Posts Tagged ‘Aultsville’


The Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary, east of Morrisburg, encompasses an area that was once the site of the town of Aultsville. The village, like nearly a dozen small communities along the St. Lawrence, was flooded during the development of the St. Lawrence Seaway and hydroelectric project. The towns have been dubbed the “Lost Villages“. In the fall, when water levels are low, you can follow the hiking trails at the bird sanctuary to the part of the river where Aultsville once stood and still see foundations from the old community. Standing on the little beach, above, you can just make out the remains of a roadway running off into the water.


Looking south, you can see a row of gulls resting on foundations submerged just below water level. We met an old-timer on the beach who told us that the water level was rising again. When he had visited a couple of weeks earlier, much more of the foundations and roads were visible. He attended high school in Aultsville more than 60 years ago and still returns regularly to visit the town.

It’s a pretty spot. Looking out over the river, you can see mountains on the horizon, the Adirondack Mountains in New York State.


As I was standing on the beach, I noticed that there were lots of little shells scattered about my feet. I picked up a half a dozen of them and brought them home to look at more closely. The shells are all worn and scuffed and their original shell patterns have disappeared, but some of them were likely striped. They’re foreign invaders: zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha).


Like the flooding of the “Lost Villages”, the introduction of Zebra Mussels to the great North American inland seas is a result of the Seaway development. But while the people of the Lost Villages were relocated and moved on with their lives, the Great Lakes ecosystem has been irrevocably damaged. Native to the Black and Caspian seas, the mussels were inadvertently introduced to North America via the ballast water of ocean-going ships traversing the St. Lawrence Seaway. They were first detected in the Great Lakes in 1988, in Lake St. Clair, located between Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario.


Crayfish encrusted with zebra mussels

Young zebra mussels are small and can be easily spread by water currents. Older zebra mussels attach themselves to hard surfaces using ‘strings’, byssal threads, which come out of their hinged side. Native mussels do not attach themselves to surfaces in this manner, but bury themselves in sand. Often, the hard surface zebra mussels attach themselves to on the silty bottom of rivers and lakes belongs to a native mussel. Thus encrusted, the native mussel cannot function and dies. Thus, zebra mussels are decimating the native mussel population.


Zebra mussels cause millions of dollars worth of damage every year. For example, it will cost the city of Buffalo four to five million dollars to remove zebra mussels that are clogging the city’s water intake pipe .

Zebra mussels do have some positive impacts. For example, many native fish species eat zebra mussels. However, they do not feed heavily enough on zebra mussels to keep the populations under control.

From an initial stronghold in Lake St. Clair, zebra mussels have been widely introduced to other waterways, often as hitchhikers on recreational craft. The map below shows their range in 2008, two decades after they were first identified in the Great Lakes region. Stars indicate where zebra mussels have been found on boats on trailers, but have not been confirmed in local waterways. Yet.


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Upper Canada Village is a 60 acre re-creation of pioneer life, set on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, east of Morrisburg, Ontario. The forty heritage buildings are populated by a host of costumed interpreters who offer visitors a glimpse into Ontario’s past. One of the houses is called the Physician’s House, pictured above.


The house displays equipment typical of the early days of medicine in 1860s Ontario, when the treatment of patients was limited and crude by today’s standards. Compared to the more humble homes of other community members, such as the shoemaker, the physician’s house is quite comfortable.


One of the prettiest features of the house is the oval window in the front bedroom. The house style is recorded as Neo-Grec, a form of neoclassicism that replaced the rounded, Italianate features and flowery details of earlier Greek Revival buildings with a squarer, more geometric form.

The house wasn’t a doctor’s house in its former life, however. It was originally the home of Michael Cook, and was moved to Upper Canada Village from its location in Aultsville at the time of the Seaway expansion. Aultsville was one of the “Lost Villages” that were submerged when the St. Lawrence Seaway and International Hydro Electric project required the flooding of the region.


The former owner of the house, Michael Cook, was a man of note. A prosperous farmer in the region, he is remembered now with a marker at the Upper Canada Bird Sanctuary, near the former site of Aultsville. His achievement? In 1881, he imported the first Holstein Friesian cattle into Canada.


In 1981, the centennial of the event was commemorated on the same marker. The plaque notes that the cattle from this shipment formed the foundation of the Holstein breed in Canada. Today, about 90% of dairy cows in Canada are Holsteins.


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A Violent End by Maggie Wheeler. General Store Publishing House, 2001.

After Farran Mackenzie’s mother dies in a house fire, Farran is haunted by questions about her mother’s mysterious past and her father’s identity. Taking a sabbatical from her position as a university history professor, Farran travels to her mother’s childhood home to find answers. She ends up uncovering more than she bargained for when murder follows in the footsteps of her inquiries.

The narrative alternates between Farran’s present-day visit to the Lost Villages region and events that took place 40 years earlier when the residents of Aultsville and the other villages disrupted by the St. Lawrence Seaway project prepared for the flooding of their homes. Although based on an interesting premise, the mystery that weaves the story together is a bit transparent. The strength of the book lies with its historical aspects. Wheeler does a nice job of bring to life the events of the era immediately preceding the flooding of the St. Lawrence communities and puts a human face on the impact of the project on their lives.


In the story, Farren rents a cottage on Ault Island for the duration of her visit. After reading the book, I visited Ault Island, a little community comprised of one long road running the length of the small, land-linked island, lined with a mix of cottages, modest homes, and newer, upscale houses. It’s a lovely spot, well-treed, with a peaceful, private feel. Along the road, I encountered this deer, who didn’t seem at all alarmed by my presence.


As the St. Lawrence Seaway is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2009, this is perhaps a particularly appropriate time to look back on its early days. An engaging look at the changes the Seaway project brought is provided in DVD form by A River Lost, which makes a good followup to A Violent End. I found the story as told by Wheeler and the details presented in the video mesh well.

For more on A River Lost , visit their website. For more on A Violent End, and its sequels, visit author Maggie Wheeler’s website.


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