A Hidden Prohibition-era whiskey Distillery

South of Ottawa, amidst the suburban sprawl of new homes near Barrhaven, there is a big box mall, complete with an LCBO outlet for suburbanites. Walk into any LCBO of legal age and you can easily purchase your favourite alcoholic beverage, yet this was not always the case. Between 1916-27 consumption of alcohol in Ontario was illegal, but wineries, breweries and distilleries could remain operating for the “export market”, which was basically rum-running booze over to the thirsty United States. With alcohol  banned in Ontario, its manufacture, unless for medicinal purposes, was illegal. That is why some entrepreneurs south of Ottawa created their own secret whiskey distillery, a hidden shack in the woods near a railway line to the United States that produced what was to become a favourite in the Roaring Twenties of New York…a product called “Pokey Moonshine”. It brought notoriety to Ottawa and even a fellow by the name of J.Edgar Hoover, the first Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This secret, yet notable 1920s Prohibition whiskey shack has long been silent, but its ruins still exist in the woods.



A typical forest whiskey still for making moonshine.

The year was 1916 and the Ontario Temperance Act was a law passed that led to the Prohibition of alcohol in Ontario. The sale of alcohol was thus prohibited, but liquor could still be manufactured in the province for export. The United States would follow suit in 1920 with the Volstead Act, or the The National Prohibition Act, which established prohibition in the United States. Liquor was essentially outlawed in both countries in the 1920s so illegal distilleries began to make their own bootleg liquor called “moonshine”, a slang term for high-proof distilled spirits produced illicitly without government authorization under the darkness of night…under the moon, hence the term “moonshine”.

Ottawa was no exception to joining in on the illegal production of liquor. The United States is only an hour south of the city by car, so a group of enterprising individuals set up a famous Prohibition whiskey still in the woods near Manotick that went by the name of “Pokey Moonshine”.


An Ottawa newspaper from 1928 describes a settlement south of the city as “Pokey Moonshine” named after the fact that its residents made “pokey” which was slang for a type of whiskey. Now being enterprising individuals, the Pokey Moonshiners built their secret still in the woods off the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Railway, which ran from Prescott, On on the St.Lawrence river across from Ogdensburg, NY., all the way up to Ottawa. The Pokey Moonshine still was built off the to the side of this railway line which cuts through thousands of acres of untamed forest land.


According to Al Lewis’ great post on Bytown.net , there was a still built off the tracks where the “Pokey Moonshine” was manufactured, bottled and then crated into wooden crates labelled as “tea” to avoid suspicion.


The “Pokey Moonshine” would be crated as “tea” according to local lore before being loaded onto the CPR train from Ottawa bound for Prescott, then over to Ogdensburg, NY.

It is unclear what would happen next, whether the moonshiners paid off the train engineer to stop the train on the tracks by the hidden still, or if the train was on a scheduled stop and the crated whiskey was transported to the station and loaded onto the train there, but the whiskey was loaded aboard and made its way down to Prescott piers where it was loaded onto boats and shipped over the river to the United States and into the dry mouths the many Great Gatsbies of the US.


The United States during Prohibition created The Bureau of Prohibition, a federal law enforcement agency to enforce the National Prohibition Act. When it was first established in 1920, it was a unit of the Bureau of Internal Revenue.


J. Edgar Hoover (image: Wikipedia)

In 1921, J. Edgar Hoover rose in the Bureau of Investigation to deputy head and, in 1924, the Attorney General made him the acting director, overseeing and policing illicit alcohol production and distribution. Hoover’s crack team of investigators, who would later be known as “The Untouchables” included Eliot Ness who headed this elite squad of bootleg busters.


Raids against stills and breweries began immediately, and the Pokey Moonshine operation was most likely known to investigators.


J. Edgar Hoover decided to pay a visit to the Ottawa area in the 1920’s. A cousin of J. Edgar’s, George Hoover, married a young girl from the Osgoode area and the law enforcement head decided it was time to come visit his cousin who happened to be in Pokey Moonshine territory.


Hoover takes aim with a Tommy Gun.

A large black car is said to have taken George and his cousin J. Edgar around the area, most likely in search of the famously secret still providing the US with a lot of “tea”.



With such an illustrious past and notorious history, I wondered if this famous ol’ Prohibition whiskey still existed out in the woods. Could the secret moonshine still be somewhere south of Ottawa waiting to be found?

Using the information found from researching the story, I headed into the general vicinity of where I thought the hidden still may be located. Walking along the long abandoned railway tracks that the whiskey was once transported on, I looked for clues in the area that may reveal some kind of moonshine operation almost a hundred years ago.


In the sweltering heat and along the mosquito ridden path of the old railway a clue would soon be revealed in the form of a rusty metal gate. Overgrown, the gate lead to a pathway into the woods that seemed worthy of further exploration. Following the overgrown path into the woods the ruins of an old log cabin soon became visible.


It’s log walls had crumbled away and now lay rotting, but the crude stone foundation could still be seen as well as various metal vessels and pots that were most likely were used in the distilling process.


Sections of long collapsed tin roofing was strewn around the site that made me suspect that this was indeed the location of the Pokey Moonshine Still.


Here is a video of the initial find of the possible whiskey distillery.

Taking a moment to reflect on how this parcel of land may have looked during the Prohibition era I could almost hear the sounds of the men and women hard at work making illegal whiskey, bottling and crating it in “tea” crates to the sound of a distant steam whistle from an incoming train bound for Prescott.


There is not much left of the site, but it is truly a unique find worth preserving if it truly is the Pokey site.



Such a unique and influential part of Ottawa history should be preserved in some form, and that is why I will keep its location a secret like it has remained for almost a century. Perhaps I am completely wrong and it is not the old Pokey Moonshine still, but as I have learned through past adventures, trust your gut instincts. The research information combined with the evidence strewn on the forest floor was enough to convince me this was the site of the notorious Prohibition liquor distillery known as the Pokey Moonshine still.

