Month: April 2016

Ottawa’s First Pub: Firth Tavern Unearthed


Sketch of Ottawa’s first tavern, Firth Tavern, as it would have looked during its operations from 1819-1860. 

Once called Bytown, this city had a place of great merriment, a place where thirsty labourers and travelers alike would gather to relax and have fun…it was Ottawa’s first pub, a place called Firth’s Tavern. The Nation’s Capital has all but forgotten where this entertainment mecca was located and if we want to remind oursleves that fun is not forgotten here, maybe we should not forget where fun began. Let’s find where we once  relaxed, partied and had fun…let’s find our Firth Tavern.


Sketch from 1830 by Lt.Col. John By of Mrs. Firth’s Tavern (Library and Archives Canada)

Maps and sketches drawn by Colonel John By upon his arrival in this area in the early 1800’s survey this area for his ambitious Rideau Canal project that started in 1826. At the time, Philemon Wright had set up his abode in 1800 across the river in Hull, and Ottawa saw its first settlers on the other side of the river soon after. The once unpopulated wilderness of the area soon saw American Loyalists, retired military personnel, and entrepreneurs staking out properties along with general labourers who built the structures needed for this developing lumber town. Colonel By sketched the Chaudiere Islands and Lebreton Flats area and within his sketches there is a place labelled “Mrs. Firth’s Tavern.

According to the “Journey To Nationhood”, an amazing website devoted to the history of Ottawa, the tavern was originally the “Chaudiere Inn” owned by Miss Dalmahoy, a brazen Scottish woman who soon married Isaac Firth. Together they opened the area’s first watering hole, “Firth’s Tavern” in 1819. Thirsty travelers, fur traders, voyageurs and military personnel of the time all gathered at this new pub where beer and food could be had. Originally a log cabin structure, the Firth’s expanded their tavern operation to include a two storey hotel, stables and barn structures to accommodate the town’s growing population.


Pub co-owner Isaac Firth…(from the collection of Mary Cox and

Wild nights of partying beside the rushing waters of the nearby Chaudiere Falls entertained a mix of people from all walks of life…decorated military captains drank among grit covered mill workers and soaked raftsmen of the lumber trade. It was a place where stories were told, songs were sung and the vibrancy of what was to become the Nation’s Capital was born.

The pub was almost closed when Lebreton who purchased the lands nearby tried to evict the Firth’s but Governor General Dalhousie, knowing the importance it had in the community, came to the rescue and saved Firth’s Tavern from closing. The Firth’s operated the pub until 1832, but future owners of the tavern stopped serving in 1836. The tavern then closed around 1860 and was soon forgotten as Ottawa’s landscape evolved and development covered any remains of this once important gathering place. So where was the tavern? Is there anything left to remind us of where our ancestors partied?

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Using old maps and Google Maps we can place where the tavern would have been. 

The radical re-development of the Lebreton Flats area wiped clean any visible traces of Firth’s Tavern, but super-imposing old maps onto modern ones we can pinpoint the area where the tavern once stood. This shows that it was located on property that is now the
Canadian War Museum, on the North East end of the building. The current museum was opened in 2005, but before construction would have began, an archeological assessment would have to be completed. A quick check turned up the archeological assessment of the area that indeed was conducted between 2002-2004. The report by Past Recovery Archeological Services Inc. states a foundation was unearthed and labeled as site ‘Bi-Fw-53” …this was Firth’s Tavern. A Stage 4 assessment at the Firth Tavern site (BiFW-53) was completed by Jacques Whitford Environment Ltd. in 2005 and it was found that “remnants included a small part of the original circa 1818- 1819 log tavern building, the stone foundation from a late 1830s addition to the second tavern building constructed in the late 1820s, and the southern portion of a stable or shed to the east of the tavern complex constructed in the early 1830s. The artifact assemblage led the researchers to conclude that the tavern had likely ceased operations sometime in the early 1860s.”

