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

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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.

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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.

 

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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

    

 

The McIntosh Tree: From Apples to Computers, The Legacy Of A Lone Tree South Of Ottawa

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The Macintosh Apple from Dundela, On, one hour south of Ottawa, was the favourite apple of Apple employee Jef Raskin, who named his 1984 computer after the crisp apple. (wikipedia)

In 1984, Apple launched the Macintosh, the first personal computer to be sold that featured an integral graphical user interface and mouse. It was a turning point for Apple Inc. that would later develop the popular iPhone that so many of us use today. The Macintosh helped launch Apple’s success, and that name has its roots, literally in a small town south of Ottawa. Within the woods of Dundela is where the McInstosh apple was first discovered in the early 1800s that would later become Apple computer designer Jef Raskin’s favourite apple. The Macintosh would grow to be one of the world’s most recognized computers, and a legal dispute resulted in the apple name being spelled “Macintosh” instead of “McIntosh”.

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Steve Jobs and the 1984 Macintosh Computer.

Back in 1811, John McIntosh, a transplanted American from New York discovered an apple sapling on his farmland about an hour south of Ottawa. While clearing the overgrown plot of land, McIntosh discovered some wild apple seedlings on his farm. He transplanted the seedlings next to his house. One of the seedlings bore particularly good fruit and his son, Allan, learned about grafting tress and began cloning apples so the McIntoshes could maintain the distinctive properties of the fruit from the original tree.

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Farmer Macintosh, standing next to the original Mac tree, circa 1900.

The “McIntosh Red” entered commercial production in 1870 and the apple became widely popular after 1900. Sadly, a fire damaged the original McIntosh tree in 1894 and it last produced fruit in 1908, then died and collapsed in 1910. The original tree discovered by John McIntosh bore fruit for more than ninety years, and horticulturalists from Upper Canada Village Heritage park saved cuttings from the last known first-generation McIntosh graft before it died, and have produced clones that now grow in a fenced garden in their heritage park.

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This small marker indicates where the first Macintosh apple tree grew, spawning a history of crisp tasty apples, and computers. (Google Streetview)

Now 207 years old, the McIntosh apple still has highly desirable taste, texture, aroma, and appearance, and is also suited for growing in this country’s cold climate. Hybrids, such as the Cortland, Empire, Lobo and Spartan, were all derived from this original tree.

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This map indicates the general location of the first Macintosh Apple tree. (Google Maps)

It’s popularity as an apple certainly resonated with Apple Inc. employee Jef Raskin, who in the late 1970s envisioned an easy-to-use, low-cost computer for the average consumer. It would be a few years later that the “Macintosh” or “Mac” computer was introduced in January 1984 named after his favourite fruit…the Macintosh apple. It came bundled with two applications, MacWrite and MacPaint, and later MacOffice. So that old apple tree south of Ottawa is responsible for not only years of being the product of pies and school lunchboxes, but also the current iMac desktop computers and laptops, the MacBooks.

Next time you take a bite of one of those fresh McInstosh apples this fall season, remember its literal roots south of town, and the computers it spawned.

Andrew King, September 2018

SOURCES:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McIntosh_(apple)

http://history-computer.com/ModernComputer/Personal/Macintosh.html

Google Maps

 

Library document reveals Canada’s first Prime Minister was a member of the Knights Templar

The title of “Sir” was bestowed upon Prime Minister John A. Macdonald on the morning of July 1, 1867, Dominion Day, in Ottawa. It is common for most Canadians to refer to our first Prime Minister as “Sir John A”, but the knighthood that made Macdonald Knight Commander in 1867 was not his first ascension to an order of knights. A document in the Ottawa archives shows he was appointed a member of the Knights Templar 13 years earlier.

THE TEMPLARS IN CANADA

Macdonald’s family immigrated to Kingston, Ontario in 1820 from Scotland, where John Alexander would later begin his practice as a lawyer. Twenty years earlier in the same town, according to the 1890 document “History Of Knights Templar In Canada” by J. Ross Robertson, the first encampment of Templars in Canada began.

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From the “History Of Knights Templar In Canada” detailing how the ancient order of Knights Templar began in Kingston, On.

