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:

Christmas Log: How An Ancient Pagan Solstice Ritual got to be a log on your dinner table

Victorian Yule Log Christmas card c 1870

A brief history of a bizarre Christmas tradition

A walk through the aisles of a grocery store during the holiday season is always filled with delectable treats centered around various Christmas traditions. One such item that has always intrigued me has been the Yule Log. A log. That you eat. Why in the Charles Dickens would you want to eat a log? Well, it turns out this tradition dates back thousands of years and here’s what it’s all about…


The Yule Log tradition appeared thousands of years ago in ancient Celtic/Scandinavian/Germanic tribes celebrating the Winter Solstice. They would find a giant tree trunk and set it on fire on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. This pagan tradition was to celebrate re-birth and these ancient people thought by burning certain types of trees such as elm, oak, beech and cherry trees it would help bring about mystical good luck in the days to come after the solstice.


During the time of these ancient celebrations both December and January were called Guili or “Yule”, and it was when this magical log was burned, one could count on a return of both light and heat from the sun’s rays.

yule-log-wallpaperLike most pagan traditions, they were quashed when Christianity took over, but then adopted by Christianity to fit into the agenda of the Catholic Church. The Yule Log celebration was no exception and in the 12th century the ceremony became Christian-ified with families hauling home huge logs with the youngest sibling riding it home, who brought good fortune and luck for the coming season. Once home, the medieval families would burn the massive log to bring positive future outcomes for all that were present.


The tradition carried on through the centuries and in the 1800’s the Yule log was recorded in “Christmas Observances” by J.B. Partridge with the following ritual as the proper way to celebrate the Yule Log:

•The Yule log is brought in, and is at once put on the hearth.
•It is unlucky to have to light it again after it has once been started, and it ought not go out until it has burned away.
•To sit around the Yule log and tell ghost stories is a great thing to do on this night, also card-playing.
•Just before supper on Christmas Eve while the Yule log is burning, all other lights are put out, and the candles are lighted from the Yule log by the youngest person present. While they are being lighted, all are silent and wish. The wish must not be told, but you see if you get it during the year. As soon as the candles are on the table, silence may be broken. They must be allowed to burn themselves out, and no other lights may be lighted that night.


Bringing in the traditional Yule Log.

As time moved on, large log burning fireplaces in the family home gave way to smaller hearths and so the Yule Logs got smaller. Then as we moved into the 20th century, fireplaces were replaced by furnaces and stoves, requiring the tradition to adapt once again. This time a smaller Yule Log was placed on the dinner table and candles places on top of the log surrounded by candies and treats that were handed out on Christmas Eve.

Soon the traditional real wooden table log was replaced by a cake log, which is our current incarnation of this ancient pagan ritual. The cake log is usually covered in chocolate icing and scraped with a fork to resemble the tree bark.


One of the last places to celebrate the real Yule Log was in Quebec so it is no surprise that most Yule Log cakes are produced by Quebec companies such as Vachon, who continue the tradition with their own version of the Yule Log that you see in the grocery store aisles. Both Dairy Queen and Baskin Robbins also offer Yule Logs as ice cream logs that probably should not be lit on fire.


Vachon still makes a Yule Log cake during the Christmas season available at your grocers. (Image:


So there you have it, the history of the Yule Log, once an ancient pagan tradition of setting fire to a giant log to worship the sun that has now evolved into a cake you eat and wash down with a glass of egg nog…egg nog…now there’s another story…what is nog?

Merry Christmas!

Andrew King




Baffin Island Mystery: The unusual 700yr old carving of a robed figure with cross


The robed carving dated to the 13th century with an etched cross found on Baffin Island (photo:

In storage at the Museum of History just across the Ottawa River from the Nation’s Capital lies an intriguing artifact labeled “KeDq-7:325”. If you type that number in the museum’s website search engine you reveal a fascinating entry about a mysterious 14th century wooden carving found on Baffin Island of a person in a tunic with a cross on their chest.

Further research reveals that The Canadian Journal of Archaeology Number 2 published in 1978 describes the recovery of a 6cm wooden figure from Baffin Island in the summer of 1977. While the rest of us were lining up to see Star Wars that summer, Deborah Sabo was at the settlement of Lake Harbour uncovering the remains of a Thule Culture village that contained 21 stone structures referred to as the “Okivilialuk Site”, a village  dated to be from the 13th century. Upon investigation of one of the stone structures, a wooden carving was recovered which depicts a figure clad in a strangely European looking tunic with a cross on the front, leading researchers to believe Europeans were interacting with the Thule people at that time.

