Local Historic Sites: Old Hay Bay Church

Old Hay Bay Church. (my photo)

Old Hay Bay Church. (my photo)

I’ve been kind of beating you over the head with churches lately – my last historic site post was also about churches – but as you can see Old Hay Bay Church is something rather different. It was built on the south shore of Hay Bay, between Napanee and Adolphustown, in 1792 and stands as the oldest surviving Methodist meeting-house in Canada. To me, it looks like a piece of New England plunked into the Ontario countryside.

Reverend William Losee, an itinerant preacher from New York, came to Canada in 1790 and began converting people to Methodism, which rapidly gained as a religious movement. This meeting-house was built just two years later, and along with Fairfield House (1793) and Fairfield-Gutzeit House (1796) constitutes one of the very oldest structures in the area. (All three buildings are in the vicinity of Bath – Bath is a very lucky place!) Old Hay Bay Church also has one of the best signs I’ve seen in a long time posted in its entrance:

Yes. (my photo)

Yes. (my photo)

Continue reading


Local Historic Sites: Willowbank Cemetery

May 015

P.S. this is the first of my historic site visit posts. This one was done really on the fly, but I promise future ones will have more information and be generally better planned out. Stay tuned!

Last week while going to Gananoque to visit the kitties at the Humane Society, I had the opportunity to stop at Willowbank Cemetery. My reasons for doing this were twofold: one, I love exploring old cemeteries so much that if left to my own devices I’d probably stay in there for three and a half hours and forget to eat lunch; and two, one of my very favourite local history people, Joel Stone, is buried there.

My sister was slightly cranky and wanted to get home, so I had to act fast. Willowbank Cemetery is a sizeable place, and I had no idea where Joel Stone’s grave was located. I also wanted to look around a bit (and we had the perfect day for cemetery-exploring, cloudy with a slight drizzle). Luckily I had brought my camera along, so I snapped a few photos for you to look at…

(my photo)

(my photo)

Willowbank is kind of a picture-perfect cemetery. It’s situated in a gently hilly area and is full of mature trees, giving lots of opportunity for dramatic landscaping, made more so with a crumbling headstone or two. The grounds are overall well-maintained and it feels almost more like a nice park than a graveyard. The location also has an interesting history (especially relating to Kingston), as detailed in the plaque below:

(my photo)

(my photo)

Continue reading

Mysterious Demorestville

It’s very likely that if you don’t live in Prince Edward County (and/or are not obsessed with local history) you haven’t heard of Demorestville. It’s a little town – almost a ghost town – in the northwestern part of the County that hasn’t seen much excitement in, oh, a hundred and fifty years or so. But once upon a time, things were different. Demorestville was at one point one of the biggest towns in Upper Canada, rivalling Picton, Belleville, Toronto, and Kingston for size and primacy. Then, around the middle of the nineteenth century, it began to slowly but surely decline. Why did this happen?

As I’ve discovered, the answers are murky. The most clear-cut is that, harbourless and not on the railroad, the town simply declined as time went on. However, some cite other reasons: the death of Guillaume Demorest, the town’s founder, and a mysterious fire that apparently occurred around the turn of the twentieth century – though no records exist of it. Then, there’s the legacy you can see in the stretch of road snaking around the left side of the village, called Gomorrah Road…

Forgotten as it is today, Demorestville has one of the more interesting histories of Ontario’s tiny towns. Let’s dive into it.

Guillaume Demorest was born in 1769 in Duchess County, New York. He was from a French Huguenot family which had come to the Dutch colony of New Netherland via the Old World Netherlands, where they had originally fled to escape persecution. As a boy during the American Revolution he joined the commissary of the British army and later came to Canada in 1790. By 1794 he was in Sophiasburg (the township where Demorestville is located), and by 1800 he had built a grist mill on a stream flowing from nearby Fish Lake. As usually happened in Loyalist days, a community built up around the mill. (I have to add the description of Fish Lake from the 1878 historical atlas of Hastings and Prince Edward Counties: “Its name was derived from the immense quantities and superior quality of those species of the finny tribe which filled its waters in the early days of settlement.” The finny tribe, ha…)

Continue reading

Two Early Films of Kingston and Area

I was really excited to find two brief, relatively early, locally-shot films while on Youtube the other night. Films of the Kingston area are few and far between, especially from, say, the pre-1950 era, and most that survive are in archives or perhaps in private collections. So it was great to run across these two just sitting there on the internet! I am also happy to say I can tell you a little bit about the background of both of them.

Let’s start with the earlier one: a 1919 travel film about the Thousand Islands, made by the Ford Motor Company. It belongs to the Thousand Islands Museum in Clayton, New York, and was apparently not uploaded by them, although the uploader says it was “provided” by them. The film basically just has the camera on a boat and travels around the islands with a few title-cards interspersed. Therefore, it’s not much you haven’t seen before, just the Thousand Islands in black-and-white. However I still find it interesting to watch, and the Bach soundtrack someone has added makes the whole thing kind of hypnotic and meditative…

Continue reading

Thousand Island Cookies

Cookies 016

I have a memory of being at some historic site when I was a kid (it might have been Dundurn Castle) and going into the kitchen area and eating cookies they had made from a nineteenth-century recipe. They were little jam-filled sandwich cookies and they tasted kind of fascinatingly old to me, as if they weren’t just made from a 150-year-old recipe, but had actually travelled through time to reach me and had maybe turned slightly stale in the process. About a year ago I was thinking about this, and considering how easy it is to find old books online, I thought I could try making an antique cookie recipe myself. The ones I especially wanted to try were in an English cookbook from the eighteenth century, but the huge quantities and weird ingredients made me think again. One day though, one day…

