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THE GREAT WISHING TREE: In Search of The World’s Oldest Maple Tree

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When most people are asked what best symbolizes Canada, almost everyone responds with “the maple leaf”. Emblazoned on our national flag, federal government signage and in our collective minds, the maple leaf has the distinction of being our beloved national symbol. The mighty tree from which it comes from is strong and beautiful, but where can we find the oldest maple tree? Is it even in Canada? This question is what lead me to the legend of THE GREAT WISHING TREE. 

History books tell us of the many events that took place in the 13th century, from the fierce invasion of China by the Mongols lead by Genghis Khan, to the signing of the Magna Carta, and here in Canada, the exploration of the arctic region by Norse Vikings. It was also at this time in history that a little maple tree began to grow, a tree that would end up being the oldest known sugar maple in the world, a tree that would see countless meetings and events take place beneath its leaves over a span of 700 years…a tree that was right here in our backyard. 

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Location of what was reported to be the world’s oldest hard maple tree in Prince Edward County. Image: GoogleMaps

The area of West Lake in Prince Edward county is a magical place lined with blazing sand dunes, lapping waters and a vibrant flock of tourists that descend upon it in the summer months. Thousands upon thousands of people drive along West Lake Road each year on their way to Sandbanks Provincial Park, but very few of them probably realize that they are driving over what was once the world’s oldest sugar maple, a tree known to locals as “The Wishing Tree’. Currently, the oldest known maple tree resides in Mark. S. Burnham Provincial Park near Peterborough, Ontario. It is the oldest known living sugar maple in the world, certified by Wasyl Bakowsky, a biologist at the Ministry of Natural Resources in Peterborough, who determined the tree age to be at least 330 years old based on samples he drilled. Another UNconfirmed maple tree in the Comfort Maple Conservation Area in Pellham in the Niagara Region is said to be more than 500 years old. 

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Ministry of Natural Resources biologist Wasyl Bakowsky points to a hole he drilled in the world’s oldest known living sugar maple tree in Mark S. Burnham Provincial Park on Hwy. 7 just east of Peterborough. PHOTO: ROB McCORMICK/Peterborough Examiner/QMI Agency

The legend of our famed tree in Prince Edward County puts its age at over 700 years old. How can this be true? Well let’s take a look…

The tree we are in search of is said to have started its life as a sapling around 1200AD, a maple tree growing in size and reputation at West Lake where it became a special meeting place for the local indigenous tribes. It was under this maple tree that elders and tribe leaders would meet. In its shade, Mohawk and Algonquin tribes would barter goods, becoming a well known meeting place not just in Prince Edward County, but across North America. 

The mighty maple would be recognized by native tribes across the continent as a place for feasting, celebration and also of negotiating conflicts. It is said that the Mohawks met under this tree to form their allegiance with the Iroquois League in the 1500s. 

The tree got its name “The Wishing Tree” from the fact that young native children would collect fallen bark from its branches, and then toss up the pieces into its web of leaves and branches. If the piece of bark stayed up in the tree, they were then granted a wish. It was thus known as The Wishing Tree.

This magical tree continued growing for hundreds of years and in the 1700s when the first of the United Empire Loyalists began to settle in the area, the simple foot path to the tree was widened to accommodate horseback travelers and a larger volume of visitors who wanted to see this legendary old maple tree.

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The Great Wishing Tree. 

As more and more people began to populate the County, the footpath, turned horse path, was widened further to accommodate carriages, and the path to the tree expanded to go around the tree. Measured to now be at close to 200 feet in height in the 1800s, people flocked to it for picnics, family gatherings and much relaxing under its cooling shade. Postcards were made featuring the legendary Wishing Tree. Tourists now driving automobiles would make it a destination to have their photo taken with the famous old Wishing Tree. 

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A lodge was built in 1837 across from the tree which was aptly named “Wishing Tree Lodge” on what is now called West Lake Road. A landmark tree standing strong for centuries would sadly soon see the fame it created for itself contributing to its demise. 

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With so many cars now passing over its giant network of roots, the weight of traffic compacted them, irreversibly damaging it. The magical maple’s fate would soon be sealed when nature itself decided to end the tree’s existence in 1925. A bolt of lightning struck the tree and it began to decay back into the earth form where it began. In 1941 after years of dying slowly, the grand old Wishing Tree was finally felled, its true age now being revealed by chainsaw. 

A cross section of its trunk was cut and the rings could now be counted. Sure enough, it was confirmed that the Wishing Tree was truly the oldest known maple tree in the world at 731 years. The tree that lived through so much history since its life began in 1200AD, was then hauled away with not a single trace of its existence left behind. Lost in time, it vanished.

It was thus my goal to find out where this legendary tree once stood and bring it to the attention of you, the reader, who may have unknowingly driven over the same magical spot that those before us once met, shared knowledge, stories, items and the simple enjoyment of the great Wishing Tree. 

So how do we track down where the Wishing Tree once stood? No one seems to know exactly where it was that I talked to, except one person who pulled out the book “A Settler’s Dream”. There is a mention of a Wishing Tree Lodge, an old inn built across from the tree. Opening it up to page 126 there is listed “Wishing Tree Lodge” where the house is described along with the story of the Wishing Tree. The Inn still stands there today, but is now a private residence. A quick check of Google Streetview confirmed the old brick lodge is still there, but where was the mighty tree that once stood outside of it? Was there an old stump? 

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My parents remembered seeing an old photo in a book they had, and an elderly gentleman who knew of the tree before it was cut down in the 1940s was pictured standing on West Lake Road where the tree once stood. That photo was found, and sure enough the old brick lodge is seen in the background. We could then use that photo to superimpose it over a current photo taken at the same angle to give us the exact location of where the Wishing Tree once stood. 

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A simple exercise in Photoshop quickly revealed where our legendary landmark once was. A drive to the spot to see it in person was extremely gratifying, as I was now able to stand on the very same spot as the legend told, the place where countless people once met to share in the tree’s magical essence. All around me smaller maple trees were growing, likely the offspring of the now vanished Wishing Tree.

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Other maples, likely offspring from the original Wishing Tree in the area where it once stood. 

No plaque exists, no marker shows those who pass by what a special place that this once was where the oldest maple tree once made its home. I quickly jumped off the road before a speeding car of beach-goers zoomed by, its driver oblivious to the fact they were roaring over this special spot.

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The exact location of where the world’s oldest sugar maple once stood. 

Perhaps someday a plaque will be erected to mark the location of what was once the oldest known sugar maple tree in the world, a place that meant so much to so many people over the course of 700 years of history. Maybe someone in Prince Edward County has a table or other furniture made out of the wood from this special tree. Maple is renowned for its hardiness to make pool cues and guitar necks. As I drove back home I smiled at the thought that somewhere, an aspiring musician is strumming a tune on a piece of the Wishing Tree, hoping their wishes come true. Until those artifacts are found, the legend of the Wishing Tree and the world’s oldest maple quietly lies unknown among the dune dotted landscape of Prince Edward County. 

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Andrew King, July 2019

SOURCES

https://www.thepeterboroughexaminer.com/news-story/8200612-which-is-really-the-world-s-oldest-sugar-maple-tree-pelham-s-comfort-maple-or-mark-s-burnham-provincial-park-s-maple-tree-/

https://www.millard-and-kleinsteuber-histories.com/blog/the-wishing-tree-at-west-lake

The Settler’s Dream, Corporation Of the County Of Prince Edward, 1984.

SERPENTINE: An ancient solstice monument in Ontario

INTRODUCTION

Mankind has always worshiped the sun and the planets, whether through spiritual practice or the construction of large scale monuments. Ancient civilizations such as the Mayans and Egyptians all shared a common reverence for the sun and the earth’s astronomical relationship with the heavens, as did ancient Celtic cultures along with many others across the globe.

In the state of Ohio there is The Great Serpent Mound which is the largest effigy mound in the world that relates to the sun’s position during equinox and solstice events, yet its age and who created it is still debated among archaeologists.

On the shores of Loch Nell in Scotland, there is a 100m serpent shaped mound, long forgotten and crumbling away after thousands of years. It is similar to other serpent mound formations in Scotland and in Ireland. The Damnonii, an early Celtic tribe of the Strathclyde area were known for their serpent/sun worship, and in Argyll serpent worship was also common.

To add to the mystery of these separated, but similar ancient monuments that are spread across the globe, right here in Ontario, just a few hundreds kilometres west of Ottawa, there is another massive ancient serpent structure, but it remains closed off to the public. It is the only one of its kind in Canada but has been studied without current technical advances in archaeological resources.

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This large snake effigy on Rice Lake, south of the village of Keene in Peterborough County, was constructed thousands of years ago, yet its greater purpose remains unknown.

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Currently access is restricted, but on the Summer Solstice on June 21, 2016, I was given permission to study the site in detail and to test my theory about a possible solar alignment. I have since completed my own research into this fascinating archaeological structure which I believe possesses something of far greater significance than originally thought. Through these studies, sketches, and actually visiting this ancient site, it was proven beyond a doubt that there lies a greater secret, and a deeper history to our nation than we may have first thought.

CHAPTER 1

On the northern shore of Rice Lake along the Trent River system there is a point of land that has been closed off to the general public for a number of years. Beyond the locked gates lies an ancient serpent effigy mound. It is the only one of its kind in Canada. First discovered in 1896 by David Boyle who photographed and sketched this mysterious structure, it was first studied by Boyle, but it was not until 1955 that it was studied in any greater detail.

