Monday, October 24, 2011

The Royal Townships : The hard life of the Loyalists

By : Dennis Stein

  The end of the American Revolutionary War meant difficult times for those who remained loyal to the crown. Most of the 'Loyalists' fled with only the clothes on their backs, leaving their homes, livestock, and all possessions behind. They took refuge in Quebec, under Governor Haldimand, who took on the responsibility of caring for the Loyalists. Most were former militia or British regulars, along with their families. Their situation quickly became dire, and they petitioned the Governor, who in turn sought help from the British government. England wanted to reward the Loyalists for their service, and set out to award lands to be settled to the west. Nine townships were surveyed, with lots being awarded by lottery to the loyalists and their families, in acreages based on their rank. Even lone men who had no families with them, and were not from the military in any way still received small parcels of land. The lottery upset some of the former British officers, who argued that they should be able to choose their lots as opposed to drawing them by ballot. The system remained in place however, and by the spring  of 1784, the loyalists were settling on their lands, having been brought up the St.Lawrence river by batteaux, which were capable of handling 3 to 4 tons. Seed and some livestock had been procured, and each settler was given an axe and a hoe, while several families would share blacksmith and carpentry tools. Glass and nails were hard to come by, dificult to transport, and expensive to buy, and to add to that, most of the loyalists had not arrived until summer on their lands, leaving little time to plant any kind of crop, let alone clear land or build suitable shelter. During the summer of 1784, tents could be seen along the St. Lawrence river, and it could be imagined that the Loyalists suffered a tough first winter. But after two years, after meeting criteria for clearing land for crops and/or livestock ( 5 acres ) and building of a house, the settlers would receive crown patents for their land.
  As time progressed, more settlers came, and things became somewhat easier. The land became 'improved' with roads along each concession, and cleared land for farming. Buildings and small towns sprang up slowly, and the earliest beginnings of Ontario were carved from the wilderness. The Royal Townships seeded the birth of a new British colony, and Canada was truly born.

Morning on The River...

The Mighty Fort Wellington

By : Dennis Stein

  Fort Wellington was built during the War of 1812, to defend British shipping routes on the St.lawrence river. Constructed in the town of Prescott, its ramparts stood watch over the river against the threat of American invasion, and guarded the entrance to the Galop Rapids. It was never attacked itself, being constructed of earthen ramparts forming a square,along with horizontal pickets, and casemates dug into the ramparts used for storage. British authorities always voiced an opinion that the fort was poorly built, and only a modest military threat,  but her most important military asset was the 24 pounder cannons on the southeast and southwest corners of the ramparts. These guns could fire directly on buildings in Ogdensburg, New York, and guard against american ships traveling the river. The fort saw action in November of 1813, when an american army under General Wilkinson approached from upriver, making their way to a planned attack on Montreal.  Wilkinson was afraid of Fort Wellington’s guns however, and landed his troops upriver from Ogdensburg, marching them through town at night, while his empty ships slipped past. Wilkinson was stopped by a much smaller force of British, Canadian and mohawk warriors at Crysler’s Farm near Morrisburg. After this, the war of 1812 came to an end, and the Fort was mostly abandoned. Inside the ramparts, the timber buildings and casemates quickly deteriorated.
  In the spring of 1838, trouble was brewing once again in Upper Canada. A rebellion was being organized by a group of former Canadian political dissidents, including William Lyon Mackenzie, who along with americans called the Hunter Patriots planned to attack and seize the Fort, and the town of Prescott. Their attempt to land at the wharf in Prescott was repelled by Canadian militia, who had been tipped off as to the approaching trouble. The Hunters landed at Windmill point, and were defeated shortly after. During this time, the Fort had been rebuilt to counter the American threat, now hosting a central three story blockhouse, an Officer’s quarters, Latrine, cookhouse, and a guardhouse. The cannons were remounted, and a stone caponiere was dug through the south facing rampart, accessed from the main yard through a tunnel.
  The fort continued to serve Canada even during the first and second World Wars, housing soldiers on their way overseas to fight. Today Fort Wellington has been refurbished to look as it was in 1864, with tours from May until LabourDay. The third floor of the blockhouse has been made into a museum, and Parks Canada interpreters provide a glimpse into the past, while fully clothed in period dress. A new facility is now being constructed next to the fort, to house the ‘gunboat exhibit’ formerly housed at Mallorytown Landing, and should be open soon. For more historical articles, point your browser to

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Un-wired Challenge

By : Dennis Stein

  The last couple of articles I have written have been more ranting than anything else, but if you thought I was finished, think again... This time I won't yap about Hydro One's delivery charges, Enbridge's massive rates for heat which in this climate are a necessity, or how the Ontario government strangleholds us with taxes, namely the HST. No, I have a different plan this time around. A Challenge.
  When was the last time you went for a day without answering your cell phone? 'Smartphone' indeed... If it were smart, it would answer the call for you, or text back some mundane reply to the silly question you were texted. Do you wake up each morning to get your cup of coffee, and peruse the latest news in front of the computer? Check the weather? Do a little checking in on your bank account? Then you get in the car to head to work, checking the route to the nearest Tim's on your in-car GPS? Honestly, did you get lost before you had one of these useless devices? Texting through your day, home later only to hear the children fighting over the computer, wanting to get on Facebook.
  It's like quitting smoking. Just go cold turkey! Try it for a day or two, just to see what it was like. Before cell phones, the internet, texting. Unplug yourself from all of it. You might be amazed how quickly your stress level goes down. I recommend that you only do it for a day or two, especially if unplugging means you cut off the entire household. You might find the children threatening to run away from home, and your significant other handing you a divorce, if you go on for too long. Not to mention the angry messages from your boss, family, and associates online as to where you have been! But give it a try, go tech free, stop by the bank, go to the teller, and take out the CASH, you may need for the week. Leave your cell at home, and go for a drive without the GPS. I admit, it isn't for the feint of heart, but give it a try, and watch how quickly you can relax a little more.
  My wife and I went to Cuba last fall, and to access the net, you bought a coded coupon from the main desk, and sat at a group of PC's tucked into a far corner of the lobby. Although I am guilty of sitting and briefly sending an email or two to family about the odd thing, I was dumbfounded to come into the lobby one evening and see every computer filled, by young people on Facebook of all things... Pathetic. See you later all, I am heading back to the beach! No cell, no pager, no stress...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What is the Matrix???

By : Dennis Stein

  Ever have that violated, invasion of your privacy feeling? I've sure got it these days. Our electronic 'conviences' are starting to make our lives worse instead of better. Now before you roll your eyes and think I'm on some paranoid rant, bear with me. Do you not find it annoying to pick up your telephone lately and get some recorded message, especially around dinner time? Do you notice that the advent of security chips on our bank cards take longer to process than the swipe or cash method? Because let's face it, very few of the young folks running a cash register can do math in their heads anymore... Want to test it? Ask your young grocery clerk what 7 times 8 is, and watch the horrified look come across their face...
  GPS units were a nifty tool for hikers and boaters, until they became a nifty tool for your employer to track your every move. I used to worry about the police if I happened to be going a little fast, but now I have to fear the email going to my boss about my driving habits, from some bean counter watching me on a computer screen, from his air conditioned office. ( Special note : As I sit and write this on my new Motorola Xoom tablet, a small icon and message in the lower right of the screen has informed me that my location has now been set by GPS!!! ) Grrrrr! Even Google knows where I am!
  I don't have much conversation with the older of the kids in the family these days, I get text messages instead. My wife and I sit together in the kitchen in the evenings watching the youngest be mesmerized by you tube, and playing on, while we play 'Angry birds'  on our Ipods.
Sad indeed.
  Every day we drive by cameras for security and traffic control, not to mention when you go to the bank machine, walk through a store, or use your GPS equipped cell phone. For some real fun, you could wind up on youtube yourself, quite by accident while going for a walk through a park where someone has decided to upload video from the camera in their phone of their dog playing fetch...
  The time that it strikes me as funny, is when there is a power interruption, and stores simply close their doors, because their precious inventory control systems and computers are down. People suddenly become panicked because interac and credit cards cannot be accepted, just cold, hard CASH!
  And last but not least, shove your bluetooth up your butt. I don't know how many times I have asked 'what?', thinking that the person next to me has said something to me, only to get the wave that they are not talking to ME while they continue a strange conversation with themselves...The matrix has us.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Impact Of Our Footprint

