There is an interesting video on YouTube filmed by someone who goes by the name of “Bloeski’s Wrecking Crew” who inserted a video camera into an unusual concrete structure dated “1944” in Vanier. The video explores inside this odd “bunker” located in the woods of Richelieu Park in Vanier. It shows a mound with a concrete wall and sealed off entrance to what looks like some kind of military bunker. The video captures what’s inside and shows a vast room with pillars and other structures but there is no definitive answer as to what the structure was. You can view this video on Youtube here.
Having seen the video back in the fall, I finally got the chance to visit the structure in person and check it out and see what it could possibly be. Here is what I found.
The structure is located in Richelieu Park in Vanier and is easily accessible. The area is well used by dog walkers and a walking trail runs directly in front of the “bunker”. A buttressed concrete wall about 40-60ft in length runs along the north face of a 12 foot high mound. There is an entrance portal with an eroded date marked “1944” that only became visible when snow was rubbed across the surface of the inscription.
The concrete walls are decaying and there are iron support tie-rods visible along the wall. A small crevice has been chipped away by curious onlookers but nothing is visible without inserting a lit camera into the room. Again, check out the YouTube video to see what is inside this mysterious chamber.
The mound surrounding the entrance seems to be about 50-60 feet square in dimensions and is approximately 12 ft in height. A cement cross is also located at the southeast corner of the mound.
So what is it?
A nearby fence separates the bunker from Beechwood Cemetery, and Beechwood Cemetery is the site of the National Military Cemetery of the Canadian Forces, purchased by the Department of National Defence in 1944 for interment of veterans of the Canadian Forces. Was it possibly be a crypt or mausoleum used by the cemetery during the 1944 time period, and has since been abandoned?
Further exploration of the property reveals that the area was once used by the missionary society known as “White Fathers” , a Roman Catholic Society of Apostolic Life founded in 1868. They used the property to train missionaries headed to Africa and built a number of structures on the property including North America’s only operating urban maple sugar shack. (this will be working in the spring!). They owned the land from 1938-1976 and it is now owned and operated by the City Of Ottawa.
These White Fathers were missionaries whose outfits resembled the white robes of the Algerian Arabs and consists of a cassock, and burnous. A rosary and cross are worn around the neck in imitation of the mesbaha of the marabou.
Searching further into the history of the White Fathers finally reveals the answer to this mysterious structure, as explained from the website, museoparc.ca
“Another construction, somewhat more mysterious, is also present behind the cross, in the forest. Along the path, a shelter was dug in the solid rock and solidified with concrete and steel cables. This construction served as a root cellar for the White Fathers’ crops. Like many other religious orders, the White Fathers cultivated the land and this cellar allowed them to store their harvests during the cold winter months as well as during the summer months. Construction of the cellar began in 1943 by digging with an excavator in the rock. The White Fathers completed the work in November of 1944 by covering the cellar with soil using a bulldozer.”
So there you have it. A Missionary root cellar. I guess you could say they did it Missionary style.
It is an unusual structure and an interesting piece of Ottawa history that is definitely worth checking out if you happen to be out in Vanier.