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Ottawa’s Top Secret Balls

During the peak of the Cold War in the 1950s and 60s, Ottawa was the scene of some high-level, top secret operations involving the latest designs for fighter jets, rockets and computer technology. Most of the research for these “secret weapons” occurred at the National Research Council out on Montreal Road. Shrouded in secrecy, two large spherical structures were assembled that looked like something from a science fiction movie of the time. These were Ottawa’s Top Secret Balls, designed for classified experimentation for the Canada’s ill-fated Avro Arrow program.

ARROW HEADS

A group of scientists that worked on the top secret wind tunnel experiments for the Avro Arrow with the newly constructed Large Vacuum Balls in the background. (image courtesy Emma R. Collection)

At the conclusion of World War II under Operation Paperclip, hundreds of German scientists and engineers were brought to North America to continue their work on rocket propulsion and advanced aviation designs that were being developed in Europe for use against the Allies in the final months of the conflict. Russia had also taken a number of German engineers into their advanced weapons research programs, so the race was on for each superpower of the Cold War to create the latest and greatest in aviation and rocket designs.

German aeronautical engineers during World War 2 had had developed the swept wing design for the first operational fighter jet, the Messerschmitt 262. (image Wikipedia)

Canada’s own Royal Canadian Air Force began looking for a supersonic, missile-armed replacement for the obsolete CF-100 Canuck even before it had entered service and in March 1952, a request for a design was submitted to Avro Canada. 

A supersonic fighter had a whole new set of design challenges for the engineers as it had to overcome the sound barrier, with its inherent “wave drag”.

German research during the Second World War had shown the onset of wave drag was greatly reduced by using airfoils in a swept wing configuration. This provided many of the advantages of a thinner airfoil while also retaining the internal space needed for strength and fuel storage. Another advantage was that the wings were clear of the supersonic shock wave generated by the nose of the aircraft.

The delta wing configuration of the Avro Arrow. (image Wikipedia)

This is when the C-105 Avro Arrow took its shape as a delta wing aircraft design, but in order to study the new “supersonic flight” capabilities a special wind tunnel had to be built to create scale supersonic speeds for test models to be studied. This is when Ottawa’s NRC stepped up and built a whole new complex for supersonic aircraft testing using two immense spherical air chambers, called “vacuum spheres”.

A newspaper article from the 1950s describing the new wind tunnel facility in Ottawa. (image Emma R. Collection)

Designed and built under extreme secrecy in 1950 and with details classified, it didn’t take long for the prying and inquisitive eyes of the media back in the day to report on the two giant iron balls being built out on Montreal Road at the NRC compound. Recently, I was given the classified details of this secret project in the form of a binder of old photos and clippings by a former colleague, Emma Rayana of whom I’d like to thank for the information discussed in this post. (Thanks Emma!)

The binder belonged to a gentleman who worked on the Avro Arrow wind tunnel project who kept a record of the program, of which we will briefly take a look at. 

Article describing the top secret Avro Arrow testing…note the wind tunnel model that the engineer asked to be covered up before photos could be snapped. (image Emma R. Collection)

It seems Canada did not have a supersonic wind tunnel test facility at the time, and likely under the request of Avro, the plans were made to build one at the NRC. The design called for two 35ft diameter welded steel spherical air chambers, that contain air that is then pumped down to create a vacuum off air that was 1/10th the density of normal air. Then air is allowed to rush back into the spheres at speeds of Mach 2.0 as it goes through a wind tunnel that housed the scale aircraft models. The whole process lasted only 30 seconds when the spheres then filled with regular air. 

Plans for the Supersonic Test Lab at the NRC. (image Emma R. Collection)
The Vacuum Spheres under construction in Ottawa at the NRC. (image Emma R. Collection)

Construction was completed in 1951 and the supersonic wind tunnel soon began its testing of the scale models of the Avro Arrow at supersonic speeds, from which data was used to build the full size production Avro Arrow at an accelerated rate without a prototype, only relying on the results from the scale models to go straight into production. During a media interview about the facility, orders were hastily shouted by scientists for NRC staff to quickly cover up the test models so their design was kept classified. 

The completed facility at the Montreal Road campus of the NRC. (image Emma R. Collection)
Newly disclosed government files reveal the scale model testing done at Ottawa’s Supersonic Wind Tunnel on the C-105 Avro Arrow. (image NRC Digital Repository/Library
Test reports and the internal newsletter describing the new Supersonic Wind Tunnel for Arrow testing.

The Avro Arrow was subsequently given the green light in 1955 to be built and then successfully flown on its inaugural flight in March of 1958. The Avro Arrow program was then cancelled a year later in 1959 and orders were given for all 6 Arrows and their plans to be destroyed. An attempt was made to give the completed Arrow jets to the National Research Council of Canada as high-speed test aircraft, but the NRC refused, stating that without sufficient spare parts and maintenance, as well as qualified pilots, the NRC would have no use of them.

Five of the Avro Arrows photographed before destruction. 3 more were under construction but their fate was not photographed.
The Avro Arrows being cutup on the tarmac after the project was cancelled.

Thus, all 6 Arrows were cut up for scrap metal, but rumours circulated that one of the Arrows was taken away to be saved for posterity. These rumours were given life in a 1968 Toronto Star interview with Air Marshal Curtis from the RCAF, who stated he could neither confirm nor deny the rumour. The legend endures that one of the prototypes remains intact somewhere, perhaps in England where an ejection seat from an Arrow surfaced on Ebay.  

An Arrow ejection seat that appeared on Ebay in 2011.

It is not known how much longer the special wind tunnel balls remained in operation at the NRC, or if they are still being used today, but they are clearly still visible on a 2021 Google Satellite image. They remain hiding behind some newer building additions around them at a site called “Building 10”.

This 1965 sateliite image shows the test balls. (image GeoOttawa)
In 1991 the Vacuum Balls are still there…(image GeoOttawa)
A recent satellite image shows the Top Secret Balls still in place, now surrounded by other buildings and obscured from view on the ground. (Image GeoOttawa)

The giant sphere’s may no longer be used for secret Avro Arrow testing, but continue to be part of the enduring mystique surrounding the ill-fated Avro Arrow. 

Andrew King, April, 2022

SOURCES

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avro_Canada_CF-105_Arrow

https://nrc-digital-repository.canada.ca/eng/avro/about/

GeoOttawa

The Emma R. Collection

THE LOST CHAPEL

A stroll in the forest is great for the mind and soul, soaking in the sounds and sights of nature while escaping the absurdities of life, and sometimes you even stumble across something unexpected. It wasn’t a dead body, or a $50 bill, but rather an unusual arrangement of boulders and an “Ontario Well” post. Curious as to what was once situated on this forested hill overlooking the Jock River near Woodroffe Avenue, I returned home and started investigating, leading me on an adventure through time to uncover The Lost Chapel.