You put your right foot out,
You put your right foot in,
And you shake it all about.
You do the Hokey Pokey,
And you turn it all around,
That’s what it’s all about.

Andrew King, October, 2017 


Al Lewis, http://www.bytown.net/hoover.htm

Al Lewis, http://www.bytown.net/manotickstation.htm















The Amherst Island Stone: Odd inscription found on isolated shoreline of Lake Ontario


Growing up across from Amherst Island during my childhood, I never really visited the large island across from me in the 18 years I was so close to it. Waking up each morning in my home on Nicholson’s Point, I was greeted by a wonderful panoramic view of this unique island situated on the eastern end of Lake Ontario. Approximately seventy square kilometres in size, Amherst Island is one of the few remaining tranquil islands on Lake Ontario untouched by the tourist hordes, its rich history yet to be explored in detail. Perhaps that is why the discovery of a large stone with a curious inscription on it has gone unnoticed, and unexplained.


There is a vast history of Amherst Island that I can not give proper justice, but I can give a brief account of its interesting past throughout time.  Originally inhabited by Indigenous peoples who called it Koonenesgo, meaning “drowned land” it was later granted to the French explorer La Salle in 1675 when King Louis Of France gave La Salle all land ten miles west of Fort Frontenac (Kingston), which included this large island. La Salle, in turn, gave the island to his loyal lieutenant, Henri De Tonti, an Italian employed by the French who had a previously blown his hand off when a grenade exploded near him during a battle. Replacing his missing hand with a prosthetic hook covered by a glove, he earned the nickname “Iron Hand”.


Henri de Tonti, the one handed man of whom the island was once named after. (image: Wikipedia)

Neither La Salle nor Tonti apparently ever visited the island that they owned, but it was always called Isle Tonti after the hook handed Italian. Lying uninhabited for many decades, in 1788 it was granted by the British Crown to Sir John Johnson, but then in 1823 Sir John’s daughter, Catharine Maria Bowes, took over the island. Local legend says that Maria lost the island in a card game gone sour back in Ireland. Whatever happened, Maria Bowes was in financial ruin and gave power of attorney to Stephen Moore, 3rd Earl Mount Cashell, who purchased the island from her in 1835.


1878 map of Amherst Island, later renamed after a British general. (Wikipedia)

Mount Cashell wanted Amherst Island for profit and other reasons, hoping Irish immigrants would help him clear and cultivate the land, thus increasing its value and provide a steady income from his leasing the land to the Irish settlers. They prospered on the island, and schools, churches, and stores were built, as well as homes and other necessary businesses for the population of 1,000 people that it had by 1841. There was even a fort built on the eastern end of the island to protect it from any invading Americans from across the lake. Cashell would also soon succumb to financial difficulties with the island, and in 1856 he foreclosed on Amherst Island it was sold by public auction for much less than its market value to a Robert Perceval-Maxwell. Maxwell sold or leased farmland for a variety of economic ventures including dairy, shipbuilding, timber, and grain harvest. The island today operates mostly as an agricultural island, with a variety of summer homes and other communities, sitting much like it has for decades.


Having sold a painting to customers on Amherst Island, I had agreed to deliver the piece to their home, a visit I had not made to the island in over 20 years. The last time I was on the island I was 12 and sailed a dinghy across to it from my home on Nicholson’s Point, grabbed a Coke at the General Store, then sailed back. This time I wanted to explore the island in more detail , knowing it was virtually untouched and probably contained numerous historical elements waiting to be explored. One of these being an old fort labeled on an old map I came across at the Glanmore mansion in Belleville, ON.


A fort marked on an old map of Amherst Island.

There, marked on the map was a fort, something I had never heard about. So, wanting to look for any remnants of this marked fort, I packed the car with my camera, my painting, and boarded the ferry in Millhaven, mere minutes from my childhood home.

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The serene island on Lake Ontario. (Google Maps)

Arriving on the island, I was struck by how serene and peaceful it was, quietly stuck in another era, with its old homes, barns and stone ruins from the past spotting the landscape. After delivering the painting and enjoying a few cups of coffee and a chat with my new “islander” friends, I headed in the direction of where I thought the old fort ruins may be located. Travelling along the south shore of the island, I stopped to inspect a large stone off the shore, a granite boulder that looked out of place among the predominant sedimentary limestone that makes up most of the bedrock on the island.


A large boulder amidst the limestone.

Cursing the fact I didn’t bring my swimsuit, I got as close to the boulder as I could, then turned around and noticed a weird stone grotto built into the cliff of the shore. In the dirt next to it was a bizarre tooth.


An oddly manmade looking stone grotto on the shoreline of the island.


Bizarre looking tooth found buried in the dirt near the grotto.

Curious, I now walked along the shoreline looking for other oddities and came across another large granite stone, this time on the shore and propped up with wedges underneath, to make it a standing stone, or “dolmen”.

Carrying on further I came across a very large stone with two odd holes in it, and what looked to be an inscription on it.


Large rock with two holes and odd inscription (right)


I’m unsure as to why two holes were in the rock, but I was even more unsure as to why there would be an inscription carved into the stone. Was it someone’s initials scribed into the rock’s surface by some early graffiti artist on the island? That was my first thought until I noticed the last figure was not a letter, but a symbol. What looked to be “JMW” seemed to more like a line of symbols than letters, and so I took a closer look.

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I took photos of the rock and inscription and carried onwards to where the fort should have been, but found no trace of this old structure supposedly built by islanders who were armed and ready to engage any attackers from the United States to the south, coming across the lake during the Upper Canada Rebellions of 1837. The fort was apparently later abandoned, and fell away into history, its remains and location unknown. I returned back to the mainland with more questions than answers, as this island seems to have some odd ruins, interesting geological features and a beauty that needs to be re-visited.