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Measuring almost 200 feet (60m) in length and serpentine in shape, there are several small circular mounds nearby, commonly referred to as the “serpent’s eggs.” Boyle noted there was an alignment of the axis through these mounds in an east-west orientation. Both native and non-natives of the area stated that the mound was believed to be a former raised earth defence embankment against attacking Iroquois. It was only when Boyle in 1897 dug into the snake mound that he discovered grave burials and skeletons.*

Boyle would state in the Peterborough Daily Examiner of September 5th, 1896 that:

“The serpent-and-egg mound is one of the most unique and interesting features of archaeological occurrence in this country. These mounds are found commonly in the remains of Europe and the old world and are regarded as evidences of the prevalence of serpent worship, one of the earliest forms of adoration amongst primitive peoples; suggestive of religious reminiscence of the serpent incident of Eden, doubtless the germ idea of this form of worship.”

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The site was further studied when the Royal Ontario Museum initiated a program in 1955 to discover the nature and origin of the mounds. An archaeological investigation was carried out during the summer months and over the next few years, a considerable number of prehistoric native burials had been discovered in the immediate vicinity, some twenty-one of these in the mounds themselves. In 1961 a provincial historical plaque commemorating the prehistoric Serpent Mounds was unveiled with the academic world providing the following conclusion:

“While no definite conclusions have been drawn regarding the purpose of these ancient mounds, it is believed they were originally constructed about the second century A.D., and they were of religious or ceremonial significance to the people who built them.”

Further study was conducted in 1968, with more artifacts recovered, but it has not been studied in detail any further since.

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This ancient site then operated as a provincial park and during this time, in 1982, the mounds were designated a National Historic Site. From 1995 to 2009, the Hiawatha First Nation operated the park privately, offering camping facilities, beach access on Rice Lake, a cultural center, and interpretive walks among the historic serpent and nearby mounds. Then in 2009 the park was closed and the gates were locked.

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No further information or study to my knowledge has been conducted of what could be one of the most significant archaeoastronomical sites in Canada.

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I studied the ancient structure and found there to be greater history and meaning behind this historical monument, which I have compiled into my latest book, “SERPENTINE”, which examines it in great detail. This never before explored theory of an archeoastronomical solstice alignment brings to light a deeper understanding of who built and and why.

You can purchase a copy here, or read the full digital book below by clicking on the link:

SERPENTINE: An Ancient Solstice Monument In Ontario

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Andrew King, June, 2019

 

*ROM Archeology ‘Mounds of Sacred Earth’, Kenyon 1986

Prehistoric Meteor Impact Site Submerged Under Lake Ontario

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Setting sail on a clear sunny day in late June 1900, Captain Sidley along with his 12 year old son Vessy left Rochester, New York aboard the 100 foot schooner “Picton”. With a crew of five and a cargo of coal bound for Canada, the ship picked up speed heading across Lake Ontario with two other boats following close behind. A strong wind blew across the lake, taking the topsail off the Picton when the two following ships witnessed the Picton suddenly vanish before them, as if being sucked to the bottom of the lake. Catching up to where the schooner had apparently vanished, all that remained was a sailor’s cap and some floating deck debris.  No trace of the Picton or her crew were found until weeks later when a boy discovered a bottle bobbing in the waters off Sackett’s Harbour, NY. Corked and sealed with wrapped wire, inside was a pencil scrawled paper note with the words: “Have lashed Vessy to me with heaving line so will be found together. -J.Sidley, Picton”. This is the story as told by a plaque inside the Mariners Park Museum in Prince Edward County. 

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Along with countless other lost ships, the story of the ill-fated Picton is part of a local legend known as the Marysburgh Vortex, an area of Eastern Lake Ontario that has claimed over 100 vessels over the last two centuries. Bizarre tales of ships and their crew disappearing have been attributed to the Marysburgh Vortex, defying explanation for just as long. Having myself grown up with the legend living on these shores for most of my childhood, I decided to take a closer look at this “Bermuda Triangle of the North” to see what could possibly be behind this enduring folklore. 

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I grew up sailing with my family on eastern Lake Ontario, plying the waters of the “Marysburgh Vortex” and on numerous occasions witnessed our boat’s compass erratically alter direction along with terrifyingly swift changes in weather. Navigational charts become a trusted aid in making your way through these unpredictable waters, and on them is a warning: “MAGNETIC ANOMALY: ANOMALIES IN THE VARIATION OF THE COMPASS READINGS MAY RANGE FROM 27degrees WEST to 3degrees EAST”

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This magnetic anomaly of the the area, and in other parts of the world, had both the Canadian and American governments looking into magnetic field disturbances under a program code-named PROJECT MAGNET. Initiated in 1950, PROJECT MAGNET was established by the Canadian Department of Transport, the Defence Research Board and the National Research Council (NRC) trying to determine characteristics of the Earth’s magnetic fields. A similar American study, also code-named PROJECT MAGNET, started a year later, and according to the website of the NATIONAL GEOPHYSICAL DATA CENTRE “The U.S. Navy, under its Project Magnet program, continuously collected vector aeromagnetic survey data to support the U.S. Geospatial-Intelligence Mapping Agency”. This US Navy led program continued operations until 1994 researching the nature of Earth’s magnetic fields using Lockheed Constellation aircraft equipped with highly sensitive electro-magnetic sensing equipment. The findings from this 60 year PROJECT MAGNET study according to the NGDC were assembled to simplify the work of scientists performing regional and global geophysical studies, including research into the nature of Earth’s magnetic field.

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Looking at a current marine navigational chart of the area there is a noticeable and unusual feature that could provide an explanation for these odd magnetic anomalies. Noted as “Charity Shoal”, a ringlike shape 25 km south of Kingston, ON is clearly visible on the bottom of the lake. Charted at a depth of 25 feet the ring-like structure is 1km in diameter, and is almost perfectly circular. Recently studied by the National Geophysical Data Centre and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) whose website indicates they “provide stewardship, products and services for geophysical data describing the solid earth, marine, and solar-terrestrial environment, as well as earth observations from space.” The NGDC study of the ring-like structure below the waters of the Marysburgh Vortex reveal the following, as obtained from their study document:

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“A small equidimensional circular depression 1000 meters in diameter, with a continuous encircling rim, coincides with the feature referred to as Charity Shoal on nautical charts. An elongated ridge extends southwest from the feature, resembling the tail of a crag-and-tail feature common to some drumlin fields. The basin is slightly deeper than 18 meters and the rim rises to depths of 2-6 meters. The origin of the feature remains unknown. Although a sinkhole in the limestone terrane is a possibility, an origin related to a meteor crater, that was subsequently glaciated, seems more likely. Aeromagnetic mapping by the Geological Survey of Canada revealed a negative magnetic anomaly over Charity Shoal, which is a characteristic feature of simple impact craters.” 

The Charity Shoal Structure (CSS) was studied even more recently in 2013 by the Universities Space Research Association, an independent, nonprofit research corporation who completed a comprehensive study of the ring shape. I obtained a copy of their research document that states “The origin of the CSS is uncertain but it has been interpreted as a an Ordovician age meteorite impact.” 

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That puts the underwater structure at about 460 million years of age. The 2013 USRA study conducted a detailed geophysical survey of the structure, creating a 2-D magnetic model to try and evaluate its origin. Their research shows that the underwater structure is defined by a ring-like magnetic high and central magnetic low with the total field magnetic anomaly being quite large which cannot be accounted for. The study then states “the anomalies large magnitude indicates a deep basin and/or demagnetization effects in the Precambrian basement rocks below the structure.” The conclusion of this study indicates that the structure is “consistent with a meteorite impact”. If this is the case, then the mineral deposits or deformation of the earth’s surface from a 460 million year old meteor impact could possibly give us further answers.

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Contacting Dr. Richard Herd, retired curator of the National Meteorite Collection of the Geological Survey of Canada, Herd states the impact of such a meteor could “depress the earth’s crust and have brought up molten material from inside.” Herd also explains that meteors are of two types, a stoney meteor and an iron-nickel meteor, the latter being parts of small planets from when the solar system was formed.

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If the structure is indeed a meteor impact crater, it would rival the Barringer Crater in Arizona, a structure of the same size with similar properties to the Charity Shoal Structure. The Arizona crater is the same size, and was formed when a nickel-iron meteorite about 160 feet in diameter hit the surface of the earth. An underwater study of Charity Shoal is necessary to provide the physical evidence of what the structure actually is and if it is indeed emitting a strong enough magnetic field to affect the navigational instruments of nearby vessels. 

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The legend of the Marysburgh Vortex continues to create mystery as recently as 2013 when it was reported that an unmanned sailboat was spotted drifting off the southern shore of Prince Edward County. A recovery crew was dispatched and found an empty boat, and according to the local newspaper The County Weekly News, the 32 foot sail boat “Persnickety” last sailed out of Sodus Bay, NY into Lake Ontario. The boat was found inexplicably drifting with no crew off Prince Edward County with all sails up, no signs of trouble and after a closer inspection by authorities, the operator’s drivers license, money, food, and ice in a cooler were found intact onboard. A three day rescue operation to locate the missing operator of the boat was unsuccessful and the operation was suspended with the reason for the disappearance unsolved. 

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Perhaps this unique crater shaped structure on the lake floor is composed of meteorite minerals that affect the earth’s natural magnetic fields that in turn displace compass readings of vessels entering the vicinity, inadvertently sending them off course into unmapped shoals. With the advent of GPS and improved navigational aids, the frequency of ships disappearing has certainly diminished, but until what lies beneath is studied in greater detail, it seems the Marysburgh Vortex will continue to be a source of mystery for years to come.  

Andrew King, April 2019

The Last Zellers

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Six years ago we lost a Canadian icon, someone who told us that the lowest price is the law and quite frankly, “Only you’ll know how little you paid”. It was in March of 2013 that the last Zellers store shut its doors, unsuccessfully replaced by the failed Target chain. With all Zellers department stores closed across Canada, this retail giant of the 1980s and 90s reached its peak in 1999 with 350 stores across the country.  Then, an American retail giant arrived. Walmart entered the scene in Canada and facing fierce competition, Zellers announced in 2011 that the U.S. Target Corporation would be purchasing the lease agreements of 220 Zellers stores for $1.825 billion, and under the agreement, Zellers would sublease the properties and continue to operate them until the end of March 2013. At that time 100 to 150 of them would reopen as stores under the Target banner, with remaining sites transferred to other retailers. Target closed all operations in 2015.