A post marked with “Ontario Well Tag” in the midst of the forest…

The area in question is a slice of land called “Heart’s Desire Park” and is maintained by the City Of Ottawa at the southernmost end of Woodroffe Avenue at Prince Of Wales Drive. Being surrounded by heavily developed Suburbia, I wondered why this slice of prime land escaped development, a beautiful forest on the banks of the Jock River.

Heart’s Desire Park at the intersection of Woodroffe and Prince Of Wales, and the Jock/Rideau River…

Was there some archaeological site within that has been lost in time? Well, a quick Google Search turned up nothing, so I figured with all the development around it, an archaeological assessment must have been done around here, so I checked out that angle.

Some 8,000 year old Archaic era stone artifacts, similar to the ones found in Riverside South near the park..

Lo and behold, an archaeological site that was 8,000 years old, BhFw-19, called the “Munro Site” was nearby, a Middle Archaic Period site (approx 6,000BC!) was discovered in 2011. At that site, which is now under a suburban street in Riverside South, they found Archaic Period artifacts like a quartz bi-face. So what might lie in the Heart’s Desire Park?

I could find nothing else about that particular area until I read up on the area which is marked lots 10/11 and indicated on a map from 1863. The lots of this particular area were owned by a Mr. George Sherwood, who later sold his land to a Mr. William Dawson in 1877. And this is where our story begins…

The area of Heart’s Desire Park as it looked in 1879, marked as land owned by a Reverend Dawson, with his chapel marked in the middle, along a roadway (dotted lines)

When William Dawson acquired Lots 10/11 in 1877 they were at the intersection of what was then called Jockvale Road, later Woodroffe Avenue. There was also the forced road from Richmond Road called “Bren-Maur Road”, part of the whole Chapman’s Mill area.

At was at this time that Dawson built a wooden chapel that measured 37ft by 21ft.

An 1880s wooden chapel, similar to the one that Dawson built in the middle of his land, now Heart’s Desire Park.

Dawson’s chapel was built on the land that overlooked the Jock River, and had a capacity of 80 persons, with 16 pews and served 45 families from Blacks Rapids, Gloucester, and Manotick. It was called “St. Margaret’s of Jockvale”

After Father Dawson died and his little chapel was deemed unfit for further service by the diocese. Dawson in his will stated that he wanted his land to never be sold, only used as a playground to be enjoyed. His little chapel would later be rented as a barn used to store hay before being demolished at some point, vanishing into obscurity as it became a forested city park.

LOCATION

So where was Dawson’s chapel, one of the first Catholic places of worship in South Ottawa? Using an old 1879 Belden Atlas I was able to find his chapel sketched on the map, right in the middle of his lots 10/11 off Woodroffe Ave. Ghosting that old map over a current Google Map and a GeoOttawa land parcel map, we can then pinpoint roughly where Dawson’s chapel would have been.

The map overlay puts Dawson’s Chapel in the middle of the park…

Pinning that location on my phone, I ventured out to the Heart’s Desire Park (not sure the origin of that name) and found the old roadway that led to the chapel. Trudging through the brush and following what was left of the old road, I came upon what looked to be the remains of Dawson’s house, as indicated on the map.

This is the entrance from Woodroffe to the old road that led to the chapel as indicated on the 1879 map…
location of Dawson’s House…
piles of stones, likely from demolished foundation of Dawson’s home.

Just a depression in the ground with a pile of strewn stones, likely from the foundation. Onwards I went, up the old road, now overgrown with trees and covered in snow, another depression in the ground exactly where the church was indicated to be, halfway between Woodroffe and the Jock River.

The location of Dawson’s Chapel remains…
A depression in the ground is all that is left of Dawson’s Chapel.
Piles of rocks were found which were likely part of the chapel foundation.

An Ontario Well post was visible, and again, more strewn rocks, likely from the foundation of Dawson’s Chapel. His wishes continue to be granted as his land has not been developed and it remains a park, but no plaque is there to recognize this obscure hidden history, but that is par for the course in Ottawa it seems.

A large stone marks the location of the former chapel on the hill overlooking the Jock River.
The sun sets over the old entrance road to Dawson’s Chapel, now overgrown and forgotten.

With a crust of frozen snow and ice covering most of the site, it is hard to determine if other remnants of Dawson’s 1879 chapel exists, perhaps the City Of Ottawa may want to further investigate this hidden piece of history, or not, and let the forest continue to consume the memory of the Lost Chapel in The Woods….

Andrew King, December 2021

SOURCES

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

GeoOttawa

Belden’s 1879 Atlas of Carleton County

The Abandoned 1970s BEE GEES Studio In The Woods

 

Most music listeners are familiar with the catalogue of songs produced by the legendary “Bee Gees”, from their 1960s ballads to their disco driven escapades of the 1970s. Yet, many may not be familiar with the secluded recording studio northeast of Ottawa that the Bee Gees used to record some of their recognizable disco hits. The Police, David Bowie, Rush, Celine Dion and many other A-listers all used the facility to record and produce their greatest hits. Now all but a memory, let’s take a look back at this secluded studio where the Bee Gees recorded, and lived, to create their 1976 platinum album, “Children Of The World” a 1.5hr drive north-east of Ottawa…

David Bowie recording at Le Studio. (andreperrystudio.com)

Children of the World is a 1976 album by the Bee Gees. The first single, “You Should Be Dancing”  went to No. 1 in the US and Canada, and was a top ten hit in numerous other countries, and later was added to the soundtrack of the movie “Saturday Night Fever”. It was the group’s fourteenth album, and after many songs were recorded in Miami, the production moved to a brand new studio located an hour and half north east of Ottawa in a small Laurentian Mountain village called Morin Heights. Dubbed “Le Studio” this new recording facility was built in 1972 by recording engineer and producer André Perry, Nick Blagona and Yaël Brandeis. It was one of the earliest studios to install Solid State Logic mixing desk and RADAR digital-recording equipment, after Perry gained experience as a recording engineer working for John Lennon.

LeStudio in the 1970s (andreperrystudio.com)

The idea was to give recording artists a venue where they could record and live in a creative atmosphere, in the secluded atmosphere of the Canadian Laurentian Mountains. The Bee Gees, who recorded songs for the album “Children of the World” at Le Studio, reportedly stayed for five months at the secluded studio. Recorded at Le Studio in 1976 was a song called “Rest Your Love On Me” that would later be re-recorded with Olivia Newton-John for the 2021 album “Greenfields” by the last remaining Bee Gee, Barry Gibb. It was the site of the 1981 recording of Sting’s “Everything Little Thing She Does Is Magic”, and Ottawa’s own band “Eight Seconds” 1988 recording of their “Big Houses” album.

