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The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 26 no 5, November 2014. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.

Keeping the home fires burning

by Mary Holmes

2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War One (from July 28, 1914 to November 11, 1918) and also the 75th anniversary of the beginning of World War Two (from September 1, 1939 to September 2, 1945). Cantley saw at least 78 of its young men and 2 of its young women join up and serve in Canada and overseas during both world wars. Seven of them were killed in action.

But what of those at home... ... ... ...

1918 Influenza

The 1918 influenza pandemic (also referred to as the 1918 Spanish fl u) was a deadly killer that accompanied our troops returning from Europe. Its primary victims were healthy young adults. Review of the records of the churches in Cantley does not show an unusual number of deaths in either 1918 or 1919. However, one young girl, Eva Holmes Maloney, had her high school education cut short by the Pandemic. She was attending Notre Dame Convent in Aylmer as a boarder. Rather than risk her being exposed to the flu in the crowded conditions in the school, her father brought her home to the safety of their farm in Wilson’s Corners. Life went on; however, she did not have the opportunity to return to fi nish her schooling.


Rationing of both food and materials was imposed during both World Wars. In World War II, it was introduced in 1942 to assist Canada to ensure a well-fed population at home and well-fed soldiers abroad, as well as to meet its commitments to help feed the people in countries ravaged by the War. In order to keep farmers on the land and producing food, they were exempt from military service. Roughly 50 young men from Cantley signed up during World War II, but many more, by virtue of being farmers and/or miners, were exempt from service.

Many everyday household foodstuffs were rationed: butter, eggs, meat, sugar (used in the manufacture of shells and bombs), molasses (used in the production of synthetic rubber), tea and coffee (imported products which became diffi cult to get), as well as metals, nylon, rubber and gas which were all required for the production of the tools of war. Rationing was certainly inconvenient but not much of a hardship for people who had just come through the Great Depression and were used to making do and to making a little go a long way. Reta Barton Milks remembers that her parents had friends in the city who brought their ration coupons for sugar and fl our to trade for her parents’ coupons for meat and dairy. Her parents, being farmers, had their own meat and dairy (eggs, butter, and milk) but were glad to get extra coupons for sugar and fl our for baking.

Waiting for news...

In her interview with Outaouais Alliance in 1987, Lola Burke Foley shared her memory of her sister’s war experience: Grace Burke was working in Montreal when she married her husband, Frank O’Hara, in August 1944. He was working as night foreman at the Blackburn Mine. Frank left for the War in October. Grace was terribly upset when he left so she stayed with her sister Lola on the Foley farm in Cantley for a while, but soon picked herself up and went back to Montreal to the ink and dye company where she had been working. Word came that Frank was wounded: shot in the leg. This was a terribly anxious time for Grace. She finally got word that he was being transferred to St. Mary’s Hospital in Montreal, where he stayed for a year.

The young men overseas were able to receive letters and packages and could write letters home, subject to censure, of course. Martha Wilson Barton (widow of William Barton), had two sons overseas in World War II; Norman and George. The young men were grateful for news of home and for the cigarettes that Maynard McGlashan, the owner of McGlashan’s General Store at Wilson’s Corners, had given to their mother to be included in the care packages that she sent. Both young men survived.

Ray Strachan, dressed in his uniform, was visiting his relatives and friends in Cantley and Wilson’s Corners before he left for overseas in World War II. There was mail at McGlashan’s post office for one of the neighbours. Ray volunteered to take it to them where he would have a visit at the same time. In those days, men in uniform carrying envelopes weren’t bringing good news. The elderly woman of the house was so frightened that she would not answer the door, not recognizing young Ray in his uniform.

One of the three sons of Thomas Holmes, Sergeant Air Gunner Cletus of the Royal Canadian Air Force was killed on August 24, 1943. He signed up and was trained at No. 3 Bombing and Gunnery School at Macdonald, Manitoba. He arrived overseas in March 1943 and was immediately “on operations”. In August, he was reported missing in action in air operations over Germany. The International Red Cross Society informed his family in November 1943 that according to German information, Cletus had died over Germany. Finally on February 4, 1944, Air Force Headquarters informed his parents that he was presumed dead. He was 21-year-old.

A heart-breaking end to a hopeful wait.

Next month, Reta Barton Milks will write about the life and times of Cantley children during the World War II years. Mary Holmes is a board member of Cantley 1889, a volunteer organization formed in 2010 to preserve, protect and catalogue Cantley’s history. We would appreciate hearing from our readers: pictures, stories, reminiscences, anecdotes.

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