Driving along River Road south of Ottawa is a always a pleasant experience, with scenic views of the Rideau River on one side and pastoral farm fields on the other. Then you pass a crossroad called Snake Island Road and visions of a cursed island full of deadly snakes comes to mind. This would seem like a fictional scenario, except upon further investigation it’s actually true….there once was an island full of snakes that the road is named after.
So my quest begins…
After the Rideau Canal was completed in 1832 hundreds of unemployed laborers started to settle around the areas they once worked, the majority being of Irish descent. They traded in the pickaxes for pitchforks and switched from building canals to barns, with many of them settling in the areas south of Ottawa.
A settlement grew out of the wilds near Greely with the families of O’Connor, Devereaux, Shea, Tobin, and Otto all building a new life in the area of raised land amidst swampy marshes around Concession 4/5 and Lots 20-22.
It was here on this raised land amidst the boggy marsh a settlement of families flourished finding a new life after the canal was finished. Yet what the families did not expect to find was that their new home was also the home of hundreds of snakes.
It seemed the swamps around them were home to a large population of water snakes and black rat snakes, who would seek the higher ground when not hunting for prey in the marsh. Countless snakes slithered around the area and were said to grow up to six feet, likely the now endangered Black Rat Snake, which is the largest snake in Canada.
One settler and his wife, John and Sally, allegedly experienced what would be a deadly snake attack. John decided to venture into the swamp and cut down some marsh reeds to feed their cow over the winter. John gathered his scythe, lunch and pipe and headed off the island to harvest the plentiful marsh reeds.
John soon came across a large snake that reared its head and lunged at John with its open fangs. Sadly for John, the fangs bit into his leg, and he required immediate medical attention which was provided by a passerby who saw the snake attack. John was bandaged up but the snake bite worsened likely by infection, and John soon died.
Not long afterwards the swamps were drained to create farm fields for the settlement, and the island of giant snakes disappeared as the surrounding waters receded.
So where was this legendary Island of Snakes exactly located? If you follow Snake Island Road from one end to the other, it begins at River Road near Kars, and stretches east to Metcalfe. It was along here that the island of snakes was located, but if the snake filled swamps were drained, where would this island have been?
If there was an island in a swampy land, that island would be the highest elevation topographically. That’s when I consulted a great topographic map resource and found the exact elevations of the area. The topo map revealed a highest elevation of about 92m in a marshy area, which would most likely have been the old Snake Island settlement.
Using the old 1880s family names of those that settled on Snake Island, I researched a map from 1879 and saw all those same family names in that same area of high elevation. The two corresponding pieces of evidence thus pinpointed the spot that would have been the Snake Island Settlement.
I drove out to this area to investigate and sure enough it is a very swampy area but the road climbs to a higher elevation area that would have been the original Snake Island.
This is at the current crossroads of Snake Island Road and Swale Road. There is even an out of place 1800s stone house (most period homes in this area are wood or log construction) on the top of the hill that would most likely would have been built by a former canal lock labourer who had previously built the stone locks on the canal.
Referencing the old 1880 map of that intersection shows the stone home would have belonged to the O’Connor family, which is listed as one of the settlers on the original Snake Island. There was even a Devereaux Road south of the intersection to confirm the location of the lost island.
A visit to the area reveals that much of that original snake infested swamp still surrounds the area, a reminder of the early days that gave Snake Island Road its legendary name.
The official City Of Ottawa Coat of Arms and logo that’s featured on Ottawa police and emergency vehicles show a shield with wavy blue and white lines. These lines represent the Ottawa River running from left to right, and the Rideau and Gatineau rivers represented above and below. The Nation’s Capital is surrounded by waterways, but despite our aquatic surroundings, we have no lighthouses. A feature of most shorelines surrounded by water, the City Of Ottawa curiously lacks any surviving lighthouses from the first decades of its existence, even though it was originally solely serviced by steamships. Sure, we have some modern navigational lights dotting the Ottawa River, but no classic old “LIGHTHOUSES”.
As a fan of the old fashioned lighthouses and their symbolism of isolation and safety, I was glad to discover we did once have one across from Beacon Hill, of which I wrote about earlier, but it has been long demolished. Then I was recently contacted about one still in existence, a hidden relic of a bygone era on the Rideau River canal system. After some research proved the tip was true, it was successfully located. This is the tale of Ottawa’s LAST LIGHTHOUSE.
The Rideau Canal system stretches from Kingston to Ottawa across 202 kilometres of waterways, its largest stretch of interrupted water being called “The Long Reach” which extends 40km from the lock at Burritt’s Rapids, to the locks at Long Island near Manotick. It is along this stretch of the canal system the last lighthouse resides, hiding behind some trees amidst modern homes, a shadow of its former self.
Between Kars and Osgoode, there is an island called James Island, and on the eastern shore of the river, Doug Wallace and Harry Boyd decided to build a lighthouse in 1915.
The Lighthouse was a wooden clapboard beacon situated on a rectangular main building base and it is not known if it was an actual functioning government funded navigational aid, or simply a lighthouse built for fun. Nevertheless, The Lighthouse became the most popular landmark on the Long Reach between 1935 and 1967 as a Big Band Dance Hall.
