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DAY 2: Cog In The Wheel

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Samuel deChamplain’s 1632 map of the East Coast.

Samuel de Champlain’s map of 1632 refers to a tributary in Miramichi Bay as “Crow Brook”. This is what is now known as “French Fort Cove” because at its mouth on the western bank, known as Kethro lookout, it was the site of a French battery in 1756. It is curious that Champlain on more than one occasion has appeared on the scene in the footsteps of previous explorers, in this case the Norse, who likely settled in the Miramichi area.

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French Fort Cove and Nordein marked on Google Maps.

It is also curious that the area known as French Fort cove fits the description of Hop from the Norse sagas. It has a hill where the settlement was built (other parts of Miramichi towards the coastal area is relatively flat), has a protected harbour area, and a stone cliff that is mentioned in the sagas where they battled the natives. A flowing brook would have been full of salmon, also mentioned. Wild grapes grow in the cove on its hills. A few hundred metres from this area the village of “Nordin” exists, a Nordic name. Coincidence perhaps.

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An arrangement of four cut stones at French Cove. Date unknown.

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Stone cleared off with scribed marks.

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Amazingly, I stumbled upon the abandoned 1800s quarry used to provide the stone for Langevin Block (Prime Minister’s Office) in Ottawa.

A brief exploration of the area turned up some interesting finds, but it is unclear the age of these historic artifacts. They could be quite possibly be remnants of the 1700s French Fort that was there.

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Another search occurred at Oak Point, as oak was revered by the Norse for its boat building use. This did not fit the description. Also checked out was Burnt Church, a place near the mouth of the river that housed a 1600s French missionary, later burnt down by the British. This also fit the description, but is an active reservation for the Burnt Church First Nation Mi’kmaq. The Norse likely traded with the Mi’kmaq, but relations turned ugly and the two battled often, a possible reason for their departure.

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Carved stone found at Burnt Church, ‘IHS” and the cross. “In Hoc Signo”  a Latin phrase meaning “In this sign you will conquer”

We have a very specific timeline of history regarding our first overseas visitors to Canada. History tells us the Norse Vikings from Iceland via Greenland came around 1000AD, then John Cabot in 1497AD. That is almost a 500year gap. So we are to believe that in those 500 years no one came over to Canada…no one at all? I find this very hard to believe.

The Norse were on the eastern coast of Canada in 1000AD, so the possibility exists someone else did it in the 500 year gap between them and Cabot. We know that the “Cog” ships were of a more advanced construction than the Nose Knarr boats, which we know made the journey. Northern Europe had such ships during the medieval era that would ply the Atlantic full of trade goods. A cog is a type of ship that first appeared in the 10th century, and was widely used from around the 12th century on. Cogs, and their sister ships, the birlinn, were clinker-built, generally of oak. They resembled and were constructed very similarly to the Norse knarr ships, probably due to the fact that the Norse and Scots were close in both proximity and relations at that time. Sharing stories of exploration and ship building technology would have been common.

Fitted with a single mast and a square-rigged single sail, these vessels were mostly associated with seagoing trade in medieval Europe and ranged in length from about 15 to 25 meters (49 to 82 ft) with a beam of 5 to 8 meters (16 to 26 ft), and could carry up to about 200 tons of cargo.

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Cogs had a flat bottom at midships but gradually shifted to overlapped planks near the bow and stern. Caulking of hull planks would have been tarred moss that was inserted into curved grooves, covered with wooden laths, and secured by metal staples called sintels. Using a a stern-mounted hanging central rudder (which was a unique northern development) to steer. These ships were the most common vessels of the medieval era and would have made long distance trips. It would not be stretch that these vessels would hopscotch between islands of northern Scotland/Ireland, over to Greenland and Iceland, with Canada being almost the same distance between those aforementioned areas.

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It is curious to see flying here in Miramichi that the provincial flag of New Brunswick illustrates a medieval trading vessel called a “lymphad”. Used primarily in Scotland, a wooden vessel propelled by sail and oars, traversed the Highlands and was used to sail west in the Hebrides during the 1100s-1500s. The flag of New Brunswick took the old ship symbol and made that lymphad the prominent feature. An interesting choice indeed!

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A painting depicting Columbus in Iceland in 1477 getting directions to America.

We also know that the Norse kept tales of the new lands they discovered alive because in 1477 Christopher Columbus visited them to get that information from them. Arriving in Iceland and living at a farm called Ingjaldshóll, Columbus learned about the former Norse settlement in Vinland, and how the Vikings sailed to a New World, and about the travels of Leif Eiríksson and the rest of the Norse who had already been to North America five centuries earlier.

Columbus is credited because his “discovery” was celebrated and recorded with great pomp and circumstance, yet the Norse voyage to America was only made known when there was proof in 1960 after L’anse Aux Meadows was dug up. So what evidence do we have of another possible trip to Canada by another group of seafarers in the Northern Atlantic? That group, who heard tales from their Norse neighbours and trading partners most likely arrived here during the 1300s and I think that evidence of their arrival lies on an island in Mahone Bay off Nova Scotia. Someone followed in the footsteps of those original Norse settlers that spun tales of their old adventures and prompted some very curious people to arrive at Oak Island for their own reasons which we will soon discover.