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Remains of Firth’s Tavern unearthed in 2002-04 (from Past Recovery Archeological Services Inc.)

Following the investigation of unearthing Firth’s Tavern it was decided that “there were no further concerns for the Firth Tavern site” and it was subsequently reburied and built over. No remains or plaque have yet to be erected on the site to indicate its location or the history of the tavern where Ottawa’s first publicly poured drinks occurred. Today, a garden and concrete path cover the site and it is largely forgotten by most residents who pass by it each day.

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Google Streetview showing where Firth’s Tavern would have been located. 

Using Colonel By’s original map and sketch I was able to recreate an image of how Firth’s Tavern would have looked during its heyday as Ottawa’s party place. The original log cabin tavern of 1819 and the addition of the two-storey hotel and stables are as accurately portrayed to the best of my interpretation of the old maps and knowledge of 1820s architecture allow.


As we ramp up to our Ottawa 2017 celebrations next year it would only seem fitting if we could somehow once again pour a beer or two and party like our ancestors did at the same spot where we gathered to do so 200 years ago.  Let’s not forget where the city once had fun.


Andrew King, April 27, 2016



Google Maps

Bing Maps

Library and Archives Canada – MIKAN 2837923, C-000226

Journey To Nationhood,

Click to access All_Image%20Referencing_OP%20Amendment%20Application_Image%20Reference_D01-01-16-0005%20STAGE%201%20AND%202%20ARCHAEOLOGICAL.PDF


THE CURIOUS CASE OF RONWAYANA: A Viking Among the Quinte Mohawks


A recent archeological dig on the southwest tip of Newfoundland could reveal a possible second North American Norse settlement that has ignited both the imagination and disdain of many. If proven to be authentic it will validate the Vinland Sagas that spoke of Viking age explorers continuing from their first L’Anse Aux Meadows site to venture further into North America. Many are skeptical they went further, and rightly so, as many past Norse finds elsewhere have been proven to either be a hoax or inauthentic.

Some argue that unusual ruins or remains being considered of Norse origin are a misappropriation of Indigenous cultures. There is no question that Indigenous people have left their mark on this land, along with French missionaries and other colonists who may have created these unidentified remains, but without authentic evidence at the site in question, it is difficult to confirm who made them. However, we should be wary of stifling advancements in archaeological studies of possible Norse settlements because they are deemed too far fetched or nothing more than typical accepted history.


Map showing places of incident in the account of a Viking in the Bay of Quinte.

It should be noted that it was once thought the ruins at L’Anse aux Meadows were simply “Indian Mounds” and that the idea of them being of Norse origin was outlandish. Questioning these “Indian mounds” and using Vinland Saga source material as their guide along with help from the locals, the mounds were finally excavated by the Norwegians Helge Ingstad and his wife Anne Stine, an archaeologist, who in 1960 found remnants of a  a Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows. It was conclusive proof that the Greenlandic Norsemen had found a way across the Atlantic Ocean to North America, roughly 500 years before Christopher Columbus. The Ingstads proved the site was an authentic Norse settlement with the artifacts to confirm it, and not what it was once accepted to be.


Diorama replica of how the Norse settlement at L’Anse Aux Meadows looked. (Image: Wikipedia)

The site is now a Parks Canada National Historic site and according to Brigitta Wallace, Senior Archaeologist for Atlantic Service Centre of Parks Canada, the L’Anse Aux Meadows site was merely a stepping stone for the Vikings to explore further. “Archaeology of the L’Anse aux Meadows site shows that many elements of the Vinland sagas are factual, in particular Erik’s Saga’s version of the settlement. The Norse did indeed have a northern base camp. This, in turn, lends plausibility to the claim in the sagas that they had some sort of summer/early fall camp farther south.” says Wallace from her 2003 study The Norse in Newfoundland. It also matches the story as told in the Vinland Sagas that describe a place further south called Vinland where there were grapes, butternuts, wild rice, lumber, and plentiful game.

