Carleton Place is haunted. But not by pale, moaning spectres that stand at the foot of the bed and rattle chains. The town’s ghosts appear as faint outlines of gothic windows on old St. Andrew’s Church, a third-floor false window at the Leland Hotel, and gas fixtures shaped like lion’s heads on the walls of the old Town Hall.
These buildings are just a few of the many clues to the past that lie quietly around the town, forgotten and overlooked by visitors and residents alike. But a local historical group has put together a walking tour of the town to dig up these ghosts and unearth their tales.
The picturesque town, about a half-hour’s drive west of Ottawa, has a population of a bit more than 6,000. The committee has linked 36 of the town’s oldest sites in the tour, and is distributing more than 5,000 brochures that illustrate and describe them. The stroll through history, which takes about an hour at a leisurely pace, starts at the old Town Hall on Bridge Street, and loops around the Mississippi riverfront area where the town first began. First stop is Town Hall, built in 1895. Like a castle surveying the river, it features roof pinnacles, wrought-iron cresting and tiny dormers with metal flags.
The building has seen an eclectic assortment of occupants: over the years, policemen and librarians, actors and firefighters have passed beneath the carved stone flowers on the entrance’s huge archway. Inside is a wood-panelled council chamber and opera hall with a raked stage and 90-year-old plywood chairs.
Across the river, one immediately notices the late Dr. Johnston’s mansion with its tower, gable and arched windows. But the hurried observer might miss the relics across the street. These four plain-looking buildings feature false fronts extensions of the front wall with nothing behind. Read-Summers of Carleton Place Past — Memories of Gooffy’s? The buildings were built in the boomtown days of the 1850s, when Carleton Place was on the railway line linking Halifax to Vancouver, and the railroad employed hundreds of people. read –Dr. Johnson Downing and Ferril I Presume? Carleton Place Then and Now–Bridge Street Series– Volume 12 a
The old Leland Hotel continues this theme of pretence, but adds a wrinkle of its own – a false window on the third floor with only empty sky behind. Around the corner on Bell Street, a dark old building sags with age, its wooden shutters hanging open at a crazy slant. This is the old Peden Store, built about 1845 and the oldest structure on the tour. With merchandise at street level and living space upstairs, it was a typical store of the mid-19th century.
Over on the corner of George and Edmund streets is the original Town Hall, built about 1872. It was conv -ted to a school about 10 years later. For a while it housed the town’s jail, and there are stories of wide-eyed students peering around their books at guards dragging handcuffed horse thieves down the hall.
Down the street and over the river is the McArthur Mill, built about 1871. Originally a woolen mill powered by a turbine fitted with wooden teeth, the building now shelters several high-tech electronics firms. Up the river is another clue to the origin of Mill Street’s name. The Boulton Brown Mill, built in 1823, is made up of three stone buildings and is dominated by the five-storey roller process and elevator built in 1885. The original millstone, which was hacked out of local granite, lies across the street. The mill is being renovated into an 11-unit condominium.
If you’re lucky, not all the Carleton Place history you’ll find on the tour is clapboard, or stone and mortar. For example, you could meet 86-year-old Alan Swayne strolling down Judson Street on his way to one of his thrice-weekly swims. A resident for more than 60 years, he still remembers a cold February day in 1927. It was five o’clock, and his shift at the McArthur Mill had just ended. He was looking forward to dinner and then lacing up his skates for a hockey match that evening.
From the door of the mill, Swayne could see the railway line that spanned the river, and the sound of the Pembroke local thundering towards it made him look up. But what he saw made him forget about dinner and hockey and made him race towards the bridge. There was a woman thrashing in the icy water. “I threw off some clothes, jumped in and pulled her out,” says Swayne matter-of-factly, leaning on his cane. Read-John Alan Hope Swayne — Local Hero
The woman was safe, Swayne was freezing, and his co-workers escorted their new hero back to the mill. “They put me in a hot dryer to warm me up,” he says. “Then someone gave me a drink, and that was it.” He never made it to the hockey game. When Swayne walks out Judson and down Mill Street, he can see the old mill and most of the buildings that have stood in Carleton Place for more than 100 years. Swayne remembers, and sees what many others would overlook. Read –Working in the Grist Mill