By : Dennis Stein

 Are you trying to do your part to combat global warming? Do you bring cloth bags to the grocery store, instead of asking for plastic bags at the check out? Have you replaced the light bulbs in your house with compact flourescents, or LED's? Do you do everything they tell you in magazines and on TV, because of the 'going green' idea?
 Care must be taken, because although the issue of global climate change is important, there are many out there who see the opportunity to profit from an issue that is at the forefront of society. If you drive down the highway, and see a transport truck with skirts to help cut wind resistance under the trailer, is that because, like the logo on those skirts says, the trucking company has 'gone green'? NO, they are operating as always, the skirts are simply there to help save fuel in the face of rising fuel prices... So why jump on the 'green' bandwagon? Because it's the new buzzword, a marketing tool for the green revolution. Do we save the planet by buying environmentally friendly products? Probably not. I recycle, I have replaced the bulbs, I try to conserve energy. Our household cannot seem to conserve toilet paper, milk, or cat food for some reason. I don't know what they are doing with it, but it seems that I have to come home from the store with it far too often...Am I making a difference? Not likely. My not using electricity simply makes me wonder if my Hydro One delivery charges go up, and now instead of incandescent bulbs, which are not a real problem, I have CFL's in the house which each contain mercury. Green this and green that. I like the idea of being environmentally responsible, but what I hate is the fact that what we attempt to save, someone else seems to use up. Some would argue that the earth has been going through warmer or cooler cycles since before the dinosaurs roamed the Earth, but hey, with 6 billion of us here, all spewing polutants into the atmoshphere, we must be contributing to climate change somewhat, right? The fact of the matter is that things will likely have to get quite a bit worse before the majority of people actually sit up and take notice. I hope that somehow humanity can get it together, and find solutions to these monumental issues that need to be looked at NOW.
 Superpowers like the United States and China are slowly starting to engage policies involving global warming. Some smaller island nations worry that they will experience the 'end of their history' as rising sea levels may wipe their country from the face of the Earth. Large things to consider indeed, with no easy solution in sight. So the next time you roll down the window and pitch that cigarette/coffee cup/receipt/anything.... STOP. We can't even hope to accomplish anything with Climate Change if we don't start with the little things...

Monday, September 5, 2011

Ghosts In The Isles

By : Dennis Stein

  At the mouth of the St.Lawrence river near Kingston, on the edge of Lake Ontario lies a large Island known as Carleton Island. It was the site of a shipyard and of the British Fort Haldimand in 1778, built to protect the entrance to the St.Lawrence during the American Revolution. The trenches and structures of old are still apparent on the island, as is a massive mansion, now abandoned and fenced off at the south end of Carleton Island. The mansion is Carleton Villa, built over a century ago, and now a mere shell of its once grand halls.
  William O. Wyckoff set out to build a fantastic mansion on the island, having amassed a fortune as the marketing guru behind a new invention at that time, the Remington typewriter. The owner of Remington chose a cottage in nearby Thousand Island Park, while William constructed a massive estate, with the centerpiece being Carleton Villa. He hired architect William Miller, known for his work on the Cornell University buildings, and began the construction of a grand mansion, a house built for entertaining, which predates both Singer and Bold castles. The mansion consists of many rooms, a Library and Drawing room flank the center hall on the main level, the Great Hall is two stories tall and ringed on the second level gallery by columns at one end. A full basement extends under Carleton Villa, and this is where the Gun room, and Wine Cellar were located, along with a boiler room for the heating of the massive structure. The Villa also had a semi-detached tower, connected to the main entry via a 'bridge'. Outside, there were tennis courts, and a small hobby farm. Several boathouses also graced the property.
  Tragedy struck the Wyckoff's as the construction of Carleton Villa was completed. One month before they were to move in, William's wife died of cancer. Mr. Wyckoff then moved in by himself in July of 1895, to enjoy his lavish island home, passing away on the first evening there at the age of 60 from a heart attack...
  A large portion of the island, including the mansion, was later bought in the 1920's by General Electric, with the plans for a large corporate retreat. Carleton Villa was now in a state of disrepair, and GE actually considered the demolition of the mansion. The Great Depression came along, killing General Electric's plans on the island, and saving the Villa. It was sold after WWII, and has been vacant now for more than 70 years.
  Its tower now gone, toppled after being deemed a hazard, Carleton Villa is in need of an expensive rescue. It was recently listed for sale by the current owners at just under a half million dollars. Restoration of the mansion would cost millions, but its structure and foundations are solid due to being built directly on bed rock. Maybe there is still hope for this once grand building, until then it stands vacant and quiet, a ghost from a far gone age...

Battle of Crysler's Farm

By : Dennis Stein

 In November of 1813, as part of the American campaign near the end of the war of 1812, one of the pivotal battles in Canada's early history took place on muddy fields east of present day Morrisburg. The real target of the American invasion was Montreal, and those in Washington believed that Canada would be taken easily...
  Two separate American militia corps were involved. One, commanded by Wade Hampton and numbering around 4000, planned to move on Montreal at Chateauguay. The other much larger force was commanded by James Wilkinson, numbering close to 8000, and moving down the St.Lawrence river from Sacket's Harbor on the edge of Lake Ontario. These two officers resented one another, and refused to work together, probably the first military mistake in the Amercan battle plan. The troops were cold and hungry, as well as under supplied, making any siege attempt impossible once they reached their objective. So with a lack of real military planning, and without sufficient rations or armament, the Americans made their move.
  Fortunately for Canada, Colonel Charles Michel d'Irumberry de Salaberry was in command of a much smaller, but better trained army. They met with Hampton's forces at Chateauguay in October of 1813, defeating them despite being outnumbered, and driving them back to their U.S. base, where they eventually disbanded.
  Wilckinson's group moving down the river was an entirely different matter. Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Wanton Morrison commanded a corps of 1200, and with the aid of gunboats from another detachment, they nipped at Wilkinson's American force as they travelled down the St.Lawrence. Unaware of the defeat of his loathed counterpart, Wilkinson landed his troops east of the Galop Rapids on the Canadian side, in preparation to travrse the larger rapids between present day Morrisburg and Cornwall. Morrison now took up a position on the ploughed fields of a farm with a collection of British and Canadian regulars, militia, small artillery and at least 30 Mohawk warriors, and waited for the Americans. Despite their superior numbers, the American troops were suffering from cold, hunger and disease, which had dwindled their ranks. Close to 4000 now attacked Morrison's corps of 1200. They proved to be no match for the Canadians, and after three hours of intense fighting, the U.S. troops fled the field back to the American side of the river, leaving 400 casualties behind. The Canadians paid for their victory in blood, however, with 200 casualties, mostly French. Of the 270 Canadian regulars under Morrison, two thirds were french speaking soldiers from Quebec.
  The battle at Crysler's farm stands as one of the most important conflicts ever for Upper and Lower Canada, uniting French, English, British, and Indian peoples to defend our young country against foreign invaders. It is a proud part of Parks Canada's Upper Canada Village, east of Morrisburg on Hwy.2.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The History Of Highway H2O