The Bee Gees with Andre Perry (second from left). andreperrystudio.com

After a successful run recording big name musical acts including Rush, Bowie, Cat Stevens, The Bare Naked Ladies and Celine Dion, The 233-acre site was listed for sale in July 2007, with an asking price of $2.45 million CDN.  The property remained for sale until 2009, when the land was purchased with the intent to convert the area to a retreat and spa. However, it remained unoccupied, falling into disrepair and was unfortunately scavenged, and vandalized.

Le Studio in winter (andreperrystudio.com)

Google maps aerial view of the secluded Le Studio.

Tragedy struck August 11th 2017 when the studio was consumed by a fire in a suspected case of arson. The residential area of the studio was completely destroyed.

Abandoned icon. (TalesFromThe DarkSide.com)

Since abandoned, the update in the 1980s, as reflected by the pink and teal decor.

Google Streetview of the abandoned Le Studio where so many famous musical acts recorded.

The current demolished remains/empty lot where LeStudio once stood.(TheMetalVoice, YouTube)

The recording area still stood but was severely damaged. It was then bulldozed to the ground in October 2020 with nothing left remaining of this remarkable Canadian recording landmark but an empty lot. The ghosts of the Bee Gees, David Bowie and other legendary musical greats haunt the now empty lot where so many icons of music recorded their 1970s and 80s hits. 

 

Andrew King, October, 2021 

 

Sources:

 

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

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

http://andreperrystudio.com/

Google Maps

 

 

THE LEGEND OF POOLEY’S CAVE

Ottawa holds a number of secrets beneath its streets, from tunnels to vaults with many other concealed subterranean features, but one hidden feature I find to be particularly interesting. It is the legend of a far stretching cavern with waterfalls, stalagmites and a century old connection to one of Canada’s largest soft drink companies. It is the Legend Of Pooley’s Cave.

Before the National Capital Commission “re-imagined” downtown Ottawa in 1960 and started terraforming the historic downtown core of the city, there were a number of unique elements that have sadly been lost forever. The entire neighbourhood of LeBreton Flats was expropriated and demolished without a trace. The “Park of The Provinces” was built over what was once Brading’s Brewery. And just around the corner from that was a remarkable natural feature of a cavern that stretched east under Sparks Street for apparently more than 200 feet all the way to Christ Church Cathedral. This legend originated from the 1800’s and described a “natural wonder” and a room of stalagmites and stalactites that were “beautiful beyond description”. But not a single mention or trace exists today of this incredible underground feature in the heart of the Nation’s Capital. So, I thought we should look for it.

THE SEARCH

I find it hard to believe that a substantial subterranean cavern running under downtown Ottawa would just be quietly sealed up without a mention, but then again, city and federal government officials continue to ignore the concealed beer train under LeBreton Flats, so I guess anything is possible. I started to do some digging based on the “legend” of Pooley’s Cave, the name “Pooley” found to originate from a Lieutenant Pooley who in 1827 was ordered by Colonel John By to construct a bridge over a gorge to make a connection between the Chaudiere/Flats area to Wellington Street.

An early map of the area at Pooley’s Bridge shows the escarpment where the cave entrance would have been located.

First made of wood, it was rebuilt in 1873 out of stone, of which sit till stands in the same spot today. The bridge is called “Pooley’s Bridge” and it is near this bridge the entrance to our mystery cave lies.

This map clearly shows Pooley’s Bridge labelled where the cave entry was located, as well as Christ Church Cathedral marked.

Researching old newspaper clippings from the 1860s and onwards I came across curious descriptions of our cavern in great detail. The entrance was recounted to be down the side of the gorge near Pooley’s Bridge where the entry to the cavern was an opening about 5 feet by 4 feet in dimension.

Various newspaper articles featuring the mysterious cavern.

CAVE DESCRIPTION

Upon entering the cave, a natural tunnel headed in an easterly direction towards Christ Church Cathedral. Traveling 75 feet in a stooped position through the tunnel, it was then said that one had to go on hands and knees for another 40 feet. Here, the tunnel widened into a room about 40 feet by 60 feet where stalagmites and stalactites appeared. Other descriptions mention a running waterfall inside the cave. So, this all sounds pretty cool but where would this be now and would it still possibly be there?

AN INVESTIGATION

Back in 2015 I went on a quest to find the actual “spring” from Pure Spring Ginger Ale that was said to be around this very same place. Coincidentally I ended up at the cliff where this cave is supposed to be located, and I did indeed hear a waterfall or some kind of running water underground. Was this the same “waterfall” mentioned by the early cave explorers who said there was the sound of rushing water in the cave? This would seem logical as Pure Spring’s entire business centred around an actual spring coming out of this very spot.

Ottawa’s very own Pure Spring Ginger Ale originally used real spring water from the Pooley’s cave area.
The “spring” featured on Pure Spring Ginger Ale was actually a real spring they drew water from at this mystery cave by Pooley’s Bridge.

Canning this fresh underground cave spring water in the early part of the 20th century, a young Jacob Mirsky sold it in five gallon cans and delivered it to Ottawa homes by horse and wagon. Using his earnings from water sales, Mirsky began to carbonate and flavour his spring water, and by 1925 incorporated his company as “Pure Spring”. The Mirsky family continued to own Pure Spring until 1963 when they sold it to Crush Beverages which later moved operations in 1969 to a state of the art manufacturing and bottling plant on Belfast Road.

An old Fire Insurance Plan map shows where the Brading Brewery was located where Pure Spring began. Ghosting the area over a current satellite view of what is now the “Park of The Provinces” shows the proximity to Pooley’s Bridge.

Pure Spring not only commanded a large percentage of the soft drink industry in Canada at the time, but they also introduced canned soft drinks to this country and later the twist off cap. Pure Spring Ginger Ale continued to be produced until the mid-eighties, at which time their logo featured spring water pouring over a limestone embankment, the same water source that was likely inside this cave!

An exploration of the area found it is overgrown and fenced off in most parts, but behind some shrubs an old stone and mortar structure rising from the base of the cliff about 15ft up its face was visible accompanied by the sound of rushing water.

A stone structure covers an area where the sound of rushing water can be heard.
The stone structure has a hatch atop it, perhaps access to the cave or spring water?

Sometime in history, someone has built a stone enclosure around the base of this cliff containing what sounds to be a water source underneath. A concrete hatch is on its top surface and nearby there is a City Of Ottawa water management building with hatches to whatever lies underneath. Is this an entrance into Pooley’s Cave?

