A Carleton Place Tale to Send Shivers Up Your Arm — The Sad Tale of Margaret Violet King


It takes mountains to keep any sort of local history intact, and if you knew what Jennifer Fenwick Irwin and her student team of Jane and Gaby at the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum did in a day you would be gobsmacked. I easily spend 5-6 hours a day writing and researching, and that is the only the tip of the iceberg of the history of Carleton Place.

So was the tale I wrote about the Carleton Place Mississippi River Dam and the near drowning accident of six-year-old Margaret Violet King in 1936. Had it not been for the rescue by local resident Lionel Bigras, she would have drowned. Yesterday afternoon I got a Facebook PM from local resident Stace Bottema and the story took a wide turn:

” I just read your article about the dam and Margaret Violet King. Did you know that she drowned 10 years later at the age of 16? I sometimes look up what you write in the Google News Archive to see the actual newspaper clippings. When I did so this morning, I came across the article in 1947 stating that she had drowned. I am sure it’s the same girl as they say her father Clifford King drowned in 1936. I can send the article if you want it.”
Stace Bottema


Could it be the same girl?


Photograph courtesy of Carol Nicholson. Circa 1910.–Roy Brown’s father had the first hydroelectric dam and generating station built in 1910 to provide the electricity to power his flour mill, which was located directly across the river from it. It continued to provide power to the town of Carleton Place until the 1970s, when it was demolished.

Original Article

“In July of 1937 Carleton Place resident Wilfred Bigras saved the life of 6-year-old Margaret Violet King, daughter of Mrs. Clifford King. Young Margaret fell into the Mississippi River near the hyrdo plant about 200 yards from the town bridge early in the afternoon. Artificial respiration was practiced by Wilfird Bigras, employee at the Hydro plant, a cousin of the rescuer Lionel Bigras who dived 3 times in 15 feet of water to bring the child to the surface.”

August 1947–Ottawa Citizen-TEN YEARS LATER

On August of 1947, Margaret King, daughter of Mrs. Violet King,  drowned in the Mississippi River a few yards west of the town bridge. Margaret was a poor swimmer and got into difficulties in the channel of the river. Later her body was found near the scene of the mishap. Stirling Weedmark and David Findlay Jr. were working at Findlays at the time. Margaret had been enjoying the summer day with her friends Beth Craig, Reta Loney, Sharon McCreary and Doreen Argue.


Nan Collins, Dorothy Patton, Joyce Kingsbury and Helen Reid tried to rescue her but were not successful. Findlay and Weedmark obtained a boat and dived in for her- but it was too late. Artificial respiration was rendered by Mrs. Erma Burns, the Findlay plant nurse, and Mrs. Leita Andison. In an eerie moment the same doctor who revived her at age 6  by the hydro plant, Dr. Johnson, attended by K. H. Running, did what they could but could not save her.  Margaret was survived by her Mother, and siblings: Billy, James and Shirley.


The article said that her father Clifford King had drowned in the Mississippi May 4th, 1936, and also noted something that was not mentioned in the original newspaper article in 1936. Her father had drowned in the Mississippi River in 1936 with her uncle, James Brooks losing his life in the same river a few years later. Margaret’s body rested at her Mother’s home on Lanark Street in Carleton Place and a service was held at the Salvation Army Hall. No headstone can be found. Today I placed a rose in the Mississippi river from all of us in memory of Margaret Violet King.


Tara Gesner, our beloved reporter from The Carleton Place Canadian, has sent me a picture of the medal that Wilfred Bigras received that day for saving the Margaret King’s life. Linda Gesner, her mother-in-law, still has the medal. Wilfred Bigras was Tara’s husband’s great great grandfather.  Thank you Tara for showing this to me! 


march 1931

About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

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