Nellie Thurston –Balloonist Maiden Voyage in McFarlane Grove

Nellie Thurston –Balloonist Maiden Voyage in McFarlane Grove


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A 6 by 3 foot poster advertising the event at McFarlane Grove in Almonte hangs in the Comox Air Force Museum in Comox, B.C.  





 She was often described as a Canadian but in reality she was born in Troy, N.Y. and made her maiden voyage at McFarlane Grove in Almonte



Friday, August 29th, will long remain a red letter day around the area of Almonte. Launched in the afternoon from McFarlane’s Grove in Almonte the balloon was seen by the folks and many farmers in Appleton and Carleton Place an through Ramsay and Beckwith Township.

A newspaper article a few days later that women felt compassion and men expressed admiration watching Nellie in the balloon. Nellie came back to perform in Canada once again in 1891 performing as Nellie Lamont. The decade of the 1870’s may well have been Nellie’s most successful period of ballooning and by the early 1880’s Nellie’s long ballooning career was gradually coming to a close. She was often described as a Canadian but in reality she was born in Troy, N.Y.

At times it appeared about the size of a tub, then grew to the dimensions of a pail, and again was out of sight, the highest elevation reched was about three miles, and the thirty-five miles to Merrickville was traversed at an altitude varying’from two to three miles. Prof. Squire was congratulated by the host of friends he made in Almonte during his short stay, for the complete success of the ascension.





From the Almonte Gazette Sept 1 1879 and From the Almonte Gazette, July 30, 1970

Lining an old chest that was found at *Pinecraft Limited in the summer of 1967, was a large poster, measuring three feet by six feet, printed in four colors, advertising a Mammoth Celebration and Balloon Ascension to be held at Almonte, at McFarlane’s Grove, on Friday, August 29, 1879, the balloon ascension to be made by Miss Nellie Thurston between 1 and 4 o’clock.

In addition to the balloon ascension, which must have been the first in this part of the country, there was also to be a band concert open to all bands in Perth, Brockville, Smiths Falls, Pembroke, Renfrew, Bristol, Arnprior, Carleton Place and Almonte.



Sporting events at the grounds included a tug of war between 10 men from each of the following Fire Companies, in uniform: Brockville, Ottawa, Perth, Lanark, Smiths Falls, Carleton Place, Arnprior, Renfrew and Pembroke; a second tug of war between the conquerors of the above and 10 men from the Almonte Company; a ten-mile “Go as you please” foot race for a purse of $40.00; horse races; one- mile foot race; hurdles; eating the bun, and other races over shorter distances.

Boat races were to start at 10 in the morning from a point opposite Cannon’s sawmill to buoys planted in the river one mile below and return, and included single sculls, out-rigged; double sculls, and in-rigged lap streak boats.

Mr. D. H. Davis, Almonte tobacconist, who had his shop under the Music Hall, was billed to make the balloon ascension with Miss Thurston. (It was interesting to note that in an advertisement in the Gazette the week of the ascension, he advertised that “from this day until the day of the ascension he would sell of his stock, consisting of Tobaccos, Cigars, Meerschaum and Briar Pipes, etc., at the very lowest rates, as I would like to turn the balance of my stock into cash before entering on my voyage to the upper deep.”

The following is, in part, Editor William Templeman’s story on the grand event, carried under a picture of a balloon ascending and an immense crowd of people and carriages gathered around.


Friday, August 29th, will long remain a red letter day in the annals of Almonte. For some weeks previous, the announcement had been made that the Oddfellows would hold a mammoth celebration and a “bill of fare” was offered that could not fail to attract thousands of people. Large prizes were offered for foot races, horse races, boat races and band concerts, and as a crowning event, a balloon ascension by Miss Nellie Thurston, a lady who has acquired a continental fame for her many voyages into space.

The undertaking was a large one but the result accomplished by the judicious use of printer’s ink has fully justified the expectations of the committee. From an early hour in the morning people began pouring in. During the boat races we counted no less than 15 carriages arriving from the Country at one time. The train from the north consisted of 11 carloads of passengers, and from the south and east, a junction being formed at Carleton Place, 15 carloads.



Of course, there, are not enough passenger cars on the C.P.R., and box cars have to be impressed into service on all such special occasions. The firemen from Smiths Falls, Renfrew and Arnprior came in uniform, and with the Renfrew, Pembroke, Perth and two Almonte bands, added to the holiday appearance of the crowd.

