Ottawa’s Hidden 1800s Underground Vault

Hidden behind Lincoln’s head on Mount Rushmore in South Dakota there is a sealed chamber containing a vault with sixteen historical porcelain enamel panels. In Washington, DC numerous secret tunnels, hidden vaults and concealed chambers exist underneath its streets and monuments. Being the capital of the United States of America, these secret areas undoubtedly need to exist for the protection of important national assets and/or sensitive material. But what about Canada’s capital, Ottawa? Do we have the same hidden chambers underneath our feet, passed over each day without us even knowing it? After an in-depth study of historical maps and other reference material, Ottawa may indeed have its own underground secret vault dating to 1876.


In 2014 a worker that was part of a government contract to address concrete issues at the National War Memorial downtown was quoted in the Ottawa Citizen saying there was a big “cavity” under the memorial that would be filled by 24 concrete trucks worth of cement.

“It’s all hollow down there and the job is to secure the base,” said the worker, who did not want to be identified.


Cement trucks fill a cavity beneath the War Memorial (Image: Ottawa Citizen, 2014)

The National War Memorial was designed by Vernon March and dedicated by King George VI in 1939. Originally built to commemorate the Canadians who died in the First World War it was later rededicated to also include those killed in the Second World War and the Korean War, then again in 2014 for the War in Afghanistan, as well as Canadians killed in all conflicts, past and future. It remains one of this country’s sombre reminders of those who gave their lives in service of our country.

The area of the War Memorial is now called Confederation Square, which in fact, is not a square at all, but a triangular shaped area, formerly known up until 1939 as Connaught Place after Governor General Connaught. Within Connaught Place stood Ottawa’s original central post office from 1876 to 1938 when it was demolished to make room for the War Memorial. The old post office was a remarkable building, having to also contain a Custom House and the Office Of Inland Revenue.

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The Ottawa Central Post Office circa 1876.

This grand old building constructed in 1876 a central clocktower capped with a mansard cupola and many tall, curved windows, designed very robustly by former Dominion Architect Thomas Fuller. (The intriguing Fuller legacy and their design of government buildings in Ottawa is detailed here)

Incorporating both the Customs House and Office Of Inland Revenue, this building would likely have some interesting features for securing assets and valuables arriving by boat on the Rideau Canal, or just to store important records of the time. During my research of material about the construction there was much said about the sturdy nature of the Post Office building, but nothing about any vaults. This is when I felt it necessary to go to my usual Step 2…OLD MAPS

The current Ottawa Library is a wonderful wealth of information, housing a special room I am most fond of, called the Ottawa Room. Within this room are rare documents about Ottawa and Bytown not available anywhere else. Not digitized, you have to peruse the material by hand. One of my favourite resources is the Fire Insurance Plans from 1888 that give detailed layouts of the buildings at that time, and interesting details about their construction. Looking up the Fire Insurance Plans of 1902, there it was in very clear detail: AN UNDERGROUND VAULT. (NOTE: I have since found these plans online)

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Fire Insurance Plans of 1901 reveal an underground vault. (Image: Carleton University)



Likely built in 1876 along with the rest of the Post Office/Custom House, the vault outlined on the plans measures approximately 100 feet by 50 ft and is described as having “brick arched ceilings, stone and terra cotta walls, with concrete floors. I am not an expert in architectural design, but I am assuming that the vaults were similar to other Custom Houses of the time, used to store contraband seized by the Customs from the canal boats or for valuables of the Post Office, and government assets requiring secure storage. Fireproof, strongly designed, these vaults of the late 1800s were virtually impenetrable.


Pre-1900s photo of the Post Office showing vault openings for canal access. (Image: Wikipedia Commons)

This Post Office vault was accessed from inside the building, but also from the outside as shown in the photographs from the 1880s that show steel barred openings in the stone wall beside the canal. This would allow for easy access to the boats on the canal that would be stopping for processing at the Custom House. Later, when the railroad replaced the canal as a means of transporting goods, the canal access was covered by what looks to be a street, and it is unclear whether the vault was sealed at this time.


The vaults have later been covered over by a street, but still exist underneath. (circled area)

Photos after 1900 show the vaults covered over by a street, but it is doubtful that a reinforced, fire-proof vault of that size would be removed due to cost, but rather more simply sealed and forgotten.


Vault area beneath the street in front of the Post Office circled in red.


The Central Post Office/Custom House remained in operation until 1938 when it was decided by the ruling government that Connaught Place was to be the location of Canada’s National War Memorial. The old building that stood firmly for 62 years was then demolished, its remarkably strong construction posing a hinderance to demolition crews assigned to tear down the heavily reinforced structure.


Demolition of the Post Office building in 1938, showing no evidence of the vaults being exposed in this photo.

In the photos I could find of the demolition of the Post Office there is no sign of the vault being unearthed or demolished, which leads me to believe the secure vault remains on site. I would appreciate any further information that could confirm or deny its existence.


Construction of the War Memorial in 1938-39 with no indication of the vault area being disturbed.


After the War Memorial was built in 1938-39, the area was re-named Confederation Square and the streets and bridges are-aligned and renovated over the years. In order to locate exactly where this vault would be today, I used the old blueprint drawings of the post office and overlaid them on current Google satellite images of the same area.


Concealed vault area highlighted in red.





Outlining the vault area in red, then removing the old map, it reveals where the vault may exist today. Sure enough, an undeveloped corner of Confederation Square is just the right size to contain a hidden chamber of that size.

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Google Streetview reveals a door (open!) near the vault area.

The next step was to visit the area to see if any clues remain that would either prove or disprove the notion that the original 1876 vaults still exists, sealed and concealed underground.

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It didn’t take long to notice that there are indeed nondescript metal doors leading to areas unknown in the vicinity of the concealed chamber.


