Author: Andrew King

An artist living in the Nation's Capital fascinated by its past...I hope you are too. I can be reached at:

The Secret Chemical Weapons Lab At Rideau Falls


An aerial photo of the Chemical Weapons Laboratory that used to be at Rideau Falls.

UPDATE: On October 24th 2016, one week after this article was originally posted, it was announced by the NCC that the site will now become location for Canada’s Centre for Geography and Exploration. The Centre is scheduled to open its doors in 2017 as a Confederation Pavilion during Canada’s 150th anniversary.

Being the Nation’s Capital, Ottawa has always been home to a number of government facilities working on classified projects. These “classified” government projects are developed in secrecy, with details about them not being revealed until years later, if at all. A scenic park beside Rideau Falls may seem like an unlikely spot where one of these projects occurred…but it did, and it was not just any project. It was a secret lab inside an old pulp and paper mill developing and testing chemical weapons.



The secret Chemical Weapons Lab at Rideau Falls that was once a pulp and paper mill. (Photo: Shirley’s Bay Review)

Allied forces during World War Two, including Canada, made preparations to wage both chemical and biological warfare. The use of chemical and biological weapons had already been experienced in the First World War with ghastly results. The threat of bio/chem weapons being used in WW2 was less of a concern due in part to the signing of the 1925 Geneva Protocol, a treaty prohibiting the use of chemical and biological weapons in international armed conflicts. Yet, here in Ottawa there was human experimentation involving volunteers at the wartime Chemical Weapons Laboratory in Ottawa to assess the effects of chemical agents as well as to develop protective measures.

A Chemical Weapons Laboratory.

In Ottawa.

What!? Where was this? you might ask…In some remote field miles south of the city in a secret facility?. No, rather it was a government building beside Rideau Falls that is now a scenic park owned by the NCC.


Current view of what used to be the Chemical Weapons Lab. (photo:Google)


The year was 1941 and the National Research Council (NRC) was part of program to study the use of choking gases such as chlorine, and chloropicrin in addition to the hellish compounds of hydrogen cyanide and cyanogen chloride. Ottawa’s studies also included blistering weapons such as the infamous mustard gas. It is hard to believe but labs in Canada studied, tested, manufactured and stockpiled these bio/chem weapons during World War 2. Research was headed by the Directorate of Chemical Warfare and Smoke and conducted in Canadian university labs using NRC grant programs. These school labs included McGill, Toronto, Queen’s, Saskatchewan and Western.


Manufacturing of chemical and biological weapons at Rideau Falls labs. (from “A Brief History of the Defence Research Establishment”)

Ottawa had its own Chemical Weapons Laboratory working with the NRC at Rideau falls in a now demolished facility. Created in 1940, the Rideau Falls Chemical Weapons Lab, dubbed “CWL” was responsible for the production of flame thrower fuel and the manufacture of 1000 pounds of B1 dye used to detect mustard gas in addition to a number of other “classified chemical compounds”. By the end of the war CWL had produced 8 million gas masks, forty million canisters, and in Cornwall, produced barrels of deadly mustard gas.

The Ottawa labs worked on highly toxic but largely unknown chemical agents. Once a converted pulp and paper mill known as Edward Mills, the secret labs operated from 1940 until 1947 when operations were moved out of the Rideau Falls site to Shirley’s Bay. The labs were soon demolished after the move-out and were eventually made into Rideau Falls Park which is there today.


The John Street Labs, classified as “Chemical Weapons Laboratory, CWL” (photo: geoOttawa)

In addition to the study, testing and manufacture of bio/chem weapons and the associated gear to counteract them, the CWL labs at Rideau Falls also conducted experiments on volunteer subjects. Paid volunteers would be subjected to testing of chemical agents, with experimental counter measures being tested for their success. Subjects suffered blisters, and respiratory testing. In February 2004, the Ministers of National Defence and Veterans Affairs announced a recognition program to offer payments to these Canadian veterans who volunteered to participate in chemical-warfare experiments in Ottawa and elsewhere.

After the Second World War, the stockpiled chemical and biological weapons were taken aboard ships and unceremoniously dumped into the Atlantic Ocean, where barrels upon barrels of these nightmarish compounds decay on the ocean floor.


