Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Waterway Built by Necessity

By : Dennis Stein

  Ontario contains by far one of the most beautiful waterways in North America, residing right here in Ontario, 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. Yes, you heard right,... Malaria. Approximately 500 men were lost to the disease during construction through the harsh Ontario wilderness. 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...

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Lost Loyalist Gold In The Thousand Islands

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 Ontario lore. A great treasure legend, with a ghost story to boot. I first was told the story over 25 years ago, by a man in Mallorytown, and it has captivated me ever since.
  William Larue, or 'Billa' as he came to be known, was a United Empire Loyalist who came to this country before 1800, and was given a crown land grant of 200 acres on the west side of Larue Mills Creek. All of the 'loyalists who had remained loyal to Britian after the American Revolutionary War had been rewarded for their service with land in the original nine Royal Towships. 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 when England requisitioned his mill 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 while still very young, the times being as hard as they were. 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 forty pounds 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 were black cattle. They became so afraid, that the dig was quickly abandoned, and the group ran off, fleeing the frightening scene. 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 a copy which I have read of 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 from the earliest days of settlement here in Ontario...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

It's Done!!!

My first book is finished, and ready for printing!!! It should be available on within a week or so, and available for Kindle as well... Once I approve the proofs being shipped to me in the next few days, it should be ready for sale!