Opinicon Lake is a lake in South Frontenac, Frontenac County and Rideau Lakes, United Counties of Leeds and Grenville in Eastern Ontario, Canada.This shallow lake was formed when Colonel John By built the Rideau Canal. It also is part of the Great Lakes Basin.
A barrel of silver dollars is said to still lie on the bed of Opinicon Lake, not far from Chaffeys Locks. Destined to pay the workers on the Rideau Canal, it was dumped overboard by the crew of the payboat off Barrel Point in 1835, when the ship was attacked by pirates. Shots were fired. The boat crew tried their best to defend the silver, but they knew that they would not be able to hold off the ambush. Knowing they were outnumbered, they dumped the barrel overboard so the pirates couldn’t get it. Foiled, the pirates left.
The pirates didn’t bother returning, not wanting to take a dip in the lake. When the crew went back to spot where they dumped the barrel, they couldn’t find anything – neither a barrel or any trace of silver coins. The crew believed the silver was lost forever; however, many people today still think the silver is still lying somewhere on the bottom of the Rideau Canal. The silver remains lost forever.
There is also the strange disappearance of one Samuel Poole of Lake Opinicon who went missing in 1885 and the apparently large sum of money he was carrying. According to Tales of the Rideau Canal- two more men vanished–Tom Dennison and Joe Ledway also disappeared from the same area. Do their ghosts still haunt Opinicon Lake? No trace of man or money was ever found.
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.
This poem was written by Captain “Ned” Fleming (1868-1953), one of the last steamboat captains of the Rideau, and a descendent of Chaffey’s first lockmaster. During his long career, he was captain of the Rideau Queen and Rideau King which operated between Kingston and Ottawa – running night and day.
Captain “Ned” frequently put his thoughts into verse – in this case, inspired by Opinicon Lake at night.
THE GHOSTS OF THE OPINICON
Come with me and I will show you, a gem of the Rideau chain
If a fairer lake you look for, you may well look in vain.
Fairy isles rise from the waters, and silently form a sight
Whose beauty fills the human heart with wonder and delight.
The wooded slopes, the green isles, the waters sparkling sheen,
In beauty shine today, as they did in days pristine.
On its shores wild potatoes grew in days long past and gone
The indians ate them, liked them, and called the lake “Opinicon”.
At night o’er the quiet lake hangs an air of mystery
‘Tis said that at the midnight hour, people often see
A little boat out on the lake, that doth swiftly and silently glide
Without-paddle or oar to propel it, o’er the mistly moonlit tide.
At times three people in the boat, sometimes, only one,
The one they say is the ghost of Thomas Dennison.
He was drowned as he towed a raft, in sight of his own door
And ’tis said that he labours still to bring the raft ashore.
Perhaps he is joined by Joe Leway, who died in a mine near by.
Under a rockfall he lay for hours, and no one heard his cry
Now at night his voice is heard, in tones of agony
“Help, help, save my life, please lift this rock from me.”
The third one may be Samuel Poole, who drew his latest breath
On the lake shore, where the frost king, closed his eyes in death.
He went to Kingston, to get the pay, for lumber he had sawn.
Next day he was seen to leave, for his home on Opinicon.
From that day for many years, his fate was quite unknown.
Some people thought, with the money, to other land held flown.
But after forty years had swiftly come and gone
Children one day found his bones, on the shore of the Opinicon.
It is thought that on that day, from Kingston he had come
Full forty miles, where now he was but three miles from his home.
An icy wind blew down the lake, a blizzard from the west.
He went ashore at a sheltered spot, for a few minutes of rest
Something seemed to tell him, “Don’t stop here. Go on.”
But he brushed the snow from an old log and with a sigh sat down.
He thought, for ten minutes only, here he should remain
While he gathered strength to face that bitter wind again.
Ah, the blessed feeling of rest, there in that sheltered place
As with benumbed hand, he rubbed his frosted face.
Nodding he fell asleep, only ten minutes rest he was taking
Alas, it was the sleep of death, that knows no earthly waking.
There was a light in the window of his cozy little home
Where anxious hearts were waiting, for one who would never come.
His loved ones searched far and near, and time flowed swiftly on;
But they never knew that his bones lay on the shore of Opinicon.
P. Joe Leway’s spirit lingers, at the mine, ’tis said
Where ‘neath a rock for hours he lay, with none to give him aid.
And now each night with a crowbar, he rolls the rock aside,
And goes forth to join other spirits on Opinicon’s silvery tide.
The body of Tom Dennison by man has never been found,
Until the lake gives up his bones to lie ‘neath a flowery mound,
He will struggle with the raft, to gain the wished for goal,
Tho’ at midnight, he may cross the lake with Leway and with Poole.
At times, ’tis said that Dennison. goes wandering forth alone,
Or he may have with him, Leway, who died beneath the stone.
Sam Poole may sometimes join them, and then, this ghostly three
Will glide o’er the Opinicon, swiftly and silently.
For never the creak of oarlock or sound of paddle dip,
Not a word is spoken, by any ghostly lip
Until the hour of midnight, then breaks the magic spell,
And they talk of things of long ago, on the lake they know so well.
All long dead, their spirits linger yet
To wander o’er at the midnight hour, the lake they can’t forget.
Reminders of a long forgotten day, why should they linger here?
Like dead leaves drifting quietly from a long forgotten year.
And all their ghostly whisperings, at midnight you may hear,
Though you may never see them, the little boat their spirits steer
You may hear their quiet voices, speaking in varied tone
If at midnight you would listen, to the Ghosts of Opinicon.
Poem courtesy The Lockmaster’s House Museum, Chaffey’s Lock.