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The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 28 no 2, August 2016. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.

An Irish Son Finds the Wright Place via Cantley - Part 1

by Susan Derby

Who knows what stories are buried under the rolling landscape on our properties. By consulting census, oral tradition passed down from family members, parish records, land grants, the Bytown or Bust website, and Wikipedia, Susan Derby, and her sister, Sandra, eventually found their way to Nakkertok Nordic Cross Country Ski Club in Cantley. Part of the Club property is that of the Haycock Mine which Mr. Haycock purchased from the widow of Joseph Darby, Elizabeth.

Darby House, Alfred Edmonds, 1872, Library and Archives Canada.

In the winter of 1974, in an attempt to trace the path of our Derby ancestors, and to complete a school project on local municipal government, members of my class and I engaged Mr. Brian Gainsford to snowmobile us to the junction of the Gatineau and Pickanock rivers, to see the site where the first Wright family member would have landed in Wright, Quebec in the early 1840s, now part of the town of Gracefield. The convergence of the two rivers provided the ideal spot to establish a depot/farm to support the expanding Gatineau Valley lumber trade.

I have not yet determined if the Derby's (also spelt Darby) of Westmeath, Ireland were of the Old English Irish, or the Cromwellian wave of Anglo-Irish occupation (Wikipedia). My great-great grandfather, Joseph Darby, and his wife, Elizabeth Holmes, left Ireland in June, 1828, and three weeks later their third son, James, was born in Montreal, Quebec. By 1831 the family had moved to Cantley. Do the Royal Canal that runs through Westmeath, the Lachine Canal through Montreal and the Rideau Canal in Ottawa represent Joseph's means of employment?

Sandra and Susan Derby at Darby farm site in Cantley.

Participating in the great timber trade, James I, as a young man, would ride the timber rafts from Ottawa to Quebec City, down the Ottawa and St Lawrence Rivers - imagine the exhilaration, and the danger!

James married Agnes Courtney and they first lived in Cantley/Templeton/East Hull and James worked for the Gilmore Lumber Company at 50 cents a day, working from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Unlike the plywood used in today's construction, the lumber was sawed 3 inches thick and 16 feet long. James and Agnes' first son Samuel was born in 1858 and by 1860 the family had purchased land and settled in Wright, Quebec.

James and Agnes Darby purchased two lots with 100 acres in each lot. Farms in Wright (Gracefield) now sell for $1,000 an acre, in the 1860's James paid 60 cents an acre, for a total of $120. The only visible neighbor was the smoke from the chimney of the McConnery home, later to become well-known business people in the Upper Gatineau Valley. For about 15 years James and Agnes lived in a shanty and then built the house that still stands on the Derby Settlement homestead today, after the birth of their last child Ellen.

Farm of Elizabeth Darby,Alfred Edmonds, 1872, Library and Archives Canada.

Most of James' siblings also eventually moved to Wright, helping amass the large tracts of land (nearly 2,000 acres) in this area known as the Derby Settlement, along Range 5, where the Route 105 passes, Ranges 6 and 7. Between 1860 and 1875 alone, 1,500 acres were purchased.

For additional reading on topics related to the Darby's Cantley property, the Haycock Mine and Nakkertok, see Cantley 1889 articles in the following editions of the Echo of Cantley: September, October and December 2012; July 2014; March and April 2015, which are available on either the website of Cantley 1889 or of the Echo of Cantley.

Cantley 1889 is a volunteer organization set up in 2010 whose goals are to discover, catalogue, protect and promote Cantley's heritage.

See Part 2.


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