This Encampment was known as “No.1 or St. John’s in the Town of Kingston”, and met in the house of Sir George Millward, known by the sign of the Old King’s Head. This Templar encampment was also known as St. John’s Encampment No.1.

Macdonald would enter politics at a municipal level, serving as alderman in Kingston from 1843–46. He took an increasingly active part in Conservative politics and by 1844 (at age 29) was elected to the Legislative Assembly of the Province Of Canada to represent Kingston. A year later he was made a Royal Arch Mason.

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Sir John A. Macdonald’s Royal Arch Mason Certificate from 1845. ITNOTGAOTU is an acronym for “In The Name Of The Great Architect Of The Universe” (Library and Archives Canada)

Ten years later Macdonald became a member of the Knights Templar. How do we know this is true?

In Ottawa, within the Library and Archives Of Canada, there lies a document “e008303514-v6” that looks to be Sir John A. Macdonald’s registration certificate with the Masonic Knights Templar, dated June 15th 1854.

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Dated June 15th 1854, Canada’s First Prime Minister’s certificate as a member of the ancient order of the Knights Templar. (Library and Archives Canada)

Written in brush script are the words:

“This is to certify that Companion John Alexander Macdonald of the Royal Arch Chapter 491 meeting in Kingston in Canada West and called The Ancient Frontenac Chapter and who was installed on the 10th day of April AL 5858 a Knight Companion of the Order of Masonic Knights Templar in the Hugh de Payens Encampment meeting in Kingston…”

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Hugues de Payens was the co-founder and first Grand Master of the Knights Templar in 1118 AD.

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Hugh de Payan, left, co-founder and first Grand Master of the Knights Templar in Jerusalem. (Wikipedia)

It seems the Templars were alive and well operating their first encampment in Kingston, and Macdonald became a Knight of the Order 13 years before he would be given his official title of “Sir” as Prime Minister of Canada.

THE TEMPLAR PRIME MINISTER

So what did our first Prime Minister, being a member of the Knights Templar, mean for Canada? Well, one could speculate that a large network of Templars and members of the related Masonic order were working together to shape this country. The founding fathers did the same in the United States. Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and James Munroe were all part of the Masonic order shaping America to their doctrine.

In Canada it was no different, Sir John A Macdonald, and the Fathers Of Confederation were part of this secret society, including the second Prime Minister, Sir John Abbott. There were thirty-seven men called the “Fathers Of Confederation” that shaped this country as we know it. Eleven of these men were Freemasons.

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11 of the 37 Fathers Of Confederation were Freemasons or Templars.

Hewitt Bernard, Sir Alexander Campbell, Sir Frederick Bowker Terrington Carter, Edward Barron Chandler, Alexander Tilloch Galt, John Hamilton Gray, Thomas Haviland, William Alexander Henry, William Henry Pope, Sir Leonard Tilley, and Sir John A. Macdonald. Whether by coincidence or planning, almost a third of Canada’s Confederation Fathers were part of this ancient order.

 

 

The capital of Canada, OTTAWA, was not only being governed by the Knights Templar and Freemasons, but it was also being built according to their ideals and symbology, hidden in the architecture that we see today. (More on that in a previous post HERE)

Many of Ottawa’s parliamentary buildings built during the time of Confederation were designed with a Templar and Masonic theme, with Dominion Architect Thomas Fuller, also being a member of the Masonic Templars. There was no escaping it.

Proof of our first Prime Minister being a Templar Knight is not only in the the document within the archive building, but it can also be seen in Kingston, where it all began.

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Behind the windowless lodge of the Kingston Masonic Temple, in a glass case there lies Macdonald’s gilded apron and gauntlets, along with his regalia as Past Grand Senior Warden of the ancient order.

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Further proof of Macdonald’s Templar past lies behind a glass case.

