The Legend Of Big Joe Baye — How Much Do You Know?


I have heard a lot about Joe Baye, and don’t know which stories are true or false. Lanark County historian Howard Morton Brown once wrote:

As the Indians were crowded out from the land on the north side of the Mississippi in the 1820’s, they gradually retreated northward and westward.  Their Mississauga descendants are on reserved lands in the Kawartha Lakes area now.  A few chose to stay near the new settlements in Lanark County, in areas not suitable for farming.  In the 1890’s those still living at points near Carleton Place included groups at McIIquham’s Bridge and at the Floating Bridge.  Big Joe Mitchell and Joe Baye were among the better known of the last local Indians.- Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum


Photo from Archives Lanark

I heard that he was born in 1856 and died in 1929 and lived in Clayton next to the Floating Bridge with his wife and two children. After that, the facts get murky, and legends and rumours get in the way. But, one thing is for sure, he was known locally as a master craftsman and one of the last natives in  this area.

Now if you want facts you are going to have to head over to the Middleville and District Museum (check their site for opening times) and bring the kids. They have quite a bit of information about old Joe Baye, and might correct a few of the tall tales.

Some say Joe’s wife Eleanor, known as Ellen, was jilted at the altar and I guess was so depressed she said she would marry the next man that came along. Well, Big Joe Baye knocked on her door and she agreed to marry him. Knowing how people like to chatter in rural areas– that must have been some humdinger having a white woman marry a native man in those days.


Photo: Lanark Archives


But Joe was famous for being a man’s man, and probably swept her off her feet with his he-man attributes. There is one tale that Joe was known as being the master of the cross-cut saw. At the Middleville and District Museum they have a saw with a sign that says Joe was faster than two men, so when he sawed, he attached a cap to the other end of the log while he did his work. I guess that was just to prove a point in a silent manly-man way.


Photo: Lanark Archives— Please see historical notes


Joe was also a fiddler and he carved canoes, and Author Hal Kirkland called Joe Baye a “man of many parts”. He lived in a white man’s world, but made his living in the traditional native way: hunting fishing and trapping. Baye always had his house open for his duck hunting friends and was said to be a drinking man at times. Kirkland added that his descendants lived on with Los Angeles Opera singer and actress Mary Ellen Batten.  Who was Mary Ellen? She was none other than Joe’s granddaughter.


Photo: Lanark Archives–Mary Ellen is the last one on the right.

Of course there will always be discrepancies and stories about the Baye family as indicated in this letter to the editor from the Almonte Gazette Newspaper.

The Baye’s Of Lanark Township.

Dear Sir:

With regards to an article in the book (Ramsay Reflections) recently published dating from 1836-1979 page 41, I beg a small space in your paper.

It concerns the late Joe Baye, his wife and family, Mrs. Baye who died October 5th, 1927, and Mr. Baye who died October 31, 1928. As the Baye’s nearest neighbour, for the first 20 years of my life, I was asked about three years ago for information as to the Baye’s way of life and home etc.

When I contacted Ramsay Residents I was very surprised to see that the Baye history refers to them as residents of Ramsay Township.



Lila Leach-James
14 mins ·
Linda Seccaspina……this is a copy of the Clayton Bridge photo (I do have the original photo somewhere).. that my Dads niece gave him …on the left is Wilfred McNeil (Marjorie Saunders McNeil took picture) and in right is William Leach….in the background is Joe Bayes house…Floating Bridge about 1922…

I made it clear at that time, that this was a mistake, and to my knowledge it was changed then.

I have absolutely no fault to finish with the ladies who have written the book. I except they used the material as they received it.

However the truth is Joe Baye his wife and family never lived in Ramsay Township.

He may have camped along the river between Almonte and Appleton while trapping etc., but it never was a permanent place of abode.

His property comprised about one acre of land, more or less in the eleventh concession of Lanark Township.

He also had access to about half an acre in the twelfth concession, owned by a neighbour, on which he grew potatoes, corn and other vegetables.

It was known as the (Sand Hill) and he was never molested. This land was ploughed and worked by neighbours, and he was always ready to do a kind act in return.

His house, shop and other buildings were In the eleventh concession, and were always in A-1 condition.

Also the famous (Floating Bridge) which did form part of the twelfth concession just near his home is in Lanark Township.

Other books tell this bridge was first built to get people from Halls Mills and Galbraith to Ferguson Falls. This is quite true as it did separate Taylor’s Lake from Clayton Lake at the narrows, and is one mile west of Ramsay Township.

The bridge before it was destroyed was 300 yards long.

As I said before, I have no fault to find with the ladies, who no doubt have spent many hours preparing the book. I would say a job well done.

No doubt this article was printed as received, and was taken as a true story to a lot of people.

However like all my neighbours, who remember what fine people the Baye’s were that this part of the community, and especially the town of Almonte, join with me in remembering them as residents of Lanark Township.

Sincerely, Eldon Ireton, RR 2, Almonte.


Read the Almonte Gazette here

Historical Notes

Joe Baye Gravemarker

The North Lanark Historical Society completed one of this year’s projects on Sunday with the erection of a marker on the grave of Joe Baye and his wife Ellen. Joe Baye was the last full-blooded Indian to live in this area, and he died 50 years ago. A dedication of the wooden cross/marker was made at the decoration and memorial service held at the Auld Kirk Cemetery last Sunday.

It was fifty years ago that this area’s last full-blooded Indian, Joe Baye, died and was buried beside his wife, Ellen, in Auld Kirk Cemetery.

Last Sunday, the grave was marked with the erection of a cedar cross, completing another of this year’s projects of the North Lanark Historical Society.

Joe Baye, who was born in 1856, lived at the narrows between Clayton Lake and Taylor Lake at the south end of the Floating Bridge. He made his living in the traditional Indian way, by hunting, fishing and trapping. The Baye’s had many friends in the Almonte district and were well-liked and respected.

The cedar cross, made by NLHS member Major Bill Gamblin of Carleton Place, was erected in Auld Kirk Cemetery by Mel Foster. It’s simple inscription reads: “Joe Baye, d. 1928, Ellen Baye, d. 1927.”

After the memorial service at the cemetery last Sunday, those present stayed for a dedication of the marker, presided over by Rev. Robert McCrae. On hand for the ceremony was Bill McIlquham of Belleville, who is Joe Baye’s grandson.


Street map of Joe Baye Trail in Town of Mississippi Mills, Ontario:


613 259-5462



Read this one and the photo above together….

Read this one and the photo above together….

Adam-Michael George Peters

They Died From Dirty Clothing — The Whiteduck Family

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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