It has been an ongoing mystery as to where this other Norse settlement of Vinland is located, with some experts placing it along the Atlantic East Coast with others saying it was down the St. Lawrence River, both areas where the described items can be found. A number of artifacts have been found to back up claims for each, but they are said to be either hoaxes or inauthentic.

So how can we determine where Vinland is located without treading into the dangerous waters of Indigenous misappropriation or unfounded speculation? It would seem logical to look into the stories of a time when the Vikings sailed Canadian waters as told by the people who were said to interact with them: The Indigenous People. Perhaps insight can be gained from their oral histories around the time of 1000AD when the Norse were said to be exploring. Stories told by Inuit elders helped researchers locate the lost 1846 shipwreck of Franklin’s doomed arctic expedition, the HMS Erebus which was found in 2014. Louie Kamookak, a historian in Gjoa Haven, the community closest to the Franklin discovery, spent more than 30 years interviewing elders to collect the stories passed down about the Franklin expedition.


Louie Kamookak, Inuit historian who helped archeologists locate the lost Franklin ship used stories passed down through oral history to locate its position. (Image: Canadian Geographic)

Kamookak then sat down with Parks Canada in 2008 before the search began and provided them with information as to where the ships would likely be found, leading them to the wreck. Using this same theory of noting native oral history stories could shed light on where Vinland may be located, or at least provide some clues to whether it was real, or just a myth.

We should be able to find evidence in the oral histories of Indigenous tribes that Norse explorers ventured into Canada and interacted with them. According to the Vinland Sagas The Norse called the natives they encountered “skraelings”, of which they at first enjoyed trading with amicably, but over time they both become hostile towards each other. The interaction between the two must have been great since it was recorded as part of the Viking Vinland Sagas, and by that same reasoning, one would assume that it must have had an equal impact on the natives who may have also have also recorded it.

Based on this theory I researched a number of First Nations of the St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario area to see if they had any stories of odd new visitors that may have been recorded. This research led me to the Bay of Quinte region of Lake Ontario, more specifically the Tyendinaga Mohawks who had their oral history recorded in a manuscript by author Wallace Robb. Robb lived among the Mohawks and recorded their rich history and stories of their people on the Bay of Quinte. The manuscript was called “Thunderbird” and within it is the astonishing account of a Viking boy living among the Mohawks called, Ronwayana.


The oral history and stories passed down of the Bay of Quinte Mohawks were written down in the 1940s in a manuscript called “Thunderbird”.


Author Wallace Robb was born in 1888 and lived in Belleville with his father William Robb, a higher-level employee of the Grand Trunk Railway Company. The region was then called Kente, later known as Quinte. As a child Robb watched a disturbing incident where he saw “white man pummel and kick a helpless Indian,” according to the Historic Kingston Society records. From that moment on Robb began to study the vanishing legends and history of the native people living on the Tyendinga reserve just east of Belleville. In the 1940s Robb lived with the Mohawks at Tyendinaga and became fascinated with their lore and the stories passed down through oral storytelling and decided to record them on paper. In October 1948, Robb was adopted by blood rite into the Mohawk nation of the Kente and gave him the name of Gon-rah-gon O-don-yoh Go-wa or “Great White Eagle”. The stories were published in 1949 in a book called “Thunderbird”, a copy of which I found in a local antique book store.


Author Wallace Robb who documented the stories of the Tyendnaga Mohawks passed down through generations in the Bay of Quinte.

Within the pages of Thunderbird the Mohawks describe in great detail the geography of the Bay of Quinte with astonishing accuracy that I can attest to being correct as I grew up in this same area and have traversed both the waters and lands mentioned in the book. Keeping in mind the stories are part of Mohawk folklore and could have been embellished over time, it was still surprising to read of a Viking boy, a youth with blonde hair and blue eyes they had captured on a hunting trip and taken into the tribe, a story told decades before the Vikings were uncovered in Newfoundland.