Google Streetview even shows these odd doors open. I have no idea where they go, but they are intriguing being so close to the original vault site. Is this old vault still being used by the government today? Is it used to store assets or simply used as a mechanical room for the lighting system of the memorial? Without the proper credentials to access what’s behind those metal doors or access to Ground Penetrating Radar to see what lies beneath, we may never know. But for now, I would like to think that there is a massive, sealed vault chamber housing our lost Avro Arrow under our feet.

Andrew King, March, 2018



Concrete reinforcements injected beneath War Memorial


Google Maps

Google Streetview










Ruining Ottawa’s Oldest Ruins

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All that remains of Ottawa’s oldest structure. (Google Streetview)

Recently I was passenger in a car driving west along Riverside Drive and noticed something out my window as traffic dragged to a halt at the intersection of Riverside and Bank streets. There, at the side of the road was a wall of old stone. A faded plaque was mounted on it, but the light turned green and we sped away, the mysterious stone wall of unknown origin left behind. What was this puzzling old wall that lies obscurely at the side of a road passed by thousands of motorists each day? A quick Google Streetview visit reveals it is a “Frankensteined” wall hobbled together by the NCC made up of the ruins of a cabin built by one of Ottawa’s oldest settler’s to the region: Braddish Billings. These are the ruins of Ottawa’s oldest remaining structure.



A photo from the late 1800s of Braddish Billings cabin, the chimney of stone being what the wall currently at the side of the road is made from. (Image: “Bytown: the Early Days of Ottawa”)

After the nomadic indigenous people harmoniously lived in the region of the Nation’s Capital for centuries, the first to build a permanent structure here was an American by the name of Philomen Wright, who in 1800 built a cabin over in Gatineau (ruins are on NCC property, unmarked…that story here). Next to arise was a shanty trading post operated by Jehiel Collins near the Chaudiere Falls in 1809. Nothing remains of this cabin, property now owned by the NCC. In 1810 Ira Honeywell built a log cabin in Nepean. Nothing remains of this cabin either, just an NCC plaque hidden off Woodroffe Ave. near the Ottawa River that vaguely tells us of Honeywell’s cabin nearby.  Next to arrive was Braddish Billings who built his place in 1812 at what is now the intersection of Bank St. and Riverside Drive. A cabin was built by Billings along with some farm buildings. These would become the first permanent structures built in Ottawa after the Collins and Honeywell cabins.


The early Billings cabin with stone chimney that was later made into a wall at the side of Riverside Dr. seen during a 1900 flood on the Rideau River. Methodist church beside it. (Image: Library and Archives Canada)

Billings made his cabin of round logs with no windows with an opening without a door. Billings was likely attracted to the riverfront site because of its close proximity to the Rideau River, its abundant timber, its creek, and its fertile soil. Along with building a sawmill, he began clearing the land and planted potatoes, hay, corn, and turnips. He also continued lumbering for Philemon Wright. His ventures proved successful and in 1829 he built a substantial estate on the hill above his original cabin, what we now know as the Billings Estate Museum, owned and operated by the City Of Ottawa.

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The location of the Methodist Church in 1912 and the Billings cabin that would have been beside it (Image: Ottawa Fire Insurance Plans, Carleton University)

With his new big estate house, the original cabin structures Billings built in 1812 fell into disrepair, neglected and falling to ruin. A Methodist church was constructed next to one of Billings cabins, a wooden structure, that one book says is Billings first house, with a stone chimney that remained on site until 1960 when the NCC demolished it, and the church, for a new Riverside Drive. Taking stones from this old cabin, they built a small wall out of it, which is what we now see at the side of the road.

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A 1928 aerial image shows the Methodist church and chimney ruins (circled in red) IMAGE: geoOttawa

The Ruins 

With such few remains of Ottawa’s first permanent structures, I find it odd the NCC would demolish our oldest structure to build a wall out of it. Why not keep the original chimney and build a replica cabin around it, instead of a sad wall? I guess in 1960 the history of Ottawa was not as important as we view it today, but still, it seems unfortunate the original chimney of Billings first structures that lasted so long was demolished and made into an obscure wall at the side of the road.


A photo from 1890 of the Methodist church shows the old 1814 ruins of the Billings cabin. (Photo: City of Ottawa)


The 1814 stone ruins of the chimney that was demolished in 1960 and made into the current side-of-the-road wall. (Image: City of Ottawa)

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Being the Nation’s Capital we have very few reminders of our inception, nothing remains of the Collins’ or Honeywell’s cabins.  Yet, at the side of the road near Riverside and Bank we have some pieced together stones from our past.

If you pass along Riverside heading west, (you can’t see it if you are heading east) or, if you are travelling on the path along the east bank of the river, take a moment to observe what remains of one of Ottawa’s oldest structures.


Andrew King, February 2018 



Library and Archives Canada

“Bytown” The Early Days of Ottawa, Nick and Helma Mika, Mika Publishing Co. 1982


NEW! The ShadeTree Files: A podcast exploring Canada’s hidden history.

EPISODE 1: “The White Bird”


The disappearance of L’Oiseau Blanc is considered one of the great mysteries in the history of aviation. “The White Bird” was a French Levasseur PL.8 biplane that disappeared in 1927 during an attempt to make the first non-stop transatlantic flight between Paris and New York City. Less than two weeks later, Charles Lindbergh successfully made the New York–Paris journey and claimed the prize, flying the Spirit of St. Louis. Flown by French World War I aviation heroes, Charles Nungesser and François Coli, their biplane took off from Paris on May 8th 1927 and was last seen over Ireland, but never heard from again. In the 1980s new evidence surfaced that suggests that their aircraft probably reached Newfoundland. If the wreckage can be found it would alter history and oust Lindbergh as being the first to make the non-stop transatlantic journey.

Click on the  AUDIO FILE  “play” button below to listen.


SAVING CIVIC: Good news for a beloved old sign.