Gratifying Encouragement

The unanimity with which our citizens went to work to dress their premises in holiday attire was at once a compliment to the society under whose auspices the celebration was held and a proof of the general desire to make the day a complete success. The Oddfellows of Almonte, although comparatively few in number and, as an institution, young in years, have the sympathy of the people; and when a helping hand is required they receive it almost with solicitation.

In the event of a financial failure, (and with expenses approximately $1,000. there was – should the weather not prove propitious – a strong probability of a deficit) generous offers of assistance had been received from many citizens.

Although ostensibly an Oddfellow’s celebration, it became virtually, a great fete day for the whole population. The fundamental principles of the order whose mystic badge is the three insoluble links of F., L. and T., seemed to actuate the people in becoming identified with the fortunes of the day and as a consequences every assistance that could be rendered was freely and ungrudgingly offered.

The Decorations

The decoration of stores and private residences is a proof of the good wishes of the citizens and an evidence of their interest in the undertaking. Many places of business were tastefully adorned with banners and evergreens. The Dominion Block was surrounded by balsams, while the windows of Messrs. Hayes, Gavin and Gardner were tastefully dressed. A rope stretched to the Almonte House bore the words “The People’s Store Welcomes All.”

The verandas in front of Mr. D. H. Davis’s and Mr. T. Mitcheson’s were profusely decorated with evergreens, in arches and festoons, and a liberal display of Union Jacks. Mr. J. Robertson. with an eye to business, flung to the breeze a red, white and blue banner with a neatly painted advertisement displaying the merits of his wares.

Gilmour’s block was dressed in its best, and the stores of Messrs. Kennedy and Gilmour were bristling with evergreens. From the windows of the Oddfellows’ Lodge, in the third flat, the Canadian and American flags floated in unison, an emblem of the brotherhood of nations and the fraternal principles of the order. Across the street, from the lodge room to the opposite building there was suspended a string of banners and streamers with the initials I.O.O.F. and the three links.

Further down the street, Mr. R. W. Haydon – an enthusiastic Oddfellow – extended a “welcome” in the midst of a bower of evergreens and flags. Messrs. O. E. Henderson and C. H.. Shearn were also profuse in their decorations, the latter gentleman presenting a deer’s head surmounted with flags. The house of Mrs. Norman Shipman was conspicuous for the taste of its ornamentation, the green branches and bright flowers being very neatly arranged and harmonizing to perfection.

A large white banner with a Union jack in the centre bearing the words “Welcome to Almonte” was suspended across the street opposite Mr. Lochead’s store. The store of Mr. J. H. Wylie was handsomely dressed in front with rich fabrics, and presented an very attractive appearance. Forgie’s confectionary also donned its holiday attire, and no doubt many other places unobserved by our reporter in the bustle and confusion of the day were equally deserving of notice.

Flags were flying at the residence of Dr. Milton and others. Even the gazette office, not to be left behind in the general jubilation, was decorated with flags, and on its bulletin board the greeting, “The Press Welcomes the People.”

Following a lengthy list of results of the boat races in which Brockville, Ottawa and Arnprior coped the prizes, an account of the tug of war final between Renfrew and Almonte saw the Renfrew team victorious. Members of the Almonte team were Wm. Willoughby, Geo. Willoughby, W. Bennett, Allan Naismith,  Isaac Cowie, Peter Young, Robt Young. John Young, Robert Purdy and Robert Howe.

  1. McCormack, Pembroke, C. Crappin, Ottawa, and W. Grand, 0ttawa placed one, two, three in the 10-mile race. McCormack finished in one hour and three minutes, Crappin one hour and four minutes, K. Raine of Ottawa won the one-mile race in 4:47: McGaspie, Ottawa, 2nd, and W. Grand, Ottawa, 3rd.

The horse race was over six hurdles. 3 ft. 6 in. in height, mile heats best two in three. The entries were: J. McPherson’s “Keero” – Almonte. 1st. S40.00; James White’s “Johnnie Grey,” Arnprior, 2nd. $20; Thomas Candell’s “Squire,” Ottawa, third.