IMAGES

Looking at old maps of this area to see if any cave was marked, that search turned up nothing, so I then turned to satellite imagery from the Pre-NCC revisions to the area. In 1928 the cave entrance probably still existed, and perhaps right up until 1991 when the NCC started to terraform the Pooley’s Bridge area. Massive alterations were made to the gorge and any cave entrance was likely sealed up for safety reasons, its secrets blocked off and hidden forever.

The red dot marks where the entrance to the cave would have been located.
The NCC reclamation project around Pooley’s Bridge likely sealed off the cave entrance.
The cave entrance is marked with the red dot, the cave length the red line, and the location of the Pure Spring spring circled in red.

But using the 1860’s descriptions I can sketch out what it may have looked like before it was sealed off as it stretched east underneath the cathedral and Sparks Street.

This quick sketch over the area shows how the Pooley’s Cave may look.

The cave is probably still there and if it indeed lies under the cathedral then perhaps a member of the church could provide further details. Maybe they have an access door to this mysterious cave. The Cathedral was built in the 1870s and has a crypt so they may have information on what lies beneath.

CONCLUSION

It seems that more than one source over history has described what seems to be a large cave under the western end of Sparks Street, yet no entrance to it has yet been found. The sound of running water from under the cliff substantiates the tales of a cavern waterfall or running water, and it is historical fact that Pure Spring Ginger Ale got its water from an underground spring at this exact spot. Perhaps someone in the city staff network knows more about what is around Pooley’s Bridge, or maybe members of Christ Church Cathedral can shed some light onto this dark mystery.

What is this stone wall covering on the cliff face?

If anyone else has more information about it, please do not hesitate to contact me at thetimewinders@gmail.com or in the comments section of this post. I’d love to get a ground penetrating radar rig out there and see what we can find, but again I do not know anyone in that field of expertise. Until then, this will remain the Legend Of Pooley’s Cave…

Andrew King, May 2021

SOURCES

GeoOttawa

Google News Archives

Google Streetview

Library and Archives Ottawa

Fire Insurance Plans, Carleton University, Macodrum Library; https://library.carleton.ca/find/gis/geospatial-data/georeferenced-ottawa-fire-insurance-plans

TITANIC HOUSE

A successful businessman from South of Ottawa had just built a brand new brick house for his young family, boasting the finest of Edwardian features. It was sitting waiting for them to take occupancy when Hudson Allison and his family returned from attending a Board Meeting in England. Mr. Allison was the epitome of success who seemed to make all the right decisions, with perhaps one exception…he bought tickets to come home on Titanic.

TITANIC HOUSE

Titanic in Southhampton before its tragic crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in 1912.

As we approach the 110th Anniversary of the tragic sinking of Titanic, the gap of time continues to widen between us and that fateful night in 1912. A few artifacts have been recovered from the wreck on the bottom of the Atlantic when they found Titanic’s final resting place in the 1980s. Some deck chairs washed ashore and sit in museums, along with some survivor memorabilia which are our only physical connection to the ill-fated ship.

The Chateau Laurier has a curious piece of Titanic history in its lobby, a marble bust of Laurier that Charles Hays commissioned for his hotel, of which he would never see open as he perished aboard Titanic that fateful night of April 14th, 1912. (I wrote about that previously HERE.)

To honour the memory of the 1,514 lives lost that night I wanted to try and find another local connection to Titanic that may help bridge the widening gap of time between us and Titanic. That search turned up information there was indeed another local connection, just south of Ottawa. 

The Allison House that Hudson built for his new family in Chesterville, ON

It is the homestead of Titanic passenger Hudson Allison and his family, a stately Edwardian home he had built in Chesterville on his farm that was to welcome them back after their transatlantic voyage. However, the young family would never set foot in the house, as all but one member of the family perished in the icy waters the night Titanic slipped under the waves. The Allison family home still sits as a quiet memorial to that tragic night.

Hudson and Bess Allison and their children, Loraine and Trevor. (Image: Wikipedia)

Situated in Chesterville, Ontario, the Allison home was built for the successful businessman and his family in 1912. With the finishing touches being put on his new brick home, Mr. Allison and family were in England as Hudson was a member of the board of the British Lumber Corporation, and he and his family crossed the Atlantic to England for a directors meeting. While there, the Allison family took a trip to the Scottish Highlands where Mr. Hudson purchased two dozen Clydesdales and Hackney Stallions and mares for the farm back in Chesterville. 

They then reserved cabins C-22/24/26 on the First Class Upper Deck of Titanic. This cabin was just around the corner form the French sculptor Chevre that made the marble bust of Laurier that now sits in the Chateau Laurier lobby. Mr. Allison and Mr. Chevre likely passed each other in the hallways of Titanic, not realizing they were both connected to Ottawa that fateful night. 

The Allison Family cabins on Titanic (red square) and Chateau Laurier sculptor Chevre’s cabin (yellow) around the corner on the same deck.

Hudson, his wife Bess, and their children, Loraine and Trevor, all boarded Titanic for the exciting adventure across the Atlantic to their new home in Chesterville. Hudson and his wife would dine with Harry Molson from Montreal (yes, of Molson Brewery fame) the night Titanic hit the iceberg. In the aftermath of the sinking, only their young son Trevor would survive as he was hoisted into a lifeboat. Hudson, Bess and the daughter Loraine all perished, never to see their new home back in Chesterville. Trevor survived Titanic but would later die of food poisoning at the age of 18. 

In this film image released by Paramount Pictures, a scene is shown from 3-D version of James Cameron’’s romantic epic “Titanic.” (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures)

A few days after Titanic met its fate, Hudson Allison’s body was found floating in the Atlantic, the only one of the Allisons to be recovered. His body was brought to back to Canada and Mr Allison’s body was buried in the Allison family plot in Maple Ridge cemetery near Winchester, Ont.

One month after the funeral, Hudson’s brother Percy took delivery of the horses that Allison had arranged to be shipped by tramp steamer from Scotland. His house and farm was sold to new owners, and still stands much like it did back in 1912.

So, where exactly is The Allison House and his resting place? Let’s take a closer look. 

SEARCH

The Allison Stock Farm where Hudson’s new home was built was an Edwardian red brick home.

Together with his brothers Percy and George, Hudson acquired 100 acres of farmland to create the Allison Stock Farm, purchasing land from John Hummel for $15,000. He built the imposing red brick house and a fine set of barns which he stocked with imported livestock.

The Hummel property shown on an 1800s map that Hudson Allison purchased to build his new home.
The Allison House and farm as it appears today on Google Maps.