The current site of what was once the grim Chemical Weapons Lab. (photo: Google Streetview)

The site that was once a shrouded chemical and biological weapons facility is now nothing but a tranquil NCC owned property called “Rideau Falls Park”. Here the NCC built the now abandoned Canada and the World Pavilion in 2001,  which subsequently was shuttered in 2005. It was announced on October 24th 2016 by The National Capital Commission and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society that the site will now become Canada’s Centre for Geography and Exploration. “The Centre is scheduled to open its doors in 2017 as a Confederation Pavilion during Canada’s 150th anniversary.” There is no mention of the shrouded past of the site other than a quip on the NCC website that states it was “developed after the Second World War when the area was acquired by the federal government and cleared of industry.”

What a gas.

Andrew King, October 2016

SOURCES Shirley’s Bay Review

Google Maps

“A Brief History of the Defence Research Establishment” published 2002





Ottawa’s Secret Sand Dunes


Over 10,000 years ago a body of water covered the City Of Ottawa called The Champlain Sea, a deep sideline of the Atlantic Ocean. It occupied a depression created by a continental glacier, and then it drained away as the giant glacier that once covered the northern hemisphere disappeared and the earth rebounded back into shape.  Now its only remnants are the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers. However, sand dunes were left to remind us of its former existence, sand dunes that exist hidden in the forests south of Ottawa off Slack Road. These dunes were a result of wind and water carrying sand left by the massive glacier into the sea by glacial rivers that once cut through through the glacial deposits. These sand dunes exist today, but are disappearing fast.


Once humans began to traverse these ancient sand dunes, evidence has appeared that native people who needed wood and game inhabited the region, and archeological artifacts have been found in the area.  Hidden behind a facade of forest trees, the “sand zone” is recognized for its archaeological potential. I recently visited the site and found it to be a unique area worth visiting if you have the chance.


This 1925 aerial view shows the once mighty extent of Ottawa’s Dune Sea. (photo from The Canadian Field Naturalist Journal June 2008)

Parking on a side road off Slack Road, we traversed up a small embankment to discover a flat plain of fine sand and dunes, stretching into the forest to the south. At one time this sand dune plain was massive, as a 1925 aerial photograph shows. In its current state it is just a fraction of its former self. The once mighty Dune Sea of Slack Road of about 3km in length has now been reduced to a few small areas of sand as the encroaching forest consumes this ancient Dune Region.


Comparison photos showing the disappearing sand dune region south of Ottawa. (from Canadian Field Naturalists Journal June 2008)

The area is now part of the Pinhey Forest Reserve (National Capital Commission) and contains numerous trails where one can explore this ancient sand dune area. Housing developments, an industrial park and re-forestation efforts have all but concealed the former dunes, but the ground beneath is definitely a sandy experience. There seems to be remnants of some kind of archeological dig at the various dunes, with sifting equipment strewn about.


The original sand dunes are now covered in forest growth, equally as magical. (photo Alison Fowler)

The forest that now covers the area is itself a unique feature as there are bizarre stick huts, carved stump monks and other oddities that give this hidden wonder a peculiar experience. Stick to the trails if you do go, and follow the trail maps, as it is very easy to become lost in the labyrinth among the secret sand dunes.

Andrew King, October 2016






On Baseline Road beside the Walmart Super Centre, there is a fading old totem pole, towering 60 feet over the bustling city traffic, sitting grandly in front of the Scouts Canada National Headquarters.  Having passed by this sentinel many times, I often imagine it one day toppling over Baseline Road, its top bird beak skewering a car below it like a shish kabob. Aside from that, I also think of what the story is behind this amazing totem pole, a somewhat forgotten and fading old soul beside the Walmart…who carved it and why is it there?….

This is the Tale of the Totem.

Photography by @oldmanloudwife


Carved in 1960 by Chief Mungo Martin, Ottawa’s towering totem has weathered almost 60 years at its post on Baseline Road. (Photo by @oldmanloudwife)

Carved in 1960 by Chief Mungo Martin, of the Kwakiutl Tribe and his grandson Henry Hunt, Ottawa’s totem pole has been weathering away at its post for almost 60 years. Most of the carving was done in Victoria, B.C. where Chief Martin was a prominent figure in Northwest Coast style of aboriginal art, specifically that of the Kwakwaka’wakw eople who live in the area of British Columbia and Vancouver Island. The pole was gifted to Ottawa from the British Columbia Scouts, and cost approximately $8,000 in 1960 to carve and paint from a BC cedar tree.


Chief Mungo Martin (Photo Wikipedia)

The towering totem consists of 6 main figures; a Raven, a Man, a Grizzly Bear, a Cannibal Woman, a Killer Whale, and a Beaver. These were all clan crests of the tribes that Chief Martin was closely related, and hence forth placed on the Ottawa totem.


