The Strange Disappearance of Bertha Sumner of Carleton Place


Carleton Place, May 23, 1893.

In May of 1893 the second daughter of Carleton Place retailer James Sumner was reported missing in the Almonte Gazette. Bertha left home at approximately 3 pm that day on her way to have tea with Miss Cram, daughter of Mr. W. Cram.

The 18 year-old was last seen knocking on the Cram’s door around 4 pm and later on seen on the bridge watching the steamer being launched. After that Bertha Sumner completely disappeared, and the next day the minister announced her disappearance from the pulpit encouraging everyone to look for her. It was reported that she was last wearing a plaid dress of a gray-greenish color and a black straw hat.


Her Mother became frantic, and so on Monday they closed the Carleton Place High School and the teachers and pupils formed search parties, but they never found her. A week later a man by the name of Thomas Houston found Bertha’s lifeless body lying under a spruce tree near her home where it was said she had committed suicide.

When Constable Wilson appeared on the scene it was reported that a bottle of carbolic acid, a bowl, a note and a glass tube was by her side. The note beside her said that she was sick of life and not to blame anyone for her demise.

Carbolic acid, also known as phenol, would’ve been commonly available as a disinfectant. Highly poisonous, when consumed it caused a horrible reaction of vomiting and purging, delirium, and convulsions. It was a popular method of suicide similar to another young woman’s story I read today. An ounce could be purchased at a drugstore for about fifteen cents.


In June 23rd of the same year in the Perth Courier, and as early as June 16 in the Carleton Place Herald were ads stating the following:

Messrs E. Hutchings and James Sumner of Carleton Place are selling out and intend retiring from business.

How odd that her father chose to close his flourishing business barely a month after the death of his daughter. After doing research in more newspapers it was reported once again that no inquest was made into her death as she was probably suffering from a bout of insanity. It seems that Bertha had suffered from time to time from short bouts of insanity. (PMS?)  The Almonte Gazette suggested maybe one of these spasms of insanity had seized her that particular afternoon.

The note found next to her lifeless body had been written in ink, yet she had transported no pen and ink (let alone a bowl, carbolic acid and a vile) and was on her way to friends. The media and police quickly brushed it aside and said she had probably written the note before she left home.

Her remains were buried in the Dewar cemetery and a large number of sympathizing friends and acquaintances came to graveside. There is no record of her gravestone at Dewar Cemetery.

Historical Notes

Image may contain: drink

A couple little cobalt poisons–

Hoop Skirts and Parasols–Carleton Place

New firm, in Sumner’s stand.  Dry goods, fancy flannel shirtings, hoop skirts, parasols, gloves, veils, gents’ paper collars, ladies’ do., groceries, crockery and glassware, hardware. –Carleton Place Herald

Name Bertha D Sumner
Gender Female
Age 7y
Birth Year 1874
Birthplace Ontario
Ethnicity English
Religion Ch England
Head of Household Name James Sumner
Event Place Carleton Place, Lanark South, Ontario, Canada
District Number 111
Sub-District H
Page Number 46
Family Number 217
Affiliate Film Number C-13233

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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