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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Clarington Older Adults Association Centre

Rathskamory:  The House of All Sorts

Did you know that the famous Canadian painter, Emily Carr, was also a writer?  One of her books is entitled “The House of All Sorts”.   In it she describes the different people she rented apartments to in her house.   I use the same title for this article but I want it to reflect the many different people who have visited the house that is now the Clarington Older Adult Centre over its 170 years of existence.

Anyone who walks up the semi-circular driveway of the Clarington Older Adult Centre can tell that the building wasn’t originally built with that purpose in mind.  You can still see it was once a house and a very grand one at that.  It was built in 1843 by Dr. George Humphrey Low who gave it the name Rathskamory.  That makes it 4 years older than the Bowmanville Museum, known as Waverly Place, and it was built on a much grander scale.  Can you imagine what the local people thought at the time?  Most of them were living in small wooden houses and some still in log cabins.  It must have been like a palace to them. 

In 1843 Bowmanville was still growing eastward along King Street from the valley south of Vanstone Mill.  The small settlement was still surrounded by primeval forest.  Colonel Frederick Cubitt the second mayor of Bowmanville in 1860-61 (he actually served three terms in that office) recounted that as a young man, in 1840; he shot and killed a bear where Lowe Street and Beech Avenue meet today.

Who was Dr. Low?  Unfortunately we don’t know too much as his death was in 1865, and surviving Bowmanville newspapers only begin in 1868.  However, we do know that he was a wealthy, well educated Anglo-Irish doctor who came to Canada in 1833.  He was the first resident doctor in the southern part of Ontario County living between Whitby and Oshawa before moving to Bowmanville.  Diana Grandfield in her book, “Bowmanville: An Architectural and Social History 1794-1999” sums up nicely what we know about him, “Until anaesthetics were in common use, surgeons were judged not only by their skill, but by their speed.  Apparently, Dr. Low was exceptional and in demand well beyond the confines of Bowmanville.”  He lived here in grand style with servants and entertained lavishly.  He led a distinguished life and was active in religious, political and military affairs.  One incident we find concerning Dr. Low takes place during the Rebellion of 1837.  Early one morning John Burk of Bowmanville was awakened to find his house surrounded by soldiers lead by Dr. Low.  Rumour had it that the notorious rebel Ben Lett was being hidden in the house and Dr. Low, in charge of a local militia brigade, was instructed to find him.  Mr. Burk knew nothing of the matter but the soldiers searched his house from top to bottom.  They found nothing and the Burks treated them all to a hearty breakfast and bid them good-bye.  Years later it was found that Burk’s young son, David, had pretended to be Ben Lett to frighten a newly arrived Irishman working on his father’s farm.

Rathskamory wasn’t the only estate in Bowmanville.  In the 1840’s this part of Bowmanville was where the wealthy were building their large houses with beautiful expanses of manicured lawns.  Some other nearby estates include Marnwood, The Evergreens and Dundurn.  The grand houses still stand but during the 1870’s the grounds were divided into lots and sold off.  Rathskamory has the distinction of being the only estate in Bowmanville with gatehouses.  The front gate house is gone; it stood where 30 Lowe Street now stands.  The back gate house still stands and is part of a home on the south west corner of Beech Avenue and Concession Street.

Later owners of the estate include Dr. James Wellington McLaughlin.  He was the brother of Robert who founded the McLaughlin Carriage Company.  Dr. McLaughlin had a large and successful medical practice in Enniskillen and Bowmanville.  Many remarked on his uncanny resemblance to British Prime Minister W.E. Gladstone.   Dr. McLaughlin sold the lots and reduced the estate to 4 acres.  Many of the beautiful houses on Beech Avenue and Centre Street date from this time.  When Dr. McLaughlin died the house passed to his son Arthur.  Arthur was killed in 1916 at the Battle of the Somme and his sister, Mary became owner.  She had married Edmund S. Senkler and they retained the house until Mary’s death in 1937.

During World War II the Boys’ Training School just east of Bowmanville was converted into a German Prisoner of War Camp.  Some boys were sent home and others were taken to Rathskamory and The Evergreens where they operated as a temporary school until 1945.

