Month: August 2016

The Stone Ruins of an 1800s Roundhouse at City Centre 900 Albert St.


On a tour of the remarkably intact ruins of a railway turntable from Ottawa’s first railway.

Archeologists working on a development study at the City Centre property uncovered the surprisingly intact stone ruins of a 50 ft diameter 1800’s railway turntable. I was invited to examine the site and with much awe, was transported back in time to place that has been lost under the soil for almost 150 years.

Jeff Earl from Past Recovery Archaeological Services Inc. invited me to take a look at a massive 50ft stone ruin that has been lying beneath the surface of City Centre’s vacant lot. First constructed in 1871 for the St. Lawrence & Ottawa Railway, the 50 foot diameter turntable structure would have been part of the industrial railways that snaked all through the former LeBreton Flats area.

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Study area showing the second 1883 CPR roundhouse west of the 1871 one that was demolished.

Earl and his associate, Peter Sattelbrger, toured me through the unearthed ruins and explained they had studied old maps and Fire Insurance Plans that indicated a large railway roundhouse may have been situated at the site. Digging began and the archeological team uncovered a remarkably intact stone ruin of a circle that would have made up the foundation of the turntable, used to turn around the old steam locomotives and send them in the opposite direction.


The original 1871 timber and stone pivot point of the turntable unearthed.

The St. Lawrence & Ottawa Railway was previously known as the Prescott and Bytown Railway, and brought Ottawa’s first train to town in 1854. (I wrote about it for the Ottawa Citizen here) That operating company went bankrupt and re-formed in 1866 as the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Railway. The line was eventually taken over in 1884 by Canadian Pacific Railway who used it as a link between Ottawa and their mainlines along the St. Lawrence. The parliament buildings were constructed from stone brought up from the St. Lawrence River on this rail line.

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The old 1871 railway complex at 900 Albert St. as shown on Belden’s 1879 atlas.


The “ghost” of the railway roundhouse complex shown at the current site at 900 Albert St..


Rail track foundation beds for the tracks radiating from the circle.

The stone circle ruins have well preserved timbers in the centre where the pivot point of finely dressed stones formed the base. This would have been to rotate the steam locomotive once they were on the turntable . Sattelbrger explained that it was most likely a “gallows” style turntable for the trains arriving off a spur line from the main tracks of the railway. This structure either burned down or was demolished when a second turntable and roundhouse was opened west of the original in 1883, of which the ruins from that have also been unearthed.


A gallows style turntable similar to the one unearthed at City Centre.

The larger, 20 bay roundhouse but in 1883 later burned down also in 1910, and a third one was built in 1911 again, further west at the present site of the Tom Brown area. That third structure was subsequently demolished in 1968.


The second 1883 roundhouse foundation walls that were also uncovered by archeologists.

Upon examining the ruins, it was amazing to see how well preserved the stone, timber and  red brick was, hidden beneath the surface all these years. Old steam pipes and rail equipment was also carefully dusted off and catalogued, the archeologists diligently working to record as much of this site as possible before the whole area is turned into a proposed future condo development.


What is probably part of Ottawa’s oldest rail history lies quite preserved in the vacant lot at City Centre, soon to be buried again to make way for a proposed 30 to 55 storey condo tower. No one will ever know that it was there when it is removed for construction. Except for a few of us.

My sincere thanks to the Past Recovery Archaeological Services Inc. team for inviting me to witness a piece of history that was lost, then found, then about to be lost again. Your work is highly appreciated by many, and thanks for bringing this to my attention.

Andrew King, August 2016








The Mysterious Knight Of Pinhey’s Point

This is the full version of the edited story that originally appeared in the Ottawa Citizen here.


A tomb of a 14th century Knight Hospitaller in England with ogee arches on the “box tomb” like the ones that appear at Pinhey’s Point. 

Amidst the trees and hidden from view are the stone ruins of a medieval style church overlooking a picturesque river that’s not in the European countryside, but within the the City Of Ottawa.


The ruins of what looks like a medieval church lie hidden in Horaceville. 

The ruins are part of a unique plot of land called “Horaceville” located twenty minutes north of Ottawa, a place one man built for a family he raised there. The buildings that still remain in both ruin and restorative state reveal an interesting past connected with an order of Knights from a time of the Crusades.

Hamnett Kirkes Pinhey arrived in Canada from England in 1820 to create a community according to his beliefs and wishes for an aristocratic village that was unattainable for him back in England. As the King’s messenger during the Napoleonic Wars, Pinhey was granted land in Upper Canada that he would use to build his personal empire. Traveling by boat up the Ottawa River, Pinhey picked a hillside location with a sheltered bay about twenty kilometres north of what was then Bytown to create his Utopian vision.