It is not known how many current members of parliament are members of this ancient order, but I’m sure they are some still operating as they have been for centuries, Knights Of The Political Round Tables of this country…

Andrew King September 2018

SOURCES

http://www.hamiltonvalleyscottishrite.com/Miscellaneous/Blogs/April-2018/Sir-John-A-MacDonald-a-k-a-R-W-Bro-John-A-Mac-(1)

https://books.google.ca/books?id=NAQBAAAAYAAJ&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Library and Archives Canada

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE CODEX: An amazing 17th century illustrated manuscript documenting early Canada lies in an Oklahoma museum

In Tulsa, Oklahoma there is a museum that lies on the outskirts of town, and unbeknownst to many, it houses the world’s largest, most comprehensive collection of art of the American West.  Also within its collection is a book that one Thomas Gilcrease purchased from a bookseller in London, England back in 1949. The book turned out to be a rare, illustrated manuscript depicting life in New France in the 1600s as sketched by a French Jesuit by the name of Louis Nicolas on this travels throughout New France in the late 1600s. This fascinating manuscript over three centuries old remains in the Gilcrease Museum, and is one of its oldest documents. It is called the CODEX CANADENSIS.

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The inside of the book cover depicts a map of early Canada circa late 1600s.

The book contains 180 drawings that depict indigenous people of North America as well as the animals, birds and plants of New France in the late 17th century. These original drawings were sketched on parchment with brown ink and watercolour.

Such documentation of what Canada was like in the 1600s with pictorial representations are extremely rare, which makes the Codex canadensis an invaluable record of that time period in Canadian history. It is interesting that this significant artifact is not in a Canadian museum.

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An interesting depiction of native sailing vessels, which you normally never hear about.

The Codex is an incredible compendium of indigenous life, with its sketches representing many different communities, from Algonquin to Iroquois, their dress, watercraft, cabins, and body decorations all wonderfully represented through Nicolas’ sketches. It is completely mind-blowing to know that such a record of this period exists.

I visited the Gilcrease Museum’s online resources, and the Library and Archives Canada, which has a digitized version of the Codex here. Oddly, all the images online are out of focus, low resolution images. However, if you manipulate the website address of each image by replacing the image number in the address bar with an X, you will get a high resolution version that allows a closer examination. I have done this to a select group of its pages, and I present these here for you to examine. Enjoy this amazing glimpse back in time!

UPDATE: Joesph from the Gilcrease Museum contacted me and provided this information for readers wishing to gain full access to the hi-res images of the Codex. Instructions are as follows:

2.Select Download, just above the image (you will need to create a profile if you don’t have one).
3.Choose the option ‘Compressed archive (.ZIP)’ and click download.
These are 4000 pixel images on the longest side, but are downsized to 72dpi/ppi (so fairly similar to the ones you are finding using the method you described).
Hope this is helpful for people looking to download the whole set.
Kindest Regards,
Joseph (DBA at Gilcrease)
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A sun diagram, with a native sowing seeds.

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Native fishing practices.

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Sailing canoe!

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ummmmm. I guess we had unicorns in the 17th century here in Canada?

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It is interesting to note that on all the images of the native people, there is a “cross” symbol marked on their heads…what would this be a representation of? The Jesuit cross? An indigenous symbol?

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There’s even a drawing of Jacques Cartier’s ship that arrived in 1534!

 

Andrew King

August 2018

 

SOURCES:

The Gilcrease Museum

Library and Archives Canada

QUEST FOR THE CAIRN

Cairns are an interesting form of marking a special place. The word cairn comes from the Scottish Gaelic word, “càrn”, and have been used for a variety of purposes from prehistoric times.

In Prince Edward County, known for its blossoming vineyards, there is a winery called “Chadsey’s Cairns” named after Ira Chadsey, a late 19th century farmer who built stone cairns at the back of the property claiming they would guide him home in the afterlife when he returned as a white horse. The stone cairns were more likely fence posts of field rubble, piled there by Ira clearing his fields, but the story is a legend in the County.

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Chadsey’s stone cairn. (image: ByChadseysCairns.com)

There is another cairn in the County with an equally interesting legend, that of a cairn being erected on the highest point in all the land. On a beautiful, sunny June day I thought it would be fun to try and find this cairn that marks the “Peak Of The County”.

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A modern topographic map shows the “high” area in white.

Apparently located in Ameliasburgh Township on the west side of the island, our first stop was the Ameliasburgh Heritage Museum to look for clues. An amazing museum that recreates 19th century County life, many historic buildings from around the County were moved here, which you can enter and visualize what early life must have been like in the County.