With the only confirmed Norse settlement in North America located at L’Anse Aux Meadows in Newfoundland dated to 1000AD, this would mean there were European visitors to Canada roaming about in the 500 years between the Norse arrival at L’Anse Aux Meadows and European explorer John Cabot in the 15th century.


The tunic clad figure was found near Lake Harbour (marked in red) on Baffin Island. (Google Maps)

The wooden figure depicts a person in some kind of tunic with a bordered edge and a split in the middle as well as an etched cross symbol on the chest. Researchers of the time believed it to be a depiction of a Greenland Viking with the tunic resembling the yoked hoods worn in the 11th to 13th centuries. With the Norse sagas mentioning a visit to a place called “Helluland”, this could refer to Baffin Island with the carving done by the native people on the island depicting this Norse visit as described in the sagas. A Norse robe with a split in the centre and cross as depicted has yet to be found in my research.

The Museum of History now contains the carving within its collection and describes it as being carved between 1250-1300AD and is of a Norse visitor to Baffin Island, which is intriguing, since the only confirmed evidence of pre-Columbian contact in North America has been through the artifacts recovered in Newfoundland. A representative from the museum tentatively stated that the figure is thought to be made from White Pine, a species of tree not found in the Arctic, or anywhere near Baffin Island for that matter.

The wood used to make the carving, if proved to be actually White Pine, Pinus Strobus,  is a type of wood that is only found in a select area of the continent. This means the wood for the carving made its way to Baffin Island via trading, or it was a piece of driftwood or even the visitors depicted in the carving brought it themselves. (map of White Pine distribution below)


Distribution of White Pine, the wood purportedly used for the figure carving. The areas of White pine are no where near Baffin Island in the arctic which means the wood used for the carving made its way there through other channels. (image: Wikipedia)

Speculation can also lead to another depiction in the carving, as it resembles closely the  Knights Templar, whose tunics of the 13th and 14th century do have a split in the centre and have a cross on the chest like that of the figurine.

An enduring legend states that the Knights Templar joined Henry I Sinclair, Earl of Orkney after the knights were condemned and exiled from Europe by the Pope and King Philip IV in 1307. Sinclair gave the exiled knights refuge and with his new friends the Templars, Henry Sinclair supposedly sailed with the vast religious relics and treasures of the Templars to North America in the 1300’s. The alleged trans-Atlantic journey had them exploring Greenland and the coastal regions of Canada where they established settlements and lived out their days among the natives. This theory is highly contested, and currently there has yet to be found any proof of this 14th century Templar voyage, although a Templar coin was recently recovered on Oak Island in Nova Scotia.


The official museum information regarding the recovered figure from Baffin Island (from

Whether the little wooden carving is of a robed Christian Viking, a European monk, a Templar knight, or just a Thule native in an odd coat, one thing is for sure, the people residing on Baffin Island in the 1300s carved a representation of a visitor in a tunic with a cross on their chest at a time in history when such characters were not supposed to exist in North America.

It has been confirmed with the Museum of History that this intriguing object known as KeDq-7: 325 will ultimately be displayed with its provenance when the museum re-opens its Canada Hall in 2017. This grand hall will depict our country’s ever evolving history, featuring items that can be readily explained, and perhaps those that remain unexplained.

Andrew King, November 2016









Sketch from The Canadian Association Of Mechanical Engineers of what the Tunney’s Pasture nuclear reactor looked like.

(This information comes from an earlier OttawaRewind post written in 2014. You can read the full article here.)

Recently the National Capital Commission revealed plans to make Tunney’s Pasture the site of the new Civic Hospital campus. The current Tunney’s federal government complex is a mix of mid-century and 1970s office buildings and towers, a boring collection of grey concrete. Something that is of more excitement however, is the fact that the area was once home to a nuclear reactor.


Atomic Energy of Canada Limited Buildings located on the Tunney’s Pature Complex that housed the SLOWPOKE nuclear reactor 1971-84.