The raven on the top represents “Gwawina” a raven that came to the earth and transformed into a man, which is the the second figure. The grizzly is the bear Kyelem, that also transformed into a man, and the woman is Tsonoqua the Cannibal Woman.


The Killer Whale is Makinukw, a supernatural whale. The Beaver on the bottom is Tsawa, who gave birth to a half beaver, half human son.


When it was completed in British Columbia, the totem was transported on rail two cars to Ottawa where it was hoisted in 1961 in front of the Scouts Canada building. The totem’s base is ten feet long and was anchored in over 75 tons of concrete at the base.


The totem pole is loaded onto a train car bound for Ottawa. (courtesy of D. Stremes from Canadian National Railways employee magazine
“Keeping Track” from July-August 1960)


The totem being hoisted into position on Baseline Road in 1961. (Scout Leader Magazine)

It would only be a year after Chief Mungo Martin’s totem was erected in Ottawa that he would pass away in 1962, leaving behind his legacy through various totem poles across North America, and one totem pole in Windsor Great Park in the United Kingdom. That Totem Pole was a gift from the people of Canada to Her Majesty The Queen in June, 1958.


Ottawa’s great totem remains on Baseline Road, its once vibrant colours fading with each passing year. It has endured the harsh winds and weather of Ottawa winters for 56 years and has welcomed many a Scout into the National Headquarters in that time.

The next time you pass by the great totem of Baseline Road, you might want to wave to the great spirit who lies within its weathered wood.


Andrew King, September, 2016

With special thanks to @oldmanloudwife for the photos used with permission.


The Scout Leader, Vol.XXXVIII Number 4, January 1961


christian-krohg-leiv-erikssonOn November 5 1970 Led Zeppelin released the “Immigrant Song” on Atlantic Records, written during Led Zeppelin’s tour of Iceland, Bath and Germany in the summer of 1970.

The song’s lyrics are written as if by Vikings rowing west from Scandinavia in search of new lands. These lyrics would seemingly make the Vikings “immigrants” in a new land, and that land would be Canada.  References to Viking conquests and the Old Norse were confirmed in a 1970 radio interview when Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin jokingly recalled, “We went to Iceland, and it made you think of Vikings and big ships ..”


Led Zeppelin perform the “Immigrant Song” live, which is a lyrical ballad that curiously resembles the Norse discovery of Canada in 1000AD.

Between 1961 to 1968 the Norwegian archaeologists Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad investigated sites on the northern tip of Newfoundland and determined that the curious site once thought to be of “native origin” was actually of Norse origin because of definitive similarities between the characteristics of structures and artifacts found at the site compared to sites in Greenland and Iceland from around 1000 CE. The land of “ice and snow”. The Norse settlers had once made their way from Iceland to Greenland, and then furthermore to Canada around 1000AD. It is now the only proven Viking settlement in North America and a National Historic Site.


The Norse settlement at L’Anse Aux Meadows in Newfoundland Canada dated to 1000AD. (image:GoogleMaps)

On the album Led Zeppelin III, the “Immigrant Song” features an intense lyrical ballad by Robert Plant about the Norse discovery of a “new land”.. an interpretation is below in italics:

We come from the land of the ice and snow, (Scandinavia, Iceland)
From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow. (Iceland)
Hammer of the gods, will drive our ships to new land. (Norse god Thor used a hammer, taking the ships to a new land..Canada)
To fight the hordes, and sing and cry. (The Norse upon reaching Canada called the indigenous people they encountered, skraelings)
Valhalla I am coming. (In Norse mythology, Valhalla (from Old Norse Valhöll “hall of the slain”is a majestic, enormous hall for the war dead located in Asgard, ruled over by the god Odin.)

Always sweep with, with threshing oar. (The Viking longships used oars to propel them through the water)
Our only goal will be the western shore. (The Western shore would be Vinland, the fabled new land discovered in Canada by Norse explorer Leif Erikson in 1000AD)

Ah, ah.
We come from the land of the ice and snow,
From the midnight sun (The sun is visible in Iceland at midnight during certain months) where the hot springs flow.
How soft your fields so green. (Vinland, as described by the Vikings in Canada was described to have meadows of green grass)

Can whisper tales of gore. (The sagas of the Vikings told of the Norse settlement of Vinland being brutally attacked by the indigenous people, and vice versa.) 

Of how we calmed the tides of war. We are your over Lords.

