Cantley nearly erased its own history.
But more than 500 residents fought to preserve it – and won.
At an Aug. 30 council meeting, politicians voted to expropriate a Cantley farm to make way for a municipal garage and multiple phases of a community centre expansion. It wasn’t just any farm they planned to pave over, but one of Cantley’s original farmlands – the last remaining piece of farmland in the urban core of the municipality and the place where Cantley was essentially born.
The farmhouse at 39 Ch. River in the heart of Cantley was where Arthur Pomeroy held one of the very first meetings to discuss separating from Gatineau, according to historical society Cantley 1889. It was 1983, and 400 angry taxpayers, including Pomeroy, who watched his taxes rise from $300 in 1978 to $1,426 in 1981, had had enough.
Pomeroy and other residents embarked on a six-year battle, with Arthur hosting many of the separation meetings at the picturesque farmhouse, with its rolling pastures, thick bush and steep hillsides. On Jan. 1, 1989, Cantley became the 1,499th municipality in Quebec.
“[Cantley is] the only municipality in Quebec that successfully separated from big city amalgamation,” said Cantley 1889 president Margaret Phillips. “Arthur Pomeroy was a key person who made this happen along with the committee. The Pomeroy Farm is a Cantley icon, a landmark that everyone knows and loves.”
Knowing this history and the significance of his family farm, John, Arthur’s son, said he was blindsided when he received the expropriation letter to take his family farm.
“The municipality showed up on my front door,” he said, who lives in Chelsea and works in Ottawa as a firefighter. The letter, obtained by the Low Down, was delivered on Aug. 31 – one day after the resolution was approved. John said he was never notified of the plan and wasn’t consulted before councillors voted to expropriate the farm that has been in his family since 1965.
“It was a complete surprise,” he said after getting the letter. “This came as such a shock. I mean, I don’t know what to say other than that. I feel so threatened and eviscerated by the way that this has happened.”
Councillors get 11th-hour resolution
Ward 3 Coun. Philippe Normandin, who initially voted for the resolution to expropriate the farm, admitted that he wasn’t fully briefed on the plan before it was brought to council. He and other councillors were given a copy of the resolution the night before and he said he didn’t have enough time to fully dive into the property’s history or significance before voting.
“Normally our pre-council meeting is one week before the actual city council, but due to summer vacations, the one at the end of August is [on] back-to-back nights,” he told the Low Down. He added that councillors typically have a week to review resolutions before council meetings.
While councillors initially voted unanimously to expropriate the farm at the Aug. 30 meeting, five of the six councillors – including Normandin – reversed their decisions at a Sept. 19 meeting and rejected the initial expropriation proposal. This was after a swell of public pressure mounted against the plan – a petition against the expropriation with 566 signatures and more than 60 residents in attendance who spoke up about the historical significance of the farm. Pomeroy and his tenant at the farm, Eva Cohen, who runs the Civil Protection Youth Canada organization, a non-profit dedicated to educating youth in environmental resilience, out of the farm, canvassed the neighbourhood before that Sept. 19 meeting to find allies willing to voice their concerns over the expropriation. They didn’t have much trouble.
“Those who didn’t know about it were horrified,” said John. “And half of those who knew about it had already signed the petition before we even asked them.”
Ward 6 Coun. Jean-Nicolas De Bellefeuille abstained, and Cantley Mayor David Gomes voted to keep the expropriation plans on the table. The mayor was outnumbered, and the expropriation plan was scrapped.
“Following public pressure, the council has decided to repeal last month’s resolution,” Gomes told the Low Down. “So, for the time being, we’re not going any further with the land purchase.”
Gomes previously told the Low Down that there was never a plan to expropriate the farmhouse, and that the resolution passed in August was only to give his administration “free rein to gather information, conduct studies, measure, analyze and negotiate with the owner if necessary.”
“This is a strategic piece of land: it’s central; it brings people together; there’s water[front]; it’s next to our major infrastructures,” he said, referring to the community centre, Cantley town hall and fire station. “It’s our responsibility to gather information and ask ourselves whether this acquisition could generate future benefits for our citizens.”
But it is the wording in the expropriation letter that John and Cohen said they are worried about.
The letter states that the municipality is “interested in acquiring the property located at 39 River Road” and mentions two parcels of land, lots 2618851 and 2621459. Pomeroy said the 113-acre farm is divided into two lots, one on the south and one on the north side of River Road. He said he is convinced the municipality was eyeing the land “in its entirety.” The resolution also states that the land would be used for “subsequent phases of the multipurpose community centre,” which he said leads them to believe that the municipality would continue to expand the community centre over time and thus take more and more land.
“I just love this place,” said John, looking out over rolling pastures from an elevated lookout point. Much of the land is pristine, untouched original farmland dating back to the 1800s and features vibrant wetlands, wild, wide pastures, and thick bush with natural trails snaking through the Hills. It’s a picturesque parcel with breathtaking views of the heart of Cantley – so picturesque that the municipality has even used photographs of the farm in its annual municipal calendar. John said he wondered if the plan was to include photos of the municipal garage in future calendars. “The farm is considered to be a gem in the municipality,” said John. “You can’t see the
neighbours; its got elevated places where you can look out over the entire property and not see hydro lines; it’s just rolling hills. And I want to share this place. But I don’t want it to be developed.”
Heritage status murky
According to Phillips, Cantley 1889’s president, only one property in Cantley is on the provincial list of designated heritage buildings: Église Ste-Elisabeth. Phillips said Cantley 1889 has created an inventory of all heritage buildings and sites it deems significant and shared this list with the municipality several years ago. However, those sites must still be submitted to the province for heritage designation.
“The Pomeroy Farm is definitely in this inventory,” she said, referring to the list she sent to the municipality.
John and Cohen said they feel they are safe from expropriation, for now, as the municipality would have to push through a referendum before acquiring the land. Because the farmhouse was built prior to 1940, council would also have to jump through another set of bylaw hurdles to get permission to demolish the farmhouse that has been in the heart of Cantley since the 1800s.
But it’s Gomes’ words – that council is no longer pursuing expropriation “for the time being” – that John and his tenant said are keeping both of them on edge.