The inscription look old and weathered, not a recent carving into the rock. The holes seem to be newer, but the symbols look much older. This of course would require a professional examination.

Studying the stone’s inscription further, I believe an explanation could be one of the following:

  1. Early settler or more recent graffiti carving of initials “JMW” but the carver did not have time to finish his letter ‘W’ with a final arm of the letter missing.
  2. Indigenous inscription
  3. Possible ancient visitor inscription

EXPLANATION 1: Modern/Early settler inscription


The most likely explanation is that the rock was scribed by some local resident bored at the water’s edge one day, who attempted to carve his initials into the rock but never had time to finish the last letter. Perhaps he was daydreaming and just started making holes in the rock as well. The island was once inhabited by out-of-work Rideau Canal Stone Masons of Irish and Scottish descent, so that could be likely. But why there? Why in such a remote and secluded spot? And why would the carver not finish their initials? After going to so much trouble, would you not want to finish the last letter of your initials before leaving, or at least come back later to finish the final arm of the letter W? The “M” inscribed, may not even be an M, but rather two separate symbols since they don’t seem to connect…but who knows until it is studied further.

EXPLANATION 2: Indigenous Carving

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Amherst Island was once inhabited by the Iroquois and other natives to the area, so perhaps this rock was marked by a group who settled nearby. The markings seem to coincide with the markings left on a stone in Massachusetts called the Bourne Stone, with almost identical “J, M” , and the squiggle. Is there some connection to the Amherst Island stone and the Bourne Stone despite their separation by hundreds of kilometres? From my preliminary research, the local indigenous people did not carve stones, with the only evidence of ancient petroglyphs being near Peterborough. Were they made by the same tribes? Perhaps someone knows.

EXPLANATION 3: Ancient explorers


IMG_5316 (1)

What first struck me about the last two figures of the inscription were their similarity to ancient rune scripts, the Norse runes and the ancient Futhark used by Ango-Saxon tribes.


Upon closer comparison, the inscription symbols also resemble Iberian Script, a script used in the southern parts of France and Spain during the early BC years. The symbols seem almost identical. Were ancient explorers from Europe on the Great Lakes leaving their mark on Lake Ontario? With the discovery of a Norse spearhead in 1929 across the lake from Amherst Island, it does seem plausible that perhaps Norse visitors made it to Lake Ontario and left a mark when they were here a 1000 years ago.



Again, I defer to the professionals to study the Amherst Stone in greater detail, but until that happens, the rock and its inscription will continue to weather the years on the shores of Amherst Island in quiet hiding.

Andrew King,  September 2017











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“Deer Island” on the St. Lawrence River south of Ottawa is home to the “Skull and Bones” secret society initiation rituals. (image: BingMaps)

Steeped in historic secrecy for almost two centuries, the Skull and Bones society is an undergraduate secret society based at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. Under the corporation of the Russell Trust Association which owns the society’s real estate and oversees the organization and its “Bonesmen”, they also control an island 1.5 hours south of Ottawa.


The logo of the Skull and Bones Society with the number “322” underneath…supposedly signifying that members measure dates from the year 322BC instead of from the common era.

Founded in 1832 after a dispute among Yale debating societies Linonia, Brothers in Unity, and the Calliopean Society over that season’s Phi Beta Kappa awards, the Skull and Bones society has since had their assets managed by the society’s alumni organization, the Russell Trust Association, which was incorporated in 1856 and named after the Bones co-founder, Russell Gilman.


An early photo of the Skull and Bones Society with what is reportedly the skull and bones of Geronimo.

The first description of the Skull and Bones secret society was published in 1871 and it became known that Skull and Bones selects new members among Yale students every spring as part of Yale University’s “Tap Day” which it has done since 1879.

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Deer Island, part of Skull and Bones lies in the St. Lawrence River about 1.5 hrs south of Ottawa. (Google Maps)

This society cloaked in secrecy, owns and manages Deer Island, an island retreat on the St. Lawrence River about 1.5 hrs south of Ottawa, where Bonesmen continue to initiate themselves on this island as they have done so since it was purchased by the Russell Trust Co. This forty-acre retreat is meant to give Bonesmen an opportunity to “get together and rekindle old friendships”, and it once boasted tennis courts and softball fields, surrounded by rhubarb plants and gooseberry bushes. It even hosted elegant meals, and it is said that all new Skull and Bones members still visit Deer Island as part of their initiation into the society.

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As seen from Google Maps.

Part of the  Thousand Islands, Deer Island is situated between mainland Canada and the United States, owned entirely by the Russell Trust Association.

It is rumoured that the remains of the Apache Chief Geronimo are housed on Skull Island who died of pneumonia 17 February 1909, at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.  Allegedly, grave robbers that were members of this secret Yale University Fraternity at the time, including Prescott Bush, father and grandfather of two Presidents of the United States, stole the skull and bones of Geronimo.


President Bush shown as part of the Skull and Bones Society.

The island of the Skull and Bones society has seemingly fallen into disrepair, most of its opulent buildings having been burned to the ground with its tennis courts lying abandoned and overgrown like something from the Great Gatsby.

Despite its decline, the island is still part of the Skull and Bones Society, and will continue to operate as a retreat for the Bonesmen, its mandate and operations shrouded in secrecy as they have been for over 150 years.

Andrew King, August 2017







Checking Out The Lost Mid-Century Motels Of Ottawa

Being the Nation’s Capital, Ottawa has never been a stranger to tourists during the summer months, even more so this year being Canada’s 150th. Droves of out-of-towners eager to take in the sights and sounds of Ottawa’s attractions have been coming here and resting their heads in hotels and inns over the many years Ottawa has been the capital city.