Always sweep with threshing oar, Our only goal will be the western shore. (Canada)

So now you’d better stop, and rebuild all your ruins. (The Vinland settlement was abandoned in Canada, leaving only ruins)
For peace and trust can win the day, despite of all your losing. (The Norse settlers lost their battle with the indigenous people of Canada who forced them to return back to the land of the ice and snow despite the initial trust the two parties once had for each other.)

With the “Immigrant Song” being released in 1970, it was written during the same time the Ingstads announced their discovery of the Norse settlement at L’Anse Aux Meadows in Newfoundland. The Norse were the immigrants, and the new land was Canada.  Perhaps a coincidence, but it seems the lyrics are a telling clue as to the origin of the Led Zeppelin song we are all familiar with. The complete song on YOUTUBE is posted here.

Andrew King September 25, 2016


Thor’s Hammer





On my first solo trip as high school kid to Ottawa back in 1990 I drove the old Prescott Highway from Kingston to Ottawa in my ’73 VW Beetle, passing by a curious diner on my way to an interview at Carleton University.  The diner was called the Green Valley restaurant, a neat old diner that looked like it was part of a 1950s movie set. The white building would later burn to the ground in the late 1990s on New Year’s Eve, its history disappearing up in smoke and its remains bulldozed into a future parking lot. My first greeting as I entered Ottawa was through this fine old dame that once sat at the corner of Baseline and Prince Of Wales Drive, and now 25 years after I first saw her, I want to show the rest of you who may never have known the majestic Green Valley.


screen-shot-2016-09-07-at-8-45-33-pmIn 1933 Waldorf Stewart moved to a remote wooded property on the old Prescott Highway near Ottawa where he built a play cabin for his daughter near his new home. The rustic cabin was soon visited by uninvited guests who were tourists passing by thinking it was a Motor Court cabin rental, a type of accommodation that was springing up all over North America as more and more tourists traveled by car. Stewart realized an opportunity when he saw one, and built a few more cabins and opened the Green Valley Tourist Court with cabins to rent for tired travellers on their way into the Nation’s Capital.




One of the first, if not the very first, motels in Ottawa was the “Green Valley Tourist Court” located at the corner of Prince of Wales and Baseline that opened in 1933.

In 1947 Stewart expanded his tourism empire at what was once considered “the outskirts” of the city and opened the Green Valley Restaurant, a modest diner to serve breakfast and evening meals to his customers staying at the rental cabins. Now boasting 24 cabins, Stewart thought the motel and diner would only be open for the summer tourist season, but the restaurant gained a reputation for fine quality foods. This may in part to the hospitable service but also because Stewart hired Chef Gustave, formerly from the Engineer’s Club in Montreal. After only a short period of time, the Green Valley became one of Ottawa’s premiere dining destinations.


An Ottawa experience was going to the Green Valley Restaurant, shown here in what looks to be the 1950s. (image Library and Archives Canada)


greenvalleyThe restaurant was expanded three times and included a gift shop called the ‘Then and Now Shop’ where visitors could purchase toys, souvenirs and curious gadgets. Kids especially enjoyed the “Mickey Mouse” sundaes that the restaurant served to its younger diners which was a cartoon dessert; a scoop of ice cream with wafer ears and pistachio eyes. Many Ottawa residents will remember going there with grandparents or on special occasions, as it was a treat to be treated to the Green Valley Restaurant back in the day.


In 1956 Stewart once again expanded the restaurant to include “The Walnut Room”, a special dining area with rich walnut panelling and thick carpeting. Once staffed with 65 employees, the Green Valley became an empire, but like most empires they eventually fade away.

screen-shot-2016-09-07-at-8-28-41-pmI remember when I received my first paycheque from my first full time job and I wanted to treat myself to a nice dinner. So I picked the place I saw when I first drove into Ottawa a few years earlier, the Green Valley. It was 1995 and I remember the place looked like it was trapped in 1955, with a musty smell reminiscent of an old landmark dame that now sat tired, empty and staffed by elderly servers who had probably worked there when it first opened and still wore their original uniforms. The furniture was worn, the food was bland, and the place had a very “The Shining” feel to it. Nevertheless you could sense it was once “THE” place to eat in Ottawa, but with the Lone Star opening up down the road, and other restaurants emerging, the Green Valley was left behind, its grandeur tarnished by the hands of time.