A map showing the layout of Pinhey’s “Horaceville” which has a mysterious connection to an ancient order of Crusades Knights. 

Arriving at the site, Pinhey and his companion erected a small log cabin to live in until his possessions and family joined him a year later in 1821. After establishing his business and family on the site, Pinhey built a village that included a stately stone manor, mills, barns, and eventually a church. He would call the place “Horaceville”, after his eldest son Horace Pinhey. Establishing himself as a man of prominence, he entered politics as a member of the Canadian Legislature. Pinhey died in 1857 but left behind an interesting legacy and a strange connection to a medieval Order of knights known as the Knights Hospitaller.


Knights of the Templar and Hospitaller that were part of the Crusades with their respective armour. 

This Order still exists today as the Knights of Saint John. You may recognize the name and their symbol, the Maltese Cross, as St. John Ambulance, which follows the structure of the original Order of Knights Hospitaller and is divided internationally into Priories, which reflects the history of the original Order. The Knights Hospitallers and The Knights Templars trained and fought together protecting and caring for pilgrims to the Holy Land during the Crusades. Originally the Order was only of a “hospital” nature but soon provided pilgrims with an armed escort, which grew into a imposing force with both Hospitallers and Templars becoming the most formidable military orders in the Holy Land. After the disestablishment of both the Templars & Hospitallers it wasn’t until 1831 when a British order of these knights was founded again. They became known as the “Most Venerable Order of St John of Jerusalem” in Great Britain and the Commonwealth countries.


The ancient Order of Knights Hospitaller lives on today in the form of St.John Ambulance…note the same medieval Maltese Cross symbol that is used today. 

In what is supposedly Pinhey’s original cabin there are some decaying logs and a stone fireplace with unusual symbols carved into the stonework. Two equilateral triangular symbols with intersecting lines are marked within the fireplace, perhaps modern “mason marks” from a recent restoration, yet they prompted me to take a closer look at what I felt was an unusual aesthetic to the property.

Pinhey’s main house is an asymmetric design of oddly placed windows and louvered fake doors, which could likely be attributed to it being built in multiple stages as his wealth slowly transferred from England to his estate in Canada. However, an aerial view of the main house reveals the house has a very symmetrical T-shape. Whether by
coincidence or by Georgian architecture standards, this t-shaped footprint of the house fits perfectly within an equilateral triangle, the same triangle that is carved into the original cabin fireplace. The house shape is also of such proportions that once placed inside an equilateral triangle, dissecting the lines within it reveals other shapes that coincide with recognizable shapes from Freemasonry. The symbols of The Cross of the Grand Priory, The Order of the Holy Royal Arch, and even more relevant, the Maltese Cross of the Knights Hospitaller are all visible when superimposed on the house’s shape.

On the second floor of the estate, there is a room that is known as the Sanctum Sanctorum, which is Latin for “Holy of Holies”. The Holy of Holies is the most sacred site in Judaism being the inner sanctuary within the Temple in Jerusalem when Solomon’s Temple was still standing. The Holy of Holies was located in the westernmost end of the Temple building, being a perfect cube: 20 cubits by 20 cubits by 20 cubits. The inside was in total darkness and contained the Ark of the Covenant, gilded inside and out, in which was placed the Tablets of the Covenant. It is also where the Knights Templar made their headquarters in a wing of the royal palace on the Temple Mount in the captured Al-Aqsa Mosque, The Temple Mount had a mystique because it was above what was believed to be the ruins of the Temple of Solomon, giving them their name of “Templar” knights. Pinhey’s “Holy Of Holies” has not been measured, but it would be interesting to see if he made it in the same dimensions. This could also be Pinhey’s sense of humour showing through, as it was reported he had his own washroom within the house for privacy!

Looking deeper into the history of the buildings and that of Hamnett Pinhey, it was discovered Pinhey constructed his own building of worship on the property against the wishes of the local parish who wanted a church built further inland. Pinhey used his own money to build a church of his own design, constructing it in a style unlike any other church of the area. This church now lies in ruins, hidden from view on private property and part of the Anglican Parish Of March.


Built by Pinhey in 1827, the stone church displays a unique style of architecture that resembles that of a medieval English church. Pinhey designed it himself based on sketches from his notebook. Symmetrically constructed with unique “ogee” arch windows and doors and a prominent square tower with pyramid roof, similar to the Knights Hospitaller churches and their motifs. A tomb of a medieval era Knight Hospitaller in England has the exact same ogee arch incorporated into the box tomb.


A church of the Knights Templar in England that resembles Pinhey’s designed church on his property. 

Similar design elements in both medieval Hospitaller churches and Pinhey’s church include the pyramid roofed square tower and these middle eastern “ogee” arches. These special and complex arches used by the Hospitallers reflect a Middle Eastern influence from the times they occupied the Holy Land. Perhaps it is pure coincidence but it seems odd that Pinhey would decide to utilize the complex and thus expensive ogee stone arch forms in a church being built out of his own pocket.