All too often I use this blog to lament over the loss of Ottawa’s classic old signs, a trend that seems to have now finally been swayed in the other direction. I recently received some good news regarding the landmark Civic Pharmacy sign at the corner of Holland and Carling. It is being saved and on track for restoration. 

Many concerned residents emailed me about the sign when they witnessed its anchor building swathed in tarpaulins, unsure of what was happening to the building, and our beloved sign.

I am happy to report that through the efforts of the community, the sign is safe and has a positive new outlook. The thoughtful owners of the building have decided to keep and resurrect the iconic sign, hopefully returning it to its former splendour.



The Civic Pharmacy Building officially opened on September 17 1960, and along with it, the illuminated and animated “CIVIC PHARMACY” sign attached to its corner. The sign is inspired by “Googie” style of architecture, a modern, futurist architecture that evolved through the Atomic Age of the 1950s and 1960s. A culture absorbed with jets and the space-age inspired this style with Ottawa’s example brightly shining at the corner of Holland and Carling for 58 years.

Since the word “CIVIC” is a palindrome (a word which reads the same backward as forward) it was made into a rotating sign, with each letter rotating, and being able to be read from any viewing position. The rotating letters of the sign required much maintenance, and it stopped rotating at some point.

I was lucky enough to meet and chat with the original owner/pharmacist of the building, Wally Cherun, who told me about the history of the much cherished sign. It was the first sign of its kind in Canada, and was fully illuminated at night. Wally said a sign guy would oil the mechanics of the rotating letters regularly. It eventually got too expensive to maintain, the letters stopped rotating, and the lights burned out. The building went up for sale over a year ago, and changed hands, but luckily to someone who appreciates it. (STORY HERE)


The Civic Pharmacy Building currently wrapped in tarpaulins. (Photo: author)


Andy Billingsley, Chair of the Civic Hospital Neighbourhood Association History and Heritage emailed me about a month ago to inform me that he went over to check on why the Civic building was wrapped in tarpaulins and relayed that the new owner of the building decided to keep the cherished sign in place. Gregg Kricorissian, another concerned resident who also appreciated the sign, established a relationship with Steve LeBrun, President of Ray Neon Signs. Steve is the son of the original sign’s designer/builder. According to Gregg, Steve has lent his full support to save the sign, and generously offered to remove and and store the sign if that became necessary. Ray Neon has provided a quote for restoration, but they have not yet received an actual order to do the work. The sign is in positive steps towards preservation which is great news.



So it seems that when some like minded people get together with a shared love of neighbourhood nostalgia, good things can happen. “It’s wonderful how our initiative to save the CiViC sign is playing out, and I’m pleased to have played a part in it.” says Kricorissian, who thinks the sign is a vital piece of neighbourhood history. “Not only is the sign a symbol of our neighborhood, but it’s also a great testament of how a small Ottawa business started in post-WWII Ottawa, and has grown to a highly successful member of its chosen industry.”

My sincere thanks to all those involved in helping to preserve this important landmark of Ottawa’s street scene. I know myself and probably most of Ottawa eagerly await the sign’s return to glory on the street it’s been quietly watching over for almost six decades.

Andrew King, February 15th, 2018






The Search For Champlain’s Lost Tomb

Samuel deChamplain is missing. He has been for almost 400 years. No one seems to know where the legendary explorer is. The whereabouts of such a prominent historical figure should surely be recorded and marked by archeologists and historians. Yet the famous explorer and the father of New France is no where to be found. His remains are lost somewhere in Quebec City, continuing to elude discovery for centuries.

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A sketch in an 1876 book entry describing Champlain’s tomb.

Recently I came across a book from 1876 that describes his tomb being discovered in 1850 but then lost again to history. Intrigued by this mystery, I studied old books, maps and other clues that show the great explorer could be subterraneanly buried in in the basement of a Subway restaurant, or more likely, hidden underneath a nearby city park. But hold the hot peppers, let’s go to Quebec City to see if this could be true.



Samuel Champlain. French navigator, cartographer, draftsman, soldier, geographer, ethnologist, diplomat, and chronicler. He made 20+ trips across the Atlantic and founded New France and Quebec City in 1608. Probably the most important figure in Canadian history yet no one seems to know what happened to him after he died in Quebec City on Christmas Day, 1635. Being the “Father of New France” and having explored hundreds of miles of North America, there are countless places, streets, and structures that bear his name and monuments built to commemorate the famous adventurer. However, no monument exists to mark the location of Champlain’s final resting place. I find this extremely odd, and had no idea he was missing until I went on a  vacation to Quebec City and jokingly asked our tour guide where Mr. Champlain was so I could say hello. The tour guide calmly, but seriously replied, “We have no idea where he is…maybe you can find him.” And so my quest began to find what happened to our most famous and intrepid explorer who seems lost in time.



This map of Quebec City from 1660 clearly has a “Chapelle Champlain” labeled on it.

As with all great adventures, gathering many maps can help visualize the subject being studied. They are precious resources that lay out many details at the the time of their creation. Records of 1600s Quebec City are scant at best, but I did manage to find a map of the city drawn in 1640, only five years after Chaplain’s death. This would be a good starting point. Other maps were collected to cross reference information with current Google Maps.

Upon closer examination of the 1640 map there is an intriguing area marked “Chapelle Champlain” beside a cathedral called “Notre-Dame-de-Recouvrance”. This is where, according to records of the time, that Champlain was laid to rest after his death while a separate tomb was being constructed to honour his remains. But that cathedral and the chapel were destroyed by fire later in 1640, and construction began on a new tomb for Champlain. Did they rebuild and place Champlain in the same spot? That is not known, but using the 1640 maps we can superimpose its location on a current Google Map of the area, matching up key locations to properly align and sync the maps.


Superimposing the 1660 map over a current Google Aerial Map.


After alignment and ghosting the map over a current map, the Champlain Chapel, it seems the area in question lies under a street called Buade Street. In fact, there are plaques at the location that recognize Champlain was once there, yet no definitive proof of his remains has ever been found here. On this street there is a Chinese Restaurant, A Subway and souvenir shops.