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An accommodation phenomena called the “Motor-Inn” or “motel” was a hotel designed especially for these tourists arriving by car with a parking area for their motor vehicles. The word “MOTEL” entered the dictionary during World War II, defined as a hotel consisting of a single building of connected rooms whose doors faced a parking lot and in some circumstances, a common area or a series of small cabins with common parking.

As more and more tourists flocked to Ottawa during the summer months, motels began to spring up across the city providing easily accessible overnight accommodation sites close to the main highways. These motels were most popular in the 1960s with growing car travel, but they later fell into disparity as major freeways re-routed tourists from the city’s main streets.

Here in Ottawa, they were many motels but sadly most are now long gone, and any surviving ones have been horribly transformed into grotesque skeletons of their former selves. Today, there are a few hidden clues to indicate the illustrious mid-century architecture of these once unique motels.

Let’s go back in time and check in to these cool lost motels…


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A classic mid-century modern design of this Montreal Road motel. (Image: delcampe.com postcard)


A recent street view shows the once classic design has been lost. (Image: GoogleMaps)

Located at 333 Montreal Road, this amazing original motel once boasted “radios and televisions” in each room. There was also air conditioning, and “large ceramic tiled bathrooms” along with a swimming pool.

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The original interior of the Motel DeVille showing off its awesome mid-century decor. (image: delcampe.com postcard)


A photo from the website of the current motel shows the same furniture in place. 

The very mi-century modern deign of the original motel featured the cantilevered roof over the lobby and a very eye catching sign. This motel later changed into the “Concorde Motel”, and its unique overhang was chopped off and any indication of its original form was lost. The Concorde still exists today, and its website photos reveal it still contains the original bed frames as seen in the 1960’s postcard of the old Motel DeVille. You can cruise by and check out this cool old motel that looks different from the outside and visit their website that shows really not much has changed inside. Props to them for maintaining this unique motel’s past!


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The White House Motel, complete with cool neon sign out from on Carling Avenue. (image: (Delcampe.com postcard)

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Google Streetview reveals the abandoned buffet restaurant that occupies the former White House Motel space. 

Perhaps copying the capital city to the south of us, Ottawa had its own “White House” in the form of the motel at 2583 Carling Ave. Boasting heated rooms all year round as well as being one of the finest motels in the Ottawa Area, this classic motel was located next to Lincoln Fields where an All-You-Can-Eat Chinese Buffet was also once located.

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It seems the White House crumbled and is now just an abandoned building soon to become a Self-Storage facility. We will keep an eye on the other White House to see if it suffers the same fate as Ottawa’s White House.


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The Butler Motor Hotel had an incredible sign out front and equally impressive mid-century architecture. (image: Delcampe.com postcard)


The current streeview of the once glorious Butler Motel that is now the Ottawa Plaza Inn. Any indication of its grand mid-century design has been completely obliterated with a “modern” facelift. Classic Ottawa to erase any signs of mid-century design. 

Once having a posh butler cartoon character to welcome guests, the Butler Motor Hotel has been so horribly modified from its original form that you may not recognize it as one of the finest motels in Ottawa complete with a lounge in the basement, “The Coachman” that hosted musical acts in its 1960s heyday. Today, the Ottawa Plaza Inn reveals little of its mid-century past.

Many More…

The above three motels are but a snippet of the many motels that once graced Ottawa’s streets, a lost form of accommodation for tourists to the city. I often wonder what it would be like if Ottawa followed California’s Palm Springs lead in preserving their mid-century modernist motel and commercial architecture, attracting fans not only of the city’s tourist attractions, but also the unique commercial architecture we once had.


Andrew King, July 2017



Google Maps




The Deserted Stone Quarry Of Canada’s Parliament Buildings

For over a hundred years Canada’s parliament buildings have weathered the sands of time, pollution, salt and seismic activity, standing firm as the seat of this country’s government. Destroyed by fire in 1916, the original 1859 parliament buildings were rebuilt in 1916 using Canada’s finest building stones. But where did these stones actually come from? Hidden from view off the 417, with thousands of people unknowingly passing it each day, there lies a lost quarry, overgrown and forgotten, where Canada’s parliament buildings were born.


Canada’s Parliament Buildings were made from stone quarried west of Ottawa, near Bells Corners. (photo: Wikipedia)


When the original 1859 parliament buildings were destroyed by fire in 1916, work began almost immediately on re-building them using what was considered to be Canada’s finest building stones. This stone was called Nepean Sandstone, and came from, as the name suggests, the Township of Nepean here in Ottawa. Nepean Sandstone is a mid-to-late Cambrian age rock found to the west of Ottawa near Bells Corners. Many of us drive over it on that ridge between Moodie Drive and Kanata, its outcroppings visible along the side of the 417. It is a well-cemented sandstone of nearly pure quartz, and was used to not only build the 1916 parliament buildings in Ottawa, but also the Museum of Nature, the Royal Canadian Mint and the Dominion Observatory. Stone from this quarry also provided the blocks needed to build Langevin Building (recently re-named the Office of the Prime Minister and the Privy Council) and the old Nepean Town Hall in Westboro.

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The quarried Nepean sandstone was also used to build a number of Ottawa’s prominent buildings, like the Dominion Observatory.

From GeoScience Canada Volume 28, Number 1, 2001, it is quoted that the owner of the quarry received a shocking contract in 1916, and the demands for his special stone were high and the task of getting the stone to downtown Ottawa was gruelling:

“Our first order came from Peter Lyall Construction Company for 1,000 tons of sandstone all for the Parliament Buildings. When we got the parliament job there were several hundred men on the job and they just gobbled up the stone. We couldn’t get the stone out fast enough …Stone was hauled up to the building site by teams of horses, struggling along poor roads with six- ton loads. Each team could make but one trip a day.”