 In the fall of 1946 the Bowmanville Lions Club moved into the house and converted it into a community centre.  The Lions Club is an international organization that provides a wide variety of community and charity programs.  In Bowmanville they formed in 1935 and met at various locations on King Street before buying the Senklar property for $3,500.  Andy Thompson remembered, “This was considered a tremendous venture at that time, and I well remember the many discussions, pro and con, on the question by our members.”  Under them it became a hive of activity with many different social and community events being held.  Banquets, dances, concerts, parties and meetings all happened frequently.   The large addition to the south, added in 1953 at a cost of $40,000, was to accommodate the increased usage of the property.  The upstairs had a beautiful auditorium and banquet hall while the basement was a Scout hall. 

It was still an actively used building when in 1989 a committee of older adults and local service club representatives began working with the Municipality to establish an activity centre for older adults.  In 1992 Municipal Council established an advisory committee which became the Clarington Older Adult Centre Committee.  They began offering programs at the Lions Centre in 1994.  They were just one of many groups offering programs and services from the premises.  In 1998 the Clarington Older Adult Association purchased the property from the Lions Club and the many renovations that bring it to its current status began.

This house is a blessed structure.  From its beginnings in 1843 it has always been a place where people meet and have a good time.  Whether it is a garden party from the Victorian age or a painting class today.  It is truly a house for all sorts of people.  It has always been a focal point in the community and will continue to be so for many years to come.







Friday, May 3, 2013

Message in a Bottle

In a previous article we talked about Clarington’s three ports and their storied past.  Ports Darlington, Newcastle and Granby were busy commercial hubs in days gone by.  This story is about a particular schooner that called Clarington’s largest port, Port Darlington, home for many years.  Its name was the OLIVER MOWAT (after the Premier of Ontario) and it was owned by McClellan and Co.  This firm was headed by John McClellan whose father James was harbourmaster at Port Darlington.  Four generations of the McClellan family served the Port Darlington Harbour Company.  The MOWAT was larger than most schooners with three masts instead of the usual two and this made it easy to spot while out on the lake.  She was built in Millhaven, Ontario (near Napanee) 131’ long and 26’ wide.  Her hold was 11 feet deep and could hold 350 tons or 18,000 bushels.  Right from the start she was considered a special vessel perhaps because of her large size.  At her launching on a hot July day in 1875 someone offered to buy her for $30,000 cash on the spot before she had even been launched. 

Like most ships she had several owners over her lifespan.  Her Bowmanville owners had her rebuilt in 1892 and sold her in 1914.  Later owners were captains from Port Hope and Picton.  Throughout the 1800’s and into the first decades of the Twentieth Century steamboats and schooners plied across all the Great Lakes.  From Montreal to Duluth and down to Chicago and all places in between these boats carried people and cargo.  Schooners, not being as efficient as steamboats, were often relegated to uninspired bulk cargoes.  Barley and coal were the main commodities being carried back and forth on this part of the Lakes.  The OLIVER MOWAT seems to have delivered many cargos of coal and to have favoured Lake Ontario.  Captain Gibson of Newcastle owned the schooner ARIADNE and made many a trip carrying staves in his hold.  Staves are the wooden slats used to make barrels and this would have been an important item in an era when most goods were shipped in barrels.  
Many years ago Mr. Forrest Dilling of Bowmanville played for me a reel to reel tape which featured interviews of old-timers in Bowmanville reminiscing about their past.  On one Bowmanville merchant Harry Allin recalled as a child seeing the red suited soldiers marching up King Street to the train station on their way west to quell the Riel Rebellion.  On another veteran sailor Isaac McAvoy related the harrowing tale of being shipwrecked on the OLIVER MOWAT in 1905.  Sadly, to my knowledge these tapes no longer exist.  When Mr. Dilling passed away they were not found among his personal effects.  What a loss for Clarington!  However, a tape cassette of the Isaac McAvoy interview later surfaced. 

Isaac Robert McAvoy (1881-1972) told Mr. Dilling his story in 1962 from his house in Port Hope.  Here is my transcription with some added explanation:  “We left Oswego Harbour with a load of coal one afternoon at the beginning of December.  We had travelled four miles out in to the Lake when we ran into a snow storm.  From there on things were getting worse all the time.  The temperature dropped and the wet snow froze all the sails, ropes and tackle.  This was dangerous, as we could not now lower our sails to get into a safe port.  It was our hope to make the safety of the Toronto Islands, but we could not steer at all. 