By : Dennis Stein

  The dream of the St.Lawrence Seaway began in 1680, with an attempt to bypass the Lachine Rapids near Montreal, using a mile long shallow canal. It was not actually completed until 1959, the Canadian ice breaker D'Iberville making the first transit. It was officially opened in June of that year by Queen Elizabeth and U.S. President Eisenhower.
  Earlier, in 1833, the Lachine Canal bypassed the Lachine Rapids, linking Montreal to Lake St. Louis. The first Welland Canal was also completed, being almost 44Km long and consisting of 40 wooden locks.Two World Wars, and oppposition to the project from influencial rail transport companies in the United States slowed the development of the Seaway into a full fledged trade route. 100 years after the opening of the first Welland Canal, the canals at Cornwall and Beauharnois were open, and the new fourth Welland Canal was completed. Its 25 foot depth raises ships 326 feet over a system of eight locks.
  By the mid to late 50's, the Iroquois, Snell and Eisenhower locks were opened, after the U.S. and Canadian governments reached an agreement totalling almost $500 million to construct and maintain a deep draft waterway between the port of Montreal and Lake Erie. Power dam development around the international rapids saw the relocation of 6500 people and 550 homes to the new Ontario towns called Long Sault, Ingleside, and Iroquois. New channels were dug and existing ones dredged, revealing rock formations of Pre-Cambrian rock, requiring new digging technologies and equipment to get past. Four bridges in Montreal had to be modified, in order to accomdate large ships, and were completed without disrupting traffic.
  During its first year of operation, the seaway saw 25 million tons of cargo. By 1979 that gross tonnage had increased to 80 million tons. As the mid 90's approached, the St.Lawrence seaway witnessed 160,000 ship transits from over 50 different nations, and over 2 billion tons of cargo, worth over $300 billion.
  Currently, the seaway has a maximum draft of 26 feet and six inches, which has been increased from original over the history of this remarkable waterway to enable ships to carry extra cargo. It allows ships with a maximum size of 740 feet, and a beam of 78 feet to access the port at Duluth, Minnesota, 2342 miles inland from the Atlantic. In 2004, the St.Lawrence seaway was given the name Hwy. H2O. Important note: A ship can move a ton of cargo 800 km using only 4 litres of fuel, and produce 7.5 times less greenhouse gases than road transport...

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Steeples Of Brockville

By : Dennis Stein

  One thing the city of Brockville has an abundance of is churches. A person can barely make it a few blocks in our city without seeing one. The churches in Brockville are among the oldest buildings in the city, and regardless of the denomination, add to the beauty of our town's architectural heritage.
  A church which definitely stands out is the First Presbyterian Church on aptly named Church St. The ministry for this church began exactly 200 years ago in 1811, and is credited with the very first Sunday School in Canada. The pastor began its ministry on horseback, carrying his bible in his saddle bag. The church building itself is an amazing example of nineteenth century architecture, and was rebuilt three times over its history, now having a 100 x 110 foot main sanctuary to seat 900 people. It shares Court terrace with the First Baptist Church on the corner of pine St., built around the same time period, and having similar features, and Wall St. church, adjacent to the courthouse on its east side.
  St.Paul's Anglican church on Pine St. is another shining example of beautiful architecture in Brockville. It is one of the most original historical buildings in town, having few restorative modifications over its history.
  Trinity Anglican Church on George St. has an uncertain future. This month may see it purchased along with the rest of its property by a developer. Plans for a condominium project on the site, and the eventual marketing of the church for commercial purposes are in the works, although the church is on the city's heritage list. It is in need of expensive restoration work however, and eventual demolition of the church building has not been entirely ruled out over the long term.
  Another beautiful building whose church bells can be heard on a daily basis is St. Francis Xavier on Church St. It does not share the neo-gothic style of the First Presbyterian, or First Baptist, but has an immense front entry, with terraced steps, and a tall bell tower directly up front. It's ministry began in 1858, proudly displayed on a plaque above the front entrance.
  All of the church buildings in Brockville are filled with beautiful stained glass windows, and are immaculate in architectural detail. Their high spires and bell towers add to the rich history of Ontario's oldest city...

Monday, August 1, 2011

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Battle Of The Windmill

By : Dennis Stein

  Many things shaped our country in its early history, including military battles. In the summer of 1838, in response to a number of raids conducted by a group of reformers led by William Lyon Mackenzie and a number of American Hunter Patriots, Fort Wellington at Prescott was repaired and upgraded with a new blockhouse to repel threats from across the St.Lawrence.  Although not fully completed, it was ready to play a part in a pivotal battle later that year...
  In November of 1838, a group of 250 American Hunter Patriots gathered at Ogdensburg to liberate Canadians in Upper Canada from what they saw as oppressive British rule. A Swedish man by the name of Nils Von Shoultz lead these men across the St.Lawrence early one morning, and after a failed attempt to land at Prescott, the Hunters landed and took over the hamlet of Newport, where the group took up a position in a stone windmill, east of the town. They were of the belief that they would be immediately joined by thankful Canadians, ready to be free of the crown.This, of course, never happened. The Americans got a further surprise, because the Canadians were ready for them, having been tipped off by spies about the impending invasion.
  The windmill was made of thick stone, standing 60 feet high, and provided a good defensive position for the American invaders. It stood on top of a 30 foot bluff, making it impossible for the British to approach without being seen, and was impervious to all but heavy artillery. It also afforded the Hunters a wide view, nearly to Brockville in the west, and the Galop Rapids in the east. Early in the morning of the 13th, a force of British infantry and 500 Canadian militiamen, including a group from the Brockville Rifles, attacked the Hunters. The initial attack failed, leaving 13 on the british side dead, and only 18 of the Hunter Patriots, along with wounded on both sides.
  On the 16th, artillery from kingston arrived along with over 1100 Upper Canadian militiamen, commanded by Henry Dundas. Royal Navy boats blocked any escape for the Hunters, and being pounded by artillery with no supplies or reinforcements, Von Shoultz and his forces surrendered, with many men fleeing to avoid capture. Those who were caught, underwent trial in Kingston, with the Hunter leader being represented legally by a prominent young Kingston lawyer named John A. Macdonald, who would later become Canada's first Prime Minister. 11 of the Hunters, including Von Shoultz, were sentenced to execution, 60 were sent away to a penal colony in Australia, 40 were acquitted and 86 more were later released.
  The site where the windmill still stands was declared a National Historic Site in 1920, and is accessible from Hwy. 2, just east of Prescott.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Way She Goes.....

By : Dennis Stein

  Why is it that we settle for what we get these days? I watched the recent CUPW lock out by Canada Post, and although most people were very supportive, there were some who were either misinformed, or flat out disagreed with the picketers, shouting for them to get back to work, or that they should be fired and let other people be hired who WANT to work. Those folks who do nothing like Canada Post employees have no idea what is involved. It is not a simple leisurely stroll with a few envelopes. Most letter carriers walk the equivalent of a marathon each day, carrying a great deal of weight, through whatever mother nature chooses to dish up that day...The fact that CUPW is simply trying to keep their previous collective agreement, without even seeking outlandish wage increases, seems to do little to appease some of the people driving by.
  Some of those same people probably were on their way to the local gas station, to fuel their vehicles. I am sure that they are not happy about the price per liter for gasoline. But do they do anything about it? They chastise the posties, saying they should be glad to even have a good job with a pension these days. The problem with that statement is this : 'These days' is the result of allowing corporations to impose their will on the employees freely, regardless of unions, and with little retribution. We pay the highest taxes in the world, allow hydro and natural gas companies to dictate the amount we will pay in a climate where HEAT is a life necessity, and accept all of this as though there is nothing we can do in this 'new economy'. Air Canada's CEO pockets $86 million dollars in a time period where workers are forced to accept $10,000 dollar a year pay cuts, and boost their productivity. Canada post CEO Deepak Chopra is being paid just under a half million per year plus a 33% bonus, yet is telling CUPW that their 3% per year increase is not doable. Meanwhile, CEO wages are increasing above 4% per year?
  The bottom line here is that things have gotten a little out of control. Energy costs are spiralling upwards, your Hydro and gas bill equal your mortgage, everything you buy is more expensive as a result of higher fuel prices, and we seem content to just carry on with our lives, shrugging and saying 'That's just the way she goes...'
  I appreciate that the older folks among us came from a tough as nails upbringing , where jobs were harder to find. I can also appreciate that we still live in the greatest country on the planet, where freedom and tolerance of the differences among us still reign supreme. There are simply a few things which need to be corrected. So don't complain about the politicians, they only lie and steal because we allow them to. Don't complain about your job or the amount it costs to fuel your vehicle if you think there is nothing you can do about it. Canada is a place where you should not have to be thanking your lucky stars you have a good job, it should be the norm for all that we pay for. Greed must come to an end somewhere, and we canadians must stop acting like cattle being led to the slaughterhouse. Just because it IS, doesn't make it RIGHT... Mooooooo.....