The Lighthouse’s resident orchestra during the 1950s was “The Cliff Wilkes Orchestra”, featuring Cliff, a barber from Vernon. In its heyday, the Lighthouse would be jammed with 400 people trying to dance the night away in the small Lighthouse dance hall. It was “THE” place to be on a Saturday night in the South Ottawa region, with food, drinks, swimming, boat races and regattas happening all summer long.
Canada Day, or “Dominion Day” as it would’ve been called back then, would feature a hydroplane boat race on the Rideau River which drew thousands of visitors to the Lighthouse to wacth these high speed river races during the day, and to dance and drink to the sounds of the Big Band Orchestra playing throughout the evening.
The Lighthouse became such a hotspot for raucous activity that it drew the ire of the local clergy who tried to shut its partying down, but to no avail. I can only imagine the scene on a warm summer Saturday night at the Lighthouse, roaring wooden boats pulling up to the dock, big band music blaring, couples dancing and drinking and enjoying the “river life” at this bustling beacon. As with most good things, they must always seem to come to and end, and in 1967 the Lighthouse was closed for good as teenagers found new things to do an a Saturday summer night, and the aging, older crowd just stopped attending.
Doug Wallace, co-founder of the Lighthouse would later start up a tour boat company taking passengers up and down the Rideau Canal, that would later be sold and be known as “Paul’s Boat Lines”.
THE LIGHT GOES OUT
After it closed in 1967, the lighthouse would be disassembled and modified. The pyramidal beacon would be placed off to the side of the property, with the main dance hall being converted into a residence. It is now an operating business, “Modern Living Realty Inc. Brokerage” whose office is in the historic old Long Reach landmark.
I noticed the little lighthouse on a summer boating excursion, now painted grey and red, and snapped a photo of it, not knowing it would turn out to be such a historical landmark. Now at over 100 years old, the Lighthouse remains a quiet reminder of the bygone days of river life, literally a beacon of fun and memories for so many of those that were lucky enough to have visited it over the decades.
The beacon part of the Lighthouse has been maintained and sits quietly hiding behind some trees on the shore, still gazing out at the waters of the Rideau River, its light long extinguished, but its soul and 100 year old history intact for those of us that know it’s still there.
Andrew King, January 2021
“On a Sunday Afternoon” Classic Boats On The Rideau Canal, Manotick Classic Boat Club, Turner, Douglas. 1989. The Boston Mills Press, Page 32.
The “Medieval Period” lasted from the 5th to the late 15th century, and within that time frame the period known as the “Viking Age” spanned from the late 8th to late 11th century. The Vikings were seafaring Norse people from southern Scandinavia (present-day Denmark, Norway and Sweden) that explored westward to Iceland, Greenland, and to what is now Newfoundland & Labrador. The “discovery” of North America by these hardy Norse explorers was finally substantiated when Norwegian husband-wife team of explorer Helge Ingstad and archaeologist Anne Stine Ingstad uncovered a Norse settlement at L’Anse Aux Meadows in Newfoundland. Their study of Icelandic sagas—Eirik the Red’s Saga, Saga of the Greenlanders, described how the Norse left Scandinavia and started to explore lands to the west of Greenland only a few years after settlements were established.
The stories, or “sagas” as they are called, describe that in 985AD while sailing from Iceland to Greenland with a migration fleet consisting of 400–700 settlers and 25 ships (14 of which completed the journey) a merchant named Bjarni Herjólfsson was blown off course, and after three days’ sailing he spotted a land west of the fleet. Bjarni was only interested in finding the farm of his father, but he described his discovery of this new land to Leif Erikson who explored the area in more detail and planted a small settlement fifteen years later, which puts Europeans in North America in 1000AD.
The sagas describe three separate areas discovered during this exploration: Helluland, which means “land of the flat stones”; Markland, “the land of forests” and Vinland, “the land of wine”, found somewhere south of Markland. It was in Vinland that the settlement described in the sagas was founded, and which is thought to be somewhere in the Atlantic provinces of Canada, although their main settlement, “Hop” has yet to be found.
What was discovered in 1960 was a temporary Norse boat repair encampment at L’Anse Aux Meadows, Newfoundland. They found some rivets, iron slag chunks, and some bone items, but nothing too indicative of “Viking” swords or amour. During archeological excavation butternuts were unearthed but have never been native to Newfoundland. This means that the inhabitants of this camp ventured further south, likely into New Brunswick or Nova Scotia, but no new evidence has yet been found, nor has any expedition been ignited to find the true Vinland/Hop settlement of these Norse sagas. Norse settlement of what is now Canada would end quickly as they battled indigenous inhabitants and harsh weather, departing our shores only ten years after building a settlement. The “Viking Age” would end one hundred years later around 1100AD. So what are European artifacts from 1250AD, the Medieval Period, doing in the Canadian Museum of History?
Let’s take a closer look.
MEDIEVAL SWORDS AND ARMOUR
Without being able to visit museums in person, I enjoy exploring the various museum artifacts inside the museum online. A casual search turned up some interesting artifacts I’ve never seen before, of which I will share with you below. I think they blow out of the water anything that was ever found in Newfoundland. These revealing artifacts were found on Baffin Island sometime in the last 45 years.