Canada’s parliament buildings under construction after being destroyed in 1916. Note the piles of stone that came from the forest quarry near Bells Corners. (photo: Library and Archives Canada)

In order to fulfill his duties of providing the parliamentary stone, the quarry owner brought in extra quarrymen and stone cutters from Scotland. The stonemasons carved out of the rocks near Bells Corners all the stone for the Centre Block and the Peace Tower. The quarry continued operation under various owners until 1962, when it was  expropriated by the NCC where it remains forgotten and overgrown to this day.

But where exactly did this special stone come from? Nepean Sandstone means it came from Nepean, but where exactly? Finding a government document from 1964 called  “ONTARIO DEPARTMENT OF MINES BUILDING STONES OF ONTARIO PART IV: SANDSTONE” there is listed on page 17 a mention that Campbell Quarries is where Canada’s parliamentary stone came from. Concession and lot numbers were given, which I matched up to an old map of the area, that marked “WHITE SANDSTONE QUARRY” on the map. This is the quarry where the stone came from, but where is it located today?


This old map indicates a “White Sandstone Quarry” just north of Bells Corners. This is the quarry where our parliamentary stone came from.


After using the old map with the quarry marked on it, and overlaying it with a current Google Map, the rough area where the Parliamentary Stone Quarry was determined.


Overlaying the old map on a current Google Map, the quarry can be pinpointed and its current location determined.

Setting off into the forest, the hidden quarry of Canada’s Parliament Buildings lies just off an NCC bikepath, and mere metres away from the bustling 417 highway. With camera in hand, I took to the forest and soon uncovered the overgrown remains of what was once a busy quarry site that provided Canada with its important building blocks for our Parliament.

Please enjoy the photos below which document this important piece of Ottawa, and Canada’s history, on this 150th Anniversary of our nation.

Walking through the dense forest, one quickly stumbles upon the overgrown remains of the over 100 year old quarry where the stone for Canada’s Parliament came from.


It is clearly visible where the stonemasons over a hundred years ago carved out the stone needed for construction of the Parliament Buildings.


Piles of unused cut stones litter the forest floor.


The Nepean Sandstone beds can be seen on the surface, from which the stonemasons extracted the parliamentary stone.


This stone looks like it was being worked on with straight edges before being abandoned.


Piles and piles of unused stones litter the forest floor in this old hidden quarry.


Single large stones are slowly consumed by the growing forest.





Part of the cliff where the stone was cut from.




Worked over large stone.



Quietly forgotten on NCC property, the quarry of Canada’s Parliamentary Buildings, and many other distinct buildings in the Nation’s Capital, goes largely unnoticed without a plaque or marker to indicate its significance.


Andrew King, June 2017



GeoScience Canada, Volume 28, Number 1, 2001, “Building Stones Of Canada’s Federal Parliament Buildings”, D.E. Lawrence.



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A 1930 Ottawa Journal newspaper cites the discovery of the mysterious Planet X

In 1924 an event occurred at Dominion Observatory off Carling Avenue that played an instrumental role in what would later be the discovery of the dwarf planet Pluto. Now quietly hidden off Carling Avenue, this stately old Observatory once sat on the outskirts of the city, far away from the bright lights of downtown Ottawa. Its huge copper dome once retracted to reveal a giant telescope that scanned the heavens for new planets.


One of the outbuildings at the observatory that once housed a telescope. (photo: Wikipedia)

Looking like some lost relic from a Jules Verne novel, this unique Ottawa building played a pivotal role in history when two astronomers stationed at our Observatory accidentally discovered what would be later known as Planet X, or as some call it, the DOOMSDAY PLANET.


Scanning an old newspaper article from a 1930 Ottawa Journal, a curious headline appeared that stated:

“Pluto’s major role had its setting in the Dominion observatory at Ottawa”

This piqued my interest, and through further research it seems Ottawa’s old Observatory was part of a curious investigation known in astronomy circles as “The Ottawa Object”.

Rewinding the clocks a bit further back to the 1880s, Ottawa had a small observatory in a shack on the Ottawa River where the Supreme Court is now, but in 1902, it was decided that Canada needed a more substantial observatory to study the heavens.

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Ottawa’s Dominion Observatory off Carling Ave. circa 1905. (photo Casca.ca)

Chief Dominion Architect of the time, David Ewart, designed the Dominion Observatory and this grand building was constructed near Dow’s Lake on the Agriculture Department’s Central Experimental Farm. A Romanesque Revival building with exquisite details and a huge copper retractable dome, it was completed in 1905 utilizing a 15-inch refracting telescope, the largest of its kind in Canada. (the telescope is now with the Museum of Science and Technology, moved there when the Observatory closed in 1970)

One night in 1924, two astronomers working at the Observatory, Francois Henroteau and  a Miss Burland discovered a mysterious new planet that would be dubbed “PLANET X”. It wouldn’t be until 1930 that their discovery was publicized. (SIDENOTE: It was stated by the Canadian Astronomical Society that Burland became the first woman in the Canadian government service to wear pants on the job because she was observing the stars for long hours in Ottawa’s cold winters.)

Also termed the ‘Ottawa object,’ it was reported on April 22, 1930, during the discovery of Pluto. The Ottawa Observatory director at the time, R. M. Stewart, announced that the mysterious object had been found during a search for pre-discovery observations of Pluto by Henroteau and Miss Burland on photo plates taken here in Ottawa in 1924. The Director remarked the orbit of the unusual object was uncertain.

‘The “Ottawa Object” plates were lost, and as of 1979 nothing more concerning this unusual celestial object has been reported. Until now.

Other than the missing Ottawa photo plates from 1924 that apparently showed Planet X, there has been no further proof of its existence.  But now with the use of infrared and radio equipment, astronomers are now returning to the 1924 Ottawa Object and say a Neptune-sized planet does indeed exist in the outer limits beyond Pluto.

In 2016 two scientists came forward with evidence that an unseen object similar in size to Neptune orbits the sun every 15,000 years. They say 4.5 million years ago the giant planet was knocked out of the planet-forming region near the sun, but it settled into a  distant elliptical orbit, where it may again return into our solar system, smashing into Earth or coming close to it.

