Stories from The Olde Barracks–Part 2
Today’s guest author is Sharon Holtz who ran the Mississippi School at the Olde Barracks. You can find part 1 here
The entire building was heated by hot water pipes running through radiators along the outside walls of the building. This was all heated by a 1962 oil burning boiler in the basement, whom we named Bessie. Bessie certainly was temperamental. I became an expert on Bessie. When she was in a good mood she provided lovely heat for the whole building. But she had her off days and in March of 2008 she heated her last water. Her demise eventually led to the closing of the school and sale of the building. In fact, since she died in March and we needed to complete the term for our students, we all moved into the front meeting room, and with space heaters and the wonderful assistance of Scott Patterson of Patterson Electric, we completed the school year in our winter coats, doing jumping jacks to keep warm.
The network of pipes supplying the heated water to each of the rooms ran through the walls and provided a great raceway for a family of baby weasels that we had one year. Great fun and, boy, could those things move! We also had someone drop off a domesticated Canada goose who kept trying to get into the school. Finally we found a refuge for it, a pond which a gentleman keeps open year round for geese who never learned how to migrate. People take them as goslings and then dump them as adults, when the birds are too old to learn how to migrate. Silly people.
Down in the basement we found large old maps from the 1960’s and ’70’s. It was a huge space, running the whole length of the 200′ above ground building. When it was originally built there was space for men to sleep and a men’s washroom. As women joined the army they had to later add a woman’s washroom and a separate smaller sleeping area. There was a kitchen and showers for decontamination. The fire escapes were square towers going up to the surface with a ladder to climb. They had been filled with sand to stop anything from coming down. The back escape had been cleared and we used it to lower things into the basement. Despite the fire, the basement is probably intact. Except for the front stairs, there would probably be little damage from the fire, however the basement has been flooded for many years. There were unconfirmed rumours that the building had been built on an artesian spring. Early on during our renovations we managed to track down someone who had worked on the original construction. He said that he was still bound to silence by the Official Secrets Act. We were never able to find blueprints for the original structure. However, the sump pump had to be kept running at all times to avoid flooding up to a depth of over four feet. I believe that the pumps haven’t worked for several years and I know that the basement was entirely flooded.
I have been in many old buildings. Some were haunted. Some were quiet. The Barracks was an alive building. It pulsed with energy. Some found it uncomfortable but I found it energizing. There was definitely a gremlin alive and well in the building. We had a motion sensor light at the front door. Despite having the electrician wire it properly, it didn’t always work. One night there was a square dancing group using the front room. I stayed around to lock up after they were finished. As they left around 10 pm, one of the gentlemen came in to tell me that the light wasn’t working. I turned on interior lights to help illuminate the parking lot for them. Then I switched everything off and locked up. I headed out the front door and, when I had gone a short ways down the front walk, the light suddenly came on. I swear I could hear soft laughter. The gremlin was never malicious but a real prankster.
At the far end of the building there was an addition called the Cedar Room. It was a lovely room all paneled in cedar. Unfortunately there had been a leak in the roof for many years and some damage had been caused. I heard that the room had originally been a swimming pool. That was filled in with cement and it became a workout room. Then it was converted to a fine dining hall and there were several large dinners there. I never found pictures or evidence of these uses but I heard lots of stories.
When the building was sold in 2010 to a private owner, I took all of the historical records from the building and donated them to the museum. There were some log books and records from the military and from other training groups. I’m now glad that I took the time to remove all of these. In 2006 or 2007 The Book Gallery started using the upper floor for book storage. At the time of the fire they had thousands of books stored there which were all burned. Other tenants included Lanark Community Programs, the United Way, Tania’s Dance Studio, and several smaller tenants. It was also an election site for many levels of government. From 2004 to 2008 it was an alive vibrant building filled with offices and sounds of children. It stood at the intersection of Mississippi Mills, Carleton Place, and Beckwith – touching all three townships. by -Sharon Holtz–