Monday, July 4, 2011

Brockville's Changing Waterfront

By : Dennis Stein

 Few places in Brockville have faced as much evolving change as Blockhouse Island. In the early history of our city, it was indeed an island, and like alll others in the St.Lawrence, belonged to England. It was destined to become 'Hospital Island' in June of 1832, when a series of events occurred, beginning with the ship 'The Carrick', arriving at the port of Quebec from Ireland. The ship carried immigrants from Ireland. A few of these people were feverish, and three days later cholera morbus struck, spreading like wildfire up to Montreal, and then into Upper Canada. Several quarantine hospital sites were erected, such as one on Grosse Ile, Quebec, which stood to screen immigrants to Canada more than a century. Here in Brockville, 'Refuge Island' as it was then known, was set up in June of 1832 to quarantine immigrants wishing to land at Brockville. City Council appointed a Board of Health, and a special police force to assist in enforcing regulation. Thanks to the quick reaction by Council, and the procedures used to house and treat patients, only a handful of people died. By the end of 1832, 9,000 people in this country had died of the disease, more than half in Lower Canada.
  Later, 'Grant's Island' as it was then known, was called into service in 1838 by the military, with a six-pound gun and a wooden blockhouse for barracks, in response to the growing threat of American invasion. Blockhouse Island was never really involved in any fighting, although militiamen from Brockville did see action in that year east of Prescott at the 'Battle of the Windmill'. As the threats of invasion cooled the following year, the island remained a military istallation, still isolated from the mainland for the following two decades.
  During the late 1850's and early 60's, the Island evolved again, becoming the hub of transporting goods and people alike on the Brockville and Ottawa Railway. With the completion of the railway tunnel down to the waterfront, a stretch of land between the mouth of the tunnel and the island was filled with rock and soil, and the island now became part of the railway's terminal, complete with a roundhouse, warehouses, and lumber yards. Blockhouse Island was then used for many years to transfer goods from the railway to waiting ships.
  Recently, Blockhouse Island has become a tourist location, its wooden blockhouse and railway yards all but gone. A popular spot for visitors to our city, it continues to evolve. A short distance away, Tall Ship's Landing is now under construction, along with the Maritime Discovery Centre of the 1000 Islands, a $20 million dollar attraction to showcase wildlife and the environment of our world class tourist hotspot. Both facilities will change the Brockville waterfront yet again...

  For more info about the MDC, visit, and for historical information about Blockhouse Island, visit local historian Doug Grant's website, at

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A History Of Stupid

By : Dennis Stein

  I recently chose a movie for my wife and I to watch, called "The Cove". Big mistake. I thought it was about this fellow, and the dolphins he trained. However, it was an expose of a particular location in Japan where dolphins are corralled up in a large netted-in cove, and slaughtered by the thousands. Let me quickly clarify to those of you who may not know, my wife and I are extreme animal lovers, or tree-huggers, whichever moniker you prefer. The images of that inlet, bright red with the blood of these animals, and their still moving bodies being dumped out to sea, were enough to make my wife ask me to turn the channel, on the verge of tears. The film simply made me very angry...
  Here we are in 2011, and with all the focus on climate change, stupid ecological decisions are still made each day. The reason for the existance of the cove is relatively simple. The japanese believe that the dolphins eat fish which are commercially important to Japan's fisheries. Japan coincidently has the largest fish market on earth. Every September, despite the outcries from
groups and individuals worldwide, dolphins are herded into the cove by the thousands, and killed with long spears.
  Japan is certainly not alone in this line of ecological stupidity. Right here in this country, wolves were killed by the hundreds in B.C., the Premiere of the province refusing to end it, saying that it was to protect trophy game hunting, (by wealthy Americans). Anyone who hnows anything about predatory animals knows that the sickly or weak are usually the prey which falls to these animals, thus strengthening the remainder of the herd. But they were shot anyway, from snowmobiles, planes, and helicopters, their carcasses left to rot in the snow...
  Shark Fin Soup is university of stupid, putting many shark species on the endangered list. I have no problem with someone fishing a shark to eat the entire animal, but you can guess what happens in most cases of shark fins being cut off. The rest of the shark is simply dicarded over the side, usually still alive...
  The subject of invasive species also brings some dumb moves to mind. Other animals brought here to Canada to control or eliminate invasives is just plain idiocy. Let's bring in a beetle from Asia to eat this purple plant that is choking up our wetlands! The idea of course, is that once the plant is eradicated, the beetle has no more food to eat, and dies off. Sorry, but nature doesn't work that way... The animal simply adapts, finding something similar to eat, and thrives. What should we do about gobies and zebra mussells threatening the ecosystem in the Great Lakes? I'm not really sure, but we shouldn't compound a situation that happened by accident, with a stupid decision that makes a new problem, or the existing problem worse.
  I am not trying to pick on us as a nation, or Japan. Dumb stuff that affects ecology happens all over the world. I saw the CEO of leaning against the dead carcass of a 'problem'  bull elephant in Africa, rifle proudly displayed. In this online article, an elephant expert with decades of experience pointed out that after reviewing the video of this incident on the popular site Youtube, that she believed it was a female the idiot shot, not a bull. Thousands of acres of rainforest are slashed and burned each year to expand on crops of soy bean, and sugar cane, erasing species found nowhere else on earth to extinction. Man made disasters such as last year's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico kill everything it their path, and natural disasters like the earthquakes and tsunami in Japan, spill radioactive polution from a damaged nuclear power plant, poisoning humans and animals alike. One would think that with all of the technology advances we have seen, mankind might be a little smarter about things in general.
 The one thing said at the end of this movie 'The Cove'  which stuck with me was : 'If we can't work together to fix THIS, this one thing, then it's game over...'

Watery Graves

By : Dennis Stein

 The Thousand Islands is home to world-class freshwater scuba diving, bringing many divers to our area each year. The river is host to a great number of historic shipwrecks, at varying depths and from different time periods. Reaching these wrecks also takes varying levels of diving, from novice to highly trained technical. The locations of this fleet of ships span the St. Lawrence, dating back to the 1700's, and are the results of wars, weather, and mistakes made... The work of an invasive species, Zebra Mussells, have turned the once murky, low visibility environment into the premiere destination for fresh water diving in eastern North America.The wrecks in these waters vary from loyalist gunboats built in the late 1700's, to paddlewheel passenger ships, and grain, coal, or oil steamers. Tugboats, schooners and the like all lie at various depths, in different currents.
  Favourites include the Rothesay, launched in the year of confederation, in New Brunswick. A large double-paddlewheel passenger vessel which handled the Montreal to Prescott route. She went down after colliding with an American tug in 1889, just to the west of Prescott. The site has very little current, and can be accessed off highway 2 from a small picnic area on shore. A rope line guides divers down to the shallow wreck, where the bow and stern area remain resonably intact.
  Another would have to be the Keystorm, built in England. A large steamer of over 250 ft. designed to carry cargo, and built in the very beginning of the 20th century. In 1912, she struck a shoal and sank within minutes carrying over 2000 tons of coal. It is a favourite dive site south of the shipping channel off Mallorytown Landing, and one of the local pubs in Brockville honours it name.
  One of the more dangerous dives for a wreck on the Thousand Islands lies off Wellesley Island in deep water, with fast current. The 700 ft long steel freighter Roy A. Jodery lies close to the Coast Guard Station where she sank in 1974, carrying over twenty thousand tons of iron ore. This wreck is only for the highly skilled, having claimed the lives of several divers, including one of the original salvage divers for the company's Insurance underwriters, whose body was never found...
 There is a tremendous wealth of information online on this subject, and some of the best that I found would be included at Wheher you are a diver or simply interested in shipwrecks, our area contains plenty to keep you busy. Perhaps long lost treasures await those brave enough to venture into the depths of the St.Lawrence, where the deeper, darker waters hide history's bounty...