The re-discovered “Ottawa Object” or Planet X was found by Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, California, From an excerpt in Science Magazine the two are confidently quoted as saying:  ‘We have evidence for Planet X…Why is this different? This is different because this time we’re right.

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A 15 inch telescope like the one that was at the Ottawa Observatory. (photo: Royal Astronomical Society)

This new evidence would support the doomsday scenario of Planet X, also known to some as “Nibiru”, the lost planet. The Nibiru cataclysm belief claims to be a disastrous encounter between the Earth and this rogue planet that takes place in the early 21st century. That would be about now I guess.

I highly recommend checking out this wonderful old observatory and its little outbuildings, they are amazing pieces of Canada’s astronomical past, and sit like stoic sentinels on the grounds of the Experimental Farm. Now with new astronomical evidence pointing towards the fact this Planet X may exist, it remains a remarkable possibility that Ottawa first discovered it, and maybe our imminent demise almost one hundred years ago.

Andrew King, May 2017






That Time We had A Kenny Rogers Roasters Restaurant


Kenny Rogers, the genius behind the short lived Ottawa restaurant. (photo:Wikipedia)

A recent trip down memory lane had me thinking of the one time I pulled into a strip mall off Bank Street in the mid-1990s to try a new restaurant in town called Kenny Rogers Roasters. Yes, Kenny Rogers, as in the country music star and the guy who knows when to hold them and when to fold them.

You see Ottawa in the mid-1990s was something of a culinary wasteland, with Licks burgers down on Bank Street being the big deal where they sang your food order, and maybe if you had a good paycheque, you’d go for a nice steak dinner at The Keg. There really wasn’t much to choose from on a Friday night for a dinner out when I was in my early twenties. For some reason though, I saw Kenny’s emblazoned head on an illuminated sign that drew me in to his rotisserie chicken palace. It was one of the most memorable food experiences of my life.


A typical Kenny Rogers Roasters Restaurant. (photo: Wikipedia)

You see, before hipster restaurants started serving drinks in Mason jars and food on a live edge wooden plank, Kenny Rogers was opening restaurants across the globe that served down home, genuine processed foods on a metal tray that rivalled an army mess hall or upscale penitentiary. After entering the welcoming doors of the majestic Kenny Rogers Roasters at 2629 Alta Vista Road, you were greeted by a delightful hostess that handed you a tray with those sectioned off areas to dump in your food. It was glorious.

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Kenny Rogers Roasters menu. (Source: kennyrogersroasters.com)

Rewinding back to 1991, country musician Kenny Rogers and former KFC CEO John Y. Brown, Jr., (former governor of the U.S. state of Kentucky) opened a chain of restaurants that had a menu that centred around wood-fired rotisserie chicken. The chain eventually grew to over 350 restaurants, including locations in Canada, the Middle East and Asia. Ottawa was lucky enough to receive a location in the Alta Vista Plaza off Bank Street, where the Kenny Rogers culinary experience became available to the Ottawa masses for only a few short years.  If you lived through the mid-1990s, the Kenny Rogers Roasters experience was a dining extravaganza, so much so, that an entire episode of Seinfeld (“The Chicken Roaster”) was dedicated to Kramer’s love of Kenny Rogers Roasters chicken.


A Seinfeld episode that featured Kenny Rogers Roasters. (photo: wikipedia)

Kenny’s place was clean and well appointed with various Kenny Rogers photos and paraphernalia, and I gotta say, the food was pretty good for chain restaurant food. That’s why it was with great surprise to learn in 1998 that Kenny Rogers Roasters entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy and was bought by Nathan’s Famous, Inc. for U.S.$1.25 million on April 1, 1999. The genius Kenny Rogers Restaurant in Ottawa restaurant was about to close forever.

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Current locations of Kenny Rogers Roasters Restaurants. (Source: Kennyrogersroasters.com)

Nathan’s Famous later sold the chain to their Asian franchiser, Roasters Asia Pacific (Cayman) Limited, and the very last Kenny Rogers Roasters that operated in North America closed on December 31, 2011. BUT to this day, the chain is HUGE in Asia, where it flourishes under the ownership of Berjaya Group, gambling and winning with almost 140 restaurants across Asia, with a continued expansion in Malaysia, the Philippines, and more recently southern China. Veritable Pacific Islands in the stream of rotisserie chicken sauce.


A typical Kenny Rogers Roasters restaurant architecture. (Wikipedia)


Ottawa’s Kenny Rogers Roasters is now a Cora’s on Alta Vista Drive, but there is no hiding the fact it was once a Kenny Rogers Roasters when compared to the photo above. (Photo:TripAdvisor)

Ottawa’s Kenny Rogers Roasters would soon close its doors, and it has since become a Cora’s restaurant, but, no matter how hard they try to camouflage the building, its distinguished architectural details still reveal its roots as an illustrious Kenny Rogers Roasters. Now, just a distant memory, I will never forget the moment I entered the dream-like atmosphere of Ottawa’s Kenny Rogers Roasters and became entranced by its succulent rotisserie chicken fragrance blended with the perfume of macaroni salad. To complete the experience, the food was served on a stainless steel, compartmentalized food tray. I ate alone, in silence that day in 1997, enjoying what I was holding, not knowing they would eventually fold them.

Andrew King

April, 2017



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The Ottawa Bound Furniture That Went Down With Titanic


On April 14th it will be 105 years since TITANIC sank. On that date in 1912, four days after crossing the Atlantic Ocean and about 600 km south of Newfoundland, the ship TITANIC hit an iceberg at 11:40 p.m. which took the world’s largest passenger ship and over 1500 souls to a watery grave 12,000 feet below the surface.

Most people will remember the tragic tale through the 1997 James Cameron film “Titanic” which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, but what many may not know, is that Ottawa has a very strong connection to this ill-fated ship that you can visit.