Andrew King, May 25th, 2018

Oak Island and Miramichi: Why here?

What does Miramichi have to do with Oak Island? A question you may ask, and it is a very valid question about this quest. I believe Miramichi, New Brunswick is an important clue in a great puzzle and forms the basis for what happened on Oak Island.

The discovery of North America by Europeans can not really be attributed to any one person at any one time, yet society feels a need to label that milestone for some reason. Perhaps because it gives us a sense of place and a benchmark from which to gauge our own history. Yet, that date the academic world likes to tell us is likely wrong.

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The Miramichi area that matches the Norse saga descriptions almost perfectly. (GoogleMaps)

We know it was wrong when they said it was Christopher Columbus who discovered America in 1492, which was proven incorrect with the 1960 discovery of the pre-Columbian Norse ruins at L’Anse Aux Meadows, Newfoundland. So what else is wrong? Maybe we just haven’t yet found the ruins that will alter history once again.

How far back do we go to determine who first discovered the North American continent? You could say it was migration of humans from Asia across the Bering land bridge about 20,000 years ago. This is the theory we are told in grade school and has been imprinted on us from an early age, but another concept could be that seagoing coastal settlers may have crossed over to North America much earlier than the land trudging bridge crossers.

Yet, in order to prove this we would need to study the coastal sites of that time period for their evidence of habitation, which unfortunately now lie submerged in up to a hundred metres of water offshore. This study will likely never happen but remains could be waiting for a discovery when our technology and drive to prove this theory coincides. Until that time comes, lets look at the periods of history where actual stories tell us of people visiting our North American shores with some astonishing similarities.

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Do the residents of Miramichi know something?

According to the Icelandic sagas—Eirik the Red’s Saga, Saga of the Greenlanders, plus chapters of the Hauksbók and the Flatey Book, the Norse that left Scandinavia started to explore lands to the west of Greenland only a few years after their Greenland settlements were established.

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An excerpt from the translated Vinland Sagas describing the details of “Hop” in Vinland by the Norse settlers.

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

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

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Bay Du Vin…is this Vinland as described in the sagas?

What was discovered in 1960 was a temporary Norse encampment at L’Anse Aux Meadows, Newfoundland, since butternuts were found there that are not, and never were, native to Newfoundland where the Norse ruins were unearthed. This means that the inhabitants of this camp ventured further south, likely into New Brunswick, but no new evidence has yet been found, nor has any expedition been ignited to find the true Vinland of the Norse sagas.

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A view of the entrance to Miramichi Bay with the sandbar in the background.

That area known as Vinland or “Hop” in the sagas, a settlement of Norse in Canada is likely in Miramichi, NB as it matches the saga description almost perfectly. From the saga description of Hop we know the following:

-wild wheat in low lying areas
-wild grapes on the hills
-salmon
-wooden palisade built around farm
-on a hill
-inland lake fed by a river with sandbar to ocean
-across from large island (PEI)
-built houses above the lake on a hill, other huts near the shore

-noticed natives in boats coming from south, so settlers are on north side

-battled natives up river where they faced a cliff wall

Tomorrow we will explore this area and see what evidence we can find. A needle in a haystack, but hey, let’s try and thread this needle. We are sewing a massive quilt that threads into other visitors, visitors that later came to Oak Island.

 

 

Andrew King, May 24th, 2018

OAK ISLAND ADVENTURE: DAY 1-Miramichi

In preparation for what may lie on Oak Island, one must know the history of the East Coast, and its past inhabitants and visitors.

The Mi’kmaq are a First Nations people indigenous to Canada’s Atlantic provinces, and their territory was the first portion of North America that Europeans exploited at length for resource extraction.

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An image from the 1800s depicting the Mi’kmaq of the time. (image: Wikipedia)

Reports by John Cabot, Jacques Cartier, and Portuguese explorers about conditions there encouraged visits by Portuguese, Spanish, Basque, French, and English fishermen and whalers, beginning in the early years of the 16th century, but before that it was likely the area called “Vinland” by Greenlandic Norse explorers 500 years earlier.

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

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A 15th century map of the Norse sagas depicting the land where they settled south west of Greenland. 

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

What was discovered in 1960 was a temporary Norse encampment at L’Anse Aux Meadows, Newfoundland, as butternuts were found there that are not, and never were, native to Newfoundland where the ruins were unearthed. This means that the inhabitants of this camp ventured further south, likely into New Brunswick, but no new evidence has yet been found, nor has any expedition been ignited to find the true Vinland of the Norse sagas.

In 1347, it has been recorded that a ship arrived in Iceland, after being blown off course on its way home from Canada to Greenland with a load of timber. The implication is that the Greenlanders had continued to use Canada as a source of timber over several centuries, which means people were travelling and talking about the east coast of Canada in Europe between the first visit in 1000AD and what the history books tell us was the next visit by John Cabot in 1497. There were definitely people coming to the east coast from Europe in between, and they be a prime suspect as to who built what is on Oak Island in Nova Scotia.