The year was 1970 and the Atomic Energy Canada Limited, or AECL, was placing a SLOWPOKE-2 class nuclear reactor at Tunney’s Pasture. According to The Canadian Society For Mechanical Engineers documents, this nuclear reactor was installed in Tunney’s Pasture at 20 Goldenrod Avenue. It was constructed as a commercial testing reactor to determine its feasibility. This nuclear reactor was in full operation after it reached critical mass in 1971 until 1984 when it was then moved to another test site located in Kanata, later decommissioned in 1992.


Aerial image showing the proximity of the Remic Bunker to the Tunney’s Pasture Nuclear Reactor site.

The reactor, nicknamed SLOWPOKE, (an acronym for Safe LOW-POwer Kritical Experiment) which used 93% enriched uranium. The reactor core sits in a pool of regular light-water, 2.5 m diameter by 18 feet deep, which provided cooling. The reactor built at Tunney’s Pasture achieved “Critical Mass” or the point at which a nuclear reaction is self-sustaining on May 1 1971 and continued operating until 1984.

The oddly shaped circular concrete bunker that remains on the shore of the Ottawa River directly opposite the old nuclear reactor site was built at the same time as the reactor in 1969-70. It was built to facilitate the increased “cooling” needs of Tunney’s Pasture, one of them you could speculate being the addition of a small nuclear reactor.


The mysterious concrete bunker at Remic Rapids has perplexed many a passerby.

The pumping station bunker and pipeline were finished in 1970 and the reactor began operating a year later. Whether or not the bunker pipeline bringing cooling water to Tunney’s Pasture was directly related to the addition of a nuclear reactor remains speculation but it is interesting to note the proximity and similar timeline of both projects.

You can follow the intake cooling water pipe by tracing a path that follows a series of manhole covers that lead from the river to the Tunney’s Pasture site.

coling trench

The buildings where the nuclear reactor once existed have since been demolished, and it is currently an empty gravel parking lot, and possibly soon to be part of the new Civic Hospital plans recently announced.


Andrew King, November 2016. 



geomap Ottawa

Google Maps

Bing Maps

The Mysterious Spectra-1 Hovercraft Made In Ottawa


The Spectra-1 made in Ottawa in a photo from the 1971 sales brochure of it on the Ottawa River. Note the Champlain Bridge in the background (from

The year was 1970 and on River Road south of Ottawa a company was building hovercraft vehicles. Dubbed the “Spectra-1”,  this unique vehicle was straight out of a James Bond film of the same era. The product of Modern Hover Vehicles, a company that existed on paper at the address of 1078 Queensdale Blossom Park, but that address has apparently never existed.


Sales brochure of the Spectra-1 (from

Introduced in 1970 as the “Spectra-1”  with an air cooled 18.5 HP Single Cylinder hover engine and similar propulsion engine, this orange fiberglass bodied hovercraft would travel at speeds of up to to 45 MPH on land and on water up to 40 MPH, yet over ice the Spectra would reach a blazing 60 MPH.


More info on the Spectra-1 made in Ottawa.Note Champlain Bridge in photos. (from

The Modern Hover Vehicle sales brochure touted the Spectra-1 as the “in thing for the in people” and photos show the hovercraft traveling over the rapids of the Ottawa River at the Champlain Bridge area.


A provocative image from the Spectra-1 sales brochure with a frozen Ottawa River in the background (from

This Ottawa company building these craft on River Road then improved on the Spectra-1 by introducing the Spectra-2 which was developed in 1973. The Spectra-2 used bigger 2 stroke engines and incorporated an enclosed plexiglass cockpit windshield for the driver.

The Spectra-2 was, according to their sales brochure, “The most advanced light hovercraft in the world” and was for applications in the geological, armed forces, police and rescue fields of use.


The Spectra-2 with enclosed canopy. (from

The company, Modern Hover Vehicles, had an address of 1078 Queensdale Ave. but that address does not seem to exist according to Google Maps. A fellow on Twitter said he had acquired a Spectra-1 in a trade and is in the process of restoring it, but that is the only one I have ever seen.


A Spectra-1 in the United States awaiting restoration. (photo submitted by Matt Norman via Twitter)

It is unclear what ever happened to the mysterious Ottawa born Spectra Hovercraft, the company that made them, or if any others are still in existence.