Upon his death in 1857, Pinhey was buried in a “box tomb” on the west end of the church. The church fell into ruins sometime at the turn of the 20th century after it was abandoned in the late 1800s. It remains the oldest standing church within the City of Ottawa and is now a part of the Anglican Parish of March which maintains this unique hidden site.(NOTE: The church is on private property and I had permission to study it in detail. DO NOT TRESPASS) It has recently been given Heritage Designation as outlined by the Ontario Heritage Act but is not part of the City Of Ottawa’s Pinhey’s Point Historic Site and remains inaccessible to the general public. There is no official mention of Pinhey’s connection to this ancient order of Knights although clues abound throughout the property.



Pinhey’s “box tomb” similar to the Knights Hospitaller tombs (above) contains the remains of Pinhey on the site of his medical style church.

All these clues seemingly lead to a definite conclusion that Pinhey was, or was trying to be part of an ancient Order of Knights, but this could be all just coincidence. Not one to rely on coincidences, I dug deeper to in my research which revealed a book from 1857 at the New York Public Library entitled “Synoptical Sketch Of the Illustrious & Sovereign Order Of Knights Hospitallers of St. John Of Jerusalem and the Venerable Langue Of England” which comprehensively lists all members of the Order of Knights from its inception in 1099 to 1857.

Within its pages, on page 75, listed is the following:

“The Honourable Hamnett Pinhey, of Horaceville, Canada, Member of the Canadian Legislature, and one of the Governors Of Christ’s Hospital, London. El. K.J.J.”

Hamnett Pinhey’s complete involvement with the Knights Hospitaller may never be known, but I believe the mystery behind his odd symbology in the Utopian village he built is connected with the order of Knights Hospitaller. His secrets rest with him under the ruins of his medieval church. What is certain is that the legacy of this order lives on today as St. John Ambulance, caring for those in need as they did almost a thousand years ago.


Andrew King, August 2016


The Knights Hospitallers, Stydd Church near Ribchester,_Ottawa

Virtual Exhibits

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STRANGE THINGS: Old native trails once marked by bent trees.



A hike through an undisturbed forest is something of a treat, one can clamber over rocks and fauna that has never been traversed by others, providing an escape from the crowds and busy roads of the city. These days it is not easy to get lost in the woods with cell phone apps and GPS to guide our way…but something I recently stumbled upon revealed someone long ago had also trekked the same woods, using not a GPS to guide them, but a strangely bent tree…


Before a network of highways and roads guided us across this country and even before the arrival of Europeans in North America, a network of trails and paths used by native people took them from place to place. What existed was a roadmap of trails, a series of marked paths to guide travelers on a safe route across the wilderness.


The first record of trail marker trees appeared in a document called “Map of Ouilmette Reservation with its Indian Reminders dated 1828–1844”. This map shows actual drawings and locations of existing trail marker trees.

These ancient trail routes were later used by European settlers to build rudimentary carriage roads that would later become the paved asphalt roads we use today. Back then, there were no signposts, rest stops or tourist info centres to point us in the right direction. Instead these native trail blazers built “trail marker trees”, unique bent trees that pointed the passer by in the right direction. These bent tree markers resemble strange oddities of nature if you can find one, markers of the old trail travellers. Once sapling trees bent with rawhide or vines, they now give us mysteriously shaped trees in the forest.



A bent tree trail marker in Illinois. (Source IndianCountry Today Media)

A while ago a friend told me about the bent tree trail markers, but I was skeptical of their existence since nature can behave strangely, giving us oddities that seemingly defy any natural explanation. I thought bent trees were just another one of these natural anomalies until I came across one last week. There, high up on a high rocky ridge was the definite shape of a bent tree, its presence caught my eye much like it would have to a forest traveler many years ago. Upon closer inspection, it became clear that this might not be natural, and could very well be one of the old bent tree trail markers from long ago.


Discovering the strange bent tree on a rocky high ground near Opinicon Lake. (tree on left)

In the 2011 Field Botanists Of Ontario Newsletter, an article written by Paul O’Hara explains in great detail the strange but fascinating “bent tree” markers made by indigenous people in the Toronto area hundreds of years ago. You can read that piece here Also of interest was an informative piece written by William McClain of the University of Illinois piece written by William McClain of the University of Illinois who explains how and why these odd bent trees were formed. Trail-marker trees were important to the indigenous tribes who used used them while traveling, using their own methods to make them. Generally, oak saplings were bent and tied to stakes or rocks using animal skin or wild vines. The direction the tree was bent would indicate the proper course to the traveler. These bent marker trees were usually placed on high ground for visibility and would usually point towards a waterway, a settlement or a lake, the route best taken to find these places.

