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The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 27 no 9, April 2016. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.

Aboriginal Pathways, Original Settlers: Cantley's First Nations Presence

Part 1: 10,000 BCE to 1800 AD

by Wes Darou

The first settlers of Cantley were not the Blackburns, Milks, Flemings or Foleys who settled here in the 1820s. They were the indigenous people. In this article, I will begin with the history of the general region and then move more specifically to what we call today Cantley.

Native communities in the interior of the Algonquin territory. Roland Viau, Les dieux de la terre: Contribution à l'ethnohistoire de l'Outaouais, 1600-1650.

According to archeological evidence, the first visitors to Cantley arrived about 12,000 years ago1. They were probably Proto-Algonquin people, the ancestors of our current Algonquin / Anishinabe2, Cree, Mi'kmaq and others. The Iroquoian people arrived perhaps 3,000 years later, establishing themselves in a pocket about where the Six Nations Iroquois live today. They were completely surrounded by the Proto-Algonquin. As a result of this, again according to archeological records, there was a great deal of trade between the groups. Copper from Lake Superior moved south and corn and pottery from south of Lake Ontario moved north.

The established way of life of the Anishinabe was semi-nomadic. They lived in villages in the summer to trade, socialize and marry, and then moved to one-family forest camps for hunting for the winter. This meant that unlike Europeans, they entered and left their hunting territory on a regular annual cycle. The population in individual villages might be low at times, but the territory as a whole was tightly controlled. It is for this reason and because they intentionally made little environmental impact, that there is little physical evidence of their occupation. Nonetheless, the Anishinabe occupied our territory for thousands of years.

According to the anthropologist Frank Speck, the major rivers, like the Ottawa, the Dumoine, the Gatineau and the Petite-Nation, served as trade routes and tribal group boundaries. The Gatineau River was part of a super-highway linking Georgian Bay to the upper St-Maurice, Trois-Rivières and Quebec on the St-Lawrence. One would have seen large volumes of canoe traffic on the Gatineau River.

The Ottawa River is a misnomer. The Ottawa, a nation in the same linguistics group as the Anishinabe, lived near Lake Huron. They travelled down the Ottawa, and the Ottawa was the route the French used to reach them but the Ottawa did not live there.

By the way, according to Frances Curry, the name for the Gatineau River in the Anishinabe language was Tenagagan Sipi, "River of Cascades".

European contact
In the first 100 years after contact with Europeans, you would not have seen a lot of changes. The French population was less than 100 people. However, these settlers brought hitchhikers: bacteria as yet unknown to the Anishinabe. These small visitors, influenza, cholera small pox and measles, made ravages, even decimating some areas.

As settler populations grew and began to see the profit in the fur trade, greater changes came along. The Dutch and later the English allied with the Iroquois and armed them with arquebuses, an early musket, to better control the trade. The Anishinabe were allies of the French, who did not arm them. As the Iroquois hunted out all the game in their territory, they raided northward into Anishinabe territory. The Anishinabe retreated inland and did not begin to return until the Great Peace of 1701.

Iroquian vase found near Wright in 1909. Ottawa Naturalist.

Cantley would have been on the boundary of two groups. The Weskarini were based around the Petite Nation River (and were in fact the small nation that it refers to). The Kirchisipirini were around Calumet Island near Pembroke. Their name means the "Great River People", referring to the Ottawa River. What was to become Cantley and Chelsea would have been at the limit of hunting territories for the two groups.

If each extended family's hunting territory were about 22 square kilometers, then the population in Cantley would have been six families or say 70 people. Archaeological evidence and oral history shows that one part of this was a community just below the Chaudière Falls. Cantley could have been a convenient hunting territory for a family from that village. The 10-km paddle from the Chaudière to here would have been a short hop, suitable perhaps for an older person.

It is said that a First Nations' person, presumably Anishinabe, is buried on a farm property in Cantley between 1925 and 1944. The grave was regularly visited and tended until the early.

The archeological site found at the mouth of the Gatineau River in 2014 was probably a seasonal camp for fishing sturgeon. Artifacts that have been found came from as far away as Pennsylvania and Lake Superior. The archeologists found two 6,000-year-old campfires and another at 2,800 years. It was thus in operation for thousands of years, perhaps until the White settlers fished out the sturgeon!

Part 2 of this article will appear in the June Echo. We will move forward to the Conquest and the arrival of that nasty Philemon Wright.

1See complete references.
2Algonquin is the Malecite word for "our allies". Anishinabe is what they call themselves in their own language. It means "spontaneous people". I will use the term Anishinabe in this article.


Mohammad Adam (2011-12-14). Algonquins in West Quebec Prepare to Launch Biggest Land Claim in Canada's History, Ottawa Citizen.

Oriana Barkham (1999). Notre rivière Gatineau : Ancienne route de commerce. Écho de Cantley, septembre 1998.

Mathieu Bélanger (2014-09-16). Un site unique sans dimension spirituelle. Le Droit.

Alain Beaulieu et Roland Viau (2001). La Grande Paix : Chronique d'une saga diplomatique. Éditions libre expression.

Randy Boswell and Jean-Luc Pilon (Sept 2015). An 1852 news item and its significance for the Ottawa-Area archaeological record. Ontario Archaelological Society Arch Notes, v20 n5, pp 5-10.

The Canadian Encyclopedia:

Claude Chapdelaine (1993). Algonquins et Iroquoiens dans l'Outaouais: Acculturation ou confrontation, dans Marc Côté et Gaétan Lessard, Traces du passé, images du présent, Cégep-Éditeur.

Frances Curry (2014). Chelsea Island and Gilours's Gatineau Mills. Up The Gatineau, 40, 34-44.

Chad Gaffield (1994). Histoire de l'Outaouais. Institut québécois de recherche sur la culture.

John W. Hughson, Courtney Bone (1964/2015). Hurling Down the Pine. Chelsea QC: Gatineau Valley Historical Society.

James Morrison (2005). Algonquin History of the Ottawa River Watershed, Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Donald Smith (2013). Mississauga Portraits : Ojibwe Voices from 19th-century Canada. University of Toronto Press.

T. W. E. Sowter (1909). Algonkian and Huron Occupation of the Ottawa Valley. The Ottawa Naturalist, 23.

Frank Speck, "The Family Hunting Band as the Basis of Algonkian Social Organization," American Anthropologist, 17, 2 April-June, 1915, 289-305.

Philemon Wright (1825) "An account of the first settlement of the township of Hull".

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