One of the manny accounts of a Viking boy being captured and living among the Mohawks in the Bay of Quinte.

The Mohawks explain they gave him the name Ronwayana, as he had no name when captured from the Algonquins near the Adirondacks. The boy only spoke Algonquin, and the story continues that the Mohawks of the Quinte region knew of such a “white people coming out of the far and unknown seas of salty water.” The Viking boy Ronwayana, aged about 14 years upon capture, recounts how he “lost his father somewhere on the River of the Iroquois down near the sea.” (The River of the Iroquois was the name given to the St. Lawrence River by Indigenous people) which could place the Viking boy and his father near Ile D’Orleans by Quebec City where the river estuary meets the salt water of the sea.


Map showing the various places mentioned in the book.

Ronwayana had with him an iron dagger, which was confiscated but later returned to him that he used to later shave his growing beard which mystified the Mohawks. As the Viking boy grew, he assimilated into the Mohawk tribe and showed them things his father had taught him. With spruce resin, animal fat, wood ash and volatile oils Ronwayana made a superior soap much to the amazement of the Mohawks. As the Viking gained the trust of the tribe he was allowed to venture to a small island across from the village of Kente, which is described as being at the mouth of the Sagonaska, now called the Moira River and the location of present day Belleville. On this island, which is now called Zwick Island, Ronwayana secretly began to build a “hollow raft” with a “kite” of cloth built with cedar and a gum he had perfected which the Mohawks used to repair their canoes. The “Viking lad” as he is called by the Mohawks perfected a “twine and cord and rope such as the tribe had never seen”. He carved soapstone pipes for the elders of the tribe, bowls and platters out of wood and stone, but spent most of his time perfecting a “stout cord from plant fibres, gut, and various things” which had unbelievable strength that Ronwayana also waterproofed and made into fishing nets. (of general interest, Bridgeline Ropes, the largest manufacturer of superior ropes in Canada was located in Deseronto within the Tyiendinaga Mohawk reserve.)


The Mohawks describe the Viking as someone who created a variety of items for the tribe such as soap, rope, bowls, pipes.

It is remarkable that the account of Ronwayana’s contribution to the tribe is told by the Mohawks themselves, which can not be labelled a misappropriation of their culture since this is their very own story, and it is a story told BEFORE the unearthing of the Norse at L’Anse Aux Meadows.


It was during my reading of these tales that I received an email from a gentleman in Norway who sent me details about a 1960 research paper by a Professor Corrado Gini whose work covered both the social sciences and statistics. His interests ranged well beyond statistics, including the location of the Viking’s Vinland.


Professor Corrado Gini who theorized that the legendary Vinland was in the Bay of Quinte.

In Gini’s 1960 research paper entitled “The Location Of Vinland” Gini theorized the location of Vinland was in the Bay of Quinte. Gini writes that the Bay Of Quinte matches the description given in the Vinland Saga of the exploration of Leif Ericcson who encountered a great shoal of sand at an estuary which Gini says is the same estuary that is near Ile D’Orleans. The saga says the Leif continued down a river until he reached a lake and camped on its shores where he found wild grapes, wild rice, butternuts, trees the Norse called “Mosurr” (oak or maple).

Gini says that the Bay of Quinte is the most logical area that matches Vinland, based on the fact that the terrain, wild rice, wild grape vines, and the other described items lie within here. This of course is pure speculation and could be coincidental, but the stories of a Viking in the area as described by the Mohawks could lend crediblilty to the idea that Norse settlers were possibly in the area. The body of water known locally as Hay Bay was once called O-je-kay-da, or the area “full of wild rice”. The place called O-ga-wa-da, was the place of butternuts, now known as the town of Picton in Prince Edward County. It was a butternut that was found in L’Anse Aux Meadows, not native to Newfoundland that revealed the Norse settlers had ventured elsewhere and brought back such a nut from an area where they do grow. In 1929 an authenticated genuine Norse spearhead was uncovered 70km south of the Bay of Quinte in Sodus Bay, New York.