Andrew King, November 2016






Ottawa’s Forgotten Mega-Structure



The Glebe neighbourhood of Ottawa is home to many things, including Lansdowne Park, a place that has been host to many large-scale events throughout history. Yet the largest event is one that seems to be lost in time, the great Marian Congress of 1947.  It involved the construction of one of the world’s largest outdoor churches on the grounds of Lansdowne park but nothing remains to remind us of this grand mega-structure.


Like something from Metropolis, the massive Lansdowne structure hosted nightly religious ceremonies. 

With a capacity to seat 75,000 visitors, this massive compound was constructed in 1947 and rivalled the megalithic architecture of German architect Albert Speer, creating a 500 foot long structure on the banks of the Rideau Canal.


The massive monument built on the edge of the Rideau canal at Lansdowne. (Ottawa Citizen)

Part of the “Marian Congress” the huge structure was the centre of Ottawa’s greatest pilgrimage that brought over a quarter million people to the city, making it the only event in Ottawa’s history to bring that many people from all over the globe. However, this epic spectacle is largely forgotten, except for what is recorded on a 70 year old film clip that showcases this gargantuan event in the Nation’s Capital.


A still from the 1947 film that showcases the huge crowds of the Marian Congress in Ottawa at the Lansdowne super-structure. (YouTube)

With its over 75,000 seats and 500 foot stage, the Marian Congress was not only one of the world’s largest outdoor churches, it also hosted one of North America’s largest fireworks displays and a singing performance by the Dionne Quintuplets. Between June 18 and June 22 tens of thousands of people crowded Ottawa streets in hopes of attending Catholic mass at this Lansdowne super-structure.


Photo from the Ottawa Citizen, June 16th 1947 showing the magnitude of the structure in model form. (Ottawa Citizen)

The sanctuary was constructed by the Ottawa contractors Collet Freres Ltee. and was painted in the colours of the Blessed Virgin Mary which were white and blue. The giant white compound was a meeting place for the crowds of thousands of Catholic pilgrims that had come to Ottawa to pay tribute to their faith and pray for everlasting world peace.


The main stage area of the mega-church at Lansdowne. (YouTube)

The event concluded with a procession of illuminated boats on the canal and a massive fireworks display. The structure was eventually torn down, the seats removed and within a short time the whole thing disappeared without a trace. Nothing remains today to remind us of this mega-structure that once stood in the heart of the city.


Andrew King, November 2016


The Ottawa Citizen, June 16 1947.




An Ancient Path Along The Ottawa River

For millennia the Ottawa River has tumbled along into the St. Lawrence River, carrying vessels containing trade items such as ancient copper from Lake Superior, New World explorers, missionaries, furs, and thousands of logs. It has been an important conduit of trade used by the indigenous population to carry goods and themselves back and forth for centuries, portaging along paths they made to circumvent around its many waterfalls and rapids.


A map from the book “The Upper Ottawa Valley” by Clyde Kennedy shows the ancient native copper trade route using the Ottawa River.

It was these same paths that the early explorers such as Champlain and the fur trading voyageurs would later follow. One such ancient path exists just steps from downtown Ottawa on a path called the “Voyageurs Pathway” on NCC property.


The original path as it appears on the north side of the Ottawa River.

This path still exists much as it did hundreds of years ago, cut through the vegetation along the north shore of the Ottawa River skirting around the tumultuous Chaudiere Falls and the the rough rapids just upstream from it. It sits quietly concealed, sadly vandalized with graffiti with its former commemorative plaques now missing. It is unfortunate that it seems neglected despite its historical importance in Canadian history.

On a more positive note, the ancient path is in an area that has surprisingly not been touched by development and retaining many of its original characteristics. Situated so close to the downtown core, you’d think the whole area would have been turned into federal office buildings or some sprawling residential development. However to the contrary, it sits as it has for thousands of years, the many unique features, both natural and manmade, waiting to be explored and enjoyed like the people before us once did so many years ago.


I decided to retrace the same steps of the people that once used the path centuries ago, following in the footsteps of people like Samuel de Champlain, the fur trading Voyageurs, indigenous people and the Jesuit missionaries of the the 1600’s. They used this exact same path to go around the falls and rapids, and I have to say it was remarkable to experience the same adventures they encountered.