This home would later become the Vanden Bosch Farm. A quick Google map search of that farm reveals the location of the ill-fated Titanic passenger’s home that he never got to step foot in. Using this information I was able to spot the Allison Home. It stands back from the highway, the landscape not much different than what it would have looked like back in 1912. 

The Allison home as it appears today. Sadly, never set foot in by the young family whose lives were taken on Titanic.

Now locating the resting place of Hudson Allison was more difficult. On a cold blustery April day, the day after the Titanic sinking last year, we visited the cemetery to pay our respects to this Titanic connection. Looking for the Allison Family obelisk where he and his family are buried, we soon found the family memorial plot and paid our respects with a moment of silence to remember the Allison family that was lost on Titanic. 

This is the Allison family memorial obelisk site where the Titanic took the lives of all but one of the young family.
A closer inspection of the carved stone shows that the Titanic disaster claimed the lives of Hudson, Bess, Loraine, with Trevor the only survivor being buried with them at a later date.

The house and gravestone south of Ottawa is a sombre connection to the many souls lost along with Hudson and his family that tragic cold night on April 14th, 1912. 

Andrew King, April 2021

SOURCES

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

https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-victim/hudson-joshua-creighton.html

IN SEARCH OF SNAKE ISLAND

Driving along River Road south of Ottawa is a always a pleasant experience, with scenic views of the Rideau River on one side and pastoral farm fields on the other. Then you pass a crossroad called Snake Island Road and visions of a cursed island full of deadly snakes comes to mind. This would seem like a fictional scenario, except upon further investigation it’s actually true….there once was an island full of snakes that the road is named after.

So my quest begins…

After the Rideau Canal was completed in 1832 hundreds of unemployed laborers started to settle around the areas they once worked, the majority being of Irish descent. They traded in the pickaxes for pitchforks and switched from building canals to barns, with many of them settling in the areas south of Ottawa.

A settlement grew out of the wilds near Greely with the families of O’Connor, Devereaux, Shea, Tobin, and Otto all building a new life in the area of raised land amidst swampy marshes around Concession 4/5 and Lots 20-22.

The largest snake in Canada, (now an endangered species) the Black Rat Snake once surrounded a lost island called “Snake Island” south of Ottawa. (image: Wikipedia)

It was here on this raised land amidst the boggy marsh a settlement of families flourished finding a new life after the canal was finished. Yet what the families did not expect to find was that their new home was also the home of hundreds of snakes.

An old newspaper article from the Ottawa Citizen in 1928 describes the snake infested island. (Source: Bytown.Net)

It seemed the swamps around them were home to a large population of water snakes and black rat snakes, who would seek the higher ground when not hunting for prey in the marsh. Countless snakes slithered around the area and were said to grow up to six feet, likely the now endangered Black Rat Snake, which is the largest snake in Canada.

Measuring up to 6 feet in length, the Black Rat Snake slithered in numbers in the swamps early settlers were beginning to inhabit around the Greely marshlands. (image: Wikipedia)

One settler and his wife, John and Sally, allegedly experienced what would be a deadly snake attack. John decided to venture into the swamp and cut down some marsh reeds to feed their cow over the winter. John gathered his scythe, lunch and pipe and headed off the island to harvest the plentiful marsh reeds.

John soon came across a large snake that reared its head and lunged at John with its open fangs. Sadly for John, the fangs bit into his leg, and he required immediate medical attention which was provided by a passerby who saw the snake attack. John was bandaged up but the snake bite worsened likely by infection, and John soon died.

Not long afterwards the swamps were drained to create farm fields for the settlement, and the island of giant snakes disappeared as the surrounding waters receded.

So where was this legendary Island of Snakes exactly located? If you follow Snake Island Road from one end to the other, it begins at River Road near Kars, and stretches east to Metcalfe. It was along here that the island of snakes was located, but if the snake filled swamps were drained, where would this island have been?

Snake Island Road as viewed on Google Maps

If there was an island in a swampy land, that island would be the highest elevation topographically. That’s when I consulted a great topographic map resource and found the exact elevations of the area. The topo map revealed a highest elevation of about 92m in a marshy area, which would most likely have been the old Snake Island settlement.

This topographic map of the area shows the area of highest elevation, which would have been the original “Snake Island” back in the 1830s before the land was drained around it. SOURCE: https://en-ca.topographic-map.com/maps/q4e/Ottawa/

Using the old 1880s family names of those that settled on Snake Island, I researched a map from 1879 and saw all those same family names in that same area of high elevation. The two corresponding pieces of evidence thus pinpointed the spot that would have been the Snake Island Settlement.

Referencing Belden’s 1879 Historical Atlas of Carleton County the names mentioned in the old article were found, circled in red would be the original “Snake Island Settlement”
Compositing the topographic map with a current Google map the outline of the original 1800s Snake Island could be determined.

I drove out to this area to investigate and sure enough it is a very swampy area but the road climbs to a higher elevation area that would have been the original Snake Island.

The approach to Snake Island heading east on Snake Island Road.

This is at the current crossroads of Snake Island Road and Swale Road. There is even an out of place 1800s stone house (most period homes in this area are wood or log construction) on the top of the hill that would most likely would have been built by a former canal lock labourer who had previously built the stone locks on the canal.

The O’Connor stone home circa 1830s on what was once Snake Island.

Referencing the old 1880 map of that intersection shows the stone home would have belonged to the O’Connor family, which is listed as one of the settlers on the original Snake Island. There was even a Devereaux Road south of the intersection to confirm the location of the lost island.

The Abandoned Farmstead of the 1800s Coleman family on the original Snake Island.
The once snake infested swamplands still exist surrounding the original Snake Island.

A visit to the area reveals that much of that original snake infested swamp still surrounds the area, a reminder of the early days that gave Snake Island Road its legendary name.

Andrew King

March 2021

SOURCES

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

https://en-ca.topographic-map.com/maps/q4e/Ottawa/

Google Maps

Historical Atlas OF Carleton County. Belden. 1879

THE LAST LIGHTHOUSE

The official City Of Ottawa Coat of Arms and logo that’s featured on Ottawa police and emergency vehicles show a shield with wavy blue and white lines. These lines represent the Ottawa River running from left to right, and the Rideau and Gatineau rivers represented above and below. The Nation’s Capital is surrounded by waterways, but despite our aquatic surroundings, we have no lighthouses. A feature of most shorelines surrounded by water, the City Of Ottawa curiously lacks any surviving lighthouses from the first decades of its existence, even though it was originally solely serviced by steamships. Sure, we have some modern navigational lights dotting the Ottawa River, but no classic old “LIGHTHOUSES”. 