The artifacts are carbon dated to be from around 1250AD and include sword blades, chain mail, oak barrels, wooden boxes, iron and copper, knives, and woven cloth. They are catalogued simply as “Norse” under “origin” but we are told that the Norse left what was North America hundreds of years before that date. One explanation states that the Norse continued to travel to trade with the Inuit inhabitants of Baffin Island at that time. So it seems that it wasn’t Vikings, but medieval Europeans who brought an assortment of items found recently on Baffin Island. Did we have other European visitors prior to Cabot, Cartier and Champlain? Seems so, but their story has yet to be told in greater detail. In the meantime, let’s check out these items from over 700 years ago.
IRON BLADE: OBJECT NUMBER: SgFm-4:2 MEASUREMENTS: Length 68.4 mm, Width 47.0 mm, Thickness 4.5 mm. Date made: Unknown.
2. PINE SHAFT:
DATE MADE: Circa A.D. 1250-1500
OBJECT NUMBER: PgHb-1:8483 Length 104.4 mm, Width 27.0 mm, Thickness 17.1 mm
MEASUREMENTS Length 135.0 mm, Width 105.0 mm, Thickness 11.5 mm
6. SWORD BLADE: Circa A.D. 1200
OBJECT NUMBER SfFk-4:1184
Armament edged Length 99.3 mm, Width 37.4 mm, Thickness 6.3 mm
7. IRON RIVET:
Circa A.D. 1200
OBJECT NUMBER SfFk-4:2816
Length 38.7 mm, Width 17.9 mm, Depth 18.4 mm, Thickness 5.1 mm
8. OAK BOX
Circa A.D. 1260
Length 183.0 mm, Width 110.0 mm, Thickness 14.8 mm
9. OAK BARREL:
Circa A.D. 1260
Length 169.0 mm, Width 52.5 mm, Thickness 20.2 mm, Outside Diameter 210 mm
10. IRON AND BONE KNIFE:
Late 13th Century
OBJECT NUMBER SfFk-4:193 Iron, Muskox horn Length 153.9 mm, Width 19.1 mm, Depth 9.3 mm, Thickness 9.3 mm
11. BRONZE BALANCE:
Circa 14th Century
OBJECT NUMBER SlHq-3:4
Length 146.0 mm, Width 8.0 mm, Thickness 7.2 mm
12. BRONZE BOWL:
Circa A.D. 1250-1500
OBJECT NUMBER: RbJu-1:269 Length 101.7 mm, Width 68.9 mm, Thickness 2.4 mm
13. PINE PLANE
Circa A.D. 1260
OBJECT NUMBER SfFk-4:3502 Length 206.0 mm, Width 52.6 mm, Depth 31.0 mm, Thickness 31.0 mm
14. IRON CHAINMAIL:
OBJECT NUMBER: SfFk-4:2
body armour, Height 25.6 mm, Length 53.0 mm, Width 36.7 mm, Thickness 25.0 mm
15. PINE FIGURINE:
Circa A.D. 1250-1300
OBJECT NUMBER KeDq-7:325
Length 53.8 mm, Width 18.7 mm, Thickness 9.4 mm
With the above artifacts representing a definite presence of medieval Europeans on Canadian soil in the 13th century, we have to speculate why they were here, and where exactly they came from. Were they trading with the Inuit for whale bone and other supplies? Did the Norse set up another settlement in North America after leaving 200 years before? The shipbuilding related artifacts suggest they had a presence for sometime, and not just a meet and greet, hello/goodbye visit. Were these 13th century medieval knights on a new crusade to the New World to expand their realm? What other artifacts are out there?
This treasure trove of unique artifacts might just be the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, with other items waiting to be found on Arctic shores, or even further south where they perhaps found their pine and oak wood for these items. Unfortunately, most of these revealing artifacts of a medieval presence in Canada lie in storage and the full story has yet to be told. Maybe someday we will find more pieces to this vast puzzle called history, and soon we will snap together a more detailed story as to what our medieval guests were up to.
One of the favourite holiday traditions for many families, mine included, is to watch the classic Rankin and Bass produced “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” stop motion animated special. It first aired Sunday, December 6, 1964, on the NBC in the United States, and was sponsored by General Electric as part of the The General Electric Fantasy Hour. It is the longest continuously running Christmas TV special.
Rankin and Bass chose Canadian voice actors because radio dramas were still being produced in Canada at the time, which gave producers a large talent pool to choose from. Rankin and Bass were also financially stretched and knew there were lower labour costs in Canada if they used Canadian voice talent.
In 1964, Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer had all its voice recording done in Toronto, Ontario, Canada at CBC studios.
Now, Hermie, the elf that wants to be a dentist, was voiced by Paul Soles. He currently lives in Toronto.
And the mean head elf, was voiced by fellow Canadian voice actor, Carl Banas.
But what I didn’t know was that BOTH THESE VOICE ACTORS ALSO DID VOICES FOR THE OLD SPIDER-MAN CARTOON. Paul Soles voiced Spider-Man/Peter Parker & Carl Banas voiced Scorpion!