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This is where the map and some plaques tell us that Champlain originally rested in his chapel while his final tomb was being constructed. (Google Streetview)


Area in red outlines the area where Champlain’s first burial chamber may have been.

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In a book I found from 1876 called “Quebec Past and Present: A History of Quebec” by J.M. Lemoine, page 119 describes Champlain being moved around after the 1640 fire, so  his final resting place is likely elsewhere.


A later map, dated 1664, shows the rebuilt church and some curious unlabeled small buildings, of which one of them could be the newer tomb for Champlain. Also labeled is the “Fort Du Sauvages” , a fortified area used by the local indigenous Huron tribe, whom Champlain had been under friendly terms with. It would seem appropriate that the friend to both the settlers and the natives would be laid to rest near his close allies of the time, so those curious little buildings were marked.

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This map from 1664 shows the rebuilt cathedral and some curious little buildings around it that could be Champlain’s Tomb.

Ghosting over that aligned map with a current map, we can again see where that location is. The possible tomb lies on a hill near the Post Office, on a winding street that is as as old as the city itself. There is also a cemetery marked on the map, and it would also seem fitting that Champlain’s Tomb would be located in the only cemetery of the time.



Area in red show where Champlain’s original chapel was located and his possible second chapel. (Google Maps)


In addition to the map evidence pointing to Champlain’s location, there are a few records in old books of where Champlain might be located. The most compelling record I found is an entry called “Champlain’s Tomb” by Dr. J.M. Harper from the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec from 1883.


In this record, Harper explains that in the 1850s workmen were removing an old wall for some waterworks when they dug into a stone chamber. The “vault” as they called it contained a coffin within which were bones, a femur of which the workman who found it said was “very strong”. The workman made sketches of everything, and even made note of an inscription on the side of the vault that said “Samuel de Champlain”. When asked what he did with the bones, the workman responded by saying that “they had been examined and laid away, he knew not where”. The sketches, the bones and the chamber were then never heard from again.

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The vault was either buried over, destroyed or both. So Champlain’s final resting place continues to be lost. Perhaps we can locate the records in city archives of this waterworks mentioned. In the meantime, let’s find out where this vault would have been located…


Using the maps and descriptions of these locations mentioned in the old records, we can visualize where they are. It seems the one possibility is under Buade Street and the Subway, but that seems unlikely as that was where he was first kept “in waiting” as they built the second, and final burial chamber.  Archeologists digging in this first chapel area did find stone ruins of the “Chapelle Champlain” but that was just a holding chamber, that later was destroyed by fire anyway. It’s the second vault we need to find, the one mentioned by the workers who discovered a tomb inscribed with Champlain’s name in the old original graveyard marked on the maps. This is where Champlain was laid to rest for centuries until 1850 when it seems he was accidentally discovered and subsequently lost again.

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Montmorency Park National Historic Site where I believe Champlain’s Tomb is.

Studying the maps and texts where Champlain might be hiding, there is currently a park called the Montmorency Park National Historic Site, once the original 1660s cemetery where Champlain’s Tomb originally stood.


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A Post Office near where Champlain supposedly was buried. Is he here?

In 1688 the land was owned by Monseigneur de Saint-Vallier, who used the site for the first Episcopal Palace. Between 1693 and 1695, Saint-Vallier built a new palace but the project was ambitious and only half of the building was completed. During the siege of Québec in 1759 the building half destroyed.

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A plaque about the park, but no mention of the cemetery that was once here.

In 1831 the old building was sold to the government, whereupon a new building was constructed (this is when the waterworks men uncovered the tomb of Champlain) which later burned, was rebuilt, then burned again in 1883. The cursed lot was cleared out and it then became the park it is today. Yet, no mention at all on any plaques in this park that it was once an old cemetery that could contain the buried tomb of Champlain.

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The bottom edge of the original 1660 cemetery.

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This is where a cemetery once existed that probably contained Chaplain’s Tomb, but no mention of it is made.


The 1668 sketch showing the cemetery where the waterworks construction later occurred in 1850.


If we use the information provided by the old maps, the old records and the 1850 supposed discovery of Champlain’s tomb, it seems that all this time his lost chamber has been hidden underneath a park. The waterworks that are mentioned seemed to still be in place, as manholes and drainage grates show, but who knows when those were installed, and if they are indeed the original 1850s waterworks mentioned.

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Drainage grates in the park.

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Manhole cover in the park.

Perhaps Champlain was so revered and special, he was secretly hidden in a crypt we’ll never find.

It seems a shame that there has been no recent effort to locate the final resting place of one of this country’s greatest explorer’s, mapmakers and founders. His physical remains may be lost forever, but if we looked more closely in this park with GPR (ground penetrating radar) and other modern technology, maybe at least we would be able to finally mark the spot where he did rest, hidden for centuries, quietly overlooking the very city he founded 400 years ago.

Andrew King, February, 2018 


Google Maps

Engraving from Jean-Baptiste Franquelin, 1668

“Quebec Past and Present: A History of Quebec” by J.M. Lemoine


Morrin Cultural Centre










Prince Edward County, my stomping grounds since I was a kid and the home of my parents, is a magical place filled with amazing scenery and natural wonders. Endless sand dunes, the limitless horizon of the water, and a fascinating history have always made it a wonderful spot for adventure. I’ve been on many in that area, (see previous posts) but one story that always sticks with me are the ancient burial mounds studied by Thomas Wallbridge in 1860. Acquiring a copy of Wallbridge’s 1860 archeological report on his findings of odd stone “mounds” in “The Canadian Journal Of Industry, Science and Art- 1860″ , Wallbridge notes that before the native Iroquois that once roamed the region, there were “traces of a more ancient race”.