In 1965 archaeologist, Robert E. Ritzenthaler, wrote an article about the bent tree trail markers that appeared in the Wisconsin Archeologist, Volume 46, Number 3, 1965, claiming any trees 200 years of age or younger would have to have been made by pioneers with early Europeans quick to copy this practice of Native Americans. The practice was widespread throughout North America, and Raymond E. Janssen, in the February 1940 issue of Natural History magazine, mentions their distribution into the Great Lakes region.

Dennis Downes, President and Founder of the Great Lakes Trail Marker Tree Society explains “Some of these trees would have brought them to fresh water springs, the preferred source of water used by the Native Americans and settlers alike. Other Trail Marker Trees would have guided them to areas with exposed stone and copper deposits needed for their adornments, hunting implements, and everyday tools. Yet, others would lead them to the areas where they could gather medicinal plants as well as plants used to make their dyes and paints. The Trail Marker Trees would have taken them to ceremonial sites and occasionally the burial sites of their ancestors. Also, in relation to the rivers, these trees would indicate areas of portage and safe crossing.” Downes continues to research and document the bent trees of the Great Lakes, and his impressive amount of work on these trees can be viewed here.

Indian Country Today Media Network, which covers Native American and First Nations of Canada culture, sat down in 2013 with Don Wells, author of “Mystery Of The Trees” and discussed the history of these strange trees. Wells explains that back in the 1600s and 1700s, when natives were traveling from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from Canada to Mexico, there were trails all over North America. “They didn’t have GPS or a map, so to find their way from A to B and back home again, they had marker trees, or trail trees, or a signal tree or a yoke tree”. explained Wells, who also produced a documentary about these fascinating historic trees. “These trees would be bent as saplings, when they were about ¾-inch in size, and tied down. They would be left that way for a year and lock into that position. They used them to mark trails, crossing points on streams, springs to find water and medicinal sites where they would get plants.

Read more of their info on bent trees here.


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How a bent tree trail marker would have been made. (Sketch by author)

A sapling of either oak, maple, elm or other hardwood that could bend easily would have been staked down, pointing in the direction of interest. As the sapling grew, its side branch would grow upwards, and later form the main trunk of the tree. (see sketch)

The bend of the tree would be a few feet off the ground so the horizontal trunk could still be seen in the deep snow of winter. Sometimes there would be a hollow made in the bend to leave message sticks or other parcels.


On a recent trip to Opinicon Lake we traveled down an old road that was previously used to transport rocks quarried from nearby Elgin used in the construction of the Rideau Canal locks. This winding, narrow road led from the main road of Highway 15 to the Rideau system at Davis Lock. I noticed high up on a rock cliff an unusual tree that matched the description of the “marker trees” my friend had once told me about. I grabbed some gear and hiked through the forest to inspect the tree in closer detail and sure enough it was a strange bent tree, pointing in the direction of Opinicon Lake and the connection between two lakes. Upon further inspection it was revealed that another bent tree was also on another area of high ground. It seemed to be consistent with the old bent tree practice: on high ground, bent towards a place of interest, along a very old old road that was most likely once a trail.


Bent tree pointing towards Opinicon Lake.

In McClain’s article it is also mentioned that the settling pioneers also adopted the bending of trees method to mark a path, so it is likely that perhaps the one I found was made by one of the early settlers to the area before, or during construction of the Rideau Canal system. Perhaps the trail was marked by natives as away to the waterfalls of Opinicon Lake (Which is a native word for “potato”).


Map by Col.John By from 1830 showing the route of his proposed Rideau Canal system. The bent tree was found near Davis Lock. Note lack of roads and former name of Opinicon Lake was “Mosquito Lake”.

The Rideau system was once an important route used by the First Nations people to travel between Kingston and Ottawa, so finding a trail marker tree along it is not unusual. The tree also contained a hollowed out area in the bend, as mentioned before for leaving message sticks. It was fascinating to see one up close and in person, its location a once prominent point of land for a traveler long ago. I will not dismiss the possibility that it is or natural origin but the evidence and research seems to prove otherwise.


Many of these unique bent tress have been lost to road construction, development, logging, or just uncertainty as to what they were. When an original trail was later made into a road, many were most likely lost, yet they may remain as the last living piece of history connecting us with our first nations people and their unique way of life.



As with any historical mystery, some will continue to debate their origins and deem them as natural phenomena, but with so much evidence proving otherwise, it seems unlikely these mysterious trees are the product of natural mutation. These unique markers to our past have been with us for centuries yet they remain largely forgotten in the unexplored wilderness of our region. Who knows how many more are out there waiting to be found, lost markers to the past, silently awaiting their next visitor.

Andrew King, August 2016