Friday, May 27, 2011

Brockville's Victoria Hall

Victoria Hall

By : Dennis Stein

  One of the pinnacle buildings of the Brockville city skyline is Victoria, or City Hall. It was built between 1862 and 1864, on land presented to local government by Honourable Charles Jones, who owned a great deal of property in Brockville. Previous to its construction, there was the East Ward Market Hall, a square shaped frame building constructed in the 1830's to house indoor butcher's stalls. It was in 1859 that debate began with Council on the planing of a new building. The B&O Railway tunnel to what is now Blockhouse Island was nearing completion, and had changed the property quite a bit. After lengthy political bantering, the architect Henry H.Horsey of Kingston was contracted to design the new building, begun in 1862, and finishing in 1864. William Fitzsimmons was a master builder, and Mayor of Brockville at the time, and was appointed as Superintendant of construction. It was estimated at $26,000 to build, but costs most likely went higher by completion. A beautiful example of 19th century design, the front block of the main building is complemented by a large clock and bell tower. The clock itself has four faces, and is cared for by Victor Smetona, and his grandson Jordan, who winds the clock manually every Tuesday. The second floor originally housed a concert hall, and a ballroom. The first official use of the concert hall after the building was finished in the fall of 1864 was by Madam A. Bishop. The rear building housed the market area, and in 1904, two more storeys were added to house more town offices. The rear wing of the building originally housed 16 well appointed butcher stalls, eight on each side, with a passage leading through from the front of the main building.

  The Post Office rented out the offices on the front block main floor until the 1880's, operating out of Victoria Hall for fifteen years, when town offices took over, and the Post Office moved to their own building on Court House Ave. The market in the rear wing is gone, taken over by office space, but the Farmer's Market is still a pleasant attraction during the warmer months on Market St. West these days. A beautiful building, Victoria Hall is an unmistakable landmark to Brockville, and another proud example of 19th century architecture in our city...

The Brocks!

Semper Paratus

By : Dennis Stein

The Brockville Armouries building, constructed in 1900, is one of the few examples in Ontario of a community militia building constructed of stone, instead of brick. The building itself is a beautiful testament to the city's proud heritage, rooted in 19th century architecture.
 The beginning of the Brockville Rifles found it's start even before confederation, founded in 1796 as the 1st Battalion Leeds Militia at Elizabethtown. Later, during the war of 1812, people living here changed the name to Brockville, after Sir Isaac Brock, the British General. It was during the war of 1812, that the regiment, made up of citizen soldiers, fought in the Battle of Chrysler's Farm, and the capture of Ogdensburg. The group was reorganized several times, contributing to forces in many battles such as the Boer War in 1899, and fighting valiantly with other units in World War I. One hundred and five members of the Brockville Rifles were killed or died from wounds in the first World War, 10 officers and 95 men. Following this, the unit was again reorganized into The Brockville Rifles. The unit also joined forces with the Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry Highlanders, landing on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day in World War II. They were the first allied force to enter Caen. After the war, The 'Brocks' were converted several more times to serve different roles, until 1959, when the group returned to it's current designation.
 The Brocks generally train at either CFB Petawawa or CFB Kingston, but can be seen on occasion performing urban training here in Brockville. The rifles train a minimum of one night per week, and one weekend per month, and some of the Brocks are on, or training for, deployment to Afghanistan...
 The Brockville Rifles represent a very proud group of men and women, who serve this country, and share in the pride of a unit which has contributed to many battles, received many awards, and helped in peacekeeping efforts around the globe. This pride is reflected in their motto, "Semper Paratus" or "Always Ready".

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Stop the roadkilling!

By : Dennis Stein

  As the weather warms this spring, animals awaken from their winter slumber, and begin to move about in search of their first meals of the spring. Once the ground thaws, and the soil becomes warm in the spring, frogs, toads, and snakes all emerge from their winter hiding places. During the first spring rains, especially a few hours after dark, the roads can be literally covered with animals either looking for food, or on their way to nesting sites. On the water as well, turtles and birds beginning their seasonal breeding are often in the way. It is difficult at best to avoid hitting a frog as it comes into your headlights, or veer your boat around a turtle basking in the sun at the water's surface, but some of the species in our area need our help in this area, or we may not have any of them left.
  In 2008, St.Lawrence Islands National Park conducted surveys whereby staff rode bicycles along the Thousand Islands Parkway, marking and identifying roadkills. The results were staggering. An average of five animals per kilometer per day, with a total of over 35,000 animals for the season of May to October. Five different endangered species were involved, with amphibians such as frogs and toads getting the worst of it.
 Major research on turtle populations is also ongoing in the park, centering on the river from Mallorytown to Rockport. Blandings, Map, and Stinkpot turtles are the focus, and Map turtles seem to be most at risk, with adult females dying of collisions with boat propellers. The studies indicate that if just 10% of adult females hit by props die, the species will definitely become extinct within 500 years. That's a short period of time, ecologically speaking.
 Another animal having a rough time in the area is the Black Rat Snake, Canada's largest snake at a maximum length of 2 meters, and surprisingly, a constrictor like the Boa Constrictor. They are all too often hit on roads.
 Raccoons, White Tailed Deer, porqupines, along with other small mammals all risk danger crossing highways on the hunt for food, or  moving to and from nesting areas.
  The news is not all bad however, and alhough it may seem impossible to avoid hitting these animals at times, there are ideas which may be of help. Parks Canada staff have erected low plastic fencing which funnels animal traffic through culverts under the road instead of over it, in areas which have been seen to be 'hotspots' for roadkill incidents. No-wake zones, and propeller guards help turtles in areas known to contain turtle populations. Land stewardship programs with private landowners help the recovery of Rat Snakes, and other species at risk.
  One thing my driving instructor told me when I was getting my license as a younger man, was NEVER to swerve to avoid hitting an animal, because you could cause a serious accident attempting to save the unfortunate creature. I still have trouble with that...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The 6060 in Brockville

By : Dennis Stein

 She was built in 1944, at Montreal Locomotive Works, from a family of twenty locomotives of the same design, and has hauled steel on steel in this country for over half a century. At 93 feet in length, and 15 feet high, the CN 6060, is the largest operating steam locomotive in Canada. She has been retired and reborn at least twice, her steam power running passengers back and forth on Canadian National lines. The steam locomotive affectionately known as "Bullet-nosed Betty" has had the same man at her controls for 50 years, locomotive engineer Harry Home. He took over the controls of the beloved steam engine in 1960, and still handles the throttle today...
 She rolled off the floor in Montreal in October of 1944, painted CN green during World War II, when locomotives were in demand, but iron was needed elsewhere. The 6060 was one of 20 locomotives of the same design. Weighing in at almost 640,000 pounds, she held coal and water, and was later converted to oil. Every five years, she would be completely stripped down and rebuilt, as part of the expensive maintenance and operation of these steam-powered beasts. 6060 has been run at up to 85 mph, an impressive feat, considering that modern VIA diesel locomotives will run at 100 mph. The group of steam locomotives were broke in on the Montreal to Brockville run, and hauled passengers on the Continental Ltd. from Toronto to Nakina, Ontario - trains 1 & 2 and out of Ottawa to Nakina - trains 3 & 4. 6060 served Canadian National for fifteen years before being retired in Jasper, Alberta, to be put on display there three years later. Two sister locomotives are on dispay: The 6069 in Sarnia, and the 6077 in Capreol, which I have read is also being restored. But the 6060 seems to be the favourite, and it would not be the last time steam boiled inside her...Another decade passed, and Canadian National had 6060 restored to pull her weigt in passengers out of Toronto to Fort Erie in 1972. She made numerous appearances in Brockville during her lifetime, and one can imagine the locomotive's massive weight being turned at the turntable which was at one time to the south of the railway tracks, in the area of Tim Horton's on William St.
 The 6060 still resides in Stettler, Alberta, having been donated for the celebration of the province's centennial. Now also known as 'The Spirit of Alberta', she runs steam excursions, across the Canadian west, and hopefully will remain doing so, saved from the scrap heap by her engineer, Harry, whose team from the Rocky Mountain Railway Society have managed to keep 6060 in good repair. 6060 is a pround example of Canadian National steam power, during the romantic age of railroads...