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The bootlegged Atari games that Zellers sold in its stores in the 1980s. (image: AtariAge)

 Personally, I have always had fond memories of Zellers as kid growing up in the late 70s and early 80s. I saved up my paper route money to buy an Atari2600 at Zellers for $99.99 (on rain-check) and countless bikes, clothes and toys were also purchased there. In fact, Atari was such a hot item for Zellers, that they packaged and sold counterfeit copies of Atari games, 18 of them in fact, which were clones of Atari games they got in trouble from Atari for selling. Whoops, the lowest price wasn’t the only law I guess. 

With Zellers wiped out from our retail landscape in 2013, it would seem that it would just fade away as all other department stores of our youth do, like Kmart, Towers and Simpsons. But what if I told you that it hasn’t quite disappeared, and in fact there is a secret Zellers, once a Kmart, still open for business? It is the last Zellers in Eastern Ontario (there are 2 left in Canada, the other one is in Etobicoke, ON) and it is still open for business. 

As some will undoubtedly point out, this may not be exactly the same as the Zellers of past, but rather a liquidation outlet for the parent company, Hudson’s Bay, which acquired full ownership of Zellers in 1981. So I guess things have come full circle. There is no question though that this location uses all Zellers signage, displays, cash registers, shopping baskets and all manner of the old Zellers. 

With camera in hand I visited this retail remnant hidden away in Bells Corners to record what is left of this once prosperous store of our youth…..

THE LAST ZELLERS

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The Zellers sign in Bells Corners is actually put overtop an even older Kmart sign. There was a Kmart location in Bells Corners until the 1990s when Zellers took over, and apparently just put their sign overtop. (comparison photo below)

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This would have been what the original Kmart store was like in Bells Corners, note the big sign.

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You can see here the metal brackets that once held the old Kmart sign, with the newer sign placed overtop of it.

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This ad from 1987 shows that it was still a Kmart in Bells Corners at that time.

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Once inside this old Kmart/Zellers the familiar sight brought back a flood of nostalgic memories.

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A typical Kmart layout that was later  to become the Zellers that is there now.

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Lots of fluorescent lights. Love it. Such a classic old lighting system.

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Old pegboard shelves.

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Upon closer inspection of the shelves, old Zellers price stickers became noticeable….

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The polished linoleum that has been trod upon by thousands of shoppers from its time as Kmart to the present Zellers.

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I will always remember these huge ceiling vents from when I was a kid at these department stores.

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The store still uses the familiar red plastic shopping baskets.

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I love these old chrome metal sign stands and makes this feel like a real throwback to the Kmart/Zellers experience.

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Zellers trademark red and white motif is still going strong here. Many a late August days in the 1980s were spent buying back to school clothes from these rack displays.

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Zellers discount bins. I remember these being full of socks and shirts as a kid.

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I also remember these from my 1980s youth and still think they are creepy.

 

 

 

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For over 50 years this location has been a Kmart and a Zellers, and you can still visit it and experience what the atmosphere of 1980s department store was like.

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Fare thee well my old friend in Bells Corners…The Last Zellers.

Andrew King, February, 2019

Fountains Of Our Youth: The Lost Shopping Mall Fountain

“Meetcha at the fountain.” 

That was a phrase most teenagers of the 1980s were saying when they wanted to meet up with friends at the local mall. Before Snapchat or texting, us 80s kids had to phone each other from our parents kitchen phone to make plans to hangout IRL where all the cool kids hung out: The Mall. 

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This newspaper clipping shows the exact fountain I spent many of my teenage days sitting around at Catarqui Town Centre in Kingston, ON…..there was an amazing arcade just to the right of this photo…note the MMMMMMMuffins in the background. (Photo: Whig-Standard)

The Shopping Malls of the 1980s were extravagant retail meccas, a place for us awkward kids to spend our allowance on a bag of Kernels, some posters from Discus, video games from CompuCentre, and the idyllic spot where our parents did their year round shopping under the dappled rays of a skylit roof. 

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There was nothing like the mall of the 1980s. Note the ever present water fountain, tropical plants, and, smoking. (photo: CBS News)

Appointed with soothing beige tile work, usually complimented with a mix of wood and teal/dusty rose trim, there was nothing quite like the malls of the 80s. In addition to their era-specific decor splendor, they almost always had another common feature: A massive water fountain. 

 

 

Spraying a geyser of chlorinated water into the dry mall air, its burbling sounds and circular construction was always a welcome and soothing sight to behold, a place to relax , congregate and meet up with your school pals for an afternoon of hanging out at the mall. Yet this once core landmark has now vanished from most shopping malls, their demise brought on by the downward spiral of the mall retail model. Cutting corners and adapting to increase their profits, the mighty water fountains of malls are deemed too expensive to maintain, and likely were a liability (yes we all know someone who jumped or fell in one) or maybe the coins we all tossed in for our deepest wishes were too much to bear for the mall management to wrap and donate to charity. 

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The now dry water fountain of the Glebe’s Fifth Avenue Court. (Image: GoogleMaps)

Before they all disappear from existence, lets tease our hair, pull up our tube socks and take a take a step back in time for a look at Ottawa’s FOUNTAINS OF OUR YOUTH.

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The shopping mall was a post-war retail concept primarily based on the transition of residential areas moving into a suburban mode of living.  Servicing these new suburbs  with shopping “centres” involved an enclosed space with stores indoors, away from downtown, and accessible only by car. Ottawa has its share of early 1950s malls, but the focus of this piece are malls that featured opulent water fountains. 

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An American shopping centre developer by the name of Taubman revolutionized shopping malls by introducing tiled floors instead of carpet, indoor fountains, and two levels, allowing a shopper to make a circuit of all the stores. Daylight was filtered through glass skylights making it seem like the afternoon was lasting longer, which encouraged shoppers to linger the whole day. 

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The massive green trees that used to be at Rideau Centre mall in 1983 (photo: CBC archives)

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The once prevalent greenery of plants at shopping malls is now gone. Remember these at the Rideau Centre? (photo: CBC archives)

The water fountain and accompanying greenery of a mall was to create an “oasis” for the shopper, a place to relax and enjoy the shopping experience, like going on a vacation. Under the calming sounds of burbling water amidst lush tropical plants, you could buy your slacks and some MMMMMMuffins to snack on. The fountain was where parents would tell kids to meet if they got separated, a rendezvous place, and a spot for kids to toss coins into the depths of the crystal clear waters in hopes that a special wish came true. 

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The epic water fountain that was once at Bayshore Shopping Centre. Like the parent pictured, many a son/daughter were propped up on its ledge to make a wish and toss a coin into its burbling waters. (photo: Lost Ottawa)

One of the most notable mall fountains in Ottawa was the one at Bayshore Shopping Centre.  Bayshore opened in 1973, and featured an epic central fountain with a commissioned sculpture of “very thin people” dancing in its spray. Most of Ottawa that shopped there between 1973 and the 80s remember this very memorable fountain, until it mysteriously disappeared during renovations.

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PLANTS! LOTS OF THEM! Another view of Bayshore Shopping Centre’s landmark water fountain. A virtual jungle oasis. (photo: LostOttawa)

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That exact same spot today. No plants, no fountain. Sterile.

A common misconception about that fountain sculpture is that it was moved to Sparks Street. A similar looking sculpture does exist on Sparks Street, but that was one commissioned by ER Fisher when his men’s store was down there. That sculpture is called “Joy” by the late Bruce Garner, with the elusive Bayshore fountain sculpture made by someone else. 

Through some investigative sleuthing and a source that will remain anonymous (thank-you), I believe I have been able to locate the Bayshore Fountain, which still exists in Ottawa. The iconic bronze sculpture was done by a German artist, Almuth Lütkenhaus.

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The Bayshore water fountain sculptor revealed…Almuth Lutkenhaus.

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Lutkenhaus at work on one of her sculptures. She died in 1996.

Studying her craft in Germany until she moved to Canada in 1966, Lütkenhaus was commissioned to do the 15 foot high bronze sculpture for the newly constructed Bayshore Shopping Centre in 1972, as discovered in an old artist catalogue that mentioned the sculpture. 

Prominently installed amidst a geyser of water in the centre of Bayshore shopping mall, when it first opened, Lütkenhaus’ sculpture was later removed sometime later when the mall underwent renovations, disappearing from public view.

Enjoyed by thousands of Ottawa shoppers and kids who were propped up on its ledge, how could such a prominent and beloved sculpture suddenly just disappear? After contacting some folks who might be in the know, I was told that it was sold off to a “private collector” for their private property here in Ottawa. Who bought such a well-known public art piece? It must be someone of stature, someone who in the 80s-90s was wealthy enough and had the grounds big enough to accommodate the large art piece. Who fits this description? Let’s look at a few suspects….Bill Teron was a wealthy developer of the time who built his massive estate out in Kanata, but a Google search showed no connection. Next, COREL founder Michael Cowpland. 

Cowpland launched Cowpland Research Laboratory, COREL in Ottawa in 1985, amassing a fortune and building a metallic encrusted estate in Rockcliffe Park in the 1990s, which in 2008, ranked as Ottawa’s third most valuable private property with an assessed worth of CAN $12.5 million.

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Marlen Cowpland, poolside. (photo: Ottawa Sun)

A quick Bing Maps aerial 3D view shows the estate has a swimming pool with… wait a second, a CIRCULAR FOUNTAIN AND SCULPTURE OF FIGURES. A zoom-in reveals what looks to be a match to our beloved Bayshore Fountain sculpture by Lütkenhaus.

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I can not confirm this 100% without access from the Cowplands (I think they still own it?) into their estate to see it in person, but it seems to me that the Lost Fountain Of Our Youth lies poolside in their backyard.