This quiet Titanic connection rests on a pedestal in the lobby of the Chateau Laurier Hotel, and if one feels so inclined to dig deeper, a greater connection lies in the US National Archives.



The carved stone bust of Laurier in the Chateau Laurier lobby (circled in red) holds a Titanic secret. (photo: Ottawa Citizen)

Sitting atop a wooden pedestal in the Chateau Laurier is a stone carving of the Prime Minister, Sir Wilfred Laurier, who was Prime Minister of the time the Chateau was built in 1911, and whose name adorns the hotel. Now, just to back it up a bit, our splendid downtown hotel was the brainchild of Charles M. Hays, who is credited with the formation of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, a vision he had to create a second transcontinental railroad across Canada. Part of this dream was also to build a luxury hotel in Canada’s capital, a hotel we all know as the Chateau Laurier.


Charles M. Hays, the visionary behind the Chateau Laurier Hotel. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Built at cost of $2million in 1911, the grand opening of the opulent hotel was planned for April 26th 1912 with Hays and Laurier to be in attendance. To complete the grand hotel before its opening, Hays travelled to London, England to purchase furniture for the dining room of the hotel and have it shipped it back to Ottawa, as well as solicit funds for his railway plans. Upon an encounter in London with a gentleman by the name of J. Bruce Ismay, Hays plans were altered in a way that would change the course of history, and his life.

The gentleman Hays met happened to be the chairman of the White Star Steamship Line, and he offered a place for Hays and his furniture shipment to Ottawa aboard a vessel that was going to be the fastest, most luxurious ship on the high seas: Titanic. Hays graciously accepted the generous offer from Ismay, paying only a small fee to travel aboard Titanic in a deluxe suite (cabin B69) on the Promenade Deck.


RMS Titanic loaded up with the Ottawa hotel furniture before it left Southhampton port on April 10th, 1912 and met its fateful sinking. (photo:Wikipedia)

Hays shipment of Ottawa bound furniture that he purchased in London for the dining room of the Chateau Laurier was crated and placed in the cargo hold of Titanic. Searching out the cargo manifest of the Titanic, I found it to now be in the US National Archives, saved by another ship that happened to carry the manifest of the Titanic. I believe the Ottawa furniture is listed as “3 case furniture” under William Baumgarten & Co. which was a luxury hotel interior designer of the time that outfitted the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Whether Hays had Baumgarten design the dining room of the Chateau Laurier is unknown, but the fact that 3 crates of furniture under the name of a well-known luxury hotel designer seems too much of a coincidence. There are other listings of furniture, but none of 3 crates, a number that seems fitting for an entire dining room of a large hotel.


The cargo manifest of Titanic shows 3 crates of furniture listed…another 2 crates are also listed. It is unsure what entry is that of Ottawa’s hotel furniture. (Source: Encyclopedia Titanica)

After a lovely 4 days of  travel on Titanic,  at 11:40 pm on April 14, 1912, the mighty ship hit an iceberg. As history tells us, the ship began to sink and passengers were placed in the few lifeboats that were available. Hays helped the women in his party into one of the ship’s 20 lifeboats, but he, his son-in-law and his secretary remained aboard. Hays was confident that the ship would not sink and would join his wife later, but along with the other 1500 passengers left on the ship when it sank, Hays perished in the icy waters and his body was recovered days later, found floating in the Atlantic.

Titanic took with her not only over 1500 lives, but also the cargo in her hold, including the Ottawa hotel furniture that would never see the grand opening, and new furniture for the Chateau Laurier had to be shipped in for the postponed opening later that year. On June 12th, 1912, a subdued opening ceremony was held with Sir Wilfrid Laurier in attendance, with another set of furniture lying in Titanic on the bottom of the cold Atlantic.

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The grand opening of the Chateau Laurier without Hays or his furniture. (Photo: Library and Archives)


Now that is not the only Titanic connection to the hotel as we return to that carved bust of Laurier in the lobby. That stone carving was done by a French sculptor by the name of Paul Chevre, of whom Charles Hays had commissioned to do a bust of Canadian prime minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier for the lobby of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway’s Château Laurier Hotel back in Ottawa. Chèvre sent the bust ahead to the hotel on another ship, but decided to travel with Hays aboard Titanic for the official opening of the hotel on April 26th. He got on Titanic in Cherbourg, France as a first class passenger (ticket number PC 17594, Cabin A-9) and played cards with some other French passengers as they crossed the Atlantic.


Paul Chevre, Titanic survivor and sculptor of the bust in the hotel lobby. (photo: Wikipedia)

After the ship hit the iceberg, a lot of commotion took place but according to accounts, Chevré thought it was too cold to go outside to see what all the fuss was about. Instead he asked a Steward to open a porthole and see what was going on. Despite what was thought to be a minor incident, Chèvre pocketed his playing cards, boarded one of the first lifeboats to be lowered, and escaped the fate that befell Hays and the other 1500 passengers that night. The bust of Laurier he carved was safe on another ship, and it was placed on pedestal in the lobby of the hotel, where it still stands today.

Chèvre apparently never recovered from the trauma of what happened, and he died within two years of the sinking, feeling the shame as one of the relatively few men who had survived.


Being able to see in Ottawa the work of a Titanic survivor is one thing, but to experience a connection to what some describe as an unworldly experience is another. According to guests and staff, the ghost of Hays still haunts the Chateau Laurier hotel because he did not get to see his pride and joy of a hotel reach completion, his unfulfilled spirit haunting the hotel to this day. Inexplicable noises, moving objects and other paranormal activity lead many to believe he actually made it off Titanic and to Ottawa, just in a spirit form.


The dining room of the Chateau Laurier as it looked in 1912…with furniture to replace that lost on Titanic.