 For more info on CN 6060, visit Image with permission from the artist: My mother, Sharon Stein...

Monday, February 14, 2011

Loyalists, Legends, And The Hunt For Hidden Gold...

By : Dennis Stein

  If you haven't heard of William 'Billa' Larue, the witch of Plum Hollow, or the 'Legend of the Black Cattle', you don't know what you're missing in local lore. A great treasure legend, with a ghost story to boot...
  William Larue, or 'Billa' as he came to be known, was a United Empire Loyalist who came to this country near the beginning of the 1800's, and was given a crown land grant of 200 acres on the west side of Larue Mills Creek. He erected a mill on the creek, and amassed quite a fortune. He ran the mill at night to grind flour for bread and during the day to cut wood for British defenses during the war of 1812. As time went on, he bought up land around him, eventually owning about 1000 acres in the area around Larue Mills. Billa and his wife Abigail had nine children, but at least six of them died before he and his wife, the times being hard, and some of the daughters in particular lived little more than a few months or years.
  It was well known that Billa kept his fortune concealed somewhere on his property, and several attempts at locating it by fortune seekers have occured over the years. Supposedly, on his death bed, Billa uttered what may have been the only clue to the gold's location. "My treasure lies there..." He was in one of the upstairs bedrooms, overlooking the small family cemetery to the west of the original house, which still stands today. Did Larue mean his fortune? Or was he refering to his children? Whatever the case, William larue died in November of 1832, taking his secret with him to the grave. He left everything to his daughter Sarah Larue, not to his wife, instead offering her a measly sum of cash if she agreed to live somewhere else. She died two years later...
  One famous attempt at recovering Larue's fortune happened around 1855, when a small group of men, after consulting the witch of Plum Hollow ( a local fortune-teller named Elizabeth Barnes ), set out for the property in hopes of unearthing Billa's prize. They began to dig at a certain spot on the west side of the old house, under cover of darkness. They excavated a considerable hole, and suddenly one of the men hit what he thought was a large round stone, with the sound of coins beneath it. It was then, as legend has it that all at once, a cold wind blew through, and the men were suddenly surrounded by dark silhouettes which they thought must be black cattle. They became so afraid, that the dig was quickly abandoned, and the group ran off toward the house. It was decided that they would return the next morning in daylight. The following morning, the men found their picks and shovels, but no sign of the stone or any gold within the hole... The
concensus was that a spirit of some kind had whisked away the gold, and re-hidden it so as to protect it from being found.
  One of the gentlemen amoung this group later detailed the story exactly, a man by the name of Haskin, who lived in New York state, who claims he was the young man in the hole when the stone was struck. He was nine years old at the time. All of this interesting story can be pieced together, and at least partially proven to be true. T.W.H. Leavitt's History of Leeds and Grenville devotes space to the story, and the local Service Ontario office has copies of his original land grant information, as well as his Last Will and Testament.
  Did some of the men return to the hole in the night and take the fortune? Did Sarah Larue get the location from her dying father? Perhaps. Or just maybe, the gold is still buried out there somewhere, awaiting discovery. Definitely an interesting piece of local history and folklore...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The many firsts of George Taylor Fulford

By : Dennis Stein

  Born in Brockville in what was then Upper Canada in 1852, George Fulford became a successful businessman and a politician, serving in the senate representing Brockville for five years until his death in 1905. He registered a business in Leeds in 1887 in patent medicines, and in 1890, was sold the rights to 'Pink Pills for Pale People' for $53.01. It would go on to make him very rich...He marketed it in over 87 countries worldwide, in ads which resembled news headlines, citing testimonials of miraculous recoveries by customers. It was little more than an iron supplement, but Fulford's mass-advertising techniques turned the patent 'medicine' into a gold mine.
  He had married Mary Wilder White of Wisconsin in 1880 and had three children, Dorothy, Martha, and George Taylor II. Fulford attended business college in Belleville, and took over his brother's apothecary in 1874, which he built on to form the patent medicine company. He became a friend in political circles with Sir Wilfred Laurier, who appointed him to the Canadian Senate representing Brockville, after first serving as an alderman of Brockville's town council. His wife Mary was a believer in the occult, and held seances at their residence in Brockville, attracting the interests of William Lyon Mackenzie, who enlisted Mary's help at one point to attempt to contact his deceased mother. George was also the first Canadian fatal automobile accident victim on record, when a streetcar sideswiped the car he was riding in while on a trip to Massachusetts in October 1905. He died at the age of 53. He had given generously to The Rowing Club, Churches, and the Brockville General Hospital, and at the time of his death, was the largest shareholder in General Electric. He was considering buying a company named General Motors...He also had a 138-foot steam-powered yacht named the magedoma, named after his family (MAry, GEorge, DOrothy, MArtha). It was for entertaining, and did so on several occasions to none other than several Canadian Prime Ministers, the Prine of Wales, the Duke of Kent, and the British Prime Minister. It was loaned to the Canadian Navy during WWII for training purposes, but returned in 1947 heavy damaged. It has changed hands several times, but today has been retored to its former beauty.
  The Fulford Mansion was constructed beginning in 1898, George having selected what was originally a 10 acre spot on the edge of the St.Lawrence, just east of Brockville on the King's Highway. It was completed in 1901, having 35 rooms, and encompassing 20,000 square feet. Highlights of the estate included a Grand Hall, a 50-seat dining room, spacious verandah, as well as a Drawing Room for the ladies, and Smoking Room next to a Billard Room for the men. It is widely rumored that Mary Fulford, who was known to be fearful of thunderstorms, still haunts Fulford Place...
  The mansion was bequeathed to the Ontario Heritage Foundation, and has since been restored with its original lavish contents. It was opened to the public in 1993 as a house museum, and remains an important tourist attraction to the area...  
Like oil and water...

By : Dennis Stein

  Only 3% of the water on the planet is freshwater. Most of that is trapped in glaciers, or the polar ice caps. The remainder is in freshwater lakes, rivers, marshland and groundwater. Oil, and all of its associated products, is another important natural resource, trapped in rock, sand, and under the ocean bedrock. It powers our vehicles in the form of fuels, powers our homes by providing electricity, and feeds us through food production, harvesting, processing and transportation. To feed a family of four for a year consumes almost a thousand gallons of oil based products, roughly the same as what that family spends in fuel for their own car.
  With approximately 80 million more people on the planet each year, the demand for these finite resources continues to increase. Oil, coal, and natural gas are energy sources which are non-replenishable, and have reached global peak in production. Water is replenishable through the natural cycle of evaporation to precipitation, but we humans are drawing off of the aquifers of fresh water quicker now than it can be replaced. Which will become more valuable in the future, Oil or Water?
  While we gripe about the cost of gas for our SUV's, and have every convience known to man, almost 900 million people have little or NO access to clean water, and some in drought-stricken areas like Ethiopia and Kenya have to walk long distances to get it. Water is already worth more than cash in alot of under developed areas, and is sold in small quantities, which must sustain families to drink, irrigate small crops, and wash with for long periods. Do we think of these things as we turn on the tap at home, when we go to a water park, or water our grass?
  Oil is something that we cannot survive wihout either, and it will become more scarce in the near future. All of our energy is supplied by fossil fuels. Yes, I said ALL. Solar panels are manufactured using oil derived products such as plastics. Bio-fuels are alternatives that simply use less of the needed pertroleum based fuels. Fuel cells and wind turbines are made using oil-based products. Your computer is made from processes that require large amounts of energy. Even the internet, which is one of the most marvelous connected constructions on a global scale in recent history is sustained by energies all rooted in oil...
  A mere 5% drop in global oil production would quadruple the cost of gas, and if you watch closely, it is happening. Water will be the next big commodity as we use up the supply that mother nature cannot replace fast enough for human demand. These situations must be resolved quickly, and not just by OUR government, but by all peoples on the planet. Our days of waste are over, and new means of energy and conservation must be found. This is not something that will go away by not thinking about it, and unless alternatives can be found soon, we may share the current situation with many third world countries...
Plum Hollow's Witch