The trail begins at the NCC owned Brebeuf Park off the main road near the entrance to Gatineau Park. Here there is a statue of Father Jean de Brebeuf, a Jesuit missionary who travelled up the Ottawa River in 1634 to meet the Huron people where he later set up his missionary work before being tortured and killed by the Iroquois. An impressive bronze statue erected in 1930 to commemorate the journey of Brebeuf almost 400 years ago has had its descriptive plaque I’m guessing ripped off by scrap metal thieves, but no information is now present to tell you about the statue.


The statue of Brebeuf as it appeared in 2015 with its bronze plaque in place. (Google Streetview)


The Brebeuf statue as it currently appears with its plaque now missing.


Missing plaque.

Travelling east on the manicured path there is a rough cut trail that follows the shoreline of the river, and you can see rough cut stone steps used by former portaging travellers centuries before. It was quite amazing to literally take the same steps as Champlain and the other adventurers who stepped off their canoes here.



Champlain portaging on the Ottawa River c.1613 (CW Jefferys, Library and Archives Canada)

Inspiring views of the river I have never experienced before met my eye in addition to unusual rock formations, although I was saddened to come across yet another missing plaque that would have explained the path’s historical significance.


Another missing plaque that would have described the historical importance of the path.

The ancient rocks where native people and European explorers once docked their craft to portage the falls now lie covered in spray painted graffiti and trash. Not a fitting tribute for such an important and rare original piece of history.


A rock shelf where people portaged from for centuries now covered in graffiti.

Moving on, I imagined Samuel deChamplain in 1613 with his Algonquin guides in their birch bark canoes, lifting them up here to traverse the same trail I was on and came across an unusual rock formation like a giant stone amphitheatre that I’m sure has some archeological relics in it, but thought it best left to the professionals to study someday.


This large “bowl” depression off the path was probably used for some ancient camp.

There were more unusual formations, which were a combination of man made and natural features, some of which I’m sure are very old and pre-date any European contact. Again, I am sure someday the proper individuals will study these further if they haven’t already.


An unusually large boulder with rocks piled on the south side of it.

Next I came across a huge bay of water marked “Squaw Bay” on the map. Again, unusual rock formations, and traces of some kind of man made structures abound and I would later learn from a study done in 1901 by TW Edwin Sowter, that this was indeed an ancient campground:

“To all appearance, it seems as if this spot had been a landing place at the foot of an old Indian carrying-path, which led up to the head of that break in the canoe route of the Ottawa River caused by the little Chaudière Rapids…the western shore is strewn more or less, throughout its entire length, with fragments of worked flint, just as we meet with them at similar places… There is no doubt that, in prehistoric times, there were periods of tribal inactivity, during which an Indian community may have lived in such peace and comparative security, at Squaw Bay, as to have led even its younger members to indulge in the contemplation of making old bones ; but the situation of the dwelling sites of these palaeolithic people.”  -Sowter, 1901, The Ottawa Naturalist, Vol. XV, No.6: 141-151

Sowter seems correct in saying this place was a former native encampment because there are countless ledges and areas of steep stone that makes a natural fortress with its high cliffs and moat like waters. Again, I defer to the professional archeologists and academics to study this intriguing area further.


The large bay and cliffs of Squaw Bay where an ancient camp once was.

After making my way around Squaw Bay, I headed to where the now barricaded Prince Of Wales railway bridge hits the Gatineau shore, and there, off the path lies a a curious stone wall that seems to pre-date the railway which was built there in 1880. The railway embankment here cuts into this old stone wall which makes it look like it was built earlier. The wall is approximately 80 feet in length, 3 feet high, and 2.5feet wide. It is constructed in the ancient drystone masonry technique, but why it is lying tangled in wild grape vines surrounded by swampland is beyond me.


An old drystone wall.

Perhaps it was an old farming wall used to contain livestock from the Philomen Wright days of Hull in the early 1800’s, but the land is rocky and swampy making it inappropriate for farming or grazing.  Without further study of this fascinating old wall overlooking the river, we may never know its purpose.



The old stone wall tangled in wild grape vines overlooking the Ottawa River, purpose unknown.

