• Jonathan Rudnicki

Construction haunts Cantley cemetery

Group looks for heritage designation for Pioneer Cemetery


Members of the volunteer based group Cantley 1889 said they are worried for the safety of a 179-year-old cemetery, which holds the graves of some of Cantley’s earliest European settlers.


The cemetery was and is still owned by the Blackburn family. They buried their family and neighbours there as there was no church cemetery until around 1857, according to the Cantley 1889 website. Gary Blackburn, Cantley 1889 board member and owner of the cemetery, is a descendant of the Blackburns who are buried there.


On July 17 Cantley 1889 is unveiling a descriptive plaque at the cemetery in Cantley. The plaque was made possible via a grant from the Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network.


(From left) Bob McClelland, Valérie Crevier, Margaret Phillips, and Gary Blackburn standing in the Blackburn Pioneer Cemetery in Cantley. Photo courtesy of Cantley 1889
(From left) Bob McClelland, Valérie Crevier, Margaret Phillips, and Gary Blackburn standing in the Blackburn Pioneer Cemetery in Cantley. Photo courtesy of Cantley 1889

According to the Cantley 1889 website, the plaque will honour Cantley’s first pioneer family, while explaining the historical significance of the cemetery. After July 17, the cemetery will be open to the public for visits. The cemetery is located at 60 Ch. River.


However, the group said they worry that their efforts to raise awareness and protect the cemetery may not be enough. “We are really nervous about the safety of the cemetery after what happened to the church that was demolished,” said Margaret Phillips, president of Cantley 1889.


In April 2020 the municipality of Cantley approved the demolition of the historic 1877 St. Andrews Church. To prevent the cemetery from meeting the same fate, Cantley 1889 began a citation process under the Cultural Heritage Act, asking the municipal council to introduce a motion to seek a heritage designation for the cemetery from the province, according to Phillips.


A heritage designation would effectively protect the cemetery from developments that could potentially threaten the heritage value of the site.


According to Phillips, Blackburn informed Cantley 1889 that a neighbouring development could put the cemetery at risk of damage. The developer would need to expand a road that shares a property line with the cemetery to follow municipal rules.


Madeleine Brunette, mayor of Cantley, wrote in an email that the reason the Blackburn Pioneer Cemetery hasn’t been designated as an official heritage site is because it is located on private land, giving the municipal council some concerns.


Brunette also explained that the council is hesitant to use public funds on private property, since a heritage designation requires a conservation plan to be submitted and that the property should be secure in the hands of its private owner.


“We just want to protect the cemetery. It has always been there, it has always been in the family,” said Phillips, “we worked really hard [restoring headstones], we’re all volunteers, and it’s really worth protecting. It would be so sad to lose it.”


To learn more about the Blackburn Pioneer Cemetery visit cantley1889.ca.