Not finding much, I checked Google to see what kind of topographic map I could find that may show the highest point in PEC. A map from what looks to be from the 1950s shows the topography of the county and there on the map was the typical “pyramid” symbol that denotes some kind of survey marker.

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A “pyramid” symbol denotes a high elevation marker on this old topographic map of the County.

That pyramid likely marks the spot where a geodetic survey marker was placed, called a “horizontal control point” indicating the highest elevation in an area, this case being Prince Edward County.

Noting the location, just south of Ameliasburgh, we headed in that direction visually scouting the land looking for what could be the highest point. Guessing one side of the hill near Salem and Whitney roads, we scoured the scrub brush and scanning the overgrown field, an obelisk was soon visible. We had found the cairn.

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Standing about 4 feet high, the concrete obelisk has now been consumed by nature, overgrown, and hidden from view. Unless you knew of it, it would be lost in time forever, sitting like a quiet sentinel on a windswept peak of Prince Edward County. Likely erected when the survey maps data was compiled in 1927, this almost one hundred year old cairn remains intact, yet concealed by the bushes that surround it.

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Likely built in the 1920s to mark the high elevation point, the concrete obelisk is quietly hidden in the overgrown hilltop south of Ameliasburgh.

However, a quick fact check as to whether this really was the highest point in the County showed that it was not, as it is noted to be at 122m elevation, but another pyramid on the map near Glenora showed an elevation of 156m!

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This area near Glenora looks to be the HIGHEST point in the County, but if there is a cairn there, it is inaccessible by road.

Checking the old topographic map there is indeed another pyramid symbol near Glenora, but that cairn, if there, is in a completely inaccessible area. Perhaps another adventure for another day.

Andrew King, June 2018

TRAPPED IN TIME: Chemical freighter ship runs aground on remains of a submerged town

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“Chem Norma” trapped on submerged 1800s ruins in the St. Lawrence River (Photo credit: @SeawayNNY: Suzy Austin)

The Saint Lawrence Seaway, that opened for marine traffic in 1959, is a system of canals and locks that allows oceangoing vessels to travel from the Atlantic Ocean, down the St. Lawrence River and into the Great Lakes.

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Listing to one side aground on the ruins of an old submerged village. (Image @SeawayNNY:Suzy Austin)

There is a currently a 145metre oil/chemical tanker that has run aground off the town of Morrisburg south of Ottawa, and it is still stuck there. What is trapping the vessel turns out to be the submerged ruins of an 1800s lock system, part of the now submerged ruins of a flooded village.

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Trapped on the ruins of the old lock submerged below. (photo credit: @SeawayNNY: Suzy Austin)

In the 1950s in order to necessitate the building of the St. Lawrence Seaway, over 80 homes were moved and the entire downtown business district of Morrisburg was demolished and relocated to a shopping plaza. The CN railway line was moved 1.1 kilometers north of its original location. Countless historic buildings and other heritage artifacts were moved and assembled to create Upper Canada Village, a theme park tribute to the area’s first pioneers.

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Current Google Map of Morrisburg, submerged portion of the village is shown in darker blue.

So how do we know if it has hit part of the old submerged village? We go to the maps.

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I took a screen grab of the aground freighter’s position on Marine Traffic App, “The Chem Norma” is registered from the Marshall Is.

Then using that app map, we can overlay it on a current google map…to match it up where it is exactly.

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Then taking a pre-flooded aerial view of the town of Morrisburg, (it was partially flooded out for the St.Lawrence Seaway Project Of The 1950s) we can see what used to be there…

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…and what used to be there was a massive OLD 1800s lock system and docks that serviced the old town of Morrisburg. It now lies submerged off the current shoreline, LOCK 23….and this is what the freighter has hit and is stuck on.

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So there you have it, a modern day freighter ship trapped on the submerged remains of an old town and its locks, lying in the watery depths below.

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Here is a photo of what the freighter has run aground on, before it got flooded. (image: Morrisburgdivesites.wordpress.com)

It seems history has come back from the depths to take hold of a modern ship.