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I recently read the Vinland Sagas, The Vinland Sagas as translated by Keneva Kunz
and the description the Norse give in their account of Vinland matches an area I think is in Miramichi, New Brunswick. the only confirmed spot in Canada the Norse visited is L’Anse Au Meadows but that was simply a temporary settlement, as that camp contained items from areas further south, such as in New Brunswick.

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The Miramichi region that matches the Norse saga description of their settlement area called “Hop”. Two rivers that meet, an inland lake with sandbars to the ocean. 

The saga notes describe a large inland lake past a sandbar from the ocean, with islands and countryside abounding with natural wheat, salmon, and timber. This where they settled for at least a few years, calling it “Hop” before things got too dicey with the locals and their own in-fighting that they later headed back to Greenland and Iceland.

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Studying Google Earth maps and Streetview to scope out the east coast of New Brunswick, the Miramichi area fits this description very well, and it would make sense that this area would be where they settled. Birgitta Wallace, the archaeologist who studied the Norse settlement at L’Anse Aux Meadows thinks so too, as noted in her interview with CBC where she asserts that Miramichi, NB is where Hop was located.

So we will go here on our first leg of the journey and see what we can find and if there can be any possible links found to another place south of it, Oak Island.

Andrew King, May 24th, 2018

 

On The Trail Of Oak Island

PRELUDE

History is always evolving. Things we were taught in school about ancient history is sketchy at best, a kind of a “fill in the blanks” exercise using the few archaeological relics that have been found and what scant amount was actually written down to put together a kind of half full bookshelf of history for us to believe.  Yet this bookshelf is full of books that have yet to be written, books with empty pages waiting to be filled. What we think we know can change in an instant with a certain new discovery. A land once thought impossible to have been visited by a certain group of people suddenly becomes an accepted fact because someone had a theory,  took a chance and made a discovery that altered everything that was once thought to be the only possibility.

In 1960 the Norwegian couple Helge and Anne Ingstad put the academic world on end when he and his wife theorized, and then successfully proved that Norse explorers had arrived and settled in North America 500 years before Christopher Columbus was said to have “discovered” the New World.

After years of careful research, thorough investigation and a dash of imagination and thinking outside the academic box, their theory was then proven as a fact when an archeological dig turned up confirmed Norse artifacts that were once thought to be part of only a “legend”. And thus, history and its textbooks were changed forever. What is to say that can not happen again? History is constantly evolving as new discoveries shed a different light on what really happened in our past. And is with that same spirit of “what ifs” that you will see in the following adventure.

Taking what we do know, and filling in the blanks with possibilities that may not fit the accepted norm will definitely irk the established history experts, but these ideas must be explored if we are to understand and determine the truth about our actual history.

I leave Thursday for the East Coast to explore the realm of the shores in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. 

So buckle up, toss your history textbooks out the window and let’s uncover what I think really happened on small island off the coast of Nova Scotia, an island we know as:

OAK ISLAND.

Follow this blog for daily updates on the adventure and on Twitter at @TimeWinders and @TwitAndrewKing

 

What’s Up With That Island Off Parliament Hill

There’s a small, rocky and desolate island in the middle of the Ottawa River opposite Parliament Hill, a haven for seagulls. In fact, the island is nicknamed “Gull Island”, and on modern marine navigational charts it’s called “Hull Island”.

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Hundreds of squawking gulls can be heard and seen hovering over this forlorn little island. Situated in a prominent position on the river, this curious island deserves a closer look back at a time when it was a forested, and possibly inhabited island offshore from Canada’s parliament buildings.

GOOGLE IT

A glance at Google Maps shows our little island as a rocky, and sometimes flooded out piece of land that really isn’t that interesting. Some scraped down limestone rock and some weeds, and that’s about it. But it didn’t always look that way, as the island was once covered in pine trees and research shows it was once called Twin Pine Island. So what happened? Let’s jump in the time machine and check it out.

1827: The oldest printed material I could muster up showing the island was in 1827 when an engraving showed the little island with trees on it, a time when most of Ottawa was still wooded wild land.

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Island on right, circa 1827. (Image Library and Archives Canada)

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1831: Another engraving shows the island with some trees and vegetation covering it.

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1832: A water-colour painting shows the island with two pine trees on it, this is probably the time that the island got it’s name “Twin Pine Island”

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1838: The Island is still showing two pine trees on it.

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1840: An engraving by the famous Bartlett still shows the island with two pine trees on it and some scrubby brush as well.

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1854: It was sometime around this era that Twin Pine Island became “Lone Pine Island” as one of the pine trees is missing. Perhaps it fell over or was cut down, we are not sure.

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1855: Still no parliament buildings on the hill, but the rocky outcrop still looks down on the little island, which still shows a lone pine tree on it. Note the massive timber raft!

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1895: Hang on! What?! This map of Ottawa and the island shows not only trees on it, but what looks to be a house or building! A true waterfront cottage with an easy downtown commute.