Authenticated Norse spearhead found in Sodus Bay, NY, 70km south of the Bay of Quinte.

How it got there remains a mystery, since the Vikings never traded weapons with the native population. Was it lost in battle and traded to the area or were the Norse at that location just south of the Bay of Quinte? When a number of clues like these start to stack up, one has to question why.

Checking with other tribes of the Lake Ontario region, the St. Lawrence Iroquois that inhabited the St. Lawrence River area have stories of being invaded by a nation of men of giant stature, few in number, called Ronongweca, After retreating from them, they gathered a large number of their own men and defeated them, after which they were supposed to be extinct. It is interesting to note that the Viking boy is named Ronwayana, and the name given to the giants are Ronongweca. This story of giants also matches the Vinland Saga story of the Norse first encountering skraelings of whom they attacked and made retreat but later the natives came back in large numbers and made the Vikings themselves flee back to Greenland.


When the great Thunderbird story of the Mohawks concludes, Ronwayana escapes Kente with a beautiful Mohawk girl that he had fallen in love with and the two lovers climb aboard his “raft with a kite” and used the wind to go faster than any of their canoes. The Mohawks also describe the vessel as having ropes and an upright paddle. This seems to describe a sailboat with a mast, sail and a rudder, a boat of which Ronwayana was familiar with in his past life among his family of Norse settlers. The two lovers escape under the guidance of the White Eagle that was a symbol of great importance, never to be seen again as they headed into Lake Ontario. The Mohawk story then advances generations later until the grandson of the Viking and the Mohawk woman, a blonde and blue eyed descendant of the great Ronwayana, returns to Kente where he brings peace and stability to the tribe.


Did the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte witness a Viking build a Norse sailboat? (Image: Wikipedia)


In science, the term Occam’s Razor is a discovery tool to guide researchers in the development of theories rather than using the authority of accepted thought. For each accepted explanation, there may be an extremely large number of possible and more complex alternatives. Simpler theories are preferable to more complex ones because they are more easily researched. Maybe we can apply Occam’s Razor to the theory of Vinland being located either on the St. Lawrence River or in the Bay Of Quinte and not discount the important oral history of the Indigenous Quinte people that recorded in great detail the existence of a Viking in their area. If the academic world is skeptical of conventional Viking finds, perhaps we need to embrace the rich heritage and stories of the people that once lived among them. This could finally solve the enduring mystery of where the Norse travelled and if they really were in the Great Lakes region. In addition, if they were here, it also makes sense they would have taken items from this area back with them to Greenland, as described in the Vinland Sagas. We need to start doing some reverse research and look to Greenland/Iceland for items of Ontario origin that could finally prove whether or not Norse explorers indeed went elsewhere other than Newfoundland, pinpointing Vinland before the Norwegians once again, do it for us.


The New York Times

The Norse in Newfoundland: L’Anse aux Meadows and Vinland by Birgitta Wallace

The Norse Discovery of America, by A.M Reeves, N.L. Beamish and R.B. Anderson,

Nunatsiaq Online


“Thunderbird”, by Wallace Robb and the stories of Tyendinaga Mohawks , 1949, Abbey Dawn Press

The Kingston Whig Standard

Kaniatarowanenneh: River of the Iroquois, The Aboriginal History of the St. Lawrence River

Corrado Gini: The Location of Vinland. The Institute of Economics, Papers. No. 13, Bergen 1960

Dug Out of Time


Recent news of a possible second ancient Norse settlement on Canadian soil could add an exciting new chapter to our nation’s history. Sea-faring explorers from Scandinavia traversing the Atlantic in planked ships to Newfoundland further ignites our imagination as to who visited our country over a thousand years ago. At that time, this country would not have seen anything like the Norse ships that reached our shores. I then wondered what watercraft people here would be familiar with thousands of years ago? Some research uncovered an archeological document from 1990 that reveals an ancient vessel inscribed on a stone found south of Ottawa, a vessel that is not a thousand years old, but apparently eight thousand years old.