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With thanks to @SeawayNNY and https://morrisburgdivesites.files.wordpress.com/

Andrew King June 2018

 

 

 

 

OAK ISLAND IN AN ACORN SHELL

Much has been written, explored and theorized about Oak Island, a modest sized island in Mahone Bay, about an hour;s drive from Halifax, Nova Scotia. The word “mahone” can be traced back to early 18th century settlers in the region, but the world can also be seen as a derivative of the French word “mahonne”, which is a type of ship. In Spanish, “Mahon” is a harbour port, oddly what this bay area is, but this is likely a coincidence.

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Oak Island, Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia. (Google Maps)

One of the over 350 islands in Mahone Bay, Oak Island covers 140-acres and is privately owned. The Mik’Maq natives of the area soon saw an influx of  Europeans, which were French fishermen who, by the 1750s, had built a few houses on the future site of what is now Chester. In the late 1750s the British who had taken over Acadia from the French, enacted a series of measures to encourage settlement of the area by the European-descended New Englanders.

In 1762 Oak Island was officially surveyed and divided into 32 four-acre lots, but was known as “Smith’s Island” after a settler of the area. In 1778 it was re-named “Gloucester Isle”. Later it became “Oak Island” and in 1784, the government made additional land grants, this time to former British soldiers, which included parts of Oak Island.

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The cast of the popular TV show on the History Network “Curse of Oak Island” (OakIslandTours website photo)

Oak Island Tours now operates on the island, a partnership between Dan Blankenship, brothers Rick and Marty Lagina, Craig Tester and Alan J. Kostrzewa that started in 2007. In 2013 Prometheus Entertainment and The History Channel started producing “The Curse of Oak Island”, which follows these partners in their continued exploration efforts.

The first time there was ever any concept of something being buried on the island comes from Daniel McInnis, who at age 13 in June of 1795, discovered on Oak Island a clearing in the forest, with many old oak stumps surrounding a huge single oak tree with a sawed-off limb and a block and tackle hung from it, about 16 feet off the ground. Underneath the limb was a noticeable bowl-shaped depression about 13 feet in diameter suggesting something was buried below, the ground having settled. Information on this first account can be found in newspaper articles of the years 1861-64.

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A 1970s postcard aerial view of Oak Island.

The next day Daniel McInnis returns to the site with friends John Smith (age 19) and Anthony Vaughan (age 16). This time they find the remains of a road from the oak tree to the western tip of the island. Digging into the depression that was found they find at a two foot depth below the surface there is a layer of flat stones. Now at ten feet down, a platform of rotting oak logs is encountered, with ends embedded in the clay walls which show signs of previous pick axe digging.

Underneath that oak platform is a gap of two feet from soil settling and then another platform at twenty feet. Once the boys get to 25 feet after several weeks digging, they stopped and refiled the hole, looking for help.

Later that same month, one of the boys, John Smith buys Lot 18, the site of the pit, and builds a house.

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Schematic of the dug pit on Oak Island.

It would not be until 1804 when a group of interested gentlemen who called themselves “The Onslow Syndicate” begins excavations on the Pit. Work begins again and they find notches in the sides every ten feet down, where oak platforms were originally embedded. At 30 feet, charcoal is encountered, likely used in a ventilation furnace. At 40 feet, a lot of putty is encountered, likely used for sealing an air vent or to plug water leaks. At 50 feet, beach stones are encountered, likely used for backfilling a flood tunnel. At 60 feet, much coconut fibre is found, perhaps used for rope, or caulking with putty. At the 90 foot level, a large stone slab weighing 175-500 pounds measuring 24-36 inches by 12-16 inches is found, with an inscription. Now at 90 feet, water is slowly seeping through the clay. Hitting the 93 foot level, the ground is probed with an iron bar where at 98 feet, they hit a another wood platform. The extent of the wood goes to the the sides of the pit. Work is halted, but when they return a couple of days later, they find the fit has now filled with water, up to a 33ft. depth.

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Early 20th century photo of Oak ISland. (Nova Scotia Archives)

This would be the start of an unbelievable amount of future endevours, loss of life, and millions of dollars spent on trying to solve the mystery of what is actually on Oak Island. These tales are best left to the myriad of books out there, which I encourage you to read.

I only wanted to give a brief background as we will focus on something completely different than the infamous Money Pit.

THE STONE

When at the 90 ft. depth, a stone with odd symbols inscribed on its surface was found face down in the dug out shaft. Not much is known about the stone because it has since disappeared, but it is reported to have been 2-3′ long by 12-16″ wide.