At this point I turned back, retracing the steps of ancient travellers, famous explorers, adventurers, and warriors who used this very same path,  virtually unaltered from its original state. (minus the vandals and graffiti). It seems a shame that such an important trail has been neglected, with informative plaques lost to the prying hands of scrap metal thieves. With Canada’s upcoming 150th anniversary in 2017 perhaps the NCC as caretakers of this important piece of Canadian history will consider replacing the plaques and maintaining this concealed pathway through time, giving it the respect it has duly earned over the years.

Andrew King, November 2016


Google Mapsébeuf

Samuel de Champlain 1604-1616

The Canadian Tire Triangle

The Bermuda Triangle is a legendary triangular region of the Atlantic Ocean where hundreds of ships, planes and people have disappeared through mysterious circumstances. A far less studied triangle exists in our northern hemisphere, a triangle with its own special powers. Like a glowing, hot branding iron that has been burned into our inner retinas after leaving the womb, it is the image of the Canadian Tire triangle.


The inverted red triangle with a green maple leaf logo on top is just about as Canadian as a ketchup chip dipped in maple syrup, yet many don’t realize the story behind this simple Canadian icon.

When the two brothers Alfred and John Billes opened the first Canadian Tire store in 1926, the company’s logo was a rather bizarre cartoonish rubber tire wearing elven booties dragging behind a coin character wearing the same medieval footwear. Under the slogan “The Longest Run for Your Money”, this logo of the Canadian Tire Corporation would carry on until the 1940’s when a red wax seal and ribbon logo appeared in their advertising and catalogues. This common “seal of approval” motif would continue until something happened that would live on into our subconscious: a red triangle.



Appearing around 1950, the inverted red triangle with a green maple leaf would appear and remain a symbol for the Canadian Tire corporation for 66 years, and will probably continue for many more. The original red triangle was outlined in green and included the word “corporation” shortened to “CORP’N”. In 1958 our famous  collected currency known as “Canadian Tire Money” appeared  at a Canadian Tire gas bar at Yonge and Church St. in Toronto. Yet it would not be the new red triangle symbol that would be the logo on the bills, but rather the original elven socked “running tire and coin” image that started with the company 32 years earlier.


When first introduced in 1958, the CT money used a slightly updated “tire & coin” logo. The red triangle and seal are also displayed.

The now famous “Scarfed Scotsman”, Sandy McTire, who symbolized the thrifty shopper, showed up on CTC money in 1961 and continues to appear on the bills today. At one time, Canadian Tire money was manufactured at the BA BankNote company here in Ottawa, right alongside our actual Canadian currency bills, using the same inks and paper, resulting in a durable currency bill that many still have and use to this day.


The inverted triangle symbol used by CTC is actually an ancient symbol with a very unique meaning behind it. It has been the representation of the earth and water. The downward pointing triangle is also an ancient symbol of femininity, being a representation of the female womb, or a chalice…”the giver of life”. One of the four alchemical elements, water symbolizes intuition, the unconscious mind, and the enclosing, generating forces of the womb. It also represents the force of Earth or gravity, or Mother Earth. In developing countries, the inverted Red Triangle is the symbol for family planning health and contraception services, again part of the “womb” symbology mentioned earlier.

This inverted red triangle of Canadian Tire was streamlined in the late 1960’s with the company name placed inside the triangle. This would be the everlasting symbol for the company that would be emblazoned into the psyche of every Canadian.

But why a red inverted triangle? According to the Canadian Tire website, the triangle holds a “98% instant recognition among Canadians. That’s the power of the Canadian Tire triangle.” In 2012 Canadian Tire finally revealed the secret behind the instantly recognizable triangle; in a single Twitter statement they said it was chosen by the founder, Mr. Gilles:

“Chosen because our founder needed one for the front of an oil can. A triangle was a simple, easy to recognize symbol.” 


The secret behind the Canadian Tire logo revealed on Twitter in 2012.

Perhaps not as mysterious as the Bermuda Triangle, but our Canadian Triangle possesses its own, shall we say, “magnetic properties”.

Andrew King, October 2016




South of Ottawa, just past Smiths Falls, there is a curious old log cabin for sale near a place called Plum Hollow. Recently restored from its decrepit state, this little Victorian era cabin now offered for sale was once home to a respected real-life witch, THE WITCH OF PLUM HOLLOW.


