Month: January 2018

MYSTERIOUS ANCIENT MOUNDS IN PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY

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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WHAT?

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.

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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.

 

COOKING MOUNDS?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

SOURCES 

http://www.ontarioarchaeology.on.ca/Resources/Publications/oa_72_part_04.pdf

Mounds of Sacred Earth, W.A. Kenyon. – https://archive.org/details/moundsofsacredea00keny

https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.32044081032310

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

 

 

 

FINDING OTTAWA’S FIRST BREWERY

BEERS OF BYTOWN 

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.

FIRST BREWERY?

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An early sketch of how Bytown looked in 1825.

A great piece at Bytown.net 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.

MAPS TO THE PAST

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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. 

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Overlaying the 1831 map over the current Google Map.

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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.

WHERE EXACTLY IT IS

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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.

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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

SOURCES

Library and Archives Canada

https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/Products/9781626194588

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

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

Google Maps

GeoOttawa