Month: January 2017

OTTAWA’S PARK OF THE DEAD

 

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This tranquil city park has a grim secret lying below the surface. (image:GoogleStreetview)

In 1920 a crew of city workers were landscaping the grounds of Macdonald Park, a large and picturesque plot of land in Ottawa’s Sandy Hill district when a passerby noticed a round object roll down an embankment. Upon closer inspection the round object was discovered to to be a human skull. The park was once an old graveyard for Ottawa’s first residents, some of whom still inhabit this tranquil PARK OF THE DEAD.

BURIED IN TIME

Macdonald Park is a quaint little Lowertown park bordered by Heney, Wurtemburg, Cobourg and Tormey streets just north of Rideau street where it meets the Rideau River. Enjoyed by locals who wander its lush grass and meandering pathways, this park was once home to hundreds of graves, and still is. Below the surface forgotten tombstones and skeletal remains of some of Ottawa’s earliest residents lie quietly below the visitor’s feet, part of a long forgotten cemetery that became a park.

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This 1885 map shows a plot of land as “cemeteries”, here circled in red.

The land became a graveyard for Bytown’s earliest settlers when the city’s first graveyard at Elgin and Sparks was moved in the 1840s from its location at the foot of Barrack Hill, a site that you may recall recently had some human bones dug up near Queen and Elgin Streets. Ottawa’s first settlers were buried at this original graveyard but were later moved to a new cemetery east of the city, to what was then called the “city limits”, that being the Rideau River. This second graveyard was opened for burials staring in 1845 and operated until the 1870s when the graveyard had to be moved yet again, this time out to Beechwood.

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“Old Cemeteries” as mapped in 1885.

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This overlay sequence shows the old graveyard as it appeared on an 1885 map, superimposed on a current aerial image that reveals the location of the park/graveyard.

Hundreds of remains had to be claimed and moved to the new Beechwood cemetery, but many souls had no one to claim them, and their remains were left behind. A report at Bytown.net mentions a time when the abandoned cemetery had cows grazing among skeletons and toppled tombstones for almost 35 years as the land sat vacant. The  unclaimed remains were left to the elements until 1911 when the City of Ottawa levelled the area for a new park in honour of Sir John A. Macdonald. Any unclaimed remains and tombstones were flattened over with a bulldozer and reburied under a new park landscape. Out of respect for those left behind, the city of Ottawa read the names, hundreds of them, at a city council meeting and recorded every name and inscription on the re-buried tombstones. Those names and inscriptions are available for viewing today at the Ottawa Room of the Ottawa Public Library Main Branch.

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This 1936 Ottawa Citizen article recounts the time a skull was unearthed in the park. (Source:Google News Archives)

Later a stone structure was placed atop a small hill, known as “Summer House”. The park enjoyed years of pleasant use until the 1920s when a 1936 Ottawa Citizen article recounted the story of workers doing some hill landscaping who accidentally unearthed the skull of one of the unfortunate souls left behind.

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The Park of the Dead, or Macdonald Park. (image: Bing Maps)

Today the quiet park sits much as it has for over a hundred years, its boundaries never shifting, and no new buildings have ever been built atop the lost souls that still lie below the surface. For those that know the haunting secret beneath, the park is a grim reminder of a time when it was where the dead were parked.

Andrew King, January 16, 2017

SOURCES

http://www.bytown.net/oldcemeteries.htm

Bing Maps

Google Maps

Google News Archives, The Ottawa Citizen, Feb.21, 1936

Map of the City of Ottawa, Published by A.S. Woodbrun. Ottawa, 1885

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/more-bones-found-during-queen-street-road-work-1.2455001

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OTTAWA’S LOST GIANT “OTTAWA” SIGN

A few decades ago giant white letters that formed the word “OTTAWA” existed in a grassy field. Measuring almost 500 feet long by 100 feet tall, the massive lettering was visible from hundreds of feet in the air as aircraft flew over the Nation’s Capital. By chance on Google Maps, I found that although faint, the giant lettering is still visible today.

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The 500ft “OTTAWA” sign visible in the grass circa 1965 along with some 1950s fighter jets and transport aircraft at CFB Uplands. (image GeoOttawa)

Now in 2017, these long lost letters still remain hidden in the grass of the MacDonald Cartier Airport, a faded reminder of a time when our city was marked with giant letters to welcome visitors to our fair city while up in the air.

Probably made from white stone or chalk, the giant letters were most likely part of the Ottawa Flying Club’s original runway which opened in 1928. These letters would have also marked the site of CFB Uplands, part of the Royal Canadian Air Force  wartime training station of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan which opened in 1942.

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Fighter pilot training in Ottawa during WorldWar2. (image Library and Archives Canada/Wikipedia)

Our current MacDonald-Cartier International Airport roots go back to a time when a  combined military base and public airport terminal on the site made it the busiest airport in Canada, reaching a peak in 1959 with 307,079 aircraft take-offs and landings.

This once unmistakeable giant OTTAWA sign would have clearly welcomed visitors and returning residents back to Ottawa with its 500ft of white letters as their aircraft circled above. I for one would like to be welcomed home by seeing a giant “Ottawa” out my airplane window, and that’s what happened until the early 1970s when it looks like the letters started to fade into obscurity.

Using geoOttawa and current aerial maps, I was able to trace the fading of the letters over time, watching them almost disappear.

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Circa 1965 (image GeoOttawa)

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Circa 1991 (image GeoOttawa)

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Circa 2002 (image GeoOttawa)

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Circa 2007 (image GeoOttawa)

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Circa 2016 (image Bing Maps)

The letters are faint, but still visible today, and with Ottawa2017 celebrations welcoming thousands of new visitors to the Nation’s Capital to commentate Canada’s 150th birthday, it might be a unique and fun idea to restore the large letters to their original splendour and  once again enjoy OTTAWA’S GIANT OTTAWA SIGN.

Andrew King, January 2017

SOURCES

GeoOttawa

Bing Maps

Google Maps

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ottawa_Macdonald–Cartier_International_Airport

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CFB_Uplands