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1910: By 1910 the island looks to be completely cleared of all trees and everything else.

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Island on right. (Image Past.Ottawa.com)

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1955: The Chaudiere Falls have are dammed by this point, and so the island looks to get the brunt of the dam wash-water flooding it, a sight we still see today.

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PRESENT DAY: The island is now just a flooded out, barren rock with nothing much on it save for the seagulls that use it as their perch to digest stolen fries from downtown chip trucks.

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So there you have it, a complete and concise pictorial history of that island across from Parliament Hill you may have been wondering about. It seems to have gone from a forested island of pines, to two pines, to a lone pine to nothing at all over the course of 180 years. Maybe some developer will make it the latest waterfront condo, a trendy new place called “Hull or High-water”.

 

Andrew King, April 2018

 

SOURCES

Google Maps

GeoOttawa

Library and Archives Ottawa

PastOttawa.com

 

 

Ottawa’s Hidden 1800s Underground Vault

Hidden behind Lincoln’s head on Mount Rushmore in South Dakota there is a sealed chamber containing a vault with sixteen historical porcelain enamel panels. In Washington, DC numerous secret tunnels, hidden vaults and concealed chambers exist underneath its streets and monuments. Being the capital of the United States of America, these secret areas undoubtedly need to exist for the protection of important national assets and/or sensitive material. But what about Canada’s capital, Ottawa? Do we have the same hidden chambers underneath our feet, passed over each day without us even knowing it? After an in-depth study of historical maps and other reference material, Ottawa may indeed have its own underground secret vault dating to 1876.

THE FACTS

In 2014 a worker that was part of a government contract to address concrete issues at the National War Memorial downtown was quoted in the Ottawa Citizen saying there was a big “cavity” under the memorial that would be filled by 24 concrete trucks worth of cement.

“It’s all hollow down there and the job is to secure the base,” said the worker, who did not want to be identified.

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Cement trucks fill a cavity beneath the War Memorial (Image: Ottawa Citizen, 2014)

The National War Memorial was designed by Vernon March and dedicated by King George VI in 1939. Originally built to commemorate the Canadians who died in the First World War it was later rededicated to also include those killed in the Second World War and the Korean War, then again in 2014 for the War in Afghanistan, as well as Canadians killed in all conflicts, past and future. It remains one of this country’s sombre reminders of those who gave their lives in service of our country.

The area of the War Memorial is now called Confederation Square, which in fact, is not a square at all, but a triangular shaped area, formerly known up until 1939 as Connaught Place after Governor General Connaught. Within Connaught Place stood Ottawa’s original central post office from 1876 to 1938 when it was demolished to make room for the War Memorial. The old post office was a remarkable building, having to also contain a Custom House and the Office Of Inland Revenue.

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The Ottawa Central Post Office circa 1876.

This grand old building constructed in 1876 a central clocktower capped with a mansard cupola and many tall, curved windows, designed very robustly by former Dominion Architect Thomas Fuller. (The intriguing Fuller legacy and their design of government buildings in Ottawa is detailed here)

Incorporating both the Customs House and Office Of Inland Revenue, this building would likely have some interesting features for securing assets and valuables arriving by boat on the Rideau Canal, or just to store important records of the time.

The building suffered a massive fire in 1904, and was subsequently re-built with the addition of an extra level, which may confuse people as to why the building changes in how many stories it had when looking at different photographs of the Post Office.

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This photo of the old post office circa 1930s shows the extra floor added onto it after it was re-built after the fire of 1904. The vaults would be underneath where all those cars are parked. 

During my research of material about the construction there was much said about the sturdy nature of the Post Office building, but nothing about any vaults. This is when I felt it necessary to go to my usual Step 2…OLD MAPS

The current Ottawa Library is a wonderful wealth of information, housing a special room I am most fond of, called the Ottawa Room. Within this room are rare documents about Ottawa and Bytown not available anywhere else. Not digitized, you have to peruse the material by hand. One of my favourite resources is the Fire Insurance Plans from 1888 that give detailed layouts of the buildings at that time, and interesting details about their construction. Looking up the Fire Insurance Plans of 1902, there it was in very clear detail: AN UNDERGROUND VAULT. (NOTE: I have since found these plans online)

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Fire Insurance Plans of 1901 reveal an underground vault. (Image: Carleton University)

THE VAULT 

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Likely built in 1876 along with the rest of the Post Office/Custom House, the vault outlined on the plans measures approximately 100 feet by 50 ft and is described as having “brick arched ceilings, stone and terra cotta walls, with concrete floors. I am not an expert in architectural design, but I am assuming that the vaults were similar to other Custom Houses of the time, used to store contraband seized by the Customs from the canal boats or for valuables of the Post Office, and government assets requiring secure storage. Fireproof, strongly designed, these vaults of the late 1800s were virtually impenetrable.