FADING FOUNTAINS

In the mid-1990s, shopping malls were still being built at a rate of 140 a year, but in 2001 malls began to decline in popularity and were called “greyfield” and “dead mall” estates. With the advent of online shopping through web retailers like Amazon, shopping malls began their death spiral, with some management corporations adjusting their retail mall model to the open air “Big Box” mall approach, with the enclosed malls now defunct. Cheaper to maintain without the indoor common areas, these big box malls did away with frivolous fountains and plants in favour of asphalt parking lots. 

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The once mighty water fountain at Place D’Orleans Mall, removed and now leased out to auto dealerships to display their vehicles.

Place D’Orleans Mall expanded to its current size in 1990 and had a re-opening event, but it was to be one of the last enclosed malls built in Canada. It’s massive fountain, once an illuminated Vegas-style light show, has since been removed, its area used to display paying vendors wares.

Hazeldean Mall which opened in October 30, 1979, is the last of Ottawa’s great shopping malls to still operate a water fountain. A trickling stepped fountain that once ran from one end of the mall to the other has now been reduced in size, but still functions. 

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Hazeldean Mall is Ottawa’s last shopping mall to maintain a water fountain. (photo: GoogleStreetview)

Along with the water features, the tropical plants that used to provide a foliaged refuge for shoppers during the bitter winter months have also been removed from most shopping centres, replaced with a clean, sterile aesthetic that resembles Apple’s minimalist environment. . Tall trees and tropical plants were all axed from the malls as their “cost of upkeep” was deemed too expensive in a market that is trying to cut cost any chance it gets. The plants, the fountains, and even the Christmas decor have all been trimmed down along with operating budgets for malls in an effort to compete in what is now a harsh retail environment.

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St. Laurent Mall, centre court, no fountain.

The once bustling meccas of our youth, the prime Saturday hangout where we’d hit the Orange Julius, Discus, Zellers, and the arcade, are now but distant memories for us Gen Xers. We are a generation that was raised by retail, television, video games and celebrity fashion trends…wait, maybe much hasn’t changed, but I still miss those soothing mall fountains. If I had known, I would have tossed a dime into their bubbling waters, wishing they would never disappear.

Andrew King, January 2019

SOURCES

Wikipedia

Google Maps

Bing Maps

Lost Ottawa

CBS News

CBC Archives

The Steampunk Dream Machine That Lies Buried Beneath Toronto

Concealed beneath Canada’s largest city lies an iron apparatus designed in Prescott, Ontario from the Victorian Age that resembles an invention from the pages of a Jules Verne novel. A perfect example of the steam punk aesthetic, this 110ft. ironclad cylindrical vessel remains buried under the Gardiner Expressway, quietly resting below the traffic of thousands of commuters. Its remarkable story is one of innovation, passion and ill-fated decisions.  Join me now as we uncover the whereabouts of this lost tubular dream…

PROLOGUE

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Prescott in the late 1800’s was bustling industrial town.

The small town of Prescott sits 45 minutes south of Ottawa and during the late 19th century it was a booming community of industry and innovation, a town that was the inception for J.P. Wiser’s Whisky, Ottawa’s first railway, the Prescott & Bytown Railway, and it even had Bell telephone service far sooner than any other town. The terminus for the Great Lakes Shipping industry, it also was home to a Labatt’s Brewery. It comes as no surprise that from its dusty streets would appear another creative force, an ironclad machine so imaginative, so unique and so bold that it would garner the attention of the world stage in 1897. 

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Queen Victoria hated traveling by ship due to sea sickness. (Image:Wikipedia)

At the time Queen Victoria was the reigning monarch, but she never visited her colonies since she hated traveling by sea, as it made her sea-sick. In 1860 she sent her son, Albert Edward to Ottawa and on a North American tour in her place. This led one Prescott resident to design a ship impervious to the travel and motions that caused sea-sickness on the open sea. His name was Frederick Augustus Knapp, a lawyer turned inventor, and he designed what was probably the most bizarre, ambitious and unbelievable ship ever to be made. 

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Ripley’s cartoon depicting a strange and unique vessel that began my quest to find it.

I became fascinated with this iron clad marvel when I saw an old Ripley’s Believe-It-Or-Not illustration featuring Knapp’s craft, and always wondered what happened to it. I researched its history and it turns out the Iron Tubeship was designed and operated in Prescott, just a short drive from my home. As I dug deeper into its voyages through time I learned it now lies most likely buried under the Gardiner Expressway in downtown Toronto. But before we get to that point, how did such a ship get there in the first place, and why? 

PRELUDE TO THE IRON DREAM

Fred Knapp had a vision for a giant tube ship 800 feet long that would glide over ocean waves at 60mph, undisturbed by the rolling sea. His idea was soon put to paper as he drew out plans for a scaled down version of his iron dream, imagined on his many trips across the Atlantic aboard steamship liners of the day. In an interview with the Prescott Telegraph in 1897, Knapp revealed he spent most of those voyages within the engine rooms of the ships he was aboard, studying the mecahnics of how to overcome the resistance of water and waves. He realized that a ship must not fight them, but join them, and ROLL over the waves. Working at a law firm in Montreal, Knapp soon moved back to his hometown of Prescott where he set up a law practice and purchased a home in a stone triplex on Dibble Street.

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Knapp’s residence still exists in Prescott where he designed the Iron Tube Ship. (Image: Google Streetview)

I journeyed to Prescott to see if the original Knapp residence where he drew up the idea and plans for his colossal Victorian Tube ship still existed, and indeed it does at 272 Dibble St, a modest end unit of a larger 19th century stone triplex building.  No plaque or indicator is there to tell of what was designed behind its walls, but this is where Knapp created what would become a most fascinating piece of nautical history.

Soon after drawing up plans for his mighty steam tube, Knapp presented the concept to Polson Iron Works in Toronto, and had built a working scale model 9 feet in length. The original drawings for the Roller Tube Ship are stored in the since closed Maritime Museum of the Great Lakes in Kingston, Ont., of which I unfortunately can not get access to at this time. 

Knapp soon organized a joint stock company called “The Knapp Ocean Navigation Company” and raised funds from investors in Montreal, Quebec City, the UK and Toronto. His proposal to Polson Iron Works in Toronto was accepted and they were contracted to build the vessel as a working steam powered prototype at a cost of $125,000 (in 1890s dollars). 

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Knapp’s tube ship gained the attention of Scientific American magazine in 1898 with his unique design.

After some trials and tests, a full scale, 110-foot prototype was ready for launch in Toronto’s harbour in June of 1899. With Knapp aboard manning the helm, the innovative new ship was to travel from Toronto to Prescott on its maiden voyage.

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Photo of the Roller Boat underway in 1898.

Perhaps because it was never officially christened or named, the poor ship was to be doomed. On June 9th it ran aground in Bowmanville, and it took a month for a tugboat to arrive and tow it all the way to Prescott where it was holed up and underwent modifications until the ship was ready for another sea trial in 1901. 

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Knapp’s Roller Boat steaming along, his portrait above.

 

Seeming to be a glutton for punishment, Knapp decided to test his newly modified ship on a cold February day, with a strong north wind that hampered its planned voyage across the St. Lawrence to Ogdensburg, NY.

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Prescott citizens slide over the ice to board Knapp’s latest modded ship. (Image: Morris History Of Prescott)

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Dressed for the February cold, the passengers await Knapp to take them across the St. Lawrence River to Ogdensburg, NY (Image: Morris History Of Prescott)

The strong winds were no match for the very hard-to-steer giant tube ship, and Knapp and his ship ran aground on a shoal of mud off Ogdensburg, where it soon became trapped in ice and snow. A rescue team was sent out in rowboats to retrieve the passengers and Knapp, who were suffering from exposure to the cold. The iron tube was towed back to Prescott where it remained for the winter. 

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Knapp decided to now modify the shape of his shape into that of a giant cigar, with conical ends, and a new engine, but it had to towed to Montreal for that work. After an arduous tow and retrofit in Montreal going through the myriad of canal locks, the roller boat was then towed back to Toronto across Lake Ontario, around Prince Edward County and into the docks of Polson Iron Works once again. There the ship sat, Knapp now out of money and investor interest, its forlorn hull left to languish in the waters off Toronto. The orphaned vessel that no one wanted broke free of its moorings and hit another ship causing damage to both ships. The now rusting hulk was sold for scrap metal to pay for the damages. As World War One began, it was said the tubular disaster was scavenged for its metal for the war effort, picked apart like a carcass under the beaks of vultures. 

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Showing its new cigar shape, but badly deteriorating due to salvaging its parts, the un-named Roller Ship lies in the waters off Toronto.

Left deteriorating in the shallow waters, legend says the ill-fated ship was buried under landfill when in 1927 the Toronto shoreline was expanded, its whereabouts unknown.

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Completely forlorn, what’s left of the Iron Steam Dream lies in the mud awaiting to be filled over when the Toronto shoreline was expanded overtop of it.

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Knapp returned to Prescott, continued his law practice and dabbled in other inventions, but nothing similar to his grandiose Roller Boat. He died in 1942, buried at the Blue Church cemetery outside of Prescott, joining his beloved ship below ground for eternity. 

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Knapp’s unassuming gravestone in the Blue Church cemetery near Prescott.

FINDING THE LOST SHIP

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It is remarkable how the internet can provide a trail of bread crumbs that lead to a successful quest for information. Searching records of recent archeological assessments of downtown Toronto for any mention of “Polson Iron Works” where Knapp’s boat had its final days, it was revealed that a report called “Toronto Transit Commission Environmental Assessments for Transit Projects in the Eastern Waterfront Assignment 4: Stage 1 Archaeological Resource Assessment of theEast Bayfront Transit Precinct City of Toronto, Ontario, Prepared for McCormick Rankin Corporation in 2009″ reveals the EXACT location of Knapp’s Victorian Steam Dream.