In 1857 Queen Victoria chose Ottawa to be the capital of Canada and the parliament buildings on the west side of the canal were opened in 1865. When the Dominion of Canada was established in 1867,  Sir John A. MacDonald became our first prime minister. These two important parts of history, Ottawa being chosen as the capital, and Sir John A. MacDonald are mysteriously connected to the Witch of Plum Hollow.


Elizabeth Barnes, better known as the “Witch Of Plum Hollow”

Jane Elizabeth Martin was born around 1794 in Cork Ireland, Ireland. Just under five feet tall, Elizabeth was the daughter of a Spanish gypsy and her father  a colonel in the British army. Being the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, Elizabeth would later claim this was the reason behind her abilities using a mystical “sixth sense.”

Arranged to marry a British officer, Elizabeth was deeply in love with another man, a  forbidden relationship in her family’s eyes, so she and her lover fled to North America. Once on the continent, the two lovers were married and gave birth to a son, but their love was to be cut short with the untimely death of her husband. She would later re-marry a shoemaker, David Barnes in 1843 and move to the hamlet south of Smiths Falls called Sheldon’s Corners. Here the two would raise a number of children before the husband left her without reason in the 1850’s. Elizabeth Barnes was left with her children to raise and needed money. It was then that her mystic abilities came into play…



Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald visited the witch. ( photo:Wikipedia)

Charging 25cents to tell one’s fortune, Elizabeth was soon nicknamed “Mother Barnes” and had crowds of followers coming to her door seeking their future. Based on her incredible reputation of being accurate in telling one’s days to come, she accumulated enough money to buy a small log cabin of her own near Plum Hollow and entertained hundreds of people from all walks of life from all parts of the continent who sought out Mother Barnes mystic abilities. Farmers, doctors, lawyers, police and anyone else upon entering the tiny cabin would go upstairs to a small room where the witch would be sitting at a table with some tea.


The upstairs room of the cabin where the witch would see the future. (Photo Re/Max Realty website)

Here the guest would have their fortune told in the tea leaves, a common Victorian practice of fortune telling. One of these customers was a young Attorney General by the name of John. He asked the “witch” as she was called, where the new capital of Canada would be located. Gazing through time she told John that the capital would be a town near a river called Bytown. She also told John that he would become the first Prime Minister in the capital city. John was John MacDonald, better known as Sir John A. MacDonald, and years later both prophecies would come true, Bytown would become the capital of Canada and he would indeed become prime minister.


Barnes clairvoyant abilities foretold that the body of Morgan Doxtader would be found and claimed it was the dead man’s cousin who murdered him.  That cousin was later convicted and hanged for the crime. The Witch Of Plum Hollow would also reveal the location of buried treasures, crimes of passion, locate lost personal items, and even reveal future loves. Her powers were always in demand, and she used them with great effect until she died in 1886 at the age of 92. Buried in an unmarked grave, the Witch of Plum Hollow would later receive a proper headstone put there by locals who revered their mystical witch.


A novel in 1892 was based on Mother Barnes, the witch south of Smiths Falls.

The original log cabin of Witch Barnes still remains on a gravel road called “Mother Barnes Road” south of Smiths Falls. Previously collapsing and in disrepair, the 19th century cabin has since been lovingly restored by new owners. It is now listed with Re/Max Realty for sale at $249,000. The link to the realtor website is here.


The original cabin of the Witch Of Plum Hollow still stands, recently restored. (Google Streetview)

It is unclear if the cabin’s new owners have sensed the presence of the old Witch of Plum Hollow in her old abode, but what is for sure, the fantastic tale of the clairvoyant witch will now live on into the future.


The realtor website listing for the Witch of Plum Hollow’s house now offered for sale.

Andrew King, October 2016


Google Maps







The Lost Tombstones On Bank Street


Google Streetview shows the lonely graves in an empty lot on Bank St. 

Bank Street is a busy road, constantly taking people into the heart of the city, or out of it. The multitude of cars that drive past Analdea Boulevard on south Bank each day probably take no notice of the trio of 19th century tombstones at the busy intersection. Yet, here an abandoned graveyard contains the rested souls of Goths.