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Pre-1900s photo of the Post Office showing vault openings for canal access. (Image: Wikipedia Commons)

This Post Office vault was accessed from inside the building, but also from the outside as shown in the photographs from the 1880s that show steel barred openings in the stone wall beside the canal. This would allow for easy access to the boats on the canal that would be stopping for processing at the Custom House. Later, when the railroad replaced the canal as a means of transporting goods, the canal access was covered by what looks to be a street, and it is unclear whether the vault was sealed at this time.

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The vaults have later been covered over by a street, but still exist underneath. (circled area)

Photos after 1900 show the vaults covered over by a street, but it is doubtful that a reinforced, fire-proof vault of that size would be removed due to cost, but rather more simply sealed and forgotten.

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Vault area beneath the street in front of the Post Office circled in red.

POST-POST OFFICE YEARS

The Central Post Office/Custom House remained in operation until 1938 when it was decided by the ruling government that Connaught Place was to be the location of Canada’s National War Memorial. The old building that stood firmly for 62 years was then demolished, its remarkably strong construction posing a hinderance to demolition crews assigned to tear down the heavily reinforced structure.

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Demolition of the Post Office building in 1938, showing no evidence of the vaults being exposed in this photo.

In the photos I could find of the demolition of the Post Office there is no sign of the vault being unearthed or demolished, which leads me to believe the secure vault remains on site. I would appreciate any further information that could confirm or deny its existence.

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Construction of the War Memorial in 1938-39 with no indication of the vault area being disturbed.

A HIDDEN VAULT?

After the War Memorial was built in 1938-39, the area was re-named Confederation Square and the streets and bridges are-aligned and renovated over the years. In order to locate exactly where this vault would be today, I used the old blueprint drawings of the post office and overlaid them on current Google satellite images of the same area.

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Concealed vault area highlighted in red.

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Outlining the vault area in red, then removing the old map, it reveals where the vault may exist today. Sure enough, an undeveloped corner of Confederation Square is just the right size to contain a hidden chamber of that size.

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Google Streetview reveals a door (open!) near the vault area.

The next step was to visit the area to see if any clues remain that would either prove or disprove the notion that the original 1876 vaults still exists, sealed and concealed underground.

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It didn’t take long to notice that there are indeed nondescript metal doors leading to areas unknown in the vicinity of the concealed chamber.

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Google Streetview even shows these odd doors open. I have no idea where they go, but they are intriguing being so close to the original vault site. Is this old vault still being used by the government today? Is it used to store assets or simply used as a mechanical room for the lighting system of the memorial? Without the proper credentials to access what’s behind those metal doors or access to Ground Penetrating Radar to see what lies beneath, we may never know. But for now, I would like to think that there is a massive, sealed vault chamber housing our lost Avro Arrow under our feet.

Andrew King, March, 2018

 

SOURCES

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

Concrete reinforcements injected beneath War Memorial

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_War_Memorial_(Canada)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_Post_Office_(Ottawa)

MONTREAL GAZETTE https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1946&dat=19380624&id=0b00AAAAIBAJ&sjid=ZKgFAAAAIBAJ&pg=5524,3172428

http://carleton-u.maps.arcgis.com/apps/PublicInformation/index.html?appid=c40ef2ffe4a24fedbcbdb1474ba4c428

Google Maps

Google Streetview

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruining Ottawa’s Oldest Ruins

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All that remains of Ottawa’s oldest structure. (Google Streetview)

Recently I was passenger in a car driving west along Riverside Drive and noticed something out my window as traffic dragged to a halt at the intersection of Riverside and Bank streets. There, at the side of the road was a wall of old stone. A faded plaque was mounted on it, but the light turned green and we sped away, the mysterious stone wall of unknown origin left behind. What was this puzzling old wall that lies obscurely at the side of a road passed by thousands of motorists each day? A quick Google Streetview visit reveals it is a “Frankensteined” wall hobbled together by the NCC made up of the ruins of a cabin built by one of Ottawa’s oldest settler’s to the region: Braddish Billings. These are the ruins of Ottawa’s oldest remaining structure.

BILLINGS BOOM

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A photo from the late 1800s of Braddish Billings cabin, the chimney of stone being what the wall currently at the side of the road is made from. (Image: “Bytown: the Early Days of Ottawa”)

After the nomadic indigenous people harmoniously lived in the region of the Nation’s Capital for centuries, the first to build a permanent structure here was an American by the name of Philomen Wright, who in 1800 built a cabin over in Gatineau (ruins are on NCC property, unmarked…that story here). Next to arise was a shanty trading post operated by Jehiel Collins near the Chaudiere Falls in 1809. Nothing remains of this cabin, property now owned by the NCC. In 1810 Ira Honeywell built a log cabin in Nepean. Nothing remains of this cabin either, just an NCC plaque hidden off Woodroffe Ave. near the Ottawa River that vaguely tells us of Honeywell’s cabin nearby.  Next to arrive was Braddish Billings who built his place in 1812 at what is now the intersection of Bank St. and Riverside Drive. A cabin was built by Billings along with some farm buildings. These would become the first permanent structures built in Ottawa after the Collins and Honeywell cabins.