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Bingo!

Page 21 of the report states “The remains of this unusual ship lie buried 356 feet (108.5m) south of the Frederick Street slip and 140 feet (42.7m) west of the Polson Iron Works dock (wharfs 35 and 36)as they existed in 1923. Today, this location corresponds to the area between Lakeshore Boulevard andthe Gardiner Expressway, between Richardson and Lower Sherbourne Streets and north of the property currently known as 215 Lakeshore Boulevard East (Figure A 13). Placement of the vessel under these roads is generally consistent with that proposed earlier by Stinson and Moir (1991:112)”

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Apparently, according to the archeological assessment, in 1923 soundings were done by the Toronto Harbour Commission that labeled a “wrecked roller boat” and that no dredging was to be done here. This means the remains of the tubular ship were likely covered over by fill as the land was extended, and it remains buried there to this day.

Where that spot exactly rests is the subject of the following information.

THE LOCATION

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The assessment has a map pinpointing the exact location of the lost 1897 ironclad tube ship. (image: Archeological Surveys Inc.)

Using modern Google Maps with the corresponding Archeological Survey plans, we can superimpose the two together to reveal the exact location of the lost ship. Using Photoshop to “ghost” the two together, we can see that the ship lies buried perpendicular to Lake Shore Blvd, and partially underneath the Gardiner Expressway. Located behind what is now a FedEx depot, the 110 ft ship may lie beneath tens of feet of earth and service lines, its state of decay unknown. 

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Beneath the street at this location in view of the CN tower lies what is left of Knapp’s Great Steam Dream.

Whether this unusual chapter in maritime engineering warrants a proper archeological excavation to find a 19th century iron clad tube ship is a matter left to city officials, but next time you pass behind that FedEx depot on Lake Shore Blvd East, remember Knapp’s iron steam dream that lies below. 

Andrew King, January 2018

SOURCES

https://waterfrontoronto.ca/nbe/wcm/connect/waterfront/895fec7b-1d9e-462b-a4a6-19c9f5b9be10/ebf_esr_appendix_l_archaeological_assessment_final_1.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CACHEID=895fec7b-1d9e-462b-a4a6-19c9f5b9be10

Morrises’ History Of Prescott, John A.H.Morris, 2000.

THE SEARCH FOR THE LOST VILLAGE OF TONIATA

 

Sometime in the 1700s a village marked prominently on maps somewhere along the St. Lawrence River between Prescott and Gananoque disappeared from history. Clearly noted on maps from the 1600s when the the area was being explored by the French, this mysterious village has vanished from all records, its whereabouts unknown. Having been a significant enough settlement to be noted by explorers and mapmakers, what happened to it and why did it vanish from the landscape and all future maps? Using clues left behind in centuries old records, we will try piece together what happened and finally pinpoint a location for a possible archeological investigation.

THE SEARCH FOR TONIATA

Flea markets are always a great place to pick up cool pieces of nostalgia, memories and things you’d never find in a regular shopping mall. Attending one such flea market a few years ago I saw a vendor pull out an old framed map and ask his neighbour what kind of price he should put on it. Neither of them knew what value it had, so I quickly offered the contents of my wallet, which was $60. I got the map!

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Bought for $60 at a flea market, this 1757 French map shows a mysterious village called “Toniata”.

I left the flea market with an almost 300 year old map of the St. Lawrence River, Ottawa River and Lake Ontario! Dated to 1757 this old map was a stunning example of this country’s early explorations and mapmaking. Pouring over this incredible record from the age of Exploration in Canada, I noticed many recognizable villages and settlements in our area, but one stood out as something strange, a place called TONIATA.

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“Toniata” is marked to be located south of “La Galetta” which is now Prescott, across from Ogdensburg, which is marked as “La Presentation” and Fort Francis.

Marked to be somewhere between Prescott and Gananoque on the north shore of the St. Lawrence, this village is clearly marked but I have never heard of such a place. Where did it go? A quick Google search revealed that this is regarded as “one of the great mysteries of early Canadian history” No one has been able to provide “the identification of the site of a First Nations village or camp known as Toniata.”

A school is named after this mystery village in Brockville, and their website clearly notes the oddity:

“From Champlain’s exploration of the Upper St. Lawrence, until the British captured Quebec, maps showed a spot named Toniata.  This area was defined as being placed halfway between present day Ogdensburg and the Gananoque River.  The name, which had various spellings on the old French maps, seemed to disappear as the British maps replaced the French maps.”

This general area would be as shown in the current Google Map below. Possible location marked with red marker.

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Checking my own collection of old map references, Toniata appears on most 17th century French maps, with variations in spelling. Some maps call it ‘Tonthata”, others, “Toniata”.

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This map from 1656 by Nicolas Sanson clearly shows a place called Tonthata.

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Toniata clearly marked as “Village Of Iroquois” on this map by John Mitchell “Map of The British and French Dominions in North America”  circa 1757. 

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One map calls it “Toniata Village of The Iroquois.” Further research revealed that there is an account called “Memoir Upon the Late War in North America, Between the French and English, 1755-60: Followed by Observations Upon the Theatre of Actual War, and by New Details Concerning the Manners and Customs of the Indians ; with Topographical Maps, Volume 2 by Pierre Pouchot, January 1, 1866” that describes how Toniata was south of Galots, or what is now Prescott, and how Toniata was a very distinct place of reference.

In 1654, Pere Simon le Moyne, a Jesuit priest, made the first recorded voyage of a European through the upper St. Lawrence. He was sent from Montreal to establish a mission at Oswego, NY. Along the way, he stopped at the village of Toniata where he observed native Indians fishing for eel.

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An account of exploration on the St. Lawrence that mentions Toniata.

Then, mysteriously, the maps after 1759 no longer mention the village.

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Toniata vanishes from maps, but yet La Galette remains.

Further research shows there was once a body of water called “Toniata River”. This river could be an important clue in locating the lost village, yet no rivers are called Toniata River today. It seems that is because its name was changed from Toniata River to Jones Creek after the British arrived in the 1700s. When the French arrived to the Thousand Islands region of the St. Lawrence River in the mid-1600s, they had named the small river Toniata River, being near the village of Toniata. The French described a village of aboriginal people, an area of eight miles adjacent to what is now called Jones Creek.

So, now we have a massive clue that will tell us where the lost village may be located, we just need to find Jones Creek. A visit to Google Maps and the McGill Digital Historical Atlas reveals a likely location.

It seems in the 1700s and 1800s, the Toniata River, or Jones Creek, was settled by Loyalists and made into a milling village known as “Yonge Mills”. Saw mills, grist mills, a hotel, and homes all dotted the area until it also faded from history. The 401 highway was built through the village and nothing now remains of Yonge Mills, or possibly  Toniata. This is likely the spot of the original lost village…a quiet river meeting the larger St. Lawrence River. As in most cases in history, an original village is built upon by future inhabitants at a place of strategic and economic importance.

 

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Yonge Mills was a village built on Jones Creek, formerly Toniata River

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Mills, and structures marked in red on the river.

 

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Overlaying a current map shows the river has either moved its course, or the old map was inaccurate. Note the 401 highway now goes through the old village of Yonge Mills.

This place is situated on a high rocky plateau on the northeast side of the creek where it commands an impressive view down the mighty St. Lawrence in both directions, a necessary and common trait for a village to be built upon.

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The areas shaded in red are where I believe the lost village of Toniata lies.

Our lost village has likely never been found because the area where it was likely located is in area of undeveloped land, an unexplored area of dense woods where any evidence of the village has likely been consumed by nature.

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This area, shaded in red, is the likely resting place of the lost Village Of Toniata.

A small road, Sherwood Springs Road, winds past where the village of Toniata likely once stood 400 years ago, evidence of its bustling happenings lost in time under the leaves and grasses of nature.

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A 1600s Iroquois village model diorama (photo: Douglas Sprott)

Perhaps we should let this centuries old village remain quietly hidden, its secrets buried for eternity, or maybe Canadian archeologists would like to explore and unearth its remains, revealing more about early St. Lawrence Iroquois history, a chapter in time that has eluded much study, until possibly now.

Andrew King

December, 2018

 

SOURCES

Google Maps

http://www.historicalatlas.ca

Proceedings of the Royal Society of Canada: 1944

Memoir Upon the Late War in North America, Between the French and English, 1755-60: Followed by Observations Upon the Theatre of Actual War, and by New Details Concerning the Manners and Customs of the Indians ; with Topographical Maps, Volume 2, Pierre Pouchot, 1866

McGill Digital Atlas

Historical Atlas Of Canada by Derek Hayes

 

JOYSTICK: The Untold Story Of Ottawa’s coke-fueled 1980’s Video Game Industry

PLAYER ONE START

Thirty-five years ago Ottawa was something right out of a Hollywood movie, a rise and fall epic, with a plot involving millions of hi-tech dollars, mounds of cocaine and the resulting production of Canada’s first video game.

Most teenagers of the 80s became indirectly involved in this glamourous period of local computer innovation through their infatuation with early video games housed in colourful wooden cabinets in the many smoke filled arcades that sprung up across the city, and throughout North America. 

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The now vanished Imperial Arcade on Bank Street beneath Barrymore’s (Photo:Author)

Kids would bike their BMXs down to one of the local Ottawa arcades, “The Wizard”, “Imperial Arcade”, “Rideau Arcade”, “King Arthur’s Court”, or one of the many others that collected the hard earned quarters of Ottawa’s youth.

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Instead of quarter coins, Ottawa arcades would sometimes distribute “tokens” to use in their arcade machines. (photo: Mark Leahy)

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Kids of 1980s Ottawa likely visited “The Wizard” arcade at Carling and Broadview. (photo:ottawapinballarcade.ca)

We would plug our allowance quarters, or “tokens”, into Defender, Battlezone, Asteroids, Tempest or anything else that glowed in those dark arcades.