Now here is where my mind is blown: SPIDER-MAN AND SCORPION YELL AT EACH OTHER IN THE SPIDERMAN CARTOON AND HEAD ELF AND HERMIE ALSO YELL AT EACH OTHER IN RUDOLPH. This mashup and revelation may just be too much for my nostalgic mind to handle. So let’s just switch gears, what ever happened to all those little stop motion puppets from the film? The crew involved with the production had no clue of the future value of the stop-motion puppet figures used in the production, so many were not preserved. It is claimed that Rankin was in possession of an original Rudolph figure.
The remaining nine other puppets—including Santa and young Rudolph—were given to a secretary at the studio, who gave them away to family members. Seven were discarded, leaving only two in existence.
In 2005, those surviving two puppets magically appeared on the Antiques Roadshow episode that aired in 2006 on PBS. At that time, their appraised value was between $8,000 and $10,000. The original puppets had been damaged through years of rough handling by children and storage in an attic. Toy aficionado Kevin Kriess bought Santa and Rudolph in 2005 and in 2007, he had both puppets restored by Screen Novelties a Los Angeles-based collective of film directors specializing in stop-motion animation.
The figurines were recently sold at auction on November 13, 2020, netting a $368,000 sale price, doubling the expected return.
You could now legitimately say that “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer….You’ll go down in history..”
I am fortunate enough to live in the wonderful village of Manotick, Ontario, a quaint little town with white picket fences and historic homes and buildings lining picturesque streets. What I didn’t know is that there is a dark secret lying within its most recognized jewel…a ghost in the the mill…
Nestled on the west bank of the Rideau River south of Ottawa there lies a stately stone mill surrounded by falling water and thick trees. Built in 1860 by Moss Kent Dickinson and his business partner Joseph Currier, Watson’s Mill is a gorgeously restored old grist mill that harnesses the power of the river to grind wheat into flour, of which it still continues to do today. In addition to the over 150 year old relics that occupy this unique landmark, the spirit of a ghost is said to also lie within its walls, a confined spirit who haunts the mill where a young life came to an untimely end one tragic day in 1861.
A native of North Troy, Vermont, mill co-owner Joseph Currier’s first wife died in 1858 after all three of their children died within five days of each other three years earlier. After his wife’s death, a saddened Currier traveled to the waters of Lake George, New York and stayed in the Crosbyside Hotel. During his stay at the hotel Currier fell in love with a tall, beautiful young woman by the name of Anne Crosby, the daughter of the family who ran the Crosbyside Hotel. Soon Joseph and Anne were married and honeymooned in the North Eastern United States. An investor and co-owner of brand new grist mill in Manotick, Ontario, Joseph wanted to show his new bride the mill he had built in Manotick and brought his love there to celebrate its first year anniversary that February.
A cold February night in 1861, Anne wrapped herself in a flowing assortment of clothing as she toured her husband’s new mill. Strolling through the operating machinery, Anne’s white dress suddenly became caught in the revolving turbine equipment, violently throwing her against a nearby support pillar which killed her instantly.
With his new bride dead on the floor of his mill, a heartbroken Joseph immediately sold his shares in the mill to his partner Dickinson and never set foot in Manotick again.
Anne was buried in Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa and Joseph, picking up the pieces of his shattered life, moved there where he became a member of Ottawa city council and was later elected as a representative for Ottawa in the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada. Becoming president of the Citizen Printing and Publishing Company which produced the Ottawa Daily Citizen, he was also president of two railway companies in the Ottawa area.
Yet Anne never seemed to leave the mill. Her spirit was said to remain on the site along with blood stains and fingernail marks on the post where her body struck. Current visitors are said to feel cold air and goosebumps on the second floor where she perished.
Joseph soon built another stately stone building in Ottawa in 1868 called “Gorffwysfa” a Welsh word for place of rest, a home he built as a gift to his third wife, Hannah, granddaughter of Philemon Wright. This stone house is better known as “24 Sussex Drive” and was purchased by the Government of Canada in 1943 to become the official residence of Canada’s Prime Ministers.
Joseph Currier died in 1884 and finally came to rest next to his beloved Anne at Beechwood Cemetery where the two still continue to haunt Ottawa’s special stone buildings in their own respective ways.
If you have ever travelled in or out of Ottawa’s McDonald-Cartier International Airport, you’ve probably noticed the distinct aluminum sculpture residing at the airport’s entrance. What you might not have noticed is that these sleek geese have a unique history and that they are quietly moved twice a year…
The Ottawa Airport, or Macdonald–Cartier International Airport was previously called Uplands, or CFB Ottawa South/CFB Uplands. Once a joint-use civilian/military field, it was the busiest airport in Canada by takeoffs and landings, reaching a peak of 307,079 aircraft movements in 1959.
With the increase of civilian jet travel in the 1950s, the Canadian government decided to build a new field south of the original one, with two much longer runways and a new terminal building designed to handle up to 900,000 passengers/year.
This new airport that opened in 1960 was designed by famed Ottawa architect James Strutt, who designed many Ottawa landmarks including the concrete beach huts at Westboro Beach.