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The early Billings cabin with stone chimney that was later made into a wall at the side of Riverside Dr. seen during a 1900 flood on the Rideau River. Methodist church beside it. (Image: Library and Archives Canada)

Billings made his cabin of round logs with no windows with an opening without a door. Billings was likely attracted to the riverfront site because of its close proximity to the Rideau River, its abundant timber, its creek, and its fertile soil. Along with building a sawmill, he began clearing the land and planted potatoes, hay, corn, and turnips. He also continued lumbering for Philemon Wright. His ventures proved successful and in 1829 he built a substantial estate on the hill above his original cabin, what we now know as the Billings Estate Museum, owned and operated by the City Of Ottawa.

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The location of the Methodist Church in 1912 and the Billings cabin that would have been beside it (Image: Ottawa Fire Insurance Plans, Carleton University)

With his new big estate house, the original cabin structures Billings built in 1812 fell into disrepair, neglected and falling to ruin. A Methodist church was constructed next to one of Billings cabins, a wooden structure, that one book says is Billings first house, with a stone chimney that remained on site until 1960 when the NCC demolished it, and the church, for a new Riverside Drive. Taking stones from this old cabin, they built a small wall out of it, which is what we now see at the side of the road.

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A 1928 aerial image shows the Methodist church and chimney ruins (circled in red) IMAGE: geoOttawa

The Ruins 

With such few remains of Ottawa’s first permanent structures, I find it odd the NCC would demolish our oldest structure to build a wall out of it. Why not keep the original chimney and build a replica cabin around it, instead of a sad wall? I guess in 1960 the history of Ottawa was not as important as we view it today, but still, it seems unfortunate the original chimney of Billings first structures that lasted so long was demolished and made into an obscure wall at the side of the road.

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A photo from 1890 of the Methodist church shows the old 1814 ruins of the Billings cabin. (Photo: City of Ottawa)

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The 1814 stone ruins of the chimney that was demolished in 1960 and made into the current side-of-the-road wall. (Image: City of Ottawa)

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Being the Nation’s Capital we have very few reminders of our inception, nothing remains of the Collins’ or Honeywell’s cabins.  Yet, at the side of the road near Riverside and Bank we have some pieced together stones from our past.

If you pass along Riverside heading west, (you can’t see it if you are heading east) or, if you are travelling on the path along the east bank of the river, take a moment to observe what remains of one of Ottawa’s oldest structures.

 

Andrew King, February 2018 

 

SOURCES

Library and Archives Canada

“Bytown” The Early Days of Ottawa, Nick and Helma Mika, Mika Publishing Co. 1982

https://www.oldottawasouth.ca/stories/item/3842-billings-estate-commemorative-wall

 

NEW! The ShadeTree Files: A podcast exploring Canada’s hidden history.

EPISODE 1: “The White Bird”

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The disappearance of L’Oiseau Blanc is considered one of the great mysteries in the history of aviation. “The White Bird” was a French Levasseur PL.8 biplane that disappeared in 1927 during an attempt to make the first non-stop transatlantic flight between Paris and New York City. Less than two weeks later, Charles Lindbergh successfully made the New York–Paris journey and claimed the prize, flying the Spirit of St. Louis. Flown by French World War I aviation heroes, Charles Nungesser and François Coli, their biplane took off from Paris on May 8th 1927 and was last seen over Ireland, but never heard from again. In the 1980s new evidence surfaced that suggests that their aircraft probably reached Newfoundland. If the wreckage can be found it would alter history and oust Lindbergh as being the first to make the non-stop transatlantic journey.

Click on the  AUDIO FILE  “play” button below to listen.

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SAVING CIVIC: Good news for a beloved old sign.

All too often I use this blog to lament over the loss of Ottawa’s classic old signs, a trend that seems to have now finally been swayed in the other direction. I recently received some good news regarding the landmark Civic Pharmacy sign at the corner of Holland and Carling. It is being saved and on track for restoration. 

Many concerned residents emailed me about the sign when they witnessed its anchor building swathed in tarpaulins, unsure of what was happening to the building, and our beloved sign.

I am happy to report that through the efforts of the community, the sign is safe and has a positive new outlook. The thoughtful owners of the building have decided to keep and resurrect the iconic sign, hopefully returning it to its former splendour.

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BACKSTORY

The Civic Pharmacy Building officially opened on September 17 1960, and along with it, the illuminated and animated “CIVIC PHARMACY” sign attached to its corner. The sign is inspired by “Googie” style of architecture, a modern, futurist architecture that evolved through the Atomic Age of the 1950s and 1960s. A culture absorbed with jets and the space-age inspired this style with Ottawa’s example brightly shining at the corner of Holland and Carling for 58 years.

Since the word “CIVIC” is a palindrome (a word which reads the same backward as forward) it was made into a rotating sign, with each letter rotating, and being able to be read from any viewing position. The rotating letters of the sign required much maintenance, and it stopped rotating at some point.