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The growing arcade scene rippled across the continent, with Atari leading the charge in developing the most sought after games. Silicon Valley was bursting with cocaine fueled programmers, earning tons of cash, buying Corvettes and having massive hot tub parties in the once nerd laden confines of hi-tech computer software companies. 

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The video game scene soon arrived in Ottawa when our hi-tech sector raked in the fresh dollars headed their way via the Federal government and a generous financial grant program for emerging computer technologies.

ENTER CASH AND COCAINE

One such development was Canada’s Department of Communications in Ottawa, which would create a videotex system called TELIDON, the best in the world due to the superior resolution of its graphics and because of its use of full-scale colour applications. Operational a full FIFTEEN years before the WorldWide Web, Telidon was designed to be used over installed cable TV systems because of the wider bandwidth requirements.

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This technology evolved into the first cable-based micro-computer-operated home computer network, financed in part by Ottawa’s real estate kingpin, the Campeau Corporation. It was called NABU (Natural Access to Bidirectional Utilities). The name NABU was inspired by the Babylonian god of wisdom and writing. This new network was entirely a cable operation that was initially located in Westboro at 485 Richmond Road and later on Baxter Road, near the Ottawa Citizen.

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Manufacturing home based computer units in Almonte, NABU sent 6.5 megabytes of software, information content and videogame data to the homes of Ottawa subscribers for about $8 a month after they bought the unit for $90, which was a fraction of the cost of a home computer at the time. The NABU Network launched in October 1983 and was one of the first large-scale applications of a home computer network. This Ottawa invention was promoted by Canadian celebrity magician Doug Henning, who said it was “Computer Magic!”

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Canadian celebrity magician Doug Henning promotes Ottawa’s innovative NABU NETWORK.

All this was a full 10 years before the Internet, with services that included tele-banking, tele-shopping, electronic mail (two way emails!), home security, computer games, and a pile of other applications including Canada’s innovative Telidon system for interactive television viewing.  The first NABU programs available, about 100 of them, were mostly video games. The host computer pumped a speedy 6.4 megabytes per second-information, which was instantly accessible. It used the Z80A processor chip, which also powered Radio Shack’s TRS80 and the ColecoVision video game system. 

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What could be the world’s first home internet computer, the Ottawa creation, the NABU Network personal computer system.

And this is where the story of Ottawa’s video game world begins…an era of innovation and intoxication like never before. Enter Michael Bate, writer/musician/entrepreneur/video game junkie. I sat down with Michael at a local diner to record this illustrious moment in Ottawa’s history.

QUEST FOR SUCCESS

Michael was a big fan of twitch games, the fast, hand-eye coordination games like Tempest, Centipede and Crystal Castles.

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Michael Bate

He got his start on games like Asteroids and Space Invaders. But then Pac-Man came along in 1981 and Bate soon became unofficial Ottawa champion.

“I was between engagements,” he recalled, “And I should have been out looking for a job. But I had this Pac-Man addiction. I figured out the rhythm, the beats to the program and I’d rack up the top score on the game at my neighbourhood laundromat. Then I’d go down the street to the Rideau Arcade and do the same on their Pac-Man.”

Using the high score acronym of “MDB”, Bate become somewhat of a local arcade celebrity and was interviewed by CBC-TV in 1982 as the city’s top video game maverick. 

The CBC piece on Bate’s game prowess was seen by Ken Leese, one of NABU’s founding partners. Leese thought Bate could help develop video games for the Ottawa start-up. The NABU brain trust realized that video games were the way to introduce users to their revolutionary system.

So Bate, despite having zero game programming experience, became head of the NABU games division. 

These were heady days. NABU was awash in money thanks to the federal government’s new Science Research Tax Credit program (SRTC), which encouraged investors and banks to pour money into start-up tech companies.

With the money, came the sex, drugs and rock and roll, although this being Ottawa, there wasn’t much sex or rock and roll. But the drugs…

One of the first moves by NABU management was to hire American marketing gurus from Silicon Valley to help break the NABU system into the lucrative US market.

The American team commuted weekly between San Francisco and Ottawa and brought with them briefcases packed with coke.

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For a brief moment, NABU—at least the games division—was Atari North.

“I remember a party with NABU execs and the American marketing team,” Bate said. “One of the guys was taking a new job in Paris, so at his going-away, they pulled out a large mirror and constructed a mini Eiffel Tower out of coke.

“They always had quality stuff. Not the Hartz Mountain Budgie Seed we normally saw around Ottawa.” says Bate.

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Bate realized that one of the big challenges for NABU was to explain itself. The concept was so futuristic, it needed a marketing hook the average person could understand.

“The BC comic strip characters struck me as the perfect vehicle.” said Bate. “The paradox of the cartoon caveman with his stone wheel, and on his rock desk, a NABU computer. I got in touch with Johnny Hart, who created the B.C. strip and invited him to come to Ottawa to see the NABU operation, meet our team and discuss a deal licensing his comic characters.”

Hart’s studio was nearby, in Endicott, NY and he agreed to charter a small plane and fly up with his drawing partner, Jack Caprio.”

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Johnny Hart’s “BC” comic strip that Bate thought would make a great video game.

“We wanted to impress them, so we put them up in the Chateau Laurier Hotel, in the same suite the Queen and Prince Phillip had stayed in on the royal tour a couple of years previous.”

Bate recalls the evening began innocently enough, but then things got a little crazy when the cartoonist got thirsty.

“Johnny said, ‘Yes, that’s all very nice, but what we really need is booze.’
“But when I tried to order a bottle of Scotch from room service, the hotel said no go. Ontario liquor laws. No bottles sold on Sunday.”
“They were, however, allowed to buy individual shots. So John ordered up a tray of 26 shots—which soon disappeared. Crisis averted.”

The party at the Chateau Laurier carried on into the next day and Bate thought a deal would be made. “I thought we had a deal nailed, but the next night at Café Henri Burger, things started going south. Johnny arrives hung over and he gets more morose as the evening wears on. By the time dinner arrives, he’s slumped in his chair, with a Joe Btfsplk cloud over his head and we’re all thinking we’re dead in the water.”

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The restaurant, Cafe Henri Burger, where Canada’s first video game cartridge was born. (photo: Civilization.ca)

Attempting to eat his meal with the NABU gang, Bate recalled Hart needed some prodding into making a deal.

“He (Hart) then tries to eat his Caesar salad and a chunk of Romaine lettuce slips off his fork and plops on the sleeve of his jacket. There’s an embarrassed silence around the table, at which point, my friend David McDonald, who was sitting beside Johnny, looks down at his arm and says: ‘That’s the worst case of photosynthesis I’ve ever seen!’
Hart bursts out laughing and that was it. We had our deal. NABU paid Johnny $25,000 a year for the cable rights to BC and Wizard of Id and we got busy developing a whole series of games based on his characters.”

It would be Bate’s friend, David McDonald, who would come up with the title “Quest for Tires”, a play on the title of the 1981 Academy nominated film “Quest For Fire”.

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Meanwhile, the home console market was thriving in 1982 and Bate figured NABU was missing an opportunity to cash in by selling cartridge versions of the games his team was creating. But NABU was struggling to find its way and President John Kelly wasn’t interested in the game cartridge business. Not only would it be a distraction, but game consoles were at odds with the NABU business plan of using home computer systems. Kelly and Bate agreed that the game division would go independent, yet still provide product for the NABU system

The result was Artech Digital Entertainment. Bate, along with NABU’s top game designers, Rick Banks, John Allen and Steve Armstrong, set up Artech in a converted row house on Fourth Ave. in The Glebe and began work on a cartridge version of BC’s Quest for Tires that was already being played on the NABU Network. NABU itself will last only until 1985, its innovative network streaming model far too advanced for consumers to grasp at the time.

The finished game created by Artech featured a player who takes the role of caveman character from Hart’s comic strip, Thor, who has to save his girlfriend dubbed “Cute Chick” (this is the 1980s remember), who has been kidnapped by a dinosaur. Traveling on his side scrolling unicycle of stone through several levels, Thor moves from the left to the right, avoiding various obstacles, like jumping over potholes or ducking under tree branches. Later levels become more complex, with water features and more villains. Most of the gameplay resembles the action of another successful video game cartridge for the Atari system, “Pitfall!” by Activision, which had a similar gameplay but for inferior graphics.

 

 

I personally remember first seeing “BCs Quest For Tires” when it was first released in 1983, then displayed on a TV screen in the electronics department of The Bay at the Cataraqui Town Centre shopping mall back in Kingston, Ontario. I could not believe my eyes. After years of playing Atari games with its blocky graphics, here was a game that had detailed characters and an addictive game play, light years ahead of anything I had ever seen before. I was mesmerized by its cartoony graphics, sound effects and interesting storyline. It was definitely a ground breaking game when released in 1983. 

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Screenshot of the Commodore64 version of the game.

“What made Quest for Tires special,” Bate recalled, was the horizontal scrolling. “It had never been done before on a system using the Z80 processor, which was the CPU at the heart of the ColecoVision.

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The 1982 ColecoVision home video game system.

“John Allen, one of the Artech founders, had a lot of experience with the Z80 on Radio Shack’s TRS80 aka ‘The Trash-80″.  John had already programmed a nifty pinball game on the TRS80, so he knew how to get the most out of the processor.”

The 1983 release of Quest for Tires was gruelling for Artech, which was trying to fill the product pipeline for Coleco Canada. The toy manufacturer was rolling in cash from the success of their “Cabbage Patch” dolls, which were fetching insane prices on the black market and causing frenzies in stores across the continent. 

With their bankroll from the Cabbage Patch craze, Coleco jumped into the home computer market with a souped up version of the ColecoVision called the Adam. At $600, the Adam came with a letter-quality printer, high-speed storage and 64K of RAM. State of the art in its day.