Around seven or eight in the morning in a blinding blizzard the ship hit some rocks and the bow was pushed four feet under the water and the stern was sinking.  The rear cabin was half full of water and rapidly filling.  There was nothing we could do and we thought the ship was breaking up.  We went to the lifeboat but a large wave tore the boat from its davits and washed it away.  At first we began to make a raft, but as the boat seemed to settle we decided to stay. 
The storm continued throughout the day, visibility was very poor and the waves swept across the deck.  We had almost no idea where we were but had to lash ourselves to the rigging to keep from being washed overboard.  At six in the evening it was getting dark and I went to affix a lantern to the front of the ship.  I saw a light, but thought it was too good to be true.  I looked again and it was still there!  The light came closer and closer and I could tell it was a rescue boat.  ‘Come over on the port (left) side where the water is calmer.’ I yelled.  .  ‘Is that you Ike?’ came the reply.   It was Captain Clarke with the lifesaving boat from Port Hope.  ‘Yes’ I shouted and they came alongside and secured the boat with ropes to what remained of our ship.  I was the last one to leave after I had lowered the Captain’s wife and dog over the rails.  We cast off for shore, but our adventure was not over. 

We learned we were not too far from Oshawa’s harbour.  Coming down off a high wave we hit another shoal and I had to use a ten quart pail to bail out the boat.  Three waves struck the boat and the first one half filled it.  We turned into the waves and rode pretty good for a while, rowing and bailing.  About half a mile outside of the Oshawa Pier we met another boat.  They asked if we had gotten everybody off the wreck.  We answered yes and they escorted us back to the pier and safety.  When we got off we were well taken care, fed a good hot supper and put on the late train for Port Hope that very night.”

Other details not mentioned in Isaac McAvoy’s account came out after the event.  A crew member sent a note ashore in a bottle tied to a piece of wood asking for help.  It was found by fellow sailor, Tom Norton, who had been walking his dog along the shoreline. Issac had saved him in the past and now it was his turn to return the favour.  The Mayor of Oshawa was contacted and he phoned the lifesaving station in Toronto.  A special train was arranged from Port Hope where the crew from their life saving station were ready to go.  Another rescue boat came out from Whitby.  This is the other boat they met on their way to the Oshawa Pier.  A tug had also left Port Hope as well but had to turn back because as one crew member reported, “[the waves] were filling us from rail to rail and lifting the engine house off the deck”.  The train left Port Hope heading west and stopped just abreast of the wreck.  They could see the waves were lifting the ship and crashing it against the rocks.  They took the rescue boat and dragged it across Farewell’s frozen marsh to the shore and launched it into the stormy seas.  The life saving stations were set up at various communities on both the American and Canadian side of the Great Lakes and on the eastern seaboard.  They operated like a volunteer fire brigade except that the men trained once a month to rescue stranded helpers and would come to their assistance when called.     

After the storm was over, Captain George Robinson had sustained a broken ankle so his wife looked after the clean-up.  It was she who ordered, by the mildest of suggestions, that 200 tons of coal be jettisoned and had anchors run astern and succeeding in freeing the MOWAT without too much extra damage.  C.H.J. Snider who, for many years, wrote a column on Great Lakes history for the Toronto Telegram entitled “Schooner Days” interviewed Mrs. Robinson shortly after the mishap and asked if she had been worried.  Her reply was, “Well, no you see I kept on praying, and I knew the Lord would take care of us.”  The OLIVER MOWAT survived this “scrape” and happily continued on for another 16 years!  She lasted until 1921 (being 46 years old) when a steam barge accidently rammed her just east of Prince Edward County.  Some of the crew perished in the accident and the captain and mate of the steam vessel went to jail. 

If you follow the stories of these lake vessels, whether sail or steam, and read of mishaps, rebuilds and their ports of call you can’t help but compare it to a biography.  Many of these ships were known to have personality quirks just like people and some lasted close to a century.  The schooners are all gone now and only two or three old style steamboats still ply the lakes.  With them has gone their way of life and adventure forever.  There are three other shipwrecks closer to Port Darlington but that is another story.      