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The inscribed stone, a replica of it as the original has gone missing.

The stone was was first reported in a July 2, 1862 Halifax Sun and Advisor article, which mentioned a June 2, 1862 letter that talked about the inscribed stone. A description of its discovery during the 1804 excavation recalls:

“Some [layers] were charcoal, some putty, and one at 80 feet was a stone cut square, two feet long and about a foot thick, with several characters cut on it.”

The odd symbols defied explanation for years and it was not until 1949 when Edward Rowe Snow’s book, “True Tales of Buried Treasure” translated it into something special.

The stone evaded location but in an 1863 newspaper article, the stone was said to have been built into the “chimney of an old house near the pit”. That chimney of the house was the house of Smith, the original discoverer who had purchased the area of the pit and built a house nearby, as mentioned previously. It was described then to have some unusual features:

“There were some rudely cut letters, figures or characters upon it. I cannot recollect which, but they appear as if they had been scraped out by a blunt instrument, rather than cut with a sharp one.”

Later, inquiries in 1864 discovered that the said chimney had been enclosed in wood and surrounded by a staircase

It was later reported that the stone was removed and taken to Halifax. Among those who worked to remove the stone was Jefferson W. MacDonald. According to another source, the stone was taken out of the chimney and moved to Halifax where it was said to have been deciphered, saying:

“Ten feet below are two million pounds buried”

Fast forward to 1911 when the stone was now being used at Creighton’s bookbindery in Halifax. Apparently a generation later, with the inscription nearly worn away, the stone went to a bookstore in Halifax, and then disappeared altogether from history.

No tracings or rubbings of the original have survived although it was said to have been viewed by hundreds of people. The only symbols that can be seen today are those recorded from a secondhand source, and a replica stone exists in the Oak Island museum.

Because of its lack of of authenticity, I will forgo trying to theorize what the inscription says, although it does look similar to the “Pigpen” ciphers used by the Knights Templar and later the Freemasons (more on them later) and also the the Rosicrucian brotherhood.

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The Templar cipher was used by the Knights Templar during their era of activity to keep messages secret between brothers of the Templar. It uses the Templar cross as its cipher basis. Freemasons began using the cipher in the early 18th century to keep their records of history and rites private, and was used for correspondence between lodge leaders.

Tombstones of Freemasons can also be found which use the system as part of the engravings. One of the earliest stones in Trinity Church Cemetery in New York City, which opened in 1697, contains a cipher of this type which deciphers to “Remember death” and George Washington’s army had documentation about the system, and during the American Civil War, the cipher system was used by Union prisoners in Confederate prisons.

It is remarkable the similarities between the Templar/Freemason cipher and the Oak Island stone which lends itself to the theory that the Templars/Freemasons were involved with Oak Island…but more on that later.

Andrew King, May 27th, 2018

OAK ISLAND: Clues and suspects

CLUE

The game of Clue is a board game developed in 1949, currently distributed by the American game and toy company, Hasbro. The object of the game is to determine who murdered the game’s victim, where the crime took place, and which weapon was used. Then each player deduces the answer by strategically moving around a game board representing the rooms of a mansion, collecting clues and finally solving the mystery of who the murderer was and where they did the crime and with what weapon. Its an amazing game and I still enjoy playing it today.

This is not far off off how we should be looking at the various clues left behind in Canada, and elsewhere, as to who was visiting these shores in the Great Gap. The Great Gap would be between the years 1000 and 1497, when it is said the Norse came here and then 500 years later, John Cabot.. Who would be capable of making a trans-oceanic journey during that time? Why would they come, what is their motivation? Are there clues left behind that can help us determine the answer to these questions?

So, using a detective game as our inspiration, let’s examine the Who, What, When, and Where of this very vague historical gap.

THE PREMISE

In between 1000 and 1497 you would need to get to Canada via a boat of some sort. So who had boats that could successfully cross the Atlantic during that time?

