Thursday, June 28, 2012

Plum Hollow's Witch

By: Dennis Stein

 Eastern Ontario is home to its 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 and caring for seven children, 'Mother Barnes' as she had come to be known, began using her talents reading tea leaves to tell people’s 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 unraveling 'ghostly events'.
 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 the future...For more historical articles, visit

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