Staff at the hotel have reportedly witnessed furniture rearranging itself and objects being thrown about, perhaps this is Hays being unhappy that the furniture he chose never made it there. Whatever the case may be, Ottawa’s connection to the Titanic disaster is a close one, and it may never rest quietly.


Andrew King, April 2017









img_9115There is probably no better example of Ottawa’s Mid-Century Modern Commercial architecture still in its original state than the Civic Pharmacy building at the corner of Holland and Carling. Looking like a scene from from the hit series “MadMen”, this iconic piece of Ottawa’s history has been a coveted piece of our past since it opened in 1960. Now up for sale at a cool $3.36 Million, this well preserved example of Ottawa’s mid-century heritage is now available to someone who will hopefully maintain this shining example of a much overlooked heritage building.



A photo of the Cvic Pharmacy building as it appeared when it opened in 1960. (Ottawa Citizen)

The Civic Pharmacy Building officially opened with much fanfare on September 17 1960, with most of Ottawa remembering it for its unique multi-coloured “Googie” inspired signage affixed to its corner. “Googie” is a style of architecture that is very unique, and Ottawa is fast losing its examples. “Googie” architecture is a style of modern futurist architecture that evolved through the Atomic Age of the 1950s and 1960s culture, with jets, and the space-age being inspiration to its style.


“Googie” architecture utilized fun colours and a “Jetsons” style.

Googie-themed architecture was a popular choice for commercial buildings of the time such as motels, coffee houses and gas stations, all part of the Mid-Century modern aesthetic.


The original sign, whose letters used to rotate, is still in pretty good condition, but could use a restoration of its Googie inspired rotating letters. (photo: author)

The Ottawa Citizen had a two page spread printed about our Civic building’s Grand Opening Day, which included a mention of its awesome signage. 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.


Injectables and biologicals were kept refrigerated. (Ottawa Citizen)

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 loved 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.


On opening day in 1960, Brylcreem was on sale for 73 cents. (Ottawa Citizen)

In addition to the drug store component to the building, it also housed a 55 seat restaurant that featured imported chandeliers and lamps with copper tiles. The restaurant was a favourite hang out and place to skip class for kids from the nearby Fisher Park High School according to neighbourhood legend.


Listed under the Re/Max website for sale at $3.36 Million, the building has changed on the inside dramatically, with its huge sales floor being subdivided into smaller units, but the that iconic sign that all of Ottawa adores, still remains in much its original state.


The ad for the building states it is for sale at $3.36 million.

I would hope that a building of this historical significance is submitted for heritage approval, as it would be a shame if it was torn down for some new bland condo development. Just the sign itself is a rare example of something that binds all Ottawa residents together with the cherished memories it holds for so many.

I wish I could buy it myself and turn it into a living set piece from MadMen, complete with a cocktail lounge and 1960s style steakhouse. If the Dresden can do it in Los Angeles, I’m sure someone with vision and money could do the same in the Nation’s Capital.

Keep your eyes on this one Ottawa, it is too precious a piece of our past to see it demolished or have the sign unceremoniously tossed into a scrap heap.


Andrew King, March 2017. 



Google News Archive https://news.google.ca/newspapers?nid=QBJtjoHflPwC&dat=19600916&printsec=frontpage&hl=en


Remax Realty https://www.remax.ca/on/ottawa-real-estate/na-474-holland-avenue-ott_1035710-lst/



Ottawa In The Atari Age

Between 1977 and 1983, during what was called the “Golden Years” of video games, Atari was the godfather of all modern day video games selling 30 million consoles and hundreds of millions of games. At its peak in 1980, Atari games were being produced at an alarming rate involving hundreds of themes, some very obscure, and some just downright puzzling.

So what if Atari had developed a game based on the city of Ottawa? What if we never got out of 1980 and the technology and graphics of that era? What if we never advanced beyond the Atari age?

OTTAWATARI: The game that fun didn’t forget


Found at the Great Glebe Garage Sale? A vintage 1981 “OTTAWATARI” game whose box art shows what looks to be Jim Watson behind the controls of some kind of computer console.


The 1981 cartridge is typical of most Atari cartridges of that time. The instruction manual states the game is “Action Packed”.


This magazine ad from 1981 showcases some of the features of OTTAWATARI in an effort to entice video game enthusiasts to purchase it in the summer of ’81.


Screen shot of the gameplay shows the “LRT” mode. A government civil servant has to make his way across the city and avoid sinkholes while below an underground tunnel for the light-rail project is being chewed away. Points are scored for successfully jumping the holes and finishing ahead of the LRT tunnelling.


In “Snowscape” mode, an intrepid Ottawa resident has to make it back to their Glebe home from their government job while the temperature drops. Avoiding shooting bars of windchill and icy patches on the way home keeps your point score up, but as the temperature drops, so does your health.


In “RushHour” mode it’s a race against time as you wildly navigate your car down Carling Avenue. Points are lost if you hit a pothole or other cars.

Boasting over 30 different games on one cartridge, other games include “NCC” where you have to complete a project by successfully collecting 100 approvals over a 40 year span.

In “CONDO” mode, your character races against time to build a 30 storey condominium before the NIMBYS take away your bricks. In “2017” you must collect party items like a cake, fireworks, and musicians for Canada Day celebrations.


This 1981 magazine ad includes some screenshots of the game that feature its wide range of gameplay.

Most of the games on OTTAWATARI are fun, engaging and creative, making it one of those rare cartridges you will want to play again and again. The instruction manual recommends that you blow the dust out of it from time to time so it plays properly.

All in all OTTAWATARI is a classic Atari game that has all the elements to make it a fun game for one or two players. It was rumoured sales were sluggish and thousands of unsold copies of the game were buried in a huge snowbank off Hunt Club Road, but that has yet to be confirmed.


*Note: This post is for satirical purposes only. Atari is a registered trademark of Atari Interactive, Inc.