As a fan of the old fashioned lighthouses and their symbolism of isolation and safety, I was glad to discover we did once have one across from Beacon Hill, of which I wrote about earlier, but it has been long demolished. Then I was recently contacted about one still in existence, a hidden relic of a bygone era on the Rideau River canal system. After some research proved the tip was true, it was successfully located. This is the tale of Ottawa’s LAST LIGHTHOUSE.

BEACON BANDSTAND

The Rideau Canal system stretches from Kingston to Ottawa across 202 kilometres of waterways, its largest stretch of interrupted water being called “The Long Reach” which extends 40km from the lock at Burritt’s Rapids, to the locks at Long Island near Manotick. It is along this stretch of the canal system the last lighthouse resides, hiding behind some trees amidst modern homes, a shadow of its former self.

A hastily snapped photo of The Last Lighthouse on the Rideau River.

Between Kars and Osgoode, there is an island called James Island, and on the eastern shore of the river, Doug Wallace and Harry Boyd decided to build a lighthouse in 1915. 

Situated on the eastern shore of the Rideau near James Island rests the Last Lighthouse.

The Lighthouse was a wooden clapboard beacon situated on a rectangular main building base and it is not known if it was an actual functioning government funded navigational aid, or simply a lighthouse built for fun. Nevertheless, The Lighthouse became the most popular landmark on the Long Reach between 1935 and 1967 as a Big Band Dance Hall. 

The Lighthouse’s resident orchestra during the 1950s was “The Cliff Wilkes Orchestra”, featuring Cliff, a barber from Vernon. In its heyday, the Lighthouse would be jammed with 400 people trying to dance the night away in the small Lighthouse dance hall. It was “THE” place to be on a Saturday night in the South Ottawa region, with food, drinks, swimming, boat races and regattas happening all summer long. 

Photo of the Lighthouse Orchestra, from the Osgoode Township Historical Society & Museum Newsletter, December 2005.

Canada Day, or “Dominion Day” as it would’ve been called back then, would feature a hydroplane boat race on the Rideau River which drew thousands of visitors to the Lighthouse to wacth these high speed river races during the day, and to dance and drink to the sounds of the Big Band Orchestra playing throughout the evening. 

Some of the typical 1950s river race boats that would have plied the waters in front of the Lighthouse during its heyday.

The Lighthouse became such a hotspot for raucous activity that it drew the ire of the local clergy who tried to shut its partying down, but to no avail. I can only imagine the scene on a warm summer Saturday night at the Lighthouse, roaring wooden boats pulling up to the dock, big band music blaring, couples dancing and drinking and enjoying the “river life” at this bustling beacon. As with most good things, they must always seem to come to and end, and in 1967 the Lighthouse was closed for good as teenagers found new things to do an a Saturday summer night, and the aging, older crowd just stopped attending. 

Doug Wallace, co-founder of the Lighthouse would later start up a tour boat company taking passengers up and down the Rideau Canal, that would later be sold and be known as “Paul’s Boat Lines”. 

THE LIGHT GOES OUT

After it closed in 1967, the lighthouse would be disassembled and modified. The pyramidal beacon would be placed off to the side of the property, with the main dance hall being converted into a residence. It is now an operating business, “Modern Living Realty Inc. Brokerage” whose office is in the historic old Long Reach landmark.

The Lighthouse Dance Hall as it appears today from River Road.

I noticed the little lighthouse on a summer boating excursion, now painted grey and red, and snapped a photo of it, not knowing it would turn out to be such a historical landmark. Now at over 100 years old, the Lighthouse remains a quiet reminder of the bygone days of river life, literally a beacon of fun and memories for so many of those that were lucky enough to have visited it over the decades.

The Lighthouse as it looks today from Google Satellite view.
The Lighthouse tower as it appears today as viewed from the river.

The beacon part of the Lighthouse has been maintained and sits quietly hiding behind some trees on the shore, still gazing out at the waters of the Rideau River, its light long extinguished, but its soul and 100 year old history intact for those of us that know it’s still there. 

Andrew King, January 2021

SOURCES

“On a Sunday Afternoon” Classic Boats On The Rideau Canal, Manotick Classic Boat Club, Turner, Douglas. 1989. The Boston Mills Press, Page 32.

ModernLivingRealty.ca

MEDIEVAL ARTIFACTS FOUND IN THE CANADIAN ARCTIC

A 13th century “cog” ship that likely visited the Canadian Arctic according to artifacts in the Canadian Museum Of History archives.

The “Medieval Period” lasted from the 5th to the late 15th century, and within that time frame the period known as the “Viking Age” spanned from the late 8th to late 11th century. The Vikings were seafaring Norse people from southern Scandinavia (present-day Denmark, Norway and Sweden) that explored westward to Iceland, Greenland, and to what is now Newfoundland & Labrador. The “discovery” of North America by these hardy Norse explorers was finally substantiated when Norwegian husband-wife team of explorer Helge Ingstad and archaeologist Anne Stine Ingstad uncovered a Norse settlement at L’Anse Aux Meadows in Newfoundland. Their study of Icelandic sagas—Eirik the Red’s Saga, Saga of the Greenlanders, described how the Norse left Scandinavia and started to explore lands to the west of Greenland only a few years after settlements were established. 

Depiction of Vikings in 1100 AD.

The stories, or “sagas” as they are called, describe that in 985AD while sailing from Iceland to Greenland with a migration fleet consisting of 400–700 settlers and 25 ships (14 of which completed the journey) a merchant named Bjarni Herjólfsson was blown off course, and after three days’ sailing he spotted a land west of the fleet. Bjarni was only interested in finding the farm of his father, but he described his discovery of this new land to Leif Erikson who explored the area in more detail and planted a small settlement fifteen years later, which puts Europeans in North America in 1000AD.

A map showing places Vikings visited during their height of exploration, including Canada.

The sagas describe three separate areas discovered during this exploration: Helluland, which means “land of the flat stones”; Markland, “the land of forests” and Vinland, “the land of wine”, found somewhere south of Markland. It was in Vinland that the settlement described in the sagas was founded, and which is thought to be somewhere in the Atlantic provinces of Canada, although their main settlement, “Hop” has yet to be found.

A model diorama showing how the Norse encampment at L’Anse Aux Meadows would have looked like in 1000AD.

What was discovered in 1960 was a temporary Norse boat repair encampment at L’Anse Aux Meadows, Newfoundland. They found some rivets, iron slag chunks, and some bone items, but nothing too indicative of “Viking” swords or amour. During archeological excavation butternuts were unearthed but have never been native to Newfoundland. This means that the inhabitants of this camp ventured further south, likely into New Brunswick or Nova Scotia, but no new evidence has yet been found, nor has any expedition been ignited to find the true Vinland/Hop settlement of these Norse sagas. Norse settlement of what is now Canada would end quickly as they battled indigenous inhabitants and harsh weather, departing our shores only ten years after building a settlement. The “Viking Age” would end one hundred years later around 1100AD. So what are European artifacts from 1250AD, the Medieval Period, doing in the Canadian Museum of History?

