All Photos by Linda Seccaspina– visit the
Merrickville and District Historical Society–PO Box 294–Merrickville, Ontario K0G 1N0
The Story of Oliver’s Ferry
There is a legend told at Rideau Ferry, Ontario of murder most foul, where travelers disappear, and of human bones found. In the early 1800s, a Mr. Oliver set up a ferry business at today’s Rideau Ferry. His ferry, a rough hewn raft, linked roads leading from Brockville and Perth. Mr. Oliver had one unusual quirk. He would refuse to take travelers across to the far side after dark, preferring to put them up in his house overnight and send them on their way at first light in the morning.
His neighbours seldom saw the travelers in the morning. When asked about them, Mr. Oliver would simply say “They went on their way at first light and you must have been asleep”. One strange thing kept happening though. Many of the travelers who had stayed overnight at Oliver’s house did not arrive at their destination; the neighbours thought victims perhaps, of murderous highway robbers.
Years later, long after Mr. Oliver has passed away, a bridge was to be constructed to replace the ferry service. When the outbuildings on the Oliver property were dismantled to make way for the bridge, human bones were found under the floors and in the walls. The travelers had never left the building.
Sam Jake’s Inn
The 33-room Sam Jakes Inn in Merrickville, On. has a history of non-threatening ghost encounters mostly involving unexplained noises and objects being inexplicably moved. Only a few have been visual sightings and here is one of them.
Some say the ghost is the first wife of Sam Jakes who died in her early twenties but was unable to rest in peace because soon after her death because her husband rushed to the altar with another woman. One staff member, however, believes the ghost is Sam Jakes himself and recalls seeing him late one night walking along one of the hotel’s corridors wearing a stove-pipe hat and an outfit consistent with the period in which he lived.
They were unable to determine whether the ghost that paid a visit in Room 305 one night was male or female. What I did hear was that the apparition was truly real but it did not reappear during a friends recent stay.
Their travel companion however, who was lodged in a room across the hall said her sleep had been disturbed by the noises coming from the floor above. “Sounded like they were moving furniture or something,” she said. One was gently reminded that their rooms were on the top floor and there was nothing above them but roof.
WARNING: Not for the faint of heart!
There is a tale told at Chaffeys Locks of a ghostly apparition on Opinicon Lake, a solitary paddler in a dugout canoe, the ghost of Old Davy Davidson.
Shortly after the canal was built, a man by the name of David Davidson arrived in the area, building a cabin at the far end of Opinicon Lake. He made his living as a trapper, fisherman and hunter. Although he only made a modest living, rumours circulated that he had a nest-egg stashed away.
By the 1880s, old Davy was a fixture on the lake. In that era, the area was overrun by pack peddlers – men who walked the trails and/or travelled along the canal by boat, stopping at every settlement to sell their wares. It was later rumoured that one of these peddlers got wind of the money Davy was reputed to have hidden near his cabin.
The last person to have seen Davidson was a neighbour from across the lake, a fellow by the name of Thompson. Davidson had come over and visited him in late November. Thompson says that in the days following the visit he hadn’t seen Davidson. A week passed and Thompson became worried, there was no smoke from Davidson’s cabin and no sign of Davidson himself. It had turned cold, there was now ice on the lake, so Thompson had to walk around the lake to get to Davidson’s cabin.
Thompson stopped at the house of another neighbour, a fellow named Buck. After explaining what he was up to, Buck agreed to accompany Thompson, and the two men continued on to Davidson’s cabin. There was a light covering of snow on the ground, but when they got to Davidson’s cabin there was no sign of any footprints other than the ones Thompson and Buck were making. Davidson’s dog was at the door. Thompson called the dog by name, and it allowed the men to approach the cabin.
When they opened the door they were greeted with a grisly sight. Old Davy was dead, tied to a chair, his head beaten in, his face slashed. Davidson’s dog ran into the cabin and wouldn’t let the two men approach old Davy’s body. So the men retreated, heading off to get help.
They returned a few hours later, after dark, with several men and boys carrying lanterns. One of the young lads knew the dog well and had come prepared with a haunch of venison. He coaxed the starving dog outside and tied it up. The men then entered the cabin.
It was a horrifying scene that greeted them. There was blood everywhere in the cabin. Someone had gone to a lot of effort to try to get old Davy to divulge the location of his horde. He had been beaten, burned with hot poker and strangled. Some of the men had to leave when they looked down to see that the killer had even nailed Davy’s feet to the floor.