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The fascinating entry in the journal remarks on how an unknown “race” had erected works in Prince Edward County unnoticed, which became the subject of the first documented archaeological report in Ontario. Wallbridge noted that 100 mounds existed in Prince Edward County, and they occurred in groups of two on the shores of water. Upon excavating one of the mounds Wallbridge discovered a limestone box made up of flat stones, where skeletons were found sitting in an upright position with folded arms.


Wallbridge’s sketches of the ancient mounds in Prince Edward County. 

The mounds mostly comprise of stone, metamorphic granite that is not typically found in that area. This means the builders would have had to carry the stones from afar to construct these unexplained mounds.

Wallbridge concludes his report by saying “Whatever be the origin of these remains, it is clear that the Massassaga Indians were not the builders of the works which they are entombed, since this tribe, it is well known, buried their dead in wrapped birch bark, and laid them at full length a few inches beneath the surface of the soil,” Wallbridge is perplexed at the whole series of mounds, and insists “the skeletons found in the sitting posture belong to some other and far earlier race.”

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Some of the items found by Wallbridge inside the mysterious mounds of PEC. 

Now we must remember that archaeology was still a rather new field of study at the time of Wallbridge, so proper knowledge of former occupation and indigenous history were naively unknown. But what is most interesting is a more recent study of the mounds that throw a new light on an old mystery.



A more recent study of the mounds was done by a fellow by the name of Beauchamp in 1905 and reversed what was thought earlier about the ancient mounds being for burial purposes and was inclined to believe that the burials Wallbridge found were “intrusive” (dug into it later, not the original) and of no “high antiquity”.

An article from 2001 in Ontario Archeology (number 72, 2001) by David A. Robertson suggests that studies have “failed to reach a consensus as to their function.” It was observed that the mounds comprised of “burnt rocks” which indicated they were under the influence of fire and heat.

Robertson then details similarities of the PEC mounds to burned rock middens in Texas and in Ireland where they are known as fulachata fiadh (“outdoor” or “wild cooking places”). Similar features can be found in ancient mounds in the Orkneys, and regions of Atlantic Europe. These mounds would almost always be found near marshy areas where a hole dug into the ground would quickly fill with water. These stone enclosures were filled with water and heated stones thrown in to create a pool of boiling water in which meat was cooked, or used for bathing, washing and dyeing of cloth, and leather working.


An ancient Irish burnt mound, or fulachata fiadh, excavated. (image: Wikipedia)

The ancient Irish mounds date from Early Bronze Age (2,300-1,700 B.C.) with the majority dating to the second millennium B.C. with various explanations as to their use ranging from cooking ovens to wool production.

Robertson outlines the lack of study of the Prince Edward County mounds, and states:

“It is clear that the Quinte and Perch Lake burnt stone mounds bear close similarities with sites found in Texas and Atlantic Europe and undoubtedly elsewhere: namely the massive quantities of shattered, burnt rock enclosing a small area, the presence of hearths, deposits of ash and charcoal-rich soil, and a general dearth of associated artifacts. Some other parallels with the burnt mounds of Ireland and Britain are even more striking, although these must remain only subjective impressions until further research is devoted..”

Both mound structures are situated in marshy areas, and both have slab stoned chambers in the centre. Robertson also mentions that these ancient mounds could have been used as food processing centres, for boiling fats and preserving foods.


An excavated Scottish burnt mound, with similar characteristics to the mounds of PEC. (image:Scottish Archaeological Research Framework)

Curious to view these mounds that lie within a short distance of my family’s home, I visited the Prince Edward County site Wallbridge mentions to see for myself what characteristics they may have to give up some possible clues as to their purpose.

Mapping out where the mounds may be located, I indeed came across some of the unusual mounds and recorded my finds. They are situated in close proximity to the shore of Lake Ontario facing east in groups of two with a huge marshy area surrounding the area. The mounds are about 20-ft in diameter and are about 8ft in height. The pair of mounds with their centre points connected with a line align to the rising sun in the east.


An un-excavated mound in Prince Edward County. 

There is an palpable aura to the whole area, a stillness and a sense of energy that defies explanation. If I was to speculate, these mounds were used for a ceremonial purpose, either for a fire ceremony or a celestial event.


Other theories for their use include indigenous sweat lodges, houses, and the commonly accepted burial rituals. Only one thing is certain, no one seems to know exactly what these ancient stone mounds were made for, and until we look into it further, their real purpose and the confirmed identity of their builders may never be known.


Andrew King, January 2018


Mounds of Sacred Earth, W.A. Kenyon. –






Ottawa’s thirst for craft beer seems unquenchable with close to twenty craft breweries now operating in the Nation’s Capital which is pretty good for a town others like to call “The Town That Fun Forgot”. Since Ottawa’s first tavern opened in 1819 (see previous story on that pub here), Ottawa has always been a burg of beer drinkers, so it’s no surprise to see our local breweries doing so well. As these new breweries open and pour their wares at an alarming rate, let’s not lose sight of our important beer history and see if we can find Ottawa’s first brewery, a brewery that I believe was located at the base of this nation’s government, Parliament Hill.

In researching the W5 of this city’s very first brewery, I came across an excellent account of Ottawa’s food and drink lineage titled “Ottawa Food: A Hungry Capital” published in 2014 by Don Chow and Jennifer Lim which examines the history of food and drink in the National Capital Region. They mention it was difficult to pinpoint exactly Bytown’s (Ottawa’s former name) first brewery, but they believe it was “The Victoria Brewery” that operated from 1829 to 1899 at the corner of Rochester and Wellington St, in the now flattened Lebreton Flats neighbourhood. Built by John Rochester, it produced a double stout and an India Pale Ale. By delving into further research I think I have uncovered further information that reveals there may have been an even earlier brewery operating in Bytown.



An early sketch of how Bytown looked in 1825.