I was lucky enough to meet and chat with the original owner/pharmacist of the building, Wally Cherun, who told me about the history of the much cherished sign. It was the first sign of its kind in Canada, and was fully illuminated at night. Wally said a sign guy would oil the mechanics of the rotating letters regularly. It eventually got too expensive to maintain, the letters stopped rotating, and the lights burned out. The building went up for sale over a year ago, and changed hands, but luckily to someone who appreciates it. (STORY HERE)

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The Civic Pharmacy Building currently wrapped in tarpaulins. (Photo: author)

PRESENT DAY

Andy Billingsley, Chair of the Civic Hospital Neighbourhood Association History and Heritage emailed me about a month ago to inform me that he went over to check on why the Civic building was wrapped in tarpaulins and relayed that the new owner of the building decided to keep the cherished sign in place. Gregg Kricorissian, another concerned resident who also appreciated the sign, established a relationship with Steve LeBrun, President of Ray Neon Signs. Steve is the son of the original sign’s designer/builder. According to Gregg, Steve has lent his full support to save the sign, and generously offered to remove and and store the sign if that became necessary. Ray Neon has provided a quote for restoration, but they have not yet received an actual order to do the work. The sign is in positive steps towards preservation which is great news.

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HAPPY ENDING

So it seems that when some like minded people get together with a shared love of neighbourhood nostalgia, good things can happen. “It’s wonderful how our initiative to save the CiViC sign is playing out, and I’m pleased to have played a part in it.” says Kricorissian, who thinks the sign is a vital piece of neighbourhood history. “Not only is the sign a symbol of our neighborhood, but it’s also a great testament of how a small Ottawa business started in post-WWII Ottawa, and has grown to a highly successful member of its chosen industry.”

My sincere thanks to all those involved in helping to preserve this important landmark of Ottawa’s street scene. I know myself and probably most of Ottawa eagerly await the sign’s return to glory on the street it’s been quietly watching over for almost six decades.

Andrew King, February 15th, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

The Search For Champlain’s Lost Tomb

Samuel deChamplain is missing. He has been for almost 400 years. No one seems to know where the legendary explorer is. The whereabouts of such a prominent historical figure should surely be recorded and marked by archeologists and historians. Yet the famous explorer and the father of New France is no where to be found. His remains are lost somewhere in Quebec City, continuing to elude discovery for centuries.

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A sketch in an 1876 book entry describing Champlain’s tomb.

Recently I came across a book from 1876 that describes his tomb being discovered in 1850 but then lost again to history. Intrigued by this mystery, I studied old books, maps and other clues that show the great explorer could be subterraneanly buried in in the basement of a Subway restaurant, or more likely, hidden underneath a nearby city park. But hold the hot peppers, let’s go to Quebec City to see if this could be true.

THE QUEST BEGINS

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Samuel Champlain. French navigator, cartographer, draftsman, soldier, geographer, ethnologist, diplomat, and chronicler. He made 20+ trips across the Atlantic and founded New France and Quebec City in 1608. Probably the most important figure in Canadian history yet no one seems to know what happened to him after he died in Quebec City on Christmas Day, 1635. Being the “Father of New France” and having explored hundreds of miles of North America, there are countless places, streets, and structures that bear his name and monuments built to commemorate the famous adventurer. However, no monument exists to mark the location of Champlain’s final resting place. I find this extremely odd, and had no idea he was missing until I went on a  vacation to Quebec City and jokingly asked our tour guide where Mr. Champlain was so I could say hello. The tour guide calmly, but seriously replied, “We have no idea where he is…maybe you can find him.” And so my quest began to find what happened to our most famous and intrepid explorer who seems lost in time.

MAPS

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This map of Quebec City from 1660 clearly has a “Chapelle Champlain” labeled on it.

As with all great adventures, gathering many maps can help visualize the subject being studied. They are precious resources that lay out many details at the the time of their creation. Records of 1600s Quebec City are scant at best, but I did manage to find a map of the city drawn in 1640, only five years after Chaplain’s death. This would be a good starting point. Other maps were collected to cross reference information with current Google Maps.

Upon closer examination of the 1640 map there is an intriguing area marked “Chapelle Champlain” beside a cathedral called “Notre-Dame-de-Recouvrance”. This is where, according to records of the time, that Champlain was laid to rest after his death while a separate tomb was being constructed to honour his remains. But that cathedral and the chapel were destroyed by fire later in 1640, and construction began on a new tomb for Champlain. Did they rebuild and place Champlain in the same spot? That is not known, but using the 1640 maps we can superimpose its location on a current Google Map of the area, matching up key locations to properly align and sync the maps.

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Superimposing the 1660 map over a current Google Aerial Map.

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After alignment and ghosting the map over a current map, the Champlain Chapel, it seems the area in question lies under a street called Buade Street. In fact, there are plaques at the location that recognize Champlain was once there, yet no definitive proof of his remains has ever been found here. On this street there is a Chinese Restaurant, A Subway and souvenir shops.

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This is where the map and some plaques tell us that Champlain originally rested in his chapel while his final tomb was being constructed. (Google Streetview)

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Area in red outlines the area where Champlain’s first burial chamber may have been.