The cabin itself had been torn apart. The trapdoor to the store room above the ceiling was open. The cupboards were all opened, drawers pulled out and the contents strewn all over the floor. The mattress had been cut to shreds and even parts of the floor had been torn up.
Several of the men stayed while others headed back to get the authorities. They returned the next day with the postmaster and county constable. The only conclusion that could be reached was that Davidson had been murdered by person or persons unknown. Although a pack peddler had been sighted in the area in about the presumed date of Davidson’s death, he was never found.
Davidson had no known relatives and his worldly possessions were few, some traps and guns. So after a few weeks of fruitless investigation, the matter was dropped, the crime unsolved. People say he still haunts the area with his dog in his canoe looking for his stolen money.
The Lady in Blue
The red-haired lady in blue, Kathleen McBride, arrived in Burritts Rapids sometime in the 1860s on an early summer’s day, long after the Irish labourers and the British army had finished the Rideau Canal. Kathleen McBride took a room in the hotel beside the canal bridge. She rented one room and the maid reported that she had brought with her only one of everything- one blue dress, one pair of shoes, one brush, and one suitcase.
Throughout her stay, Kathleen spoke to no one. All summer and into the fall, her flowing red tresses and long trailing blue gown travelled slowly on the path from tip to tip. Many a long hour she spent, standing on the upriver hill at the end of the island. She would look out over the Rideau River where the water divides, part into the canal and part downriver to the dam. Often, she stood at the dam watching the water roaring down the sluiceway as it released the surplus water. Most other time was spent walking the mile along the bank of the canal and the river, searching the water. What was she searching for, a son, a husband, a lover? Where could he have gone? Was he one of the many killed by accident during the canal construction? Did he die of the dreaded fever? Had he wandered off, work done, to seek a new life somewhere in America?
Kathleen went out for her last search on the moonlit night of October 31st, with frost crisp underfoot and the water bright and cold. She searched and searched, we know not where or why. Two days later a torn piece of blue satin dress was found on the bank, where the new bridge crosses the river in the middle of the village. In those days most of the countryside was forest, and wild animals abounded. Kathleen McBride might have drowned or been eaten by the bears.
As the years went by, whispers spread that on moonlit nights on the tip to tip trail near the dam, and near the little hill at the top end, Kathleen appears. The red-haired lady in blue still searches, walking or floating through the air, with her torn dress clutched to her breast. Some have been close enough to feel the chill in the air as she passes by. Some have been close enough to hear a tiny keening cry as she searches on. As the decades pass, the sightings still continue. So, if by chance you venture out on a summer’s eve and she passes you by in the moonlight, please move to the side so you don’t hinder her everlasting search.
Connie Adams of the Merrickville Psychic Parlour claims to be a medium of exceptional power and ability. She offers tea leaf readings, tarot readings, dream analysis, séances and ghost walks.
People have sworn that they have talked to the dead in Connie’s Parlour so this could very well be a conduit to the world of the dead. Maybe a link to some of the ghosts of the Rideau Canal in Ontario.
The Rideau Canal, also known as the Rideau Waterway, connects the city of Ottawa Ontario, Canada on the Ottawa River to the city of Kingston, Ontario on Lake Ontario. The 124 mile canal was opened in 1832 as a precaution in case of war with the United States and is still in use today, with most of its original structures intact.
The construction of the canal was supervised by Lieutenant-Colonel John By of the Royal Engineers. Private contractors such as future sugar refining entrepreneur John Redpath, Thomas McKay, Robert Drummond, Thomas Phillips, Andrew White and others were responsible for much of the construction, and the majority of the actual work was done by thousands of Irish and French-Canadian labourers.
The canal work started in 1826, and it took a total of 6 years to complete by 1832. The final cost of its construction was £822,000.
Most of the locks are still hand-operated. There are a total of 45 locks at 23 stations along the Canal, plus two locks at the entrance to the Tay Canal. The locks themselves are living history. The cranks (hand winches known as “crabs”) that open the locks, turn today, opening the wooden gates, just as they when first opened in 1832.
Images by Linda Seccaspina 2011
Images Shot in Merrickville, Ontario and Smith Falls.
Stories by Ken Watson and Clint Fleming- Tales of The Rideau Waterways and Donna Carter
More on Merrickville Ontario