A great piece at shows that in 1819 a Ralph Smith from King’s County, Ireland built a house near Richmond Landing. An excerpt from the book by Nicholas Davin “An Irishman in Canada” published in 1877 reveals that this Ralph Smith built the first house on the south shore of the Ottawa River, the second being the hut of Nicholas Sparks. After arriving on the shore near Richmond Landing in 1819 and building his house there, Smith got to work operating a brewery and a ferryboat to take people and things across the river to Wrightstown (now Gatineau/Hull).

So that means if Smith built a brewery in 1819, that pre-dates the Victoria Brewery by ten years, making it the very first. Now you may say, that’s all fine and dandy to say he was the first, but as we all know, the proof is in the pudding.



The map from 1831 of Bytown at the Library and Archives Canada shows a brewery just west of what is now Parliament Hill. (MIKAN 4135481)

Old maps of Bytown/Ottawa have always fascinated me, providing a glimpse back in time through their carefully inked information, recording places in a time that was never photographed. I can sit down and pour over old maps for hours, studying the fascinating places that came and went in Ottawa, and one such map is the one at the Library and Archives Canada labelled MIKAN 4135481 Bytown 1831. 


Overlaying the 1831 map over the current Google Map.


This map drawn to show the topography of the riverfront of what is now Parliament Hill, back then “Barrack’s Hill” because it was a military outpost, clearly labels a body of water on the south shore, just west of the Hill as “Brewery Bay”. A closer look reveals that there is a small building labelled “Brewery”. Bingo. This is likely the proof of Smith’s south shore brewery that he started twelve years earlier. But hang on you say, not so fast Mr. King, because another source says that a certain Mr.Burke opened the first brewery in that area. Yet that was not operational until 1844, well after the 1831 brewery that is marked on the map. My money is always on maps, and that 1831 map is showing Smith’s brewery, the first one.



If we use that map from 1831 as proof of Ottawa’s first brewery, we can then extrapolate through time and find its current whereabouts using GoogleMaps and overlays of each.
Doing so reveals that the shoreline behind parliament went through a rise in waters, I’m guessing from the Carillon Dam being built downriver in 1964 and put much of the river shoreline upstream from it underwater.


The first brewery itself seems to have been located just inside Brewery Bay, escaping the flooding waters which submerged the peninsula, which can sometimes be seen at low water time during the year. If this location is correct, then the ruins of Ottawa’s first brewery either lie in the wooded area off the bike path, as shown in the images below, are submerged underwater, or were demolished by some government works building parking lots or whatever else they built down at the river.

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The area of “Brewery Bay” looking east…note the submerged peninsula to the left, just a few inches underwater. (Google)

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               The forested area roughly where Ottawa’s first brewery was likely located. (Google)

There are some rocky blocks visible through Google Streeview in that area, I’m not sure if those are part of the former brewery or some other post-brewery structure. Once the warmer weather returns and the snow melts it might be a good idea to scope it out for any signs of the brewery, which of course I’ll bet is on NCC property.

If anyone else would like to confirm or deny that this is the first brewery location, then please feel free to chime in. In the meantime, let’s pour a cold beer and enjoy remembering where exactly Ottawa’s first brewery was located.

Andrew King 2018


Library and Archives Canada

Google Maps


The Vanished Village of Long Island


Just south of Ottawa, before you reach the town of Manotick on River Road, there is a popular Rideau Canal lock station called Long Island Locks. Surrounded by quiet, empty fields of gently swaying long grass, there is a crumbling ruin of an old farmhouse that was the victim of a recent fire. This lone old house was not always in such solitude, but was once surrounded by a bustling village called Long Island.


This 19th century painting depicts the area of Long Island and the village can be seen to the left. (IMAGE: Library and Archives Canada)

No trace of this multi-block town can be found today, but streets, a church, hotels and a post office were all part of this community back in the mid 19th century. Where did it go and why did it vanish without a trace? Let’s explore the area of this once-thriving community that seems to have vanished from time and space.


The village of Long Island seemed to comprise of log structures like these depicted in another painting from the 1800s. (Image: Library and Archives Canada)

First settled in the 1830’s during the construction of the Rideau Canal, the village of Long Island seems to be shrouded in obscurity, being difficult to pinpoint as to its exact location. The village at its peak in the mid-1860s contained general stores, two churches and its own post office. However, once a fellow by the name M. K. Dickinson built his stately stone flour mill in Manotick, many of the original settlers moved into Manotick and the village of Long Island went into decline.


Some travellers by canoe approach the village of Long Island in the 1800s. (Image: Library and Archives Canada)

Not much evidence of its existence seems to have survived, just a few sketches and the map of the village as drawn for the County Atlas of 1880. So using that map and overlaying that with current Google Maps, we can pinpoint with accuracy where this ghost village was actually situated.

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Map from 1880s showing the spread of the village on River Road. 

The village must have gone into decline in the early part of the 20th century, as it seems to have disappeared from maps after that time. Was there a sweeping fire that tragically reduced the village to ash? Did the government expropriate the village and bulldoze it out of history? These details are unknown, but I welcome any feedback as to what happened to this village to make it disappear from both the landscape and map records.

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Google Maps with an overlay of the map of the village from 1880s showing the extent of the streets, properties and the churchyard.

Once we overlay the old 1880 map of Long Island village on a current map we can see exactly the location of the ghost town, and many features of the boundaries match up with the current terrain. An investigation of this area would be necessary to search for clues of this lost village and to confirm that this was the right area.

Using map landmarks such as the church and creek, we can use those waypoints to begin our investigation.




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A quick search on Google Maps reveals that there is not much left of the vanished village. The map overlays show the general area where the village would have been located, so in order to investigate it properly, an on-site wander was necessary. You’d blink and miss it it if driving by it on River Road, as years of overgrowth and tress have obscured most of the original site. yet, one key element remains: a deserted graveyard in a field.


Stone obelisks and toppled gravestones mark the location of the village churchyard. 


Toppled tombstones and stone obelisks dot the landscape at the site of what was once the church yard as sketched on the original map.