The Balloon Ascension

Editor Templeman continues; All the afternoon, the balloon “Lorne,” named after the Governor General, was steadily developing in size, when Prof. Squire  pronounced it fully inflated. It was then towed from its position in the grove to the field adjoining, but it was with the utmost difficulty that the immense crowd could be kept back. A circle  of policemen, with hands joined, surrounded the swaying monster, and finally after considerable kicking and shoving cleared a space large enough to ensure a safe start.

Miss Thurston took her stance in the basket,  the ropes were cast loose, and the “Lorne- rose slowly, and graciously and floated away in a south-easterly direction. It was a beautiful sight. Below was an awe-stricken multitude: above, the graceful airship, floating away into immensity with its fair occupant waving adieus to those she had left behind.

The “Lorne.” gradually rising and soaring away with the wind,  was watched for about 20 minutes, when it became a mere speck in the heavens, and finally disappeared from the range of vision. During the time it was in sight, it would be difficult to tell what feeling predominated in the breasts of the spectators. Women felt compassion; men expressed admiration; but a feeling akin to awe pervaded all minds.

Eager eyes followed the balloon at many points along its course, and almost every person who saw it believed it to be directly overhead. It was seen at Appleton, at Carleton Place, and by many farmers in Ramsay and Beckwith. At times it appeared about the size of a tub, then shrunk to the dimensions of a pail, and again was out of sight.

The highest elevation reached was about three miles and the 33 miles to Merrickville was traversed at an altitude varying from two to three miles. Prof. Squire was congratulated by the host of friends he had made in Almonte during his short stay,  for the complete success of the ascension.


(A long paragraph in which the landing at Merrickville and the crowds and excitement that prevailed was described in detail by the editor. Miss Nellie informed them there that she had been 55 minutes on her voyage from Almonte.)


Mr. D. H. Davis, who was advertised to make the ascension with Miss Thurston, was unavoidably deprived of that pleasure, in consequence of the balloon being too small to hold gas enough to carry two. Mr. Davis was anxious to go up, and even volunteered to go in Miss Thurston’s place. His services, in connection with the inflation of the balloon were highly appreciated by the committee.

It was expected that if any person would steal into the grounds, it would be some reckless juveniles. But such was not the case, as no ‘boy, from the age of -one to twenty, was “unmanly” enough to attempt it. We wish we could say as much for certain “respectable” farmers. Several of these tried to force an entrance at the rear of the grove, but were prevented by the police. Others stopped outside to see the balloon go up.

The police performed their duty most efficiently.  For a small remuneration,  the 30 policemen remained on duty from 9 o’clock a.m. to 6 p.m. The number of people who got inside without paying must have been very very small.

One kid-gloved exquisite apparently thought he could steal a march on a young policeman and attempted to force an entrance. He was unceremoniously thrown over the fence. The officer then generously tendered the dandy a quarter, to enable him to pay the admission fee at the gate, but his fine sensibilities were ruffled, and he rejected it with scorn.

Another officer, who talks good English, but swears in French, had a sharp encounter with a man who thought he could save 25 cents by sneaking through the bushes. The somersault over the fence was done very neatly, but he lit on his head and swore at a terrific rate.

One or two bibulous Darling boys created a slight disturbance and were quickly ejected by Constable Currie. This officer seemed ubiquitous, and was indefatigable in preserving order.

The sum of $1052.00 was taken in at the gate. The other sources of income were the booths, percentage of railway fares, subscriptions of hotel keepers, and profits on an advertising sheet. The expenses of the committee will be about $1000.

Especially are the thanks of the committee due to Mr. Robert McFarlane, the owner of the grove. He took an active interest in all the arrangements, and devoted a great deal of time to the work of clearing the grove. Dr. Patterson was the Secretary-treasurer of the Committee of Management and was the first to suggest the idea of a balloon ascension. He is fully entitled to a large measure for originating and assisting to conduct what was for a small town like Almonte a heavy undertaking.


Read the Almonte Gazette here





Birth: May 13, 1846
Rensselaer County
New York, USA
Death: Jan. 4, 1932
Oneida County
New York, USA

Her professional name was Nellie Thurston. She was the first woman in the United States to make a balloon ascension
alone. Both Prof. Squire and his wife made ascensions in Rome in the ’70s. Neither ever met with an accident worthy of mention.

She leaves no near relatives.

Note: Stone has birth year as 1859; obit says 1846.



“Around the Local Fairs in 80 Days”? Lanark County Minor Steampunk Story

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What could have been? Found it on Google LOL

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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