Friday, February 22, 2013

Ice Age Mammals in Clarington-Again!

Ice-Age Mammals in Clarington:

Is this their first visit or have they been here before?


This exciting exhibit from Ottawa’s Museum of Nature is one of the best we’ve brought to the Sarah Jane Williams Heritage Centre in Bowmanville.  Visitors are introduced to the world of 12,000 years ago when saber-toothed cats, miniature horses, mastodons and mammoths, giant beavers and enormous ground sloths and bears roamed the land.  This exhibit features many real fossils and even a piece of actual woolly mammoth hair!


The exhibit paints a picture of a world long ago that is both different and the same as today.  Many of the finds come from the Yukon.  20,000 years ago it was an open wind swept grassy plain with marshy treed areas interspersed.  Strange large mammals roamed the land with other animals that are still familiar to us today like caribou, bison, wolverines and badgers.  Almost everyone who has seen the exhibit loves it, but one early visitor felt it was not appropriate because it has “nothing to do with Clarington history.”  I disagree and I think the picture described above could easily be Clarington of 12,000-10,000 years ago too.  This article will prove the existence of mammoths, mastodons and early natives in Clarington, but first I have to give you a little background information.


12,000 years ago the world, including North America, was coming out of the last Ice Age (known as the Wisconsin).  Much of the continent had been covered by two huge ice sheets known as the Cordilleran in the west and the Laurentide in the east.  Between them was an ice free zone or corridor.  Sea levels were much lower than today because so much water was tied up in ice (it was as much as 125 meters lower).  This exposed more land and created an area, called Beringia by archaeologists, that connected Siberia to Alaska.  It is thought that Beringia lasted from about 23,000 to almost 8,000 years ago.  From Siberia and down the ice free corridor came the ice age beasts and man, eventually populating both North and South America.    


In Ontario, as the ice sheets melted, they swelled the basins that now form the Great Lakes.  But, as the ice sheets retreated so did the lake levels.  By 12,000 years ago Lake Ontario was only slightly larger than it is now and is known as Lake Iroquois by archaeologists.  When the first natives arrived sometime around 11,000 years ago they were presented with a landscape similar to today’s Arctic but, because of our lower elevation, with a more diverse selection of plants.  It is interesting to note that both the ice age mammals and man came out of the ice free corridor south of Ontario and could not head north to our area until the ice had sufficiently retreated.


The above is established scientific fact but what is the proof for Clarington?  Sad to say, there are no known finds of mastodon and mammoth bones in our area.  This isn’t surprising as these giants went extinct about 8,000 years ago and in Ontario soil, bones do not usually last past 6,000 years except under exceptional circumstances (note- the exhibit presents remains from the Yukon because this area was so dry it escaped glaciation which helped in preservation).  The proof though that mammoths and mastodons were in Clarington is that they have been found all around us- to the east, to the north and especially to the west.  Over 120 mammoths and mastodon finds are recorded for Ontario.  The number would swell greatly if you included the surrounding American States.  The ice first began to disappear in the south and Southwestern Ontario is where most large ice age mammal fossils are found today.


Some of these finds were made way back in the 1830’s and 1890’s.  There are two, the Amaranth and Highgate Mastodons that have quite a story to tell.  In 1887 John Jelly found some large bones on his cousin’s farm in Amaranth Township in Dufferin County.  Being an entrepreneur he saw a chance to make a buck.  He cleaned and assembled the bones and began to show them in various towns and fairs.  The Amaranth Mastodon was a partial skeleton and was known to have been displayed in Shelburne and Fergus.   Jelly later took the skeleton to Western Canada but while out there he got sick.  The bones were put into storage and lost.  Three years later, in 1890, another mastodon skeleton was found on a farm close to Highgate Ontario (near Ridgetown).   John Jelly, now recovered, was on the scene again.  He and his cousin, William Hillhouse, purchased, excavated and reassembled the bones.  What they found was an almost complete mastodon skeleton.  They showed it throughout Ontario and handbills claimed “A Monster Unearthed” and “The World’s Greatest Wonder”.   Mr. R.A. Essery was hired to take the exhibit out west.  Like Jelly before him he too took sick but unlike Jelly he didn’t recover- he died!  The bones went missing and Jelly and Hillhouse lost their prize.  A few years later they found that the skeleton had been stored at a broom factory in Minneapolis but was now missing.  Then it showed up being displayed in North Dakota.  The two men in Dakota disappeared when contacted by Jelly.  In fact, they had sold the bones to Harry Dickinson who sent them to his home in Minnesota for reassembly.  In 1899 James Grassick bought the bones but eventually gave them to the University Of North Dakota.  William Hillhouse tried legal means to get his bones back.  He was ultimately unsuccessful but during the controversy the bones were stored in an attic and forgotten.  In 1974 they were rediscovered and that is how the most complete mastodon skeleton ever found in Ontario is now the eye-catching centre piece of the new heritage centre in Bismarck, North Dakota. 