The church seems to have long since been removed, but its interred parishioners still remain, a ghostly reminder of the village long gone. A wander through and examination of the toppled stone markers shows dates in the 1880s, probably when the church was still functioning, but I could not see any dates after that so I am assuming the church yard was not used after the 1890s.

A further wander into the area revealed no trace of the village, only the creek that is mapped out on the original map.

The creek is still there, but no other evidence of this vanished town can be found in the tall grass and scrub of the area. A trek to the shore of the river reveals many bricks strewn around as if the town was bulldozed into the river. I would imagine with the proper permits and a metal detector and/or an archeological dig one could unearth many fragments of evidence that prove the village was once there, but alas, I do not have that access and leave it up to the proper authorities to investigate this ghost village further.


The Long Island Locks as photographed in the 1800s. (Image: Library and Archives Canada)




It is fascinating to know that a vibrant, thriving village once existed where nothing exists today, other than the swaying grasses of mother nature. The mystery of what happened to the lost village of Long Island will continue until more is known, but with the old maps, photos, and paintings from the past, we can somewhat piece together what is left on the barren landscape today, and glimpse that of yesterday. With a proper archeological investigation we may uncover more evidence than just the toppled graves of the people that once lived there, but until then, I recommend you check it out and walk through the Vanished Village of Long Island for yourself.


Toppled and discarded bricks line the shores of the Rideau River where the village used to be…was the village demolished and pushed into the river to be forgotten?


Andrew King, November 2017


Google Maps

Library and Archives Canada

McGill Digital Atlas Project







A Trick or a Treat: The story of Canada’s Cursed Candy Kiss

It’s available only in Canada. It’s available only during Halloween. No one seems to ever like them, but it mysteriously sells-out of stores every year…Canada’s love-hate relationship with a 75 year old candy that is an endearing seasonal confection: The Kerr’s Molasses Candy Kiss.

Kerr’s is a Canadian candy company that first offered products in 1895. Their website states that the company was founded by Edward and Albert Kerr after they immigrated from Scotland to Canada.


The Scottish Molasses Candy that may have been the inspiration for Canada’s most contested candy. (Image:

In Scotland, the molasses candy kiss was made by Stewart and Young in Glasgow under “The Steamship Brand”. Perhaps these sticky, tooth pulling candies were harvested from the depths of a Scottish bog.  Kerr’s would use their Scottish angle in their branding with their highly recognizable Scottish “tartan” packaging, a uniquely Canadian brand. But it would not be until the 1940s that Kerr’s would venture into the bizarre world of hard, chewy molasses candies that would find their way into the bottom of Canadian trick-or treaters bags each Halloween.

The Kerr’s website details what is exactly in these “molasses Candy Kisses” and in all honestly, they sound very wholesome and a most natural kind of candy. They use an original recipe made with 10% real molasses, no artificial colours, real sugar (not the usual cheaper high fructose corn syrup), no modified or hydrogenated fats or oils, and they are peanut free, tree-nut free, gluten free, vegetarian & Halal. By all intent, this sounds like a great candy…but why do so many of us Canadians say we dislike them and yet it still is available each year? Is it because of nostalgia we can never get rid of it like an old pair of slippers? According to Kerr’s company President, “Molasses Kisses are a Canadian Halloween tradition,” but also admits that the love of this treat within the Kerr’s company hovers around the 50% mark.


Even though most of us Canadian kids would turn our noses up at these morsels in our Halloween candy sacks, these tar-like candies have miraculously increased in production each year to meet increasing demand, which leads me to believe there is some cult like following of this product similar to the bizarre people that like that Thrills gum that tastes like soap.


The first mention of a molasses candy recipe can be found in the Official cookbook of the White House circa 1887. (Image: Google) 

So why make a molasses candy that could be one molecule apart from the tar putty used to patch cracks in asphalt?  The history of the molasses candy kiss dates back to 1887 where the earliest mention I could find of the candy was in the Official White House Cook Book. Listed under “Dessert Candy” the White House may have been the source of this sweet scourge to find its way into our loot bags, making the molasses treat popular. This candy in the US would be labeled more popularly as “Tootsie Rolls”, whose lineage traces back to World War 2 when they were included in American field rations, since their toughness allowed them to survive a variety of environmental conditions on the frontlines.


Did World War 2 GI rations spawn the candy that became a ghoulish Halloween treat? (Image

Perhaps then it is not coincidence that Kerr’s would also introduce their version of a molasses candy during World War 2 with their own molasses treat. Was it like Silly Putty and accidentally invented in a confectionary lab that would later be used to seal tire punctures on operational war vehicles during battle? Who knows. But it did become a tradition to get these molasses candies every Halloween, a bargaining item during “tradesies” of a candy haul after a night trick-or-treating.

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Kerr’s began manufacturing and distributing their molasses candy during World War 2. (Image: Kerr’s website)

Now proudly in its 75th year of production, the Kerr’s Candy Kiss with its distinctive orange, yellow and black wrapper seems to defy the marketing odds, a treat for the molasses masses.  For better or worse, the Molasses Candy Kiss will remain a part of Canada’s bizarre collective cultural enlightenment, sitting proudly up there with Ketchup Chips, cheese curds, Kraft Dinner, and our need to put vinegar on French fries.

Kerr's Kiss

Canada’s one and only Halloween treat…love it or hate it, it is part of our culture. (Image: Kerr’s website)

So this Halloween if you get a Kerr’s Candy Kiss, don’t grimace in disgust, embrace its uniquely Canadian heritage and maybe melt it into your Tim Horton’s coffee for a truly Canadian seasonal treat, eh?