THE SUSPECTS

THE NORSE

Being hardy seafarers for centuries, and with their success at crossing the Atlantic being already proven with their ruins and objects left behind at L’Anse Aux Meadows, we can consider the Norse as a suspect on Oak Island. Their recorded sagas of the journey tell us that they left Canada to return home again due to strife within their group and with the indigenous population. The hardships of settlement in what was likely the Miramichi area just wasn’t worth their time here. That’s not to say other Norse settlers came over, it’s just that those trips were not recorded, and I believe there is proof of that in the Arctic regions where they found European objects which have been carbon dated to around the 1300s.

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A white pine figure carved of cloaked person with a cross on the chest, dated to 1250-1300. (Image:Museum Of History)

Those objects, some of which are on display at the Museum Of Canadian History, include chain mail armour, sword blades, oak wood barrels, a carved figure in a tunic with a cross (that story previously told here) and woven cloth. Was it the Norse? Could it have been someone else from Europe? Perhaps Northern Irish or Scottish adventurers made their way over to Canada, venturing into Nova Scotia, Mahone Bay and Oak Island.

THE PORTUGUESE

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Statue of Corte-Real in St. John’s, NFLD (image: Wikipedia)

The Portugese only became leaders of exploration during their intensive maritime exploits of the 15th and 16th centuries, focusing mostly on Africa and the southern Atlantic. There is speculation that a Portuguese sailor by the name of João Vaz Corte-Real visited Canada in 1473, which is based on a recording of his adventures from Gaspar Frutuoso’s book “Saudades de terra” from around 1570-80. In it there is a description of a claim Corte-Real discovered a place called Terra Nova do Bacalhau ( New Land of the Codfish), which is considered to be modern day Newfoundland. A statue of him is in St. John’s, NFLD.

Evidence of their travels to Atlantic Canada can be seen in various place names, such as Labrador, which is thought to be named after João Fernandes, a “lavrador,” (a farmer).

It is said that Alvares Fagundes in 1520 tried to set up a colony in Canada, yet its location  has never been found, possibly it is in Cape Breton. There are no permanent Portuguese settlements currently known to have lasted, with many of these 15th-16th century Portuguese fisherman staying in their boats up near Newfoundland, a presence that is still seen today while they fish for cod on the Grand Banks. It seems unlikely these boat based fishermen would have come south to Oak Island, but they are a suspect nonetheless.

THE SCOTTISH

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Nicolo Zeno (Wikipedia)

During the 14th century, two brothers from Venice, Italy by the names of Nicolò and Antonio Zeno became famous during the Renaissance for an alleged adventure exploring the waters of the North Atlantic and Arctic regions. They had another brother, a Venetian naval hero named Carlo Zeno. This whole Zeno family was part of the Venice aristocracy and held the franchise for transport between Venice and the Holy Land during the Crusades. The Zenos built up a sizable amount of wealth and were well established in Venice.

Now it should be mentioned before we dig deeper into the Zenos and their important part in this mystery that the academic community considers their stories a fraud. For reasons about to be mentioned, the Zenos have never really been considered a plausible source of historic fact, but you, as the reader, can decide if what we are about to hear is real or a fabrication.

In the year 1558, 150 years after the deaths Nicolo and Antonio Zeno, a family descendant discovered a series of letters, maps and correspondence between the two brothers written around 1400. In these old letters it is recorded that the Zeno members embarked on a fantastic voyage of exploration throughout the North Atlantic to distant lands under the command of a prince named Zichmni. (More on Zichmni later)

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The Zeno map of their adventures showing the places they explored, including “Estotiland” shown on the far left, possibly Nova Scotia.

Estotiland

In the letters Nicolo wrote to his brother Antonio, Nicolo says he headed from Venice to England in 1380 and then returned to Venice five years later around 1385. In that time Nicolo says he was blown off course in his ship, running aground and stranded on an island. Here on this island Nicolo was rescued by someone called  “Zichmni”, who is described as a prince who owned some islands off the coast of another island called Frislanda. He ruled the area of Sorand, south-east of Frislanda.