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In a book I found from 1876 called “Quebec Past and Present: A History of Quebec” by J.M. Lemoine, page 119 describes Champlain being moved around after the 1640 fire, so  his final resting place is likely elsewhere.

ANOTHER MAP

A later map, dated 1664, shows the rebuilt church and some curious unlabeled small buildings, of which one of them could be the newer tomb for Champlain. Also labeled is the “Fort Du Sauvages” , a fortified area used by the local indigenous Huron tribe, whom Champlain had been under friendly terms with. It would seem appropriate that the friend to both the settlers and the natives would be laid to rest near his close allies of the time, so those curious little buildings were marked.

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This map from 1664 shows the rebuilt cathedral and some curious little buildings around it that could be Champlain’s Tomb.

Ghosting over that aligned map with a current map, we can again see where that location is. The possible tomb lies on a hill near the Post Office, on a winding street that is as as old as the city itself. There is also a cemetery marked on the map, and it would also seem fitting that Champlain’s Tomb would be located in the only cemetery of the time.

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Area in red show where Champlain’s original chapel was located and his possible second chapel. (Google Maps)

FURTHER RECORDS

In addition to the map evidence pointing to Champlain’s location, there are a few records in old books of where Champlain might be located. The most compelling record I found is an entry called “Champlain’s Tomb” by Dr. J.M. Harper from the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec from 1883.

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In this record, Harper explains that in the 1850s workmen were removing an old wall for some waterworks when they dug into a stone chamber. The “vault” as they called it contained a coffin within which were bones, a femur of which the workman who found it said was “very strong”. The workman made sketches of everything, and even made note of an inscription on the side of the vault that said “Samuel de Champlain”. When asked what he did with the bones, the workman responded by saying that “they had been examined and laid away, he knew not where”. The sketches, the bones and the chamber were then never heard from again.

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The vault was either buried over, destroyed or both. So Champlain’s final resting place continues to be lost. Perhaps we can locate the records in city archives of this waterworks mentioned. In the meantime, let’s find out where this vault would have been located…

FINDING CHAMPLAIN

Using the maps and descriptions of these locations mentioned in the old records, we can visualize where they are. It seems the one possibility is under Buade Street and the Subway, but that seems unlikely as that was where he was first kept “in waiting” as they built the second, and final burial chamber.  Archeologists digging in this first chapel area did find stone ruins of the “Chapelle Champlain” but that was just a holding chamber, that later was destroyed by fire anyway. It’s the second vault we need to find, the one mentioned by the workers who discovered a tomb inscribed with Champlain’s name in the old original graveyard marked on the maps. This is where Champlain was laid to rest for centuries until 1850 when it seems he was accidentally discovered and subsequently lost again.

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Montmorency Park National Historic Site where I believe Champlain’s Tomb is.

Studying the maps and texts where Champlain might be hiding, there is currently a park called the Montmorency Park National Historic Site, once the original 1660s cemetery where Champlain’s Tomb originally stood.

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A Post Office near where Champlain supposedly was buried. Is he here?

In 1688 the land was owned by Monseigneur de Saint-Vallier, who used the site for the first Episcopal Palace. Between 1693 and 1695, Saint-Vallier built a new palace but the project was ambitious and only half of the building was completed. During the siege of Québec in 1759 the building half destroyed.

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A plaque about the park, but no mention of the cemetery that was once here.

In 1831 the old building was sold to the government, whereupon a new building was constructed (this is when the waterworks men uncovered the tomb of Champlain) which later burned, was rebuilt, then burned again in 1883. The cursed lot was cleared out and it then became the park it is today. Yet, no mention at all on any plaques in this park that it was once an old cemetery that could contain the buried tomb of Champlain.

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The bottom edge of the original 1660 cemetery.

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This is where a cemetery once existed that probably contained Chaplain’s Tomb, but no mention of it is made.

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The 1668 sketch showing the cemetery where the waterworks construction later occurred in 1850.

CONCLUSION

If we use the information provided by the old maps, the old records and the 1850 supposed discovery of Champlain’s tomb, it seems that all this time his lost chamber has been hidden underneath a park. The waterworks that are mentioned seemed to still be in place, as manholes and drainage grates show, but who knows when those were installed, and if they are indeed the original 1850s waterworks mentioned.

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Drainage grates in the park.

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Manhole cover in the park.

Perhaps Champlain was so revered and special, he was secretly hidden in a crypt we’ll never find.

It seems a shame that there has been no recent effort to locate the final resting place of one of this country’s greatest explorer’s, mapmakers and founders. His physical remains may be lost forever, but if we looked more closely in this park with GPR (ground penetrating radar) and other modern technology, maybe at least we would be able to finally mark the spot where he did rest, hidden for centuries, quietly overlooking the very city he founded 400 years ago.

Andrew King, February, 2018 

SOURCES

Google Maps

Engraving from Jean-Baptiste Franquelin, 1668

http://www.morrin.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/NS_19_CHAMPLAINS20TOMB.pdf

“Quebec Past and Present: A History of Quebec” by J.M. Lemoine

BING MAPS

Morrin Cultural Centre