Bank St. and Analdea Drive have three lonely tombstones at the intersection, top right. (GoogleMaps)

A grassy plot of land at the corner of Bank and Analdea looks quiet enough, save for the hundreds of cars that pass by it each day. Below its well cut grass are forgotten interred souls, one a 4 month old baby Goth, the others older Goths and Fentons. These are the last remaining souls of an abandoned 19th century graveyard that was moved to a new location sometime in the 1970s. Once a rural churchyard, the church building has since been demolished and its graveyard quietly removed…but not quite all of it.


An 1880 maps shows a Methodist Church at the intersection. (McGill Digital Atlas)

In the latter part of the 1800s, a Methodist church was at the intersection that is now the gateway to the sprawling suburb of Findlay Creek, where a stretch of new homes surround a trio of old tombstones. Despite the suburban development, no houses seem to dare come close to the abandoned Goths. The old church served the outer settlements of Gloucester until sometime in the 1930s at which time the Methodist church closed.


Ghosting the old map on a current map shows the old church used to be at the same intersection.

With many of the 19th century locals being interred into the graveyard at the church, it still remained when purchased by the Women’s Institute in 1940, serving as a community centre. The community centre later moved elsewhere, and the former church was eventually demolished, yet the graveyard remained. Slowly, the graves were transferred to property near what is now the OLG Casino on Albion Road. For reasons unknown, not all the graves were moved, and three lonely tombstones remain at the Bank St. intersection.


One grave marker is that of baby Herbert, son of May Ann and Robert Goth, aged only 4 months when he was buried. The buried baby Goth has inexplicably been separated from the grave of his parents, who lie at a separate graveyard down the road in Johnston Corners.  The other marker is that of  John Goth who died in 1897 at the age of 81 and with him lies his wife Hannah Goth who joined John in 1920 at the age of 96.

A third stone nearby marks the plot of the Fenton family, with six members of that family buried there. Ages of the dead here range from 23 years to 90.


The City of Ottawa maintains the forgotten cemetery as development sprawls in all directions around the lonely graves. They seem out of place on a large tract of prime real estate surrounded by suburban homes. Perhaps the words on the Goth tombstone reveal part of the reason why they have not been disturbed…”NOT HERE HAS RISEN”

Andrew King, October 2016.

All photos unless otherwise noted by @OldManLoudWife



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Goodbye Merivale Dairy Queen Sign


For decades the landmark Dairy Queen sign on the corner of Merivale and Clyde has greeted overheated customers in search of a cool treat at that location’s dairy bar. The sign  has now been removed, joining the many other lost classic signs of Ottawa’s streetscape.


Merivale’s classic Dairy Queen sign.

The sign was the second iteration of the Dairy Queen logo used from 1960 until 2001 when Dairy Queen executives decided “DQ” was a cooler moniker for their ice cream shops and started changing all the signs. Ottawa once had an even older sign on St. Laurent, a sign that dated from the 1950s but was removed in 2013 and demolished to make way for the new “DQ” makeover. That sign was famous and rare enough to make the official Wikipedia Dairy Queen page which unfortunately has not been updated to mention that the classic sign has since been trashed.


The classic 1950’s Dairy Queen sign that used to be on St. Laurent but was demolished to make room for a new corporate look. The photo is part of the Dairy Queen Wikipedia page.


The St. Laurent Dairy Queen after the makeover.

The classic red ellipse sign on Merivale has been in use since 1960, representing the swoop of soft serve ice cream with its pointy ends, but in 2007 the sign was “updated” with fancy new swooshy colours.


I guess it was only a matter of time before one of the last remaining classic 1960’s Dairy Queen signs would be removed to fit into the new corporate image. The location is a seasonal one, so there was no one there to ask about the sign when I visited. This has always been my favourite Dairy Queen, a shining beacon of an era all but lost in time.


Both classic Dairy Queen signs have been removed, one from the pole and one from the store front. (Compare to Google Streetview below)


It seems a shame that we have to remove the classic signage of establishments that have adorned their businesses for so long. We have grown up with them, they are like a familiar old friend to greet us when we pass by. There is something comforting and welcoming about these classic old signs, a sentiment lost in corporate attempts to modernize.

To update a known and trusted industry brand by replacing old signs seems like a misguided attempt to fit into the modern streetscape. As the world progresses, I guess we must adjust, but why can’t we just leave the familiar old signs up and let us enjoy a bit of our diminishing city’s nostalgia.

Andrew King, 2016