Nicolo in the letters says he and his brother should go back to Frislanda, which they do and hang out with this said Prince Zichmni. While there, the Zeno brothers and Zichmni decide to embark on some adventures to Iceland and around the northern Scottish islands of the Shetlands and Faroe Islands. While on this adventure the gang meets a fisherman who was apparently blown off course and was stranded in a far off land for 25 years. Here the fisherman encountered strange animals, natives and a man with books who spoke Latin. The fisherman had eventually made it back to Frislanda and recounted the tale to his prince, Zichmni. Inspired by this fantastic voyage Zichmni decides he too wants to visit this land described by the fisherman and puts Antonio Zeno in charge of a fleet of ships to make the voyage to the distant land mentioned by the fisherman.

The year is now 1398 and Zichmni and Antonio Zeno sail west of Frislanda where they land in a place they call “Trin”, on the southern end of place they call “Engrouelanda”. Zichmni likes the climate and the soil, but his sailors find it inhospitable so they return home with Antonio while Zichmni remains behind with some of his men to explore the area and build a town. Maps were drawn of the exploration and were included with the letters that were written.

What?

First of all, let’s see if any of this makes sense. Frislanda is thought to be the area of northern Scotland and the Faroe Islands. If we look at the names mentioned, the land ruled by Prince Zichmni is called Sorand, or “Sorant”, possibly a translation of “Scotland”. If we look at who was ruling northern Scotland and the Faroe Islands during the 1380-98 time period, we come across the name Johann Reinhold Forster. Forster was an 18th century naturalist, best known as the resident naturalist on James Cook’s second Pacific voyage in 1772. Forster proposed that Zichmni was in fact the Earl of Orkney, Henry Sinclair. Henry Sinclair was the son and heir of William Sinclair, Lord of Roslin, and his wife Isabella, daughter of Maol Ísa, Jarl of Orkney, or “Earl Of Orkney”.

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Orkney is a set of islands north of Scotland, invaded and forcibly annexed by Norway in 875 and settled by the Norse. Henry Sinclair took over the lands from Norway in 1379 as the earldom passed to the Sinclair family, who were also barons of Roslin near Edinburgh in Scotland. Sinclair Of Orkney, which makes Orkney being the possible location of Frislanda. When we compare a map of the Zenos of Frislanda, and the Orkney islands, they are a match. The only confirmed map of Scotland is from 1560, the exact same time the Zeno map was found. The “confirmed” map of Scotland clearly shows Orkney as an island as does the Zeno map, which called is Frislanda.

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A confirmed authentic map of Scotland showing Orkney from 1560. (image: BBC)

These elements lead Forster to claim that Sinclair and Zichmni were one and the same, as his timeline of rule, places of rule and his actions match the Zeno narrative. It must be noted that despite the fact that most historians call the Zeno maps and letters a hoax, there is a remarkable number of coincidences that so make it seem plausible.

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Sinclair of Scotland or Zichmni of Sorand?

The Zeno story does seem fantastical, and it outlines details that seem hard to imagine and the reasoning for including them puzzling. For example Antonio Zeno describes a spring of pitch running down to the sea int the newly discovered land. Detractors of the Zeno stories say that if it was Henry Sinclair that was Zichmni, then why isn’t there a record of the trip in Sinclair’s official history? Perhaps history sometimes doesn’t need to be written down to be accepted, and in fact, maybe it was Zeno who was put in charge of recording the event for Sinclair/Zichmni?

These are the major suspects as to who could have been lurking in the Nova Scotia area in the distant past. More recent suspects that may have been at Oak Island also come into play…

PIRATES AND THOSE OF DESPERATION

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Captain Kidd after his execution in 1701.

One of the earliest theories about Oak Island is that it held treasure buried there by Captain Kidd. Born in Scotland himself, Kidd was a known pirate on the New England coast, and before his execution in 1701, was known to have buried his treasures before his arrest while sailing an obscure sloop, so it is possible Kidd came to the island.

Perhaps Spanish sailors went to Oak Island to hold treasure from a wrecked ship. Another theory is that there were British troops stationed there during the American Revolution, or that they buried loot on the island from the British invasion of Cuba.

During the Seven Years War between 1756 and 1763, it could have also been French Army engineers hiding the treasures of the Fortress Of Louisburg after it fell to the British.

There are many clues on Oak Island that reveal who was most likely there, clues we will look at in a future post. These and more will become more clear in the following pages as we peel back the layers of a very complex puzzle on Oak Island.

TOMORROW: The Island.

Andrew King, May 26th, 2018