Instead I eventually found this recipe for “Thousand Island Cookies” in a 1909 cookbook published by the Ladies’ Aid of the Cobourg Congregational Church (a lot of Victorian cookie recipes were very plain, so I branched out to a later period). What makes them “Thousand Island”? I have no idea. My pet theory is that when they bake up they look like little granite islands – albeit without trees, grass, and million-dollar cottages on them. Here is the original recipe:

thousand island cookies

I don’t know who Mrs. Turpin was, by the way. This recipe is moderately large, and, in the tradition of old cookbooks, gives virtually no instructions on preparation, assuming that good housewives would know how to make cookies. So here below is an adapted version of the recipe that I used, with a few more directions and some photos. The main differences are that I’ve halved the recipe and substituted nuts for the raisins. But if you’re one of those people, like my sister, who actually prefers raisins to nuts in baking (blasphemy!) you can do whatever you want; you could even put in both. The amount of cloves in this recipe may seem like a lot, but I didn’t find the taste overpowering. Of course if you don’t like cloves you can reduce the amount or replace them with another spice.

One more thing: I have notoriously unscrupulous baking habits. I hardly ever measure anything accurately, I have no problem adding or substituting ingredients, and I use gut feeling to tell when things are done. So this recipe will be less-than-scientific; hopefully if you want to try it, you won’t find this a problem!

Continue reading

Hunky Guys of Kingston’s Past, Part One

It can be easy to see historical figures as people who seem somehow disconnected from a personality. Sometimes you just can’t get excited about the old guy in the portrait, despite the laurels to his name, and history starts to appear ever more dull. Well, that doesn’t always have to be the case. To spice things up a bit – inspired by this Tumblr and others – I bring you five men from Kingston and the area who not only made history, but looked great doing it. Yes, it’s Hunky Guys of Kingston’s Past!

Due to the surprising amount of stuff that these guys did in their lives, I’ve needed to break up this post into two sections. The next one will be coming shortly. They’re arranged broadly in chronological order, for lack of a better method.

Anyway, here is Part One. Enjoy!

Continue reading

Gothic Revival Architecture

Elizabeth Cottage, built by Edward Horsey c. 1846. (my photo)

Detail of Elizabeth Cottage, built by Edward Horsey c. 1846. (my photo)

This blogging hiatus isn’t going as planned, but that’s okay. I’m going to use this post as a testing ground for a paper I’ve been researching on domestic Gothic Revival architecture in the Kingston area. My argument is that Gothic Revival was an unpopular style for houses in Kingston – and more broadly, Ontario – in the nineteenth century, and exploring why that might have been. This was despite a growing interest in Gothicism in England throughout the first several decades of the nineteenth century, and a later assessment of the Gothic as somehow being an inherently Canadian style. (The British thought this too. Even though the Gothic originated in France. Anyway…)

Nineteenth-century Gothic Revival architecture often has a heavy and sober appearance, but apparently it was still too fancy for most Kingstonians in the 1840s and 50s, who preferred plain, classically-inspired designs. The only examples of secular houses making a real effort at Gothic Revival in Kingston are Elizabeth Cottage (Edward Horsey, c. 1846) and McIntosh Castle (John Power, 1852). Allen Cottage (William Coverdale, 1848), a house on Wolfe Island which was demolished some eighty years ago was another good example, except it was built for the rector of a church. I may consider it in my essay even though I’m focusing on non-church-related architecture.

In this post, I’m just going to go over some local examples of Gothic Revival and save the theory for my paper.

Continue reading

Just Some Spontaneous Human Combustion

Leeds and Grenville – it’s a spooky place. William James Topley/Library and Archives Canada/PA-008791. (click photo to go to source)

Yes, spontaneous human combustion. A look through Thaddeus Leavitt’s idiosyncratic History of Leeds and Grenville Ontario, from 1749 to 1879, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers yields a few tall tales from this region. I love folklore and legend (wish we had more of it around here to be honest) and while only one of these stories is still well-known today, the rest are enjoyable as oddities.

As usual, I’ve indicated short edits with an ellipsis . . . and long edits with an ellipsis in square brackets […]. In this case, I’ve also decided to modernize the spelling and punctuation quirks in the text.

Continue reading

Boy Soldier

Robert Clarence Thompson at age fourteen, scanned from the book xxxxx

Robert Clarence Thompson at age fourteen, scanned from the book Stories of Prince Edward County.

Robert Clarence Thompson of Prince Edward County surely must be among the youngest soldiers to serve (or who tried to serve) in the First World War. Not quite as young as twelve-year-old Sidney Lewis, who has been authenticated as the youngest British soldier to fight in the war, he still joined up at the mere age of fourteen and was on the Western Front by fifteen. I read about Thompson in the locally-published book Stories of Prince Edward County, which is a series of articles originally published in the Kingston Whig-Standard, written and collected by Alan R. Capon. I thought I had better investigate this one.

With this I stray a bit out of the realms of Kingston history, but I’m intending to include history from the surrounding areas of Kingston in this blog, so this is the first of a coming series. Anyway, it’s an interesting story.

Continue reading