The former entrance to the Green Valley Restaurant now blocked off, and turned into a parking lot. (GoogleMaps street view)

I’m glad I got to visit the Green Valley, because soon after I was there, the restaurant mysteriously burned down on some New Year’s Eve, its charred remains were unceremoniously bulldozed away, turning this once special place into nondescript parking lot. That parking lot still remains at the corner of Prince of Wales and Baseline, and you would never know that it was once the location of Ottawa’s grand valley experience, the now lost Green Valley.

Andrew King, September 2016


The Ottawa Citizen via Google News


Library and Archives Canada


Remarkable Stone Ruins of 19th Century Railway Roundhouse Unearthed at City Centre


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.

Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 1.18.54 PM

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.


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 multi-level underground parking garage, part of the planned 30 storey condo tower.

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

Google Maps




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.


trail tree

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



Sea Monster in the Ottawa River



For hundreds of years sightings of unclassified marine creatures have filled the log books of ships, menacing creatures that lurk beneath the waves. Often called “sea serpents”, these elusive creatures often appear on old maps as fanciful drawings of sea faring monsters with great teeth, devouring entire ships.

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1550 map of Canada showing sea monsters off the coast. 

Scientists currently believe these sightings can be best explained as documented creatures such as the lungfish, oarfish or even eels. Yet there is one sighting of a sea serpent that goes beyond just a visual interpretation, an incident that involved one being captured. Not on the ocean, but right here in the Ottawa River.


Along the Ottawa River near Arnprior the waters widen as they stretch north, resembling more of a lake than a river, hence it being given the name Chats Lake. It reaches from the once mighty Chats Falls, now dammed for a hydro station, northwards to more rapids at Portage Du Fort near Renfrew. Bookended by these two waterfalls, this 30km long lake was the scene of much logging and timber transport during Ottawa’s lumber boom of the mid to late 1800s.


1831 map of Chats Lake, stretching 30km from Chats Falls near Arnprior to Renfrew.

At that time, large volumes of lumber was being transported downriver to the busy mills of Bytown. Many steamships were employed to carry both crews and supplies, as well as to tow logs to various points along the river.

During this period of increased steamship travel on Chats Lake a number of these ships began to spot an unusual water creature of immense proportions in the lake. Described as a large serpentine creature, a well respected Arnprior citizen by the name of Robert Young related to the local newspaper his glimpse of an aquatic monster in Chats Lake, which he described as “being of enormous size and proportions”. Soon, those on the water in boats and those that swam in its cooling waters grew fearful of what sounded to be a large serpent creature in Chats Lake.

Below Chats Falls, an 1880 newspaper article relates the story of a boy in a canoe encountering a serpent creature “about the size of an ordinary telegraph pole” and explains how an unknown serpent creature lurks in the Ottawa River, witnessed by many.

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1880 newspaper article describing the Ottawa River monster.

A few years after Young’s sighting, and also near Arnprior, Captain Brown of the steamship Alliance, saw a creature of the same description. Large. Serpentine. Fast.

With summer in full swing, and like something from a Spielbergian film, the legend of the sea serpent in Chats Lake reached epic proportions. Then, one hot summer day in 1882 the creature was spotted again, but this time there was no escape for the Chats Lake Monster.


In 1882 a steamship Levi Young, similar to the one pictured above, encountered the frightful beast of the river. Later its crew captured and killed it. 

Announced in the Arnprior Chronicle on August 26, 1882, the elusive sea serpent of Chats Lake had been captured. Having struck terror in the hearts of superstitious lumber men of the time, superstition became reality when the steamship Levi Young encountered the legendary creature of the lake. Departing the Snow Rapids, near present day Castleford where the Bonnechere River empties into the Ottawa River, the crew of the LeviYoung noticed a huge serpent creature swimming ahead of the boat. The newspaper article states that “Mr. John Durgan, chief engineer, and a deck hand, named Shaw, jumped into a boat and started in pursuit of the reptile. They succeeded in getting within striking distance of the serpent when Mr. Durgan struck it a blow over the head with his oar.” This in turn enraged the creature who churned the water into a furious froth, attacking the boat and the men inside. An oar was used to lay a powerful blow to the creature’s neck where it writhed to rest and was then towed back to the steamship.


Once back at the ship, the crew heaved the lifeless serpent aboard the deck of the Levi Young where it was laid out for inspection. Aboard the ship lay dead a serpent creature measuring 11 feet in length and more than a foot in thickness. The jaws of the creature were pried open and measured a span of half a foot.