Bate recalls a visit to the Coleco factory in Montreal’s St. Henri district, where both Adam computers and ColecoVisions were being assembled in an enormous old warehouse next to the train tracks. “When the train pulled in, the whole building began shaking and dust from the ceiling would fall on the assembly line.”

“To the Coleco suits, the Adam and the Cabbage Patch doll were the same thing. Just sausage.” says Bate.

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Coleco’s extremely successful Cabbage Patch Doll craze funded their ventures into the video game industry.

The competition in home video game market was fierce in the early 1980s, and Bate recalls an incident at a convention in Las Vegas. “At the CES show in Vegas in the summer of ’83, Coleco had one of those three-story pavilion booths. They were pushing the Adam as the most sophisticated home computer ever created and their spokesman made that point by climbing up on the podium and taking each of the competitors units, an Atari 2600 or a Sega, and he’d stick it in a toilet with a flushing sound effect. (By 1985, Coleco stopped shipping the Adam. By 1988, the company filed for bankruptcy.)

Quest for Tires would become the first cartridge video game produced in Canada, and was a hit, winning “Game Of The Year” from Video Game Update magazine who said “B.C.’s Quest for Tires isn’t so much a computer game as it is an interactive cartoon”. Hailed as a game that is not another “‘shoot the aliens and save the world scenario”, and had “first rate” animation. It would also rake in awards such as: Critic’s Choice Award: Best Game For Youngsters (awarded by Family Computing), an Arkie Award: Most Humorous Video/Computer Game (awarded by Electronic Games) and Best use of Graphics and Best Sound in a Video Game (awarded by Billboard Magazine).

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The accolades for the Ottawa company’s game and what would go down in history as the first video game cartridge designed in Canada did not come without a price. Those working on the projects became weary of the pressure cooker atmosphere 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Bate designed other games, including the popular “Dam Busters” and “Ace of Aces”. But after three years, he decided to leave Artech and get back to writing.

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Bate’s other game “Dam Busters” of which he says, “I always felt that was my best design”

The video game market suffered what was called  “The video game crash of 1983”. This was a large-scale downturn in the video game industry that occurred from 1983 to 1985 in North America. The crash was attributed to several factors, including a market saturation in the number of game consoles and available games that lacked any quality, and a consumer shift towards personal computers. Video game console revenues peaked at around $3.2 billion in 1983, then abruptly fell to around $100 million in 1985, a collapse of 97 percent. The crash spelled the end of Atari, ColecoVision, Intellivision and other game console companies. It would not be until 1985 with the introduction of the Nintendo Entertainment System that video games would once again surface in popularity.

Rick Banks and his partner, Paul Butler, took over Artech and went on to develop games for the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, Xbox, PlayStation and PCs before they retired, very comfortably, in 2011.

In 1989, three years after he left Artech, Bate teamed up with David Bentley of Halifax to launch the satirical “Frank” magazine in Ottawa. Bate oversaw the Ottawa edition and Frank became notorious for mocking the powerful and elite of Canada.

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Sitting with a glass of wine in the diner, Bate looks back at his time during the early 1980s, and holds a copy of BC’s Quest For Tires, something I recently purchased on Ebay, still in its original box with the instruction booklet. “Those were crazy days. We won’t see that again.”

With current video games reaching new levels of play each day, I asked Michael if he has any favorites he’s currently playing. The once reigning champion of Ottawa’s arcades, “MDB” pulls out his phone and shows me Woody Puzzle.

Staring at the small screen of his phone, Bate fires up the game and explains, “It’s a game for geezers. A slow motion Tetris. I like to keep my hand in, even if there’s not much twitch left.”

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35 years later, the twitchy game hands of Michael Bate hold the instruction booklet for his award winning 1983 game, Quest For Tires. (photo:author)

So, from his time playing video games in a hazy arcade, to working on Canada’s first video game cartridge, to producing Canada’s leading (only) satire magazine, Bate has navigated through a myriad of obstacles, his life sometimes mirroring the characters of his games. As I slipped into the night after our chat I couldn’t help but reminiscence myself about the days and nights I spent playing video games in the 80s, never once thinking that one day I’d be eating fries across from the man that made them.

Andrew King, December 2018

 

 

 

BLAZING MAGNUM: A 1976 Ottawa Bank Heist & Car Chase Captured on film

In 1976 Ottawa had a starring role in an obscure Italian produced film called “Strange Shadows In An Empty Room” starring Stuart Whitman. Filmed in both Ottawa and Montreal, this gritty, Dirty Harry style detective film puts Ottawa in the spotlight as the backdrop for a gritty bank heist and intense car chase sequence.

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Ottawa was a crazy and dangerous place in the 1970s, as portrayed in this film poster.

Who knew Ottawa was such a raw and dangerous place in the 1970s as we will soon see.  Strange Shadows in an Empty Room was released in Italy on March 9, 1976. The film has been released with different titles in other English-speaking countries such as Blazing Magnum in the United Kingdom.

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Without further ado, lets see how Ottawa looked in this blazing 1970s action film… Lights, camera….ACTION!

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The title sequence of the film opens with an aerial shot of Montreal.

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A young woman uses a payphone to try and call her brother, a police detective in Ottawa. No cell phones or texting back then.

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Cut to the brother (Stuart Whitman) in Ottawa cruising around in his car. 

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 In 1976 the police budget for Ottawa must have been generous…the Place DeVille Tower stands in for Ottawa Police Headquarters.

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uh-oh. Some brazen bank robbers are robbing a bank in downtown Ottawa with machine guns and Leggs stockings over their heads!  

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Ottawa detective Tony is on it! He drops a cherry on his brown boat of a car and heads to the bank!

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Things are getting crazy at the bank. 1970s Ottawa dudes in plaid pants are not liked by the bank robbers, obviously. 

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Tony puts the pedal to the metal and blows by the Parliament buildings, in what looks to be a quiet 1970s Sunday….or maybe its rush hour on a weekday and that’s how quiet rush hour traffic was during the 70s. Not sure. 

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Chateau Laurier, The Daly Building, and an OC Transpo bus have a cameo! 

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I don’t know where this bank is that’s being robbed, but the cops en route are taking the scenic route. Canal looks nice in 1976, and great job on those sad median planters NCC. 

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Oh Hey! It’s Albert Street! Looks like Air Canada was in the Fuller Building on the left…

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The same scene as it appears today… (GoogleMaps)

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Bank robbers have had enough and got their cash and head out onto the street into the getaway car…maybe soon heading to the Old Spaghetti Factory or Mother’s to spend some of their new found cash. 

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As the getaway car peels away, I couldn’t help to notice the neat old Canada Post box. Also: classic salt stains on the cars. 

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uh-oh…the bad guys in the Leggs stocking masks do not like Ottawa cops chasing them and open fire with their machine guns. 

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The Ottawa Cops get hit with machine gun fire sending them into a VW Beetle…

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The 1976 Ottawa Police car has a no-nonsense logo and font choice, noticed as it careens into the blue Beetle.

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Things just went from bad to worse for the Ottawa cops…hang on lads…

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The Ottawa Chief is not going to like this. 

 

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The Leggs stockings over the head obviously have affected the vision of the bad guys as they crash into a storefront.

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Being on the mean streets of Ottawa has taught Tony not to take any chances with these Bytown Baddasses and blasts some lead in their general direction. 

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It did not go well for the robbers. 

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Still no answer from brother Tony…still on hold as he is blasting bank robbers with his BLAZING MAGNUM.

That’s all folks! The movie then cuts to Montreal for more action packed 1970s entertainment including topless women and a cross dresser. Highly recommended film available on Amazon.

So glad Ottawa cleaned up its act since the 1970s…

Andrew King, November 2018

 

 

 

 

In Search Of The Royal Wreck

In 1860 the Prince of Wales, future King of England, travelled along the Ottawa River aboard the steamship “Ann Sisson”. It was lost beneath the waves in 1871.

This is the search to find it…

THE LOST STEAMSHIP

The year was 1860 and Ottawa had recently been selected by Queen Victoria as the permanent capital of the Province of Canada, yet the Queen would never visit Canada as it was said she despised traveling on water due to seasickness. Instead, she sent her son, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) in her place to make the first official royal visit to Canada in 1860.

KingEdward_VII_in_coronation_robes- Credit;National Portrait Gallery, London

King Edward VII who travelled to Ottawa to lay the cornerstone for Ottawa’s Parliament Buildings. (image: Wikipedia)

The eighteen year old Prince would visit Newfoundland, the Maritimes and the Province of Canada (later Ontario and Québec) and open the Victoria Bridge between the Island of Montréal and the south shore of the St Lawrence River. Under full Masonic ceremony, the future Grand Master of the Freemasons United Grand Lodge of England, would also laid the cornerstone for our grand Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. (More on that event in a previous column here)

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The original cornerstone of Ottawa’s Parliament Buildings as laid by the future King in 1860.

After a whirlwind tour of Ottawa with residents and businesses giving Edward the “Royal Treatment”, the future King boarded the 139 foot side-wheeler steamship Anne Sisson in Aylmer to tour the young prince up the Ottawa River. This steamship was outfitted for the royal journey, its usual lumber ship duties altered when passenger accommodations were added. Owned by Brewster & Mulholland, from Montreal, they outfitted the ship for the Prince and his entourage to venture north on the river.

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The 139 foot side-wheeler steamship Ann Sisson that carried the Prince OF Wales on his journey up the Ottawa River. (Sketch By Author) 

The Prince left Aylmer and steamed away in the royally appointed ship and as  evening approached, the royal party decided to stay overnight in Quyon, Quebec. The next day she docked in Pontiac and boarded a horse railway there to take Edward on the remainder of his Ottawa Valley Tour. (The remains of that railway were discovered in a previous column here) The royal steam ship then returned to its duties as a lumber steamer, later strengthened, then became a passenger steamer in 1863 transporting passengers between Aylmer/Ottawa and Pontiac under the Union Forwarding and Railway Company. Records show in 1871 the once regal ship was stripped and abandoned in the Ottawa River, its location unknown.