Just south of the Nation’s Capital lies the tranquil cottage region of Rideau Lakes which comprises of Westport, Perth, Portland and Newboro. This area was once part of an archeological study in the 1980s that uncovered numerous artifacts from a period of time known as the Archaic period. The Archaic period occurred between 8000-800BC, or in other words, a time that was 3,000 to 10,000 years ago. This period of history saw a significant change in climate as the giant glaciers that once covered our region receded and new deciduous trees, animals and fish began to appear in a much warmer environment.

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Archeological sites from the Archaic period that uncovered numerous artifacts. (from Watson: Paleo Indian and Archaic Occupations) 

During this time after the glaciers receded, a giant body of water covered most of our region called the Champlain Sea, a vast ocean that contained whales, seals and other creatures, many of whom their remains have been found in local sand quarries. A blue whale skeleton was found in the 1800s in Smith Falls which now lies at McGill University in Montreal, and other ancient whale bones have been found in Pakenham, and even at the Ottawa Airport.


The Champlain Sea showing the extent of its coverage. (image: Wikipedia)

champlain sea

This composite drawing shows where the extent of the Champlain Sea and where it would have covered the region of the Rideau Lakes.

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An ancient whale skull from the Champlain Sea that once covered our area found near Pakenham, On.

Once the Champlain Sea eventually drained, people who once camped on its shore now moved into this new, warmer region and began to use stone tools, grinding and flaking them to assemble weapons for hunting in the bountiful lands that provided game, nuts and berries.

In 1990 an archeologist by the name of Gordon Watson compiled a report on some ancient objects recovered from these people south of Ottawa and determined they were from tribes that had gathered to hunt and fish on the shores of these Rideau lakes around 6000 B.C. (8,000 years ago). Rivers and lakes around here took their present conditions about 2,000 years after the retreat of the Champlain Sea. These ancient people that moved in used stone tools and copper obtained from ancient mines on Lake Superior to fashion weapons and utensils to survive in our region, for hunting and fishing in many of the same lakes we have cottages on today.


The inscribed rock that apparently shows a watercraft found in the Rideau Lakes area, presumably from the Archaic period. (from Watson: Paleo-Indian and Archaic Occupations)

Of particular interest within these artifacts archaeologists collected in the 1980s was a rock that has an inscription of what appears to be a watercraft with 6 people in it. It was found on the surface of an ancient campsite during this archeological exploration and was discovered along with chipped stone points, ground stone axes, copper projectile points and hooks. Although it cannot be radio carbon dated as it is not an organic material, finding Archaic type ground slate tools alongside it substantiates the idea that these ancient people from 8,000 years ago had a type of watercraft of which they inscribed its image onto a rock.



Archaic people would have carved out felled trees into dugout canoes used for fishing and travelling.

They most likely built boats for fishing in these newly formed glacial lakes, canoes dug out of logs from felled trees. Hacked and carved canoes would have been used for traveling the many waterways they used for fishing and trading objects, perhaps traversing great distances to acquire objects from as far away as Ohio and the Gulf Of Mexico. A number of ancient sites near Kingston have turned up salt water exotic sea shells and metals not from this area which shows they either used watercraft to travel extensively, or other people from far away, came here.

What was found on a rock in the 1980s could very well be the first image of a watercraft in Canada, as most other representations of boats in either petroglyph form (carved rock) or pictographs (painted images on rocks) date from 2,000 years or 5,000 years ago respectfully. The current whereabouts of this fascinating 8,000 year old boat inscription is unknown, perhaps it is hidden away with other artifacts on a storage shelf in some museum, or forgotten in a lost storage bin. It would be a shame if it is locked away since it could very well be one of, if not the first, image of a Canadian boat that should be displayed proudly for all to enjoy.


Andrew King, Ottawa Rewind, April 2016


Click to access oa50-1-watson.pdf