Strutt intended to create a ‘cultured atmosphere’ using modernist architecture, Canadian art, and stylish modern furniture. He wanted the new Ottawa airport to be the pinnacle of Canadian art and design and commissioned sculptor Louis Archambault. Archambault would later design sculptures for the Canadian pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal, which can be seen today on the lawn of the Museum Of History.
Archambault designed an large and striking metal architectural screen and large stylized “Canada Goose” sculpture called “Shape of Flight“. Situated on either side of the main entrance in reflecting water pools. The Shape of Flight goose sculptures are sleek, abstracted symbols of the iconic Canadian Goose.
Constructed from sharp edged curved aluminum, the goose sculpture remained at Ottawa’s airport terminal until it was renovated in the late 1980/90s when they disappeared until the latest renovation occurred. Re-opened in the early 2000s, Shape Of Flight returned to the main entrance of the airport on the grassy knoll, visible as travellers enter the stunning new terminal.
Now what is most interesting, is that the old 1960 sculpture continues to move, in fact MIGRATE like real geese, each Fall and Spring.
The Airport Authority quietly switches the goose sculptures to face the north in the spring to recreate the Canada Goose migrating back from the south, and in the fall switches the sculptures to face south when the real geese head south for the winter.
This was confirmed on Twitter by the airport, so you are not going crazy if you think you saw them facing one way one month, and the opposite way a few months later.
Located in a dense forested area at the confluence of the Ottawa and Carp rivers at the foot of Chats Falls, there lies a hidden 400ft diameter wheel aligned with the Summer Solstice. Whether by coincidence or by conscious effort, someone at some point in history has made a remarkable earthen wheel in what has always been a sacred and important place in the Ottawa Valley.
Further investigation into this overgrown “wheel” reveals interesting details that will either prove it to be of a more ancient origin, or perhaps merely a more modern construction that coincidentally aligns its axis with the setting sun on the Summer Solstice.
In order to learn more about the history of the Summer Solstice and its significance throughout history, we must travel back in time to the early Bronze Age.
The summer solstice has been significant to almost all cultures, celebrating it as a time of re-birth, and fertility. It is a time of renewal as the sun is at its longest time in the sky. Derived from Latin words, “sol” (sun) and “sistere” (to stand still). Solsistre. Or, as we know it “Solstice”.
A 7,000-year-old henge with two gates that were aligned with the solstices. The Goseck Circle in Germany is 70 meters (220 ft) in diameter. A circular wooden wall surrounds a narrow ditch.
A sun cross, solar cross, or wheel cross is a solar symbol consisting of an equilateral cross inside a circle. The design is frequently found in the symbolism of prehistoric cultures, particularly during the Neolithic to Bronze Age periods of European prehistory.
Bronze Age Solar Cross petroglyph in Denmark.
In our current calendar, June 21st marks the day of the annual Summer Solstice. The Christian Church re-branded this special day celebrated by the ancients through pagan ritual as “St. John the Baptist Day”, which occurs 3 days after the solstice event. This date’s relevance harkens back to the pagan practice of sacrifice that occurred on the Summer Solstice. Stonehenge in the United Kingdom is aligned with the summer solstice and to this day thousands gather there to celebrate the dawn on the solstice.
Native American solar cross etched in rock.
Ancient cultures would arrange wood or stones or build earthen mounds in a circular form to coincide with the celestial rotation of the sun. In the Bronze Age, this circle of stones on the landscape would also be illustrated in carved stones with a circle divided into 4 quadrants, denoting the Summer Solstice, the Fall Equinox, The Winter Solstice and then the Spring Equinox. A circle with a cross.
The sun sets perfectly between the two pyramids of Khufu and Khafre on the summer solstice when standing at the Great Sphinx.
The Egyptians built their Great Pyramids in alignment with the equinoxes and solstices as did many other cultures such as the Maya and even North American native cultures.
In North America, this worship of the sun was done using a built structure called a “medicine wheel”.
Medicine wheels are used to mark the geographical directions and astronomical events of the sun, moon, some stars, and some planets in relation to the Earth’s horizon at that location. These rock sites were also used for important ceremonies, teachings, and as sacred places to give thanks to the Creator, Gitchi Manitou or Great Spirit. Other North American indigenous peoples also made these circle petroforms (arrangement of stones).
A North American Medicine Wheel.
INVESTIGATION ON THE OTTAWA RIVER
Noticed while examining aerial imagery of the historically significant Chats Falls, it is a place that has been an important confluence for generations of peoples on the Ottawa River. A “wheel shape” that seemed to have a cross, or axis lines within.
Chats Falls has always been a significant area traversed by nomadic tribes of the First Nations for thousands of years to transport goods and copper from Lake Superior east along the Ottawa River, or “Great River” as it was known then. A strategic and cultural area, there is even a native burying ground across from the wheel structure at “Indian Point”.
The original, natural Chats Falls before being dammed up for a hydro station in 1930.
So it seems likely that there could have been a concerted effort to build a large structure in this area, and with another ancient Solstice Mound on Rice Lake near Peterborough, it would not be out of the ordinary that something similar would be built on the important Ottawa River.