Let’s take a closer look.

MEDIEVAL SWORDS AND ARMOUR

Without being able to visit museums in person, I enjoy exploring the various museum artifacts inside the museum online. A casual search turned up some interesting artifacts I’ve never seen before, of which I will share with you below. I think they blow out of the water anything that was ever found in Newfoundland. These revealing artifacts were found on Baffin Island sometime in the last 45 years.

The artifacts are carbon dated to be from around 1250AD and include sword blades, chain mail, oak barrels, wooden boxes, iron and copper, knives, and woven cloth. They are catalogued simply as “Norse” under “origin” but we are told that the Norse left what was North America hundreds of years before that date. One explanation states that the Norse continued to travel to trade with the Inuit inhabitants of Baffin Island at that time. So it seems that it wasn’t Vikings, but medieval Europeans who brought an assortment of items found recently on Baffin Island. Did we have other European visitors prior to Cabot, Cartier and Champlain? Seems so, but their story has yet to be told in greater detail. In the meantime, let’s check out these items from over 700 years ago.

THE ARTIFACTS

  1. IRON BLADE: OBJECT NUMBER: SgFm-4:2 MEASUREMENTS: Length 68.4 mm, Width 47.0 mm, Thickness 4.5 mm. Date made: Unknown.

2. PINE SHAFT:

DATE MADE: Circa A.D. 1250-1500

OBJECT NUMBER: PgHb-1:8483 Length 104.4 mm, Width 27.0 mm, Thickness 17.1 mm

AUTHOR NOTE: This is curious due to it being made from pine wood, which does not grow in the Arctic.

3. IRON WEDGE. Circa A.D. 1250

OBJECT NUMBERSfFk-4:2812

Length 67.7 mm, Width 22.2 mm, Thickness 11.9 mm

AUTHOR NOTE: Possible ship building tool?

4. WHALE BONE IRON AWL:

Circa A.D. 1250

OBJECT NUMBER SgFm-4:2239 Length 71.0 mm;:mm, Width 30.4 mm;:mm, Thickness 19.5 mm;:mm

AUTHOR NOTE: Awls were used for punching holes in leather and canvas.

5. CLOTH FRAGMENT: Circa A.D. 1200

OBJECT NUMBER SfFk-4:1234

Water transportation accessory: Mammal wool

MEASUREMENTS Length 135.0 mm, Width 105.0 mm, Thickness 11.5 mm

AUTHOR NOTE: Catalogued as “water transportation accessory” does that mean this is part of a ship’s sail?

6. SWORD BLADE: Circa A.D. 1200

OBJECT NUMBER SfFk-4:1184

Armament edged  Length 99.3 mm, Width 37.4 mm, Thickness 6.3 mm

7. IRON RIVET:

Circa A.D. 1200

OBJECT NUMBER SfFk-4:2816

ACTIVITY Shipbuilding

Length 38.7 mm, Width 17.9 mm, Depth 18.4 mm, Thickness 5.1 mm

AUTHOR NOTE: Shipbuilding rivets from 1200 reveal that European ships were visiting Baffin Island..whether being repaired or built.

8. OAK BOX

Circa A.D. 1260

OBJECT NUMBERSgFm-4:351

Length 183.0 mm, Width 110.0 mm, Thickness 14.8 mm

AUTHOR NOTE: An amazingly well preserved piece of wood from almost 800 years ago! Also, where did the oak come from? What was in the box?

9. OAK BARREL:

Circa A.D. 1260

Length 169.0 mm, Width 52.5 mm, Thickness 20.2 mm, Outside Diameter 210 mm

AUTHOR NOTE: Wow! Barrel piece…was this for wine? Again, where did they get the oak for this?

10. IRON AND BONE KNIFE:

Late 13th Century

OBJECT NUMBER SfFk-4:193 Iron, Muskox horn Length 153.9 mm, Width 19.1 mm, Depth 9.3 mm, Thickness 9.3 mm

11. BRONZE BALANCE:

Circa 14th Century

OBJECT NUMBER SlHq-3:4

Length 146.0 mm, Width 8.0 mm, Thickness 7.2 mm

AUTHOR NOTE: Look at the exquisite detail on this piece! Such a well crafted instrument from the 1300’s! That flush hinge joint is amazing….such a unique medieval item to be found in Canada. Weird they left it behind. What did they balance with it?

12. BRONZE BOWL:

Circa A.D. 1250-1500

OBJECT NUMBER: RbJu-1:269 Length 101.7 mm, Width 68.9 mm, Thickness 2.4 mm

AUTHOR NOTE: Bronze bowl is unique in that it may have been moulded and formed, for cooking?

13. PINE PLANE

Circa A.D. 1260

OBJECT NUMBER SfFk-4:3502 Length 206.0 mm, Width 52.6 mm, Depth 31.0 mm, Thickness 31.0 mm

AUTHOR NOTE: Again, more pine wood from where? This woodworking tool is interesting as it was likely used for shipbuilding, carpentry tasks…on Baffin Island?

14. IRON CHAINMAIL:

A.D. 1260’s

OBJECT NUMBER: SfFk-4:2

body armour, Height 25.6 mm, Length 53.0 mm, Width 36.7 mm, Thickness 25.0 mm

AUTHOR NOTE: Medieval Chain mail! In Canada! Imagine the suit of armour this came from and how they looked standing on Baffin Island with a sword. Hard to believe a 1260 Euro swordsman was in Canada, but here is the proof.

15. PINE FIGURINE:

Circa A.D. 1250-1300

OBJECT NUMBER KeDq-7:325

Length 53.8 mm, Width 18.7 mm, Thickness 9.4 mm

AUTHOR NOTE: A carved representation, again in pine wood, of the medieval visitor to Baffin Island. A hooded cloaked figure with a cross on the chest…perhaps chainmail beneath the cloak? Where have we seen this before?

SUMMARY

With the above artifacts representing a definite presence of medieval Europeans on Canadian soil in the 13th century, we have to speculate why they were here, and where exactly they came from. Were they trading with the Inuit for whale bone and other supplies? Did the Norse set up another settlement in North America after leaving 200 years before? The shipbuilding related artifacts suggest they had a presence for sometime, and not just a meet and greet, hello/goodbye visit. Were these 13th century medieval knights on a new crusade to the New World to expand their realm? What other artifacts are out there?