These two examples from the west of Clarington point out the fact that finds of great scientific merit, especially in the 1800’s, sometimes did not get the academic attention they deserved.  In 1875 J.T. Coleman wrote a booklet on the history of Bowmanville and the surrounding area.  In a section describing native burial places he writes about a particular one in Scugog Township, “For a long time after its discovery, it bore the reputation of containing the remains of a gigantic race.”  He relates subsequent study revealed the bones to be not only human but of normal size.  So, how did the rumour of the giant bones get started?  We’ll probably never know for sure, but a reference to a piece of mammoth tusk found on the shore of Lake Scugog could hold the answer.  The reference is from a 1930 book, but the tusk fragment was probably found in the 1800’s.  Maybe other large bones were found with it and spirited away by a local entrepreneur?  The fragment, once known to science, no longer exists but it was found in the same area as Coleman’s “Indian burying ground” near Ball Point.


To the east of Clarington only one mammoth or mastodon find has been recorded.  In the 1970’s on Pinnacle Street in Belleville the bones of a mammoth or mastodon were uncovered while excavating a house foundation.  After being identified they were reburied in the backyard of the residence.  No other finds come from eastern Ontario or Quebec.  Likely the ice did not retreat there until after the extinction of the large ice age mammals.


We can say, through inference, that mammoths and mastodons inhabited Clarington, but what about the Paleo-Indians?  In this we have direct proof.  Many years ago a lady called me while I was up at the Clarke Museum.  She told me that an early Paleo-Indian point had been found on her farm.  I don’t think she left her name but she said she’d bring it in to show me.  I never did meet her, but imagine my surprise while researching this article to come across a reference to such a point being found near Newcastle, Ontario.  I have no doubt that this is the same point I got the call about.  This proves that Paleo-Indians were in Clarington.  To add interest to this rare find archaeologists also noticed traces of hematite or red ochre on the point which could possibly give us a hint to their religious practices.  Paleo-Indians were known to hunt mammoths and mastodons in western Canada, but not so in Ontario.  What little evidence we have shows the most popular hunted animal was caribou. 


I think we can safely imagine a Clarington of 12,000 years ago with an arctic-like environment with few trees, thinly populated by Paleo-Indians favouring caribou, but also living alongside mammoths and mastodon.  I’m sure if a good opportunity presented itself to hunt or scavenge one of these ancient elephant like creatures that they would do so.  Is the Ice Age Mammals exhibit relevant to Clarington?  My research would say “yes”.  In fact, Clarington is almost unique in Ontario because we have the closest living relative of the woolly mammoth living here today.  Limba, a 49 year old female Asian elephant resides at the Bowmanville Zoo.   A few years ago researchers at the University of Manitoba began a study to see how the ancient mammoths, originally a tropical species, adapted to the cold climate of Siberia.  They needed a sample of elephant blood to begin their study but found it impossible to get a permit for a specimen from a wild elephant.  The Bowmanville Zoo saved the day by providing the sample.  In 2010 they successful recreated mammoth hemoglobin.  Maybe one day science will bring this extinct species back to life?


If you’ve ever wondered why the giant ice-age mammals became extinct?  Or asked yourself what’s the difference between a mastodon and a mammoth?  Then this exhibit is for you.  It runs from January 4th to April 30th 2013.  Check the museum’s website for more information and associated special events.  If you enjoyed this story please check out my blog at  Just click on the blog icon to the right on the screen.