Down at Zina’s Barber Shop we used to laugh and sing; We’d gather and we’d gossip about everything; we’d talk about the seaway and what we’re gonna do, and how our lives would turn out along highway two...
Songs from the Lost Villages
At first, it sounded like a low rumble, like the beginning of a thunderstorm somewhere off in the distance. But unlike an approaching storm, it didn’t let up.
Then, the dishes in Mrs. Whiteside’s kitchen started to rattle. First, the supper dishes on the table. Then, the pots on the stove, the cups and saucers in the cupboards and even the windows of the house started to tremble. Bess Whiteside, standing by the stove turned to her husband who had just sat down. Young Jane, feeling the excitement, looked first at her mother and then turned to her father. Both parents looked concerned as they looked quickly around their kitchen as the tremors got louder. Bess Whiteside spoke first, “Oh, T.D., what do you suppose it is?” So many strange noises and things were happening in the quiet village of Moulinette, Ontario these days.
Pushing his chair back, T.D. Whiteside stood up, turned to his wife and said, “I think it’s started, Bess...”
“You don’t mean... the houses... now?”
“I’m sure of it,” T.D. replied. Meantime, Jane and her brother had already left the table and were outside on the porch. Coming up the road on a huge flatbed was the first house to leave the village of Maple Grove. It was the Matheson house, heading up from the river side to its new foundation somewhere up the road, where they were building that new town. Standing tall, it almost seemed surreal as it moved slowly up along the highway, taking up both lanes. People all around now were coming out of their houses to see. The view from the porch of the Whiteside’s Lion Hotel was clear for all of the trees had been removed by now. The last of them had been cut down earlier that afternoon. Police had stopped traffic in both directions as the huge building passed through the village of Moulinette, almost as if to say, you’re next. The children watched as it passed slowly by. Jane turned to her parents to see her father, sitting on the bottom step, suddenly bury his face with his hands.
“When you see your dad crying,” said Jane Craig, “it was almost too much. For him, that day, it was the moment of truth. It was all happening, now.” Jane pauses for a minute, recalling certain events that spring day of 1955, when things started to change in her village of Moulinette. “Between the period of 1954 to 1958, it was a very tough time for my dad, emotionally,” she remembers. “We owned the Lion Hotel in Moulinette and dad did very well. We had the hydro men staying there and police officers.”
The Village of Moulinette and Maple Grove were just two of the permanent settlements that fell victim of the brand new St. Lawrence Seaway project that was fast becoming a reality in the mid 1950’s. To provide power for the new dam site in Cornwall the level of the St. Lawrence River would have to spill well over its banks to create a new lake. This project would completely flood and inundate the villages of Mille Roches, Moulinette, Dickenson’s Landing, Wales, Farron’s Point and Aultsville. Soon to be gone too, were the smaller hamlets of Maple Grove, Woodlands and Santa Cruz. Silenced forever were the Long Sault Rapids that flowed through the area when the flooding began. During this period 550 homes were removed to new locations. Others that couldn’t be moved were demolished. Churches were moved or new ones built on new sites. Now the cemeteries, that presented a different problem.
“Every church had a cemetery,” remembered Jane Craig. “But there was only one that was moved in its entirety. That was in Maple Grove. Because of the dam in Cornwall project, all of the graves had to be moved out of there. For the rest of the cemeteries, they were moved to a new, common cemetery, now at the Upper Canada Village location. Now, you had a choice. If you wanted your ancestors moved, you could sign for that. In other cases, where families could not be contacted, they just put gravel over the graves but all of the headstones were removed. I will say that the Hydro people looked after the cemeteries in a dignified manner.” Craig also remembers the curiosity of a child during this period. “Beside the United Church they were digging up the graves. Well, they would have a big tent over a particular grave and at recess we would run over and try to peek under it, to see, well what? And you told these stories which of course, were not true at all... somebody in a glass casket, and when they opened the top, she just disintegrated, you know, the things kids will imagine. But it really was done in a dignified manner. There would be a Minister there, someone from Hydro, police officers to ensure just those who were supposed to be there and no one else, even us kids. There was someone in charge of each cemetery too, who knew just where ‘everyone’ was. They used the ‘sticks’ to locate the bones to find a particular grave. My father was also in charge of a cemetery and knew the locations of different graves. Our own Priest had three Churches and cemeteries to deal with. I don’t know how he did it.”