 

Anne Sison-docked at Pontiac, Qc-Credit: Library and Archives Canada

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The Ann Sisson as it appeared at the transfer dock in Pontiac, Qc. (top) and the exact same location as it looks today. Note the horse railway at top right in original photo.

So where is the Royal Wreck? Having been lost for 147 years would there even be anything left of this river steamship? I became intrigued with finding this important piece of Ottawa history and began a quest to find this lost ship.

A quick Google search revealed I was not the only one who was interested in finding the old ship, a Britannia resident by the name of Mike Kaulbars wrote extensively about her on his blog “Britannia: A History”. His research deduced that the ship was abandoned somewhere in the vicinity of Britannia Beach. I contacted Mike and began to collect research materials that would hopefully lead us to our shipwreck.

PROLOGUE 

Ottawa in 1857 was quite different than what we enjoy today, a backwoods encampment of lumber men, canal labourers and military personnel. The streets were dusty dirt paths, the majority of the land still being swamp and forest. The main mode of transportation was by boat, using steamships to carry both goods and passengers along the Ottawa River from Montreal, and then either south through the Rideau Canal system to Kingston, or northbound on the Ottawa River to Chats Falls where a portage railway would meet up with another steamship to carry goods and people further north on the river to Arnprior, Renfrew, and eventually on to Pembroke.

The steamship of choice for the Ottawa River journey were side-wheelers that had a somewhat flat bottom and shallower draught than other steamships of the era. Powered by low pressure, single cylinder steam engines fueled by the plentiful wood supply that grew along the banks of the Ottawa River.

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A steamship similar in size and design to the Ann Sisson, a common design of the mid 19th century…wooden hull, side wheels, central steam engine.

Passengers in the mid 1800ʼs wanting to travel up the Ottawa River would board these steamships in Aylmer, usually departing the busy wharf in the morning and arriving at Chats Falls/Pontiac four hours later around 11am. the Aylmer wharf was also the site of a busy ship building industry that constructed many of the Ottawa River steamships. All that is left of this once busy port are some stone ruins around the Aylmer beach and its marina.

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This is the old Union Forwarding office in Aylmer near the current marina that would have managed all the steamship traffic on the Ottawa River from Aylmer to Pontiac, including our ship, the Ann Sisson. (Photo: author)

It was one of the steamships, our Ann Sisson, that was built in Aylmer and that plied the waters of the Ottawa River taking passengers and lumber back and forth between Pontiac and Aylmer. According to the book “A Foregone Fleet: A Pictorial History Of Steam-Driven Paddleboats on the Ottawa River” by Andrew E. Lamarinde and Gilles L. Seguin, the Anne Sisson was built in 1857.  This ship had a wooden hull braced internally with a series of built-up longitudinal timbers, and the massive iron steam engine weighed 108 metric tons. The keel of the ship had to be strengthened to prevent the engine from breaking through the bottom of the hull.  Iron fasteners would hold wooden planks running longitudinally. 

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Info card on Ann Sisson as displayed at the Symmes Inn Museum in Aylmer.

When the Prince Of Wales arrived in Ottawa for his grand tour of North America, Ann Sisson was only three years old, so it would have been a fairly robust new ship to travel on. Preparations were made for the royal entourage, including cabin appointments for the four hour journey to Quyon, where the royal party made a surprise stay at the only inn in the village, with plates and cutlery being borrowed from residents to accommodate the unscheduled royal visit.

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Steamship travel up the Ottawa River aboard one of the 19th century steamships. Note the Gatineau Hills in the background. (photo: Symmes Inn Museum)

After the departure of Prince Edward Albert and the royal hoopla surrounding his visit, Ann Sisson was further strengthened and continued its work as a lumber vessel hauling timber back and forth until 1863 when it became a full time passenger steamer captained by Denis Murphy. Murphy would later form a partnership in the D. Murphy and Company, which mainly transported lumber and coal on the Ottawa River and Rideau Canal. In 1902 Murphy would represent the riding of Ottawa in the Legislative Assembly Of Ontario as a Conservative member until 1904.

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A newspaper ad that shows the Ann Sisson as a first class steamer piloted by Captain Murphy in 1868.

Having fulfilled its duties on the Ottawa River, records show that Ann Sisson was then unceremoniously stripped of all its valuable hardware and components, abandoned, and burned, left to sink somewhere in the very waters that once carried the future King Of England. If anything remains at all of this 139 foot steamship, it likely would not be much, with both the ravages of a fire and time reducing its chances of survival in any recognizable form.

THE SEARCH 

Mike Kaulbars and his research on the whereabouts of the Ann Sisson lead to a mention in “The Carleton Saga”, a book by Harry and Olive Walker, where it was said a lighthouse keeper at Britannia by the name of Robert Winthrop, navigated in a boat around what he said was the wreck of a “famous boat of the Ottawa Valley fleet, the Ann Sissons”.

The ship was apparently beached and burned near the lighthouse. Kaulbars also uncovered information that a wreck was found in Britannia waters during the summer of 1962, but it was misidentified as the steamship Albert, which was almost identical to the Ann Sisson in both construction and size. Yet that ship, Albert, was recorded to be dissembled in Quyon in 1917, so it could not be in Britannia Bay. Kaulbars later found out it was indeed identified as the Anne Sisson, but no further information on its location could be determined.

So it seems our search leads us to Britannia Bay, just west of downtown Ottawa. Could any evidence of a nearly two hundred year old wooden steamship that burned and sank into the waters off Britannia even remain? It was time to find out.

RESEARCH 

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A closeup of what appears to be the hull of a ship as spotted on GeoOttawa.

One of the greatest resources I use for my research in historical studies is the amazing “Geo Ottawa” map program provided online by the City Of Ottawa. Using aerial photographs from 1928 onwards, it can give an accurate representation of what the city looked like from the air over the years. Using this, I was able to find the earliest aerial photo for the Britannia region, which happened to be 1958. Scanning this old aerial photograph, I noticed a curious  looking shape under the waves. Zooming in on the shadowy shape offshore, it looked remarkably like the outline of a ship.

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Using the scale of the map and comparing the its size to the approximate 140 foot length of the Ann Sisson, it seemed to be a perfect match. Overlaying that 1958 position with a current 2018 aerial map did not show any evidence that the shipwreck was still there, so I decided that an exploration in person was necessary to see if anything remains today.

Locking in the GPS coordinates of where the wreck was supposed to be, I also  downloaded an app on my cell phone that tracks the users GPS position and displays the coordinates so you can walk around to your desired position. Except this location was in the water, and could not be easily walked to.

THE DISCOVERY

In order to successfully locate and identify a shipwreck of this type it would require the assistance of experts in this field, people that could properly analyze and confirm what, if anything, was found lying in the river. Two such experts are Ben Mortimer and Nadine Kopp, both archeologists with the Paterson Group, an archaeological consulting service in the Ottawa area. Kopp’s specialty is “underwater archeology” so her knowledge about 19th century ships and marine construction would provide a welcome set of skills to hopefully identify any remains of the Ann Sisson. 

With our search team assembled, we headed out to the old cottage village of Belltown that straddles Britannia Bay and headed to the shoreline. Knowing we’d be searching underwater we brought the appropriate equipment to try and locate the wreck and possibly record its remains. 

What would be left, if anything? This ship was from the era of the American Civil War, and wrecks from that era are still being found intact, so I kept positive that something would be visible. Wading deeper and deeper into the river and farther from shore with cell phone GPS coordinates flashing before me, something caught our eye in the dark and murky waters: a sand covered square timber. 

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The submerged remains of the 1800s steamship Ann Sisson as found in Britannia Bay. 

With much of the bottom of the Ottawa River being strewn with old lumber from its days as a conduit for timber rafts, I thought it was probably an old log. Yet following the squared timber it lead to other squared timbers, iron fasteners, hull planking, and the tell tale pieces of a ship. 

Kopp quickly examined the wooden planks and hull pieces strewn about and assessed that these were indeed the remains of a ship. Further study showed the remains were that of a mid 1800’s ship, evidence being in the construction techniques visible in the wreck. 

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The iron fasteners and wooden components of the 1800s steamship hull, quietly beneath the waves of the Ottawa River for almost 150 years.

Lying underwater, out of view hidden for decades, the ship’s charred wood revealed its fate of being burned and left to sink into the sand. The old paddle wheeler lies concealed by the shifting sands of time and waves of the Great River. A sad end, for a once important steamship.

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Wooden planking of the steamship lying on the sandy bottom of the river. 

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An iron truss support piece, possibly for added support in the Ann Sisson for its extra-heavy steam engine. 

We documented the ship as best as we could, making sure not to disturb it in hopes that a proper archeological study will later be done. Kopp explained that without definitive proof, it is not possible to confirm that what we found was the Ann Sisson. Cross referencing the construction of the wreck with blueprints would verify it, but those blueprints may be impossible to find. In the meantime, it is a shipwreck of mid-1800s design and construction, lying at the bottom of Britannia Bay where it was reported the Ann Sisson was laid to rest. This sunken vessel remains hidden under the waves until a proper archeological assessment can be completed and its identity can finally be confirmed. In the meantime, what could be a very important piece of Ottawa history has remained underwater for so very long, and I would love to see the remnants of this 19th century steamship be recovered and put in a museum. Perhaps the City Of Ottawa, the Bytown Museum or even the federal government will now step in and preserve what’s left of this Royal Wreck, a reminder of time when the river was our original highway.

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Ann Sisson. An Ottawa River steamship circa 1860. 

The Ann Sisson’s story and its remains should be displayed for all to enjoy,  allowing others to experience a connection to such an important piece of our city’s, and our country’s history. 

Andrew King

August 2018

SOURCES

GeoOttawa

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

Symmes Inn Museum

Library and Archives Ottawa