By: Dennis Stein

 The Brockville area is home to it's fair share of strange and wonderful stories, told by local authors, reporters, and spoken of around many a campfire. One such tale involves a very special woman, who managed to achieve everything she did, despite the hardships she faced...
 Although exact dates are sketchy, as is sometimes the case with people or events early in Canada's history, Elizabeth Barnes was born in either 1794 or 1800 in county cork Ireland. She was supposedly the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, and even though that was never confirmed, it is used to explain her unnatural abilities. At around the age of twenty, she eloped with a young man by the name of Robert Harrison to Canada, settling here in Ontario around Cobourg. They had a son there, but tragically, Elizabeth was widowed when Harrison died a few short years later. She remarried, to a shoemaker named Barnes, and they came to live in Sheldon's Corners, just outside of Athens. They had nine children, and lived in a small homestead, until Mr. Barnes decided to leave his family behind, with the exception of his two oldest sons, moving to Smiths Falls to make a living at shoemaking. Now alone a caring for seven children, 'Mother Barnes' as she had come to be known, began using her talents reading tea leaves to tell peoples fortunes. She charged 25 cents to earn extra money, and her fame quickly spread. People came from all over to consult her by horse and carriage, for everything from lost livestock, to murders, and even buried treasure. Even Sir John A. McDonald consulted Mother Barnes, and was told, among other things, that he would become the leader of the new country. Entering the small house, people would be led to an upstairs room where Elizabeth would be sitting at a table with a pot of tea. They would be invited to 'turn a cup' and would have their fortune told...
 Author T.W.H. Leavitt speaks of interviewing the 'witch of plum hollow' as he describes her in his book of the same name, and the designation stuck. Today the homestead where Mother Barnes lived is still standing, having been bought recently, and restored. Elizabeth Barnes died in 1886, and is buried in the Sheldon's Corners cemetery. She lived to be over ninety, and is credited with solving a murder, locating buried treasure, personal items, and unravelling 'ghostly occurances'.
 Though she was not really a witch in any real sense of the word, nor did she live in Plum Hollow, Elizabeth 'mother' Barnes is and will remain another of the interesting stories in our area. One can envision the wise old woman, sitting with her pot of tea as she looks into your future...

The tunnel under Brockville...

By : Dennis Stein

   Brockville is not only Ontario's oldest city, but also boasts the first and oldest railway tunnel in all of Canada, extending from its north portal at Pearl St, and emerging at Blockhouse Island. It runs directly under the Victoria Building of City Hall, with a total length exceeding 1700 ft. The Brockville and Ottawa Railway began construction of the tunnel in 1854, to provide access to the shipping port on the river, and link it to the timber trade to the north. The railway ran to Arnprior, and through the tunnel with special height-shortened diesel trains. It was completed in 1860, which is amazing considering the size of the project, and a lack of any major mechanised excavating equipment at the time. The Brockville and Ottawa railway was incorporated in 1953, and the company decided its rail line would not be complete without the tunnel. The first train made use of the tunnel in 1859, leaving the Grand Trunk Station almost a full year before the completion of the tunnel...
   Recently,  the deteriorating north end of the tunnel, where it emerges at Pearl St. and Tunnel Ave., is being restored. Workers catalogue stones, placing them in the open area behind the William St. Tim Horton's, while they rebuid the structure, and replace the original stonework. The city has budgeted funds for the work, and hopefully the fully restored tunnel entrance will be unveiled soon. The first 85 ft of the south end of the tunnel is open to visitors from spring to fall, complete with plaques to tell the story of the tunnel. Outside the tunnel sits a refurbished Canadian Pacific Railway caboose, which was donated to the city in 1987. CP Rail owned the tunnel after amalgomating with other smaller railways, and turned over the tunnel after it was no longer used to the city of Brockville. Great oak doors cover the tunnel's 14 ft. wide by 14ft. high mouths at either end, and brickwork covers the inside ceiling. Although the rail and ties are long gone, sold off after the tunnel stopped being used in the 1970's, one can still imagine the roar of locomotives emerging from the tunnel, carrying goods from ships docked at the river...
This is what I said I wouldn't do...

By : Dennis Stein

  I said I would not write opinion pieces when I started contributing to The Observer, but I cannot resist any longer... The approaching holiday season has already upped everyone's stress level, and drawn all the people out of their holes that want to RIP US OFF!!!
  I really don't hear much about high gas prices anymore, but perhaps I have deafened my ears to people who complain about it, but accept it as the way of things. Even when we read that a barrel of oil is just about at the lowest it has ever been, dollar wise. People complain about Hydro One and Enbridge, and their increased delivery charges, The HST, Green 'Eco' tax, and of course our government at large... Don't think for a second that I am defending any of it, because any of these things make my blood pressure rise.
 I think the thing which makes me reach a full blown rage, is that we seem to be powerless against these things, or that the majority among us who care about it simply go on with our daily lives and think there is nothing we can do about it. I remember one day a gentleman being in front of me in line at a store to pay for his gasoline, and complaining about the price. Upon glancing out the window to look at his vehicle, I noticed he was driving a Cadillac STS. I could feel the heat of anger... I won't disclose what happened, but it really ticked me off that the fellow could give the young lady manning the store a scathing rant over the 2 cents extra he had to pay today, but had he ever tackled an elected official about it? Doubtful.
 The other obvious trend these days is the maximization of profit by corporations large and small, at the employees and even customers expense. How many times have you noticed only two cashiers open lately, with a large line of people waiting? Sound familiar? Here is the translation: The company is saving money on employees to service YOU,... their customer!!! They take for granted that you will swallow hard, and accept that they are doing  what they CAN to serve you...If someone becomes angry about it, who takes the heat? The employee at the cash...
 Now you are back at work, where your employer continues to wring every last productive minute out of you, and if you are still lucky enough to have a union, the company doesn't seem to care what your collective agreement says. For the love of God, don't get injured - a report would be life-ending! It will put you into a hell of WSIB claim paperwork the size of Everest, threats from your company's Insurance carrier and your 'puppet' bosses, the frustration of a gazillion voice mail or automated menu phone calls ( with no answer ) and ultimately the loss of your wages and or your job for doing nothing wrong.......
 I hope this has been an enlightening update to life on planet Canada... Wake Up, everyone. It is time that all of these groups and companies are reminded who the boss really is - The Customer who buys your product. The Employee who makes your business run. The Voter who puts you in office...
Waterway Through the Woods

By : Dennis Stein

  Ontario contains by far one of the most beautiful waterways in North America, and the only continuously operated canal system on the continent. The Rideau Canal, with 47 locks, spans 202 km of lakes between Kingston at the foot of Lake Ontario, and Ottawa.
  The canal was designed and engineered by Leiutenant Colonel John By of the Royal Engineers, charged with the daunting task of finding a safe passage for British ships from Montreal to the Great Lakes, out of range of the american guns after the war of 1812. Begun in 1827, and opened in May of 1832, the rideau is one of the greatest engineering feats of the nineteenth century, its exquisite stonemasonry and buildings standing today just as they were when the canal opened. The Rideau begins in the Ottawa river, rising 275 ft, through 35 locks to the summit at Upper Rideau Lake, and then descending 166 ft. through another 14 locks to Kingston. During the war of 1812, when naval strengths were a continuous issue, a secure supply route between Montreal and Kingston was a must, and thousands of labourers were contracted to perform the massive construction of 45 locks, (plus 2 locks on the Tay canal), and 52 control dams. The conditions were hard, with many men dying of malaria. Some of the areas between locks had to be flooded to achieve the 5 foot uniform depth that the canal was designed for, and the control dams accomplished this task, including the dam at Hog's Back, which suffered three collapses before it was able to be completed. All of the work was done by hand, through virgin forest, swamps, and wilderness with few roads, and fewer settlements. Pickaxes, shovels and wheelbarrows were used for excavation, and powder was used to blast in some areas. The large stones which line the locks and dams were cut mostly by French Canadian stonemasons, and lowered into place by simple hand cranes. Despite cost overruns, 2000 men per year worked to complete the Rideau Canal in a few short years, accomodating ships as long as 90 ft. It takes from 4 to 6 days to travel the complete waterway, and picnic sites with full facilities have been established by Parks Canada at many sites along the system. Original blockhouse buildings, which were built along to route to defend the canal against attack, still stand today.
  Many people traverse the Rideau Canal each year by boat or on land, and Parks Canada staff operate the lock system just as it was in the 1800's. It has been designated a World Heritage Site, and government money is being spent to preserve the waterway for future generations to enjoy. You may want to get out and see a lock near you soon, because the 2010 season will close in October, and the canal will be quiet until spring comes again...
One day as an island...

