McIlquham’s bridge number 1 as they called it was on Highway 511 between Perth and Lanark. In the beginning the settlers didn’t have any other way to cross the old Mississippi River except to take Cameron’s Ferry— which was basically a canoe to get to Perth. As you know most of the roads were quite impassable in those days and a quick drive down the 511 will give you an idea.
Well that old bridge hung on as long as it could, but in 1987 something had to be done about it. Wooden piers filled with stone had to be replaced with cement and steel railings were needed– basically it was the works.
When Sandy Caldwell was king in the lumbering days- the logs used to pile up at this bridge blocking the river for days. Lumbermen worked for hours and days with their pike poles trying to free those logs- and some even lost their lives.
It was during these hard times that Lanark County’s famous song “The Ballad of Jimmy Whalen” supposedly written by John Smith of Lanark and was allegedly first put together by a Ferguson’s Falls bard.
The facts behind the song are elusive, but Jimmy Whelan or Whalen – actually was James Phalen (so spelled; pronounced Whalen) – was killed on Ontario’s Mississippi River. The date given was 1878, but James Phalen’s grandniece, Mary C. Phelan of Ottawa, thinks it was 1876, and she names Timothy Doyle as the ballad’s composer.
Whatever who wrote the song- it still lives and reminds us of when life was rough and tough on the Mississippi River.
Perth Courier, July 23, 1897
On Sunday afternoon, July 25, Rev. James Cross conducted a baptismal service at McIlquham’s bridge on the Carleton road when Mrs. Jas Dodds and Miss L. Borrowman were baptized. The news that an immersion was to take place drew quite a large crowd, a number walking down from here to witness the ceremony. From the Lanark Era
Slowly as I strayed by the banks of the river,
A-viewing those roses as evening drew nigh;
As onward I rambled I espied a fair damsel,
She was weeping and wailing with many a sigh.
She was weeping for one that was now lying lonely,
Weeping for one that no mortal can save;
For the dark rolling waters lies slowly around him,
As onward they speed over young Jimmy’s grave.
[At this point, Mrs. Coughlin asked if that was good enough to give Sandy the tune. She claimed she couldn’t sing.]
Slowly there rose from the depths of the desert
A vision of beauty more brighter than the sun,
With roses of crimson around him a-waving,
To speak to this fair one he just had begun.
“Why do you call me from red-lums [realms] of glory,
Back to this wide world I no longer can stay?
To embrace you once more in my strong loving arms,
To see you once more I have come from my grave.”
“Darling,” she said, “won’t you bury me with you?
Do not desert me to weep and to mourn,
But take me, oh, take me along with you Jimmy,
To sleep with you down in your cold silent tomb.”
“Darling,” he said, “you are asking a favor
That no mortal person can grant unto thee,
For deep is the desert that parts us asunder –
Wide is the gulf lies between you and me.
“But as you do wander by the banks of this river,
I will ever be near thee to keep and to guide;
My spirit will guide you and keep from all danger.
I’ll guide you along from my cold silent grave.”
She threw herself down and she wept bitterly;
In the deepest of anguish those words she did say:
“Oh, you are my darling, my lost Jimmy Whalen;
I will sigh ’til I die by the side of your grave.”
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