Some 13th century folks that may have visited the Canadian Arctic.

This treasure trove of unique artifacts might just be the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, with other items waiting to be found on Arctic shores, or even further south where they perhaps found their pine and oak wood for these items. Unfortunately, most of these revealing artifacts of a medieval presence in Canada lie in storage and the full story has yet to be told. Maybe someday we will find more pieces to this vast puzzle called history, and soon we will snap together a more detailed story as to what our medieval guests were up to.

Andrew King, January, 2021

SOURCES:

ALL ARTIFACT IMAGES AND INFO FROM: Canadian Museum of History Online Archives: https://www.historymuseum.ca/collections/search-results/?q=norse&per_page=25

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

RUDOLPH THE RED NOSED CANADIAN SPIDER-MAN?

One of the favourite holiday traditions for many families, mine included, is to watch the classic Rankin and Bass produced “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” stop motion animated special. It first aired Sunday, December 6, 1964, on the NBC in the United States, and was sponsored by General Electric as part of the The General Electric Fantasy Hour. It is the longest continuously running Christmas TV special.

Rankin and Bass chose Canadian voice actors because radio dramas were still being produced in Canada at the time, which gave producers a large talent pool to choose from. Rankin and Bass were also financially stretched and knew there were lower labour costs in Canada if they used Canadian voice talent.

In 1964, Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer had all its voice recording done in Toronto, Ontario, Canada at CBC studios.

Now, Hermie, the elf that wants to be a dentist, was voiced by Paul Soles. He currently lives in Toronto.

And the mean head elf, was voiced by fellow Canadian voice actor, Carl Banas.

But what I didn’t know was that BOTH THESE VOICE ACTORS ALSO DID VOICES FOR THE OLD SPIDER-MAN CARTOON. Paul Soles voiced Spider-Man/Peter Parker & Carl Banas voiced Scorpion!

Now here is where my mind is blown: SPIDER-MAN AND SCORPION YELL AT EACH OTHER IN THE SPIDERMAN CARTOON AND HEAD ELF AND HERMIE ALSO YELL AT EACH OTHER IN RUDOLPH. This mashup and revelation may just be too much for my nostalgic mind to handle. So let’s just switch gears, what ever happened to all those little stop motion puppets from the film? The crew involved with the production had no clue of the future value of the stop-motion puppet figures used in the production, so many were not preserved. It is claimed that Rankin was in possession of an original Rudolph figure.

The remaining nine other puppets—including Santa and young Rudolph—were given to a secretary at the studio, who gave them away to family members. Seven were discarded, leaving only two in existence.

The original figures appear in 2006 on the “Antiques Roadshow” aired on PBS

In 2005, those surviving two puppets magically appeared on the Antiques Roadshow episode that aired in 2006 on PBS. At that time, their appraised value was between $8,000 and $10,000. The original puppets had been damaged through years of rough handling by children and storage in an attic. Toy aficionado Kevin Kriess bought Santa and Rudolph in 2005 and in 2007, he had both puppets restored by Screen Novelties a Los Angeles-based collective of film directors specializing in stop-motion animation. 

The figurines were recently sold at auction on November 13, 2020, netting a $368,000 sale price, doubling the expected return.

This year the two original figures sold at auction for $368,000

You could now legitimately say that “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer….You’ll go down in history..”

Andrew King, December 2020

SOURCES

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolph_the_Red-Nosed_Reindeer_(TV_special)

https://abc7ny.com/7960441/

GHOST OF THE MILL

I am fortunate enough to live in the wonderful village of Manotick, Ontario, a quaint little town with white picket fences and historic homes and buildings lining picturesque streets. What I didn’t know is that there is a dark secret lying within its most recognized jewel…a ghost in the the mill…

Nestled on the west bank of the Rideau River south of Ottawa there lies a stately stone mill surrounded by falling water and thick trees. Built in 1860 by Moss Kent Dickinson and his business partner Joseph Currier, Watson’s Mill is a gorgeously restored old grist mill that harnesses the power of the river to grind wheat into flour, of which it still continues to do today. In addition to the over 150 year old relics that occupy this unique landmark, the spirit of a ghost is said to also lie within its walls, a confined spirit who haunts the mill where a young life came to an untimely end one tragic day in 1861. 

Joseph Currier, co-owner of Watson’s Mill.

A native of North Troy, Vermont, mill co-owner Joseph Currier’s first wife died in 1858 after all three of their children died within five days of each other three years earlier. After his wife’s death, a saddened Currier traveled to the waters of Lake George, New York and stayed in the Crosbyside Hotel. During his stay at the hotel Currier fell in love with a tall, beautiful young woman by the name of Anne Crosby, the daughter of the family who ran the Crosbyside Hotel. Soon Joseph and Anne were married and honeymooned in the North Eastern United States. An investor and co-owner of brand new grist mill in Manotick, Ontario, Joseph wanted to show his new bride the mill he had built in Manotick and brought his love there to celebrate its first year anniversary that February. 

The ghost of Anne haunts the second floor of the mill to this day….

A cold February night in 1861, Anne wrapped herself in a flowing assortment of clothing as she toured her husband’s new mill. Strolling through the operating machinery, Anne’s white dress suddenly became caught in the revolving turbine equipment, violently throwing her against a nearby support pillar which killed her instantly. 

With his new bride dead on the floor of his mill, a heartbroken Joseph immediately sold his shares in the mill to his partner Dickinson and never set foot in Manotick again.

Anne was buried in Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa and Joseph, picking up the pieces of his shattered life, moved there where he became a member of Ottawa city council and was later elected as a representative for Ottawa in the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada. Becoming president of the Citizen Printing and Publishing Company which produced the Ottawa Daily Citizen, he was also president of two railway companies in the Ottawa area. 

Yet Anne never seemed to leave the mill. Her spirit was said to remain on the site along with blood stains and fingernail marks on the post where her body struck.  Current visitors are said to feel cold air and goosebumps on the second floor where she perished. 

Joseph soon built another stately stone building in Ottawa in 1868 called “Gorffwysfa” a Welsh word for place of rest, a home he built as a gift to his third wife, Hannah, granddaughter of Philemon Wright.  This stone house is better known as “24 Sussex Drive” and was purchased by the Government of Canada in 1943 to become the official residence of Canada’s Prime Ministers.

24 Sussex Drive today, after it was heavily modified from Currier’s original home to become the official resident of Canada’s Prime Minister.

Joseph Currier died in 1884 and finally came to rest next to his beloved Anne at Beechwood Cemetery where the two still continue to haunt Ottawa’s special stone buildings in their own respective ways.

Andrew King, October 2020