Andrew King, October 2017


A Hidden Prohibition-era whiskey Distillery

South of Ottawa, amidst the suburban sprawl of new homes near Barrhaven, there is a big box mall, complete with an LCBO outlet for suburbanites. Walk into any LCBO of legal age and you can easily purchase your favourite alcoholic beverage, yet this was not always the case. Between 1916-27 consumption of alcohol in Ontario was illegal, but wineries, breweries and distilleries could remain operating for the “export market”, which was basically rum-running booze over to the thirsty United States. With alcohol  banned in Ontario, its manufacture, unless for medicinal purposes, was illegal. That is why some entrepreneurs south of Ottawa created their own secret whiskey distillery, a hidden shack in the woods near a railway line to the United States that produced what was to become a favourite in the Roaring Twenties of New York…a product called “Pokey Moonshine”. It brought notoriety to Ottawa and even a fellow by the name of J.Edgar Hoover, the first Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This secret, yet notable 1920s Prohibition whiskey shack has long been silent, but its ruins still exist in the woods.



A typical forest whiskey still for making moonshine.

The year was 1916 and the Ontario Temperance Act was a law passed that led to the Prohibition of alcohol in Ontario. The sale of alcohol was thus prohibited, but liquor could still be manufactured in the province for export. The United States would follow suit in 1920 with the Volstead Act, or the The National Prohibition Act, which established prohibition in the United States. Liquor was essentially outlawed in both countries in the 1920s so illegal distilleries began to make their own bootleg liquor called “moonshine”, a slang term for high-proof distilled spirits produced illicitly without government authorization under the darkness of night…under the moon, hence the term “moonshine”.

Ottawa was no exception to joining in on the illegal production of liquor. The United States is only an hour south of the city by car, so a group of enterprising individuals set up a famous Prohibition whiskey still in the woods near Manotick that went by the name of “Pokey Moonshine”.


An Ottawa newspaper from 1928 describes a settlement south of the city as “Pokey Moonshine” named after the fact that its residents made “pokey” which was slang for a type of whiskey. Now being enterprising individuals, the Pokey Moonshiners built their secret still in the woods off the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Railway, which ran from Prescott, On on the St.Lawrence river across from Ogdensburg, NY., all the way up to Ottawa. The Pokey Moonshine still was built off the to the side of this railway line which cuts through thousands of acres of untamed forest land.


According to Al Lewis’ great post on , there was a still built off the tracks where the “Pokey Moonshine” was manufactured, bottled and then crated into wooden crates labelled as “tea” to avoid suspicion.


The “Pokey Moonshine” would be crated as “tea” according to local lore before being loaded onto the CPR train from Ottawa bound for Prescott, then over to Ogdensburg, NY.

It is unclear what would happen next, whether the moonshiners paid off the train engineer to stop the train on the tracks by the hidden still, or if the train was on a scheduled stop and the crated whiskey was transported to the station and loaded onto the train there, but the whiskey was loaded aboard and made its way down to Prescott piers where it was loaded onto boats and shipped over the river to the United States and into the dry mouths the many Great Gatsbies of the US.


The United States during Prohibition created The Bureau of Prohibition, a federal law enforcement agency to enforce the National Prohibition Act. When it was first established in 1920, it was a unit of the Bureau of Internal Revenue.


J. Edgar Hoover (image: Wikipedia)

In 1921, J. Edgar Hoover rose in the Bureau of Investigation to deputy head and, in 1924, the Attorney General made him the acting director, overseeing and policing illicit alcohol production and distribution. Hoover’s crack team of investigators, who would later be known as “The Untouchables” included Eliot Ness who headed this elite squad of bootleg busters.


Raids against stills and breweries began immediately, and the Pokey Moonshine operation was most likely known to investigators.


J. Edgar Hoover decided to pay a visit to the Ottawa area in the 1920’s. A cousin of J. Edgar’s, George Hoover, married a young girl from the Osgoode area and the law enforcement head decided it was time to come visit his cousin who happened to be in Pokey Moonshine territory.


Hoover takes aim with a Tommy Gun.

A large black car is said to have taken George and his cousin J. Edgar around the area, most likely in search of the famously secret still providing the US with a lot of “tea”.



With such an illustrious past and notorious history, I wondered if this famous ol’ Prohibition whiskey still existed out in the woods. Could the secret moonshine still be somewhere south of Ottawa waiting to be found?

Using the information found from researching the story, I headed into the general vicinity of where I thought the hidden still may be located. Walking along the long abandoned railway tracks that the whiskey was once transported on, I looked for clues in the area that may reveal some kind of moonshine operation almost a hundred years ago.


In the sweltering heat and along the mosquito ridden path of the old railway a clue would soon be revealed in the form of a rusty metal gate. Overgrown, the gate lead to a pathway into the woods that seemed worthy of further exploration. Following the overgrown path into the woods the ruins of an old log cabin soon became visible.


It’s log walls had crumbled away and now lay rotting, but the crude stone foundation could still be seen as well as various metal vessels and pots that were most likely were used in the distilling process.


Sections of long collapsed tin roofing was strewn around the site that made me suspect that this was indeed the location of the Pokey Moonshine Still.


Here is a video of the initial find of the possible whiskey distillery.

Taking a moment to reflect on how this parcel of land may have looked during the Prohibition era I could almost hear the sounds of the men and women hard at work making illegal whiskey, bottling and crating it in “tea” crates to the sound of a distant steam whistle from an incoming train bound for Prescott.


There is not much left of the site, but it is truly a unique find worth preserving if it truly is the Pokey site.



Such a unique and influential part of Ottawa history should be preserved in some form, and that is why I will keep its location a secret like it has remained for almost a century. Perhaps I am completely wrong and it is not the old Pokey Moonshine still, but as I have learned through past adventures, trust your gut instincts. The research information combined with the evidence strewn on the forest floor was enough to convince me this was the site of the notorious Prohibition liquor distillery known as the Pokey Moonshine still.

You put your right foot out,
You put your right foot in,
And you shake it all about.
You do the Hokey Pokey,
And you turn it all around,
That’s what it’s all about.

Andrew King, October, 2017 


Al Lewis,

Al Lewis,