No further records of the creature have been found, and the whatever happened to the carcass of the Chats Lake creature remains unknown. Was it some sort of ancient fish trapped between the falls on either end of the lake after the prehistoric Champlain Sea receded? Was it an abnormally large snake, catfish or eel? It is unclear as to what exactly plied the waters of the Ottawa River those years in the late 1800’s, but there is one thing for certain, a large serpent creature was indeed captured. So as we lazily splash around at our cottages this summer without fear of sharks or jellyfish, remember there was once another type of creature lurking in the dark waters of the Ottawa River, a creature that could still very well be out there, and possibly very hungry.

Andrew King, July 2016


Giant Serpent Killed?

The Quebec Daily Telegraph, August 4, 1880

The Upper Ottawa Valley: A Glimpse of History, by Clyde Kennedy


Canadian Boat History For Sale…in America


Miss-Canada-IV-Returns-to-Muskoka_0001Former Speed Record Holder Miss Canada IV listed for sale on Antique Boat America

In what could be another unfortunate example of our country’s oversight in preserving our own history, a signifigant piece of it appears for sale in an American classified ad. Antique Boat America recently listed speedboat record holder Miss Canada IV on their website for $775,000 US dollars. Peter Mellon from Antique Boat America does mention though that
they are the only Antique and Classic Boat Broker in North America with a Canadian presence / office and full time staff. They are working hard to make sure this piece of Canadian history remains in Canada. Mellon states they are “working diligently to keep this boat in Canada as it is an iconic piece of Canadian race boat history.”
Miss Canada IV is a late 1940’s Unlimited class race boat originally owned and driven by Harold & Lorna Wilson who, on Sunday, October 2, 1949 took Miss Canada IV into the history books. The result was a North American speed boat record of 138.865 m.p.h., which exceeded the best American boat by 12 m.p.h. Miss Canada IV was built by Greavette boats in Gravenhurst, ON and powered by a 3,000 HP Rolls Royce Griffon engine, the largest aero engine in the world at that time. The powerplant was still on the British classified list when British authorities allowed it to be brought to Canada to challenge the Americans for the coveted Harmsworth Trophy. The Harmsworth Trophy was the pinnacle of international speedboat racing with each boat entered having to be entirely from the country of which it represented. The Rolls Royce Griffon engine was a 37 litre, V-12, liquid-cooled airplane engine designed and built for WW2 use, mainly in Shackleton bombers, and in Spitfire fighters near the end of the war.


The WW2 era Rolls Royce V12 Griffon engine that powers Miss Canada IV.

In 1950, the Americans grew wary of this new speedboat marvel from Canada, and the Harmsworth Trophy was where their concerns were put to the test. Unfortunately, in the first heat of the race, Miss Canada IV suffered serious steering and hull damage and had to be pulled from competition. She was later taken to Picton, ON where she attempted to break the World Speed Record in the Bay Of Quinte but suffered a gearbox blowout nearing 200MPH. The Wilsons sold the boat to Gord and Jim Thompson, who raced her under the Miss Supertest name before retiring her to build their own boats.


Attempting to reach the World Speed Record in the Bay of Quinte near Picton, ON (Photo

Apparently lost in a fire, Miss Canada IV was found years later decaying in a farmer’s field sometime in the 1980s near Windsor, ON. Harold & Charles Mistele bought her and restored her before it was placed in the Ingersoll Cheese & Agricultural Museum. In the 2000s it was acquired by Bobby Genovese of Lake Rosseau in Muskoka where it was completely restored and unveiled at the Gravenhurst Boat Show. I was in attendance and had the pleasure of being rumbled awake by the sound of its V12 engine one morning.

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Miss Canada IV unveiled after restoration in Gravenhurst, On in 2013.

Miss Canada IV appeared in Picton last year where I got to see her up close again as she attempted to break the speed record on the same waters she once plied in 1950. Yet those efforts were thwarted once again when bizarre winds and weather prevented Miss Canada IV from performing.


Keeping an eye on this Canadian boating marvel, I recently noticed this important part of our nation’s history ironically appear on the Antique Boat America classified ads. These are good people at Antique Boat America having dealt with them in the past, and I know they would like nothing more than this boat to remain in Canada. We just need someone to make this happen…like our Canadian Museums. Yet, I fear due to “budgets” and whatever other excuses, this will be an unlikely outcome. Here is the ad with live link to it below:

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Her proud Canadian heritage all up for grabs to anyone with $775,000 USD. To have such an important piece of Canadian history end up anywhere else than in a Canadian museum would be a tragic fate that this country would regret. I hope someone will please take notice and make sure Miss Canada IV remains in Canada.

Thank you.

Andrew King 2016