in Wakefield for a time before his marriage to Mary, after which he moved to Cantley. Depending on the season, Anthony worked as a carpenter or in the lumber camps, before his adventure of a lifetime in Africa.

Anthony & Frances Milks.

As a member of the Canadian contingent to travel to the Nile in 1884, Anthony left Montreal on September 13, 1884. According to Anthony Michel, "these civilian boatmen were to play an integral role in the British government's Nile expedition, which attempted to rescue General Charles Gordon, besieged in Khartoum by the armies of the Mahdi." Anthony would have travelled to Gibraltar, Alexandria, through Egypt to Wadi Halfa on the Sudanese border where their river work began. In an excerpt from the Standard, published by the Winnipeg Sun, Anthony is described as "a handsome Anglo-Saxon, with soft blue eyes and brown hair, of the true old Viking stock".

In Stacey's introduction we can read of Anthony's expertise, "At Dal, according to General Grenfell, the pilots were convinced that the Lotus (a steel sternwheel steamers called a Yarrow boat) would have to be hauled up the cataract; but one of the voyageurs, Anthony Milks of the Ottawa group, profiting by his knowledge of the water, ‘piloted her through under steam without accident'." The Canadian voyageurs returned to Ottawa on March 7, 1885, to the heartily cheering of the crowds assembled to meet the train, then a march through downtown Ottawa followed by a luncheon banquet. Imagine the stories that the 25 year-old Anthony had to tell.

Hector & Nellie Milks Wedding 1931.

In October 1885 Anthony married Frances Burke at St. Elizabeth's Church in Cantley, and purchased what has come to be known as the "Milks" house. Frances was the daughter of Edward Burke and Bridget McAndrew, who grew up "on the Burr Road" in Cantley. Together they raised a family of nine children. Anthony added the verandas on three sides of the house in 1910. The long row of buildings beside the house started with an ice house, a woodshed, housing for horses, cows, hens, pigs, machinery and at the very end the blacksmith shop. There was also a "summer kitchen" where meals were prepared and served in the hot summer days and a milk house where the cream separator was still in place until 2004. One of the projects in Anthony's carpentry career was as contractor for the rectory that was built for St. Elizabeth's parish in 1900. It later burned down and was replaced by the present rectory.

Hector, their youngest, married Ellen (Nellie) Mulcahey in November 1931 at St. Elizabeth's Church. Nellie was the daughter of James Mulcahey and Margaret Holmes of Wilson's Corners. Hector carried on the family business, farming and operating a saw-mill until 1947, when the mill was sold and relocated. His father, Anthony, died at home in April 1937, after spending his last few days sawing lumber with Hector. Hector and Nellie raised a family of seven children. Only one of their children, the late Arnold, settled in Cantley, raising a family of three daughters with his wife, Reta (Barton) Milks. After Hector's death in 1982, Nellie carried on living in the Milks House until her death in 2003. One of her grandsons lived in the house for a few years and in 2008, the house was sold to its current owners.

***For more detailed reading on the Nile Expedition of 1884-1885: Anthony P. Michel, "To Represent the Country in Egypt: Aboriginality, Britishness, Anglophone Canadian Identities, and the Nile Voyageur Contingent, 1884-1885" and "Records of the Nile Voyageurs 1884-1885, The Canadian Voyageur Contingent in the Gordon Relief Expedition" edited with an introduction by C.P. Stacey.

With thanks to fellow board member, Reta Milks, and to Melissa Joyce. Other sources for this article: "History and Genealogy of the Milk-Milks Family" by Grace Croft 1952; biographies of St. Elizabeth's parish priests and notes from interviews with Cantley old-timers by Fr. Cornelius Boekema, C.C.Sp., parish priest from 1980 – 1982; and files from the archives of the Archdiocese of Gatineau.

If anyone has more information on the early years of the house, Cantley 1889 would appreciate hearing from you at

Mary Holmes is a member of the board of directors of Cantley 1889, has lived all her life, so far, in the Cantley-Wilson's Corners area and is a descendant of one of the pioneer families of Wilson's Corners.

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