Studying aerial imagery, there is a definite outline of something circular in the forest where the Carp River meets the Ottawa River within Fitzroy Provincial Park. Placing overlays of known “medicine wheels” and “Solar Cross” shapes, they do align with the calculated setting sun axis on the Summer Solstice.
Sun Surveyor showing the axis of one spoke is in alignment with the setting sun on the Summer Solstice (Red Line)
I went to investigate and see this structure in person to examine this anomaly up close and study its details. The area is situated in very dense forest and is in a very swampy, fern covered, low lying area that is likely flooded in the spring. Wet, and damp, there is a definite mounding of earth to create four spokes that converge at a central mound “hub”.
Central mound at centre of the “wheel”
Low lying fern covered grounds around the structure.
Odd piles of stones were noticeable within the wheel structure.
Another pronounced mound is noticeable on the western spoke edge. Using Sun Surveyor to calculate the position of the sun on the Summer Solstice, one of the spokes is aligned with the setting sun on the June 20-21st solstice event if you were staying on the central mound. It also matches known First Nations Medicine wheels in orientation, and their inherent quadrants of celestial significance.
Also on the nearby shoreline there looks to be a stone weir, purpose unknown. Was this a native fishing camp and the stone weir was used to catch fish as they used to do centuries ago or another modern park feature?
The whole structure is quite peculiar as there are piles of rocks that have been carefully placed in key positions around the wheel in the middle of this dense forest. I have no idea what else it could be except for some provincial park structure from decades ago that has overgrown since. It is quite inaccessible however, and would be an odd park feature for visitors. There are also some substantial sized trees that are quite old.
Whether created by an ancient culture during the Bronze Age, or another time to mark the Summer Solstice and other celestial events, or just a weird Provincial Park feature in the middle of a dense forest made just a few years ago, there is giant 400ft diameter earthen and stone wheel on the shore of the Ottawa River at Chats Falls. Perhaps some readers have knowledge of what it was, or is, maybe it is merely an abandoned park dump or something quite logical. But for now, it seems we can safely call it the MYSTERY OF THE SOLAR WHEEL.
The word “cathartic” traces back to the Greek word “kathairein”, meaning “to cleanse, or purge.” Catharsis became a medical term having to do with purging the body of toxins, and soon people started to also use the word cathartic in reference to an emotional release and a spiritual cleansing.
This old map from 1879 shows a village called “Cathartic” which is now Carlsbad Springs.
Just a few kilometres east of Ottawa there once was a place actually called CATHARTIC, due to the fact that at one time the land there contained a number of ancient bubbling mineral springs that were known to heal and cleanse those who entered them. This place became known as Carlsbad Springs. Ottawa’s own “Fountain Of Youth”, where the wealthy and elite of Ottawa’s upper class ventured in attempts to reverse the aging process and to renew their bodies and mind.
An early 1900s postcard showing the resort and spring houses.
The healing mineral waters of the springs became incredibly famous, and a number of resort hotels and even a CN train station were built around the bubbling baths. Then, as quickly as they were built, the station and hotels were demolished, the once coveted springs soon fading from memory. But do the springs still exist, and if so, where are they? As Ponce de León once searched for the Fountain of Youth, I began to search for our Lost Springs of Carlsbad Springs.
SPRING IS HERE
I always enjoying glancing through old maps, and my curiosity was piqued when I saw a small town outside Ottawa called “Cathartic” in 1879. Knowing what the word meant, but not knowing if that place still exists on current maps, I looked further into where this village may have been located. It turns out that CATHARTIC became what we now call Carlsbad Springs. Upon further investigation it turns out this small area has a most intriguing past.
A red arrow indicates the location of the healing spring on this map from 1879.
Situated on a small creek called “Bear Brook” off Russell Road, Cathartic/Carlsbad Springs was located an and old native trail that once linked Ottawa to Montreal. Used for centuries by the indigenous people during their travels through the area, the trail became Russell Road as pioneer settlers took over the land in the 1850s.
The natural springs in the area were noted for their mineral content and qualities, with ancient bedrock waters bubbling up from subterranean aquifers.
Once called Boyd’s Mills, after the first mill owner on the creek, the settlement became known as “Cathartic” in 1870 and the first hotel was built in the vicinity of the springs by the Dominion Springs Company, who touted them for their healing properties.
By 1892 another hotel was built, and soon a train station to allow passengers to visit this new wonder, and what was Ottawa’s largest dance hall, the area’s first bowling alley, and many other recreational activities. Visitors from around the world soon flocked to Cathartic to drink its healing waters and soak in the bubbling baths. The mineral water was soon being bottled and sold throughout North America, and in true capitalist form, the village was rebranded in 1906 as “Carlsbad Springs” after the most fashionable aristocratic resort in Europe. The springs were given names based on the properties of the waters coming from them, such as Soda, Sulphur, Magic, Lithia, and Gas. A special fountain was constructed near the hotel that would be set on fire each night due to the flammable content of the water.
An 1890s photo shows the first hotel and the original sheds built over the healing springs.
Thousands of Ottawa’s most wealthy residents took the trip to the “Springs” to relax, enjoy the nature trails and amenities of the hotels. This would all soon disappear when the Great Depression and World War 2 hit, sending the resorts and their healing waters down the drain. Even though all the hotels and buildings have since been demolished, the natural springs should still exist, so I thought let’s go find them.