By : Dennis Stein

 It is amazing to note that we live within a stone's throw from some of the most beautiful waterways on the continent. The thousand islands presents an amazing array of natural beauty, just minutes from Brockville. Each of the over 1800 islands has a story, it's granite and limestone watching the world go by long before mankind was here, watching the rebirth of the land after being carved from passing glacial ice. Native peoples refer to it as the garden of the great spirit, and have stories of a giant throwing a piece of the land into the river, where it shattered, and became the myriad of islands we see today. The city of Brockville actually owns 16 of the islands in the aptly named Brockville Narrows, and during the warmer months they become a waterborne escape to many. Campsites are available both by the season, or by the day on most of these islands.
 The St. Lawrence seaway, flowing through the islands was officially opened in 1959, at a cost of over 400 million dollars, mostly paid for by the Canadian government. It extended the reach inland for large seagoing ships, despite opposition from railroads and trucking companies. It is also blamed for severe economic downturns in several upstate New York cities.
 As part of the idea to become more active this summer, my wife and I have purchased kayaks, and took our maiden voyage in them this past weekend. We opted for the shallow areas surrounding Mallorytown landing, and paddled in the mirrorlike calm to one of the tiny islands west of the launch. Along the way we spotted a couple of very large fish, and it was amazing to me how much could be seen of the underwater world we travelled on top of...
Powerboats and sailing are fun too, but nothing will connect you to  the sights and sounds of the islands like a kayak or canoe will. Sales at several stores I visited were brisk already this season, and small vessels like kayaks seem to be becoming more popular, as people look toward more environmentally friendly modes of transportation... Sitting on that tiny island to rest, I could not help but think of what that small patch of granite may have been witness to in the passing of the last millenia or two.Oblivious to time, billions of liters of water smoothing it's edges over the ages, it may have been host to species of plants and animals we have never seen and will never see again. Impacts from cannon fire may have scarred it's surface during the war of 1812..
 It is not really possible to imagine Brockville without thinking of the islands just upriver from the city, and in the early mornings especially, driving along the 1000 Islands Parkway, one must excersise care, because the calm, mirrorlike waters of the islands can be be mesmerizing. Thousands of people come to see what is in our backyard every year, and for the few of us who call the thousand islands home, it should not be something taken lightly. Enjoy the islands this year in some way, get in a kayak, attend riverfest, or watch the thousand islands Poker Run. The kids will enjoy it too, at any of our numerous parks, such as Brown's Bay, mallorytown landing, or St. Lawrence park. We enjoy a world class outdoor environment here in Brockville, As rich in history and beauty as Ontario's oldest city...
The great heist of '58

By:Dennis Stein

  On a cool May night in 1958, a small group of people went up the steps to 4 court house terrace, carrying plenty of gear with them. Whether they had been in Brockville long is not known, but on that particular night, while the city slept, they had a job to do...
 The Brockville Trust and Savings Co. robbery still stands as Canada's largest bank heist, netting $10 million, without using a gun... The burglars used picks and drills to break through two feet of solid brick wall, exposing the steel wall of the vault. Using Acetylene torches, the bandits made their way in, prying open most of the safe deposit boxes and leaving with bonds, negotiable securities, cash, and jewellery. The thieves had time to wash up, leaving a couple of trivial items behind - a cheap wristwatch worth about $100, a raincoat, and a woman' s scarf. One of the robbers made a huge blunder though, he dropped his bankbook of all things... Less than 48 hours later, police in a Montreal suburb arrested 23 year old Rene Martin, who had keys to an apartment, and a locker at Central Station. The locker contained suitcases holding a fortune in loot, more being found at the apartment. Martin testified that there were five people involved, but he was "not in a position to give their names".
  Some information found mentions that police believe the thieves rented a safe deposit box, allowing them to see the layout of the job prior to the robbery. However, other articles on the subject later say that the group first entered an accountants office above and beside the vault, cutting through the floor and descending to the area of the job using a ladder from the basement. In addition, although there was no alarm in the bank at the time, a meeting between officials there had determined the need for one, which was to be installed a couple of weeks later - just after the time of the heist. All of these things beg the question : Was someone from the bank, or from Brockville involved, giving information to the group in return for a cut?
 Who was behind the theft of all this money? Well, it is believed that it was the work of a man named Peter Stepanoff, one of the many lieutenants of a montreal crime boss in the Canadian arm of the mafia. Stepanoff had been involved in other similar robberies, including one In St. Catherines, where he was arrested more than a year after the heist in Brockville...
 As for the rest of the missing money, The Ottawa Citizen ran an article in 1981, revealing that stolen bonds were still surfacing from around the globe, in Switzerland, Central and South America, and in various North American cities like New York, Miami, and Toronto. At the time, and probably even now, the Brockville Police Services kept the case open...
 So the next time you have the urge for an evening cocktail downtown, head on in to what is now the Keystorm Pub, and have a look at the back wall near the bar. The immense steel door of the vault is polished, but these days it probably makes a better cooler!

Photo: The Steel door of the Vault seen at the Keystorm Pub...
Brockville 'Greens Up' With Spring

  The birds were singing, and the sun was warm as my wife and step-son walked along the Brockville bike path this evening, just after dinner. As the
effects of what was a reasonably mild winter wears into memory, people are beginning to get more active, working on their yards, or getting out and about
in the warmer temperatures. There are many ways to enjoy our early spring, and one of my favourites is the bike path, which winds along beside Butler's
Creek, creating a quiet and green walkway throughout the city. Resident waterfowl can usually be seen along the way, and the sound of the gurgling creek
is nearby most of the way...

  The path also ties in nicely with Brockville's history, and what is today used by cyclists, dog-walkers, and children began in some areas as the Brockville
and Westport Railway. Started in 1888, and making its final run in 1952, the old roadbed of this rail line is now part of the bike path. Jones' Mill, which still
stands, is at the very south end of the path, and its ponds were removed to put in the rail line around 1884. I spotted very old railway ties near Church St.
along side the path, left over evidence from the past, now overgrown with mosses.

  Further north along the bicycle path, in some areas especially in the summer months, the city seems to disappear, as you walk through areas with hanging
wild vines and thick undergrowth, even though you are really walking almost right behind homes and businesses. Bridges ocassionally cross the creek, and
the city parks staff have done a fabulous job with cement planters and park benches along the way. Planted trees serve as memorials, all decorated with a
small plaques to immortalize the beloved departed, and tablets with various interesting historical facts line the way in spots.

  So if you are feeling the urge to do something to become a little more active, enjoy the early spring, or get some exercise, the community bicycle path is
sure to make you take a deep breath of the fresh air. If your partner rolls their eyes a bit or groans when you mention it, tell them to get off their email, and let
them in on another little secret about the path... Yes, grab your blackberry, your ipod, or netbook... you can even find Net access at some spots along your walk,
if you need it!