Jane Craig is the president of the Lost Villages Historical Society today. A museum site of several buildings located at Ingleside Ontario, just ‘up’ from their former locations. The society was formed by the late Fran LaFlamme who saw the need to preserve the memories of the lost communities. “She decided that something had to be done,” said Craig. “The memories were going and people were dying. Fran started the society with six members in 1977. We have about 378 members now.” Craig speaks with pride from the steps of one of the buildings. “We have eleven buildings here at our museum,” she says. “These are the former train station, and Zina Hill’s barber shop among others. People bought them and took them home for chicken coops or whatever. Well they saw what we were doing and said if we could restore them to their original condition we could have them. Everyone in our organization is making a contribution and I’m so proud of that.”
Born and raised in the village of Moulinette until the age of fifteen, Craig recalls the transition period from her old home at the river side to a new home vividly. “ Two new towns were created to replace the villages,” she says. “These were Ingleside and Long Sault. Now, we had a beautiful new home in Long Sault but we still caught the school bus back at our old hotel. The day our hotel was demolished, the bus picked me up there that morning. At the end of the school day, the driver went back to drop me off but our hotel was gone, demolished, like everything else around it. It was almost like a war zone, there was nothing but rubble. The trees were gone, all cut down. He slowed down but then picked up speed taking me back to Long Sault.” The atmosphere in the school bus was quiet as they drove through the ruins of the former village. No one spoke.
“Some of my friends had already been through this, but I hadn’t,” she said. “When I got home I wasn’t happy. I wanted to say goodbye to our hotel but it was already gone.” The Whitesides built a new motel in Long Sault but it wasn’t the same for Jane’s dad. “He didn’t grow up here, my father,” Jane said. “He grew up in Alliston, but he loved the area. My mother was from here. Dad died in 1960 at the age of 57. They called it stress. It was quite a common thing back then, for the older folks. Later, mother put everything behind her and never really wanted to talk about it. If someone asked here a particular question like, ‘where did the Johnson’s live prior to their move, she’d say, oh it’s all underwater now, who cares’ and leave it at that.”
Even though it was a very traumatic time period, especially for the older residents, Craig remembers it as a fantastic time for teenagers. “All of a sudden the small village of Moulinette which had about 400 people, now suddenly had over 600 people. Workers with families were moving in and all the machinery, some like you’ve never seen before or ever will again. And they were really good to us, too, the workers. They even gave us the inner tubes from the huge tires of these house movers to play in, but we never let on to our parents we were having fun. It just wasn’t discussed back then.”
To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Lost Villages Historical Society planned a unique event this year. “Beginning on June 26 through July 1st we had what we called a 'Festival of Lost Lights',” said Craig. “This was called Beacon 50 Lights, and what it meant was that at various locations along the area by the river we lit beacons to represent the villages that were inundated by the flood waters 50 years ago. The first night the light shone over the water on Mille Roches, right near own park. On night two, the light came on over the water covering Moulinette, and so on, until the entire area was lit up on the last night."
One of the powerful lights had a celebrity status all its own. "Our one light was from 'ground zero', the site of 9/11 in New York City," Jane pointed out. "So,again we had a very moving, but emotional time." The daylight hours were filled with concerts, barbecues and tours, all centered around the area. Jane Craig and her staff of volunteers were thrilled with the turnout. "That’s why reunions are so good," she said. "Someone asked recently why would you want to celebrate something that was so dramatic. Well, you celebrate life when a loved one dies, don’t you? We’ve put it behind us and accepted it. You had to.
“Besides,” she adds, “we’ve got two new towns that are progressing well. Why wouldn’t we celebrate?”
For more information, you can contact Jane Craig at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website: Lost Villages Historical Society
By Brian Johnson
Brian Johnson wrote this piece for the Kingston Whig Standard two months ago. This is an important story and we asked if we could share it in TI Life for our readers on both side of the border. We also recommend you research the Lost Villages on the Web. One resource can be found in Toronto’s Globe and Mail, published on Friday, Jun. 26, 2009 “Canadians recall how their lives were uprooted by the building of the St. Lawrence Seaway”.
Brian is one of five captains of the Wolfe Island car ferry Wolfe Islander III. He has worked for the Ontario Ministry of Transportation for 28 years, recently celebrating 20 years as captain. Today, Brian combines his marine career with writing. Brian co-edited Growing up on Wolfe Island, a compilation of interviews and stories with Sarah Sorensen. He is also the founding and current president of the Wolfe Island Historical Society and former president of the Wolfe Island Scene of the Crime mystery writer’s festival held on the island every August.
This story was first published by Captain Johnson as an assignment from the Kingston Whig Standard as a series in celebratoin of the 50th Anniversary of the St. Lawrence Seaway which started on February 16, 2009. There were eleven stories. The story submitted here, first published on May 30, 2009 as "Gone Forever, the Lost Villages".
Next month: More on the Lost Villages of the St. Lawrence River