An old map of Cathartic from 1879 shows a spring labelled on it next to the Bear Brook, and a small stream leading from it down to the creek. Comparing that to a modern Google Map of Carlsbad Springs, it reveals that nothing much is there now, and the old road has been shifted south, however the area where our fountain of youth was located looks to still be undeveloped.
This GeoOttawa aerial view from 1965 shows the old hotel still standing in the upper left side. The springs would be across from it as referenced in the old 1890s photo.
Heading out to Carlsbad Springs and walking along the muddy shoreline of the BearBrook creek to where the spring was supposedly marked on the old map, a trickling sound was soon heard, and following it up the riverbank I came across a spring!
The source of the cathartic waters, and a late 1800s resort town were right there, still bubbling up from the earth, hidden amidst rocks and leaves of the now overgrown landscape. You could see the almost oily nature of the water with a film of some chemical on top of the bubbling water.
The National Capital Commission now owns the land and has graciously restored one of the old Spring House structures, which were built over the springs back in the early resort days. In the summer when the park is open there is a parking lot nearby.
I managed to find the spot where a promotional photo was taken in the 1890s, but it looks unrecognizable. A quick survey of the area revealed more old springs and their own particular properties as mentioned earlier. Some were moss laden, others were rust coloured.
A comparison photo..THEN and NOW…Almost unrecognizable. The restored Spring House structure is visible through the brush.
At one spring source there was what looked to be an old glass bottle used in the bottling of the spring water back in the popular resort days.
One of the old bottles used to bottle the cathartic mineral water?
Nothing much else remains to indicate the once prosperous resort that used to be there. The old bridge area is visible with some interesting artifacts found around it.
This is where the old hotel would have been, note the old Russell Road in front of it.
Where the old bridge was located over the Bear Brook.
Old foundation ruins along the shoreline.
Remnants of a Carlsbad Springs’ glory days as a Health Spa Resort.
Perhaps there lies a cure to the current coronavirus waiting in these forgotten healing springs, from a time when people put their health and faith in mysterious liquids bubbling up from the ground.
The once famous healing and cathartic springs is now nothing more than a forgotten trickle from the ground.
Ottawa, like all cities and communities, is grappling with a pandemic situation, and it reminded me that the Nation’s Capital is no stranger to quickly spreading viruses. Throughout history the city has dealt with quickly spreading viruses, and the unfortunate plagued souls were placed on an island in the Rideau River. A hidden and rusting iron truss bridge that once carried those virus victims still remains…
The year was 1893 and the smallpox virus was sweeping through the Nation’s Capital so the City Of Ottawa wanted to build an isolated smallpox hospital to keep those infected away from the general population. City Council chose Porter’s Island, an eight-acre, low-lying property in the Rideau River as the quarantine island.
This 1879 map from The Carleton Atlas shows the vacant Porters Island in downtown Ottawa, chosen as the site for the virus isolation island.
A hastily constructed isolation hospital was built on the island. In order to access the island, a bridge was needed, so this iron truss bridge was built for a cost of $5,000 in 1894. All those diagnosed with the virus were taken to the island across this bridge, which still remains in place today, although shut off from the public.
“The Virus Bridge” a more recent photo of it by Ross Brown.
The 1893 iron truss bridge that once carried virus victims to their isolation hospital on Porter’s Island in downtown Ottawa. (Google Streetview)
After the smallpox epidemic of 1893 Porter’s Island was then transformed into a garbage dump. The abandoned and rat infested hospital buildings were demolished in 1904, but another smallpox epidemic hit the city and yet another hospital was erected in 1910. This time it would be in the form of tents.
The second quarantine camp on Porter’s Island used for isolating those infected with smallpox during the 1910 epidemic. This photo was taken in 1912 just before another hospital building was constructed. (Topley Collection)
But the quarantine camp on the island was short lived. The City Of Ottawa in 1913 hired Ottawa architect Francis Sullivan, who studied under Frank Lloyd Wright, the famous American architect who only had one Canadian student, which was Sullivan. Sullivan designed a very carefully designed new isolation hospital on the island, one of his first in the city. Sullivan would go on to design many notable buildings around Ottawa.
Made of brick and the latest construction techniques, the handsomely designed new isolation hospital remained on the island until it was demolished in 1967.
This 1928 aerial photo of Porter’s Island shows the new Sullivan designed isolation hospital to the far left end of the island. Note the iron truss bridge at the opposite end. (GeoOttawa)
the new “Sanitary Hospital” built on the island in 1912.
These two aerial images, the top 1965, the bottom a current view, show the isolation hospital before it was demolished and the new retirement facility that stands there today. (GeoOttawa)
a 3D image of Porter’s Island showing the new facilities and bridge, with the old 1894 bridge still standing on the right hand side.
The island was then developed into Retirement Residences in the late 1960s but the original, old isolation island bridge constructed in 1894 quietly remains. Closed off, and overgrown in summer, this little recognized iron bridge is a reminder of our city’s pandemic past…and as always, history tends to repeat itself. Perhaps the City of Ottawa will expropriate another island for quarantining its citizens once again.
