The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 27 no 7, February 2016. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.
Religion was a very important part of the life of early settlers, and the church was the focal point.
Cantley's first census in 1842 listed no fewer than 7 different religions, but no churches. The religious denominations were as follows: Church of Rome 105, Church of England 45, Church of Scotland 27, Baptist 27, Wesleyan Methodist 23, Presbyterian 14, and Congregational 3. For this article I will trace the history of the Protestant groups which led to the establishment of St. Andrew's United Church. The principal source is the book entitled "St. Andrew's United Church, Cantley, An Historical Sketch" authored by Eirene McClelland in 1976 for the church's centennial.
Cantley's first settlers were the Blackburn family in 1829 and 1830 saw many families follow. Possibly the oldest church record is from St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Ottawa. It reads, "Blackburn, Andrew son of Andrew Blackburn of the township of Hull, farmer, and his wife Margaret Pollock, born the 24th day of January 1836, was baptized the 23rd of March in the same year. John Cruickshanks, minister."
Early religious groups worked together with neighbouring communities such as Templeton, Chelsea, Cascades, Wakefield and Rupert. The first worship services were held in homes. Ministers crossed the river on the ice during winter, and in summer by boat or after the 1840s on the ferry. This operated from Kirk's Ferry on the west side of the Gatineau River to Cantley at the end of what is now Prud'homme Road.
The first church group to have an actual building was the Methodist. Early settler William Thompson donated land for a log chapel on what are now the grounds of the Cantley United Cemetery. During the same period the property began to be used as a burying ground. The building was used by other congregations and also as a school. On the night before school was to start in 1899 it mysteriously burned. The Brown family then donated a plot of land at the corner of Highway 307 and St. Elizabeth Road and the new school opened in January 1900.
As years passed the Presbyterians became the predominant Protestant group. In 1876 James McClelland II, donated a lot on the northwest corner of his farm to build the church which still stands at 1128 Montee de la Source. St. Andrew's Presbyterian was built by a Mr. Storey in 1877. The story is told that the first service was held before the church roof was completed and when it started to rain boards were nailed for a makeshift roof to cover the minister and children being baptized.
Over the years the church grew and we get an idea of the dedication of its members by some of its purchases. In 1900 Benjamin Storey led the canvassing to collect $125 for an organ and a few years later the church raised $250 for new pews - large sums of money in those days. In 1925 with church union the church became St. Andrew's United Church.
The early years were difficult. The community was not large enough to support a church and minister itself so it was grouped into a charge with other villages. In 1946 a more permanent arrangement was made with Cantley, Chelsea and Poltimore grouped into one charge. The job of minister was challenging. An early Sunday morning service was held in Chelsea, late morning in Cantley, and Poltimore in the afternoon. In the 1940s, 50s and 60s most of the route was a dusty gravel road.
The past 30 years have not been easy for many churches and St Andrew's is no exception. Church attendance everywhere is down. The English population in Quebec has declined. Cantley's young people moved away for jobs and with no accommodation for seniors, many moved to Ottawa. Recently the United Church community in Western Quebec has grouped together in an attempt to pool resources and maintain congregations. A number of church buildings will probably be sold, including St. Andrew's Cantley.
2016 would have been the 140th anniversary of St. Andrew's. For almost a century and a half it has stood proud and strong on a hill overlooking the community and has been a beacon for the congregation..