Childhood memories are an oasis for the mind in today’s challenging world, recalling nostalgic events or products brings us a brief moment of joy reflecting on those more innocent times. For me, BMX bike rides to the Becker’s convenience store after collecting bottles from the ditch is one of those happy recollections, as $2.00 in bottle deposit refund money was like winning the lottery. That bottle money was quickly put right back into the Becker’s cash register when I bought Wacky Packs, Dinosaur Eggs, Sour Chews and of course, Hostess Potato Chips.
The 1980’s gave us such great movies, music and junk food. Washing down some fresh foil bagged Hostess chips with Jolt Cola was an integral part of our teenage lives, and for many, Hostess was THE GREATEST potato chip in Canada. As our carefree childhood days slipped away, so did our Munchies, and in what would be a sly corporate takedown, Canada’s beloved Hostess Chips were killed by a well-known American corporation: Pepsi.
Edward G. Snyder, 1962. Photo by Belair. Source: Mennonite Archives of Ontario 1992-14.1572
The epic Canadian story of Hostess Potato Chips stretches back to 1935 when Edward Snyder started making potato chips on his mother’s kitchen stove in Breslau, Ontario, near Kitchener. One Saturday he took a small supply to the Kitchener Market and was sold out by mid-morning. The potatoes were peeled by hand and salted from hand-shaken salt shakers. He wanted Snyder’s Potato Chips to be of the highest quality. He created foil bags in which to package the chips to retain their flavour and crispness. The public demand for Snyder’s Potato chips led Snyder to move a factory which he built on land he purchased that adjoined the Snyder farm. His entrepreneurial spirit and outstanding marketing ability led to his chips being sold across southern Ontario and in the city of Toronto. It wouldn’t be until 1955 that his chips went big when Mr. Snyder sold his Chip Company to E.W. Vanstone, who expanded it greatly before he then sold it to General Foods four years later.
Hostess Chips were the new brand, and they soon garnered a solid reputation for quality, using foil bags to maintain freshness, and the bags of Hostess chips were easily recognizable using simple colour coding for each flavour. Regular was a blue package, Salt and Vinegar yellow, HOT BBQ in red. These colours for chip flavours were so effective that other brands still continue to use these packaging colours to this day.
Hostess became the #1 potato chip in Canada and fought off US corporations that soon started entering the Canadian chip market. The genius of their marketing once again made waves when Hostess introduced “The Munchies” in 1981.
These were three cartoon chracters that represented the “hunger munchies” one gets for salty snacks. Widely successful, the Munchies became the brand image for Hostess, and were placed on their chip bags, except for Hickory Sticks, that opted for the wood-grain motif on their packaging.
Hostess was so popular, they created giveaways inside their bags of chips, including Rock Music stickers, film tie-ins, and Munchie Merchandise prizes. They were the top potato chip in Canada and the choice of almost every Canadian kid who bought some chips in the 1980s.
The Classic Flap Hat of the Summers of the 1980s
1980s Hostess Rock Stickers that were inside bags of chips.
This irked the American companies that their brands could not compete with the formidable Hostess brand, leading to a plot to eliminate them, a Munchie Murder.
CHIP ON THEIR SHOULDER
The 1980s were the Golden Age of many things, including snack foods, and corn based snacks were rising in popularity. Fritos, Cheetos and Doritos all taking the stage. Hostess didn’t have any corn based snacks and decided to enter the market by entering into a partnership with Frito-Lay, who were owned by…..PEPSI.
In 1987 Hostess and Frito-Lay joined forces to introduce a corn based chip snack called Hostess “Taquitos” and they merged in 1988. The Pepsi owned Frito-Lay now started adding their own brands into the Canadian market, which included Ruffles, Cheetos, and Doritos. By 1992 Pepsi then bought out Hostess’ remaining interest from General Foods. This would spell doom and the eventually death of the beloved Canadian Hostess brand.
Hostess Taquitos became “Zesty Doritos” after the Pepsi takeover of Hostess.
With Pepsi now owning Hostess, they replaced the Taquitos with their own brand, changing the name to “Zesty Doritos”. Yes, your Zesty Doritos are actually Hostess Taquitos.
With the introduction of other Pepsi owned chip brands such as Ruffles and “upscale brands” of chips such as Miss Vickie’s (another Canadian chip company bought out by Pepsi owned Frito-Lay in 1993) the Hostess brand was effectively destroyed by the very company that purchased it.
Pepsi made the decision to change the name of Hostess to “Lay’s” in 1996, using hockey players as spokespersons to rebrand the image of this new chip.
Hockey Player Marc Messier as the spokesperson for the newly branded “Lay’s Chips”
The Munchies were killed off, Hostess chips were quashed, and Pepsi now only keeps the Hostess name on Hickory Sticks.
Now more than ever I think we need to re-visit the things that make us happy and bring them back by any nostalgic means possible. If that means that the American Corporate Pepsi Machine re-introduces the once #1 Canadian brand Hostess Potato Chips for its 85th Anniversary, then let it be so. Because in the end, when you got the munchies, nothing else will do….