2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,400 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Pioneer Christmases…

Before commercialism ruined it.

merry christmas emblem

Courier and Ives - "A Road Winter." Winter was actually best for travel.
Courier and Ives – “A Road Winter.” Winter was actually best for travel.

The Christmas holiday in Canada has come a long way from the days of pioneer Canada. However, for though the tree wasn’t loaded with gifts, those small log cabins were filled with love.

Even though the Christmas tradition was well-established by the time Canada was settled by Europeans, early pioneers did not celebrate the holiday as we do today.

Most pioneer families did not put up a Christmas tree. Small log cabins held no space for such a frivolous item. Secondly, United Empire Loyalists were of English, Scottish, and Irish descent and the tradition of the Christmas tree did not originate in these countries.

The joy of selecting a tree. It was a family ritual that taught compromise.
The joy of selecting a tree. It was a family ritual that taught compromise.

The Christmas tree came to Canada with settlers from Pennsylvania who were of German descent. The idea originated in that country. It was not until Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, introduced the Christmas tree to England that United Empire Loyalists in Canada took on the tradition.

British families had a custom of hanging greens. This was more appropriate in the cabins of Upper Canada. English greens consisted of ivy, mistletoe, and holly. These were not available in Canada during the winter months, so evergreen boughs were hung and made into garland. These garlands decorated mantles, stair banisters, and exterior doorframes.

A typical Christmas kissing ball. It was an acceptable way of getting a smooch from the guy or girl you've had your eye on.
A typical Christmas kissing ball. It was an acceptable way of getting a smooch from the guy or girl you’ve had your eye on.

England had the Christmas tradition of the kissing ball. In Upper Canada, the kissing ball took a different form. A garland was woven into a hanging ball that hung from the rafters. This ball took the place of the Christmas tree.

All decorations were natural such as nuts, berries, feathers and pinecones. Cranberries and popcorn chains were made. Cranberries were plentiful in the bogs and Canada’s Native People’s had introduced popcorn. After a few years, calico bows, ribbon and lace were used. Children made figures out of straw and yarn to decorate the Christmas ball and garland. Cookie dough figurines and gingerbread men were not used to decorate the tree until after 1860.

Stockings were hung on the mantle or bedposts. If the harvest had been plentiful and the children well behaved, the stockings were filled with presents. A gingerbread man may have been included, but if so it would have been molded by hand. There were no cookie cutters, wrapping paper or cards.

Hanging stocking by christmas
Hanging stocking by christmas

Often, an apple was dropped into the stocking and possibly a treasured item such as a jack knife or cornhusk doll. Perhaps if someone in the family knew how to whittle, a wooden puzzle or figurine would be found. Wooden rocking horses were often made for small children. I once saw such a horse at an antique sale. The carver had hand-rubbed the contours of the horse to a smooth finish and had added a horse hair mane and tail. Then, he had painted eyes and a saddle. The horse was a magnificent specimen of early Canadian handcrafts.

Other toys given to children were such treasures as a homemade sled or snowshoes. These brought many hours of winter fun.

Children made gifts for their parents and siblings. Potpourri, sachet, and pomander balls were often given to both men and women. Handkerchiefs were hemmed and scarves, mittens and hats were knit. Girls as young as five-years-old could hem by hand and knit.

How happy and proud a child would be to wake up to something like this.  I may look rustic, but it was made with love.
How happy and proud a child would be to wake up to something like this. It may look rustic, but it was made with love.

If there was a nearby town or trading post, often pennies would be saved to purchase a gift of pins, needles, thimbles, threads and a pin-cushion for the lady of the house. Duck down was collected all year to make pillows and cushions.

Candy was made as well as cookies. The candy was shaped into sticks or balls and was flavored with fruit juice and peppermint.

On Christmas morning the stockings were emptied and games of hide-the-thimble or blind-man’s bluff were played. Wild turkey or goose was most often served along with mincemeat pie and plum pudding made with hand gathered fruit. I can remember Grandma baking for days before Christmas, the smell of fruitcake, mincemeat pies, and currant pudding making her kitchen a most inviting place.

The 1800’s brought many changes to the Christmas tradition both in Canada and the world. In 1800, tree ornaments began to be manufactured in Europe. In 1822, Clement Moore wrote “A Visit From Saint Nicholas,” for his family. Today, we call it “The Night Before Christmas,” and children all over the world look forward to its telling.

There was no electricity in many parts of Canada as recent as the 1950’s. I remember as a small child, going to Grandma’s for Christmas. Grandma didn’t have hydro but she did have a beautiful tree. Usually, it was spruce. Fastened on the end of each branch by a silver clip were small red and white candles. Grandma had a mold and made these candles for the tree each year.

In 1896, the T. Eaton Company of Canada produced its first Christmas catalogue. I can remember waiting with eager anticipation for both the Eatons and Simpsons Christmas books. My siblings and I would pour over the pages until they were dog-eared and tattered, trying to make our choices. We were allowed to ask for only one thing. It was a difficult choice.

Eatons quit producing a Christmas catalogue many years ago. It saddened me to see them go. Many childhood memories are of Eaton’s where my aunt worked as a seamstress..

In 1905, the T. Eaton Company of Canada started a tradition. SantaClaus arrived by wagon at the store in downtown Toronto. Malls and department stories still continue to promote the arrival of Santa Claus.

Christmas has come a long way from the days of pioneer Canada and I often think we have forgotten the true meaning of the season. It is a time of giving and sharing. A time for families. A time to give of ourselves. Even though the tree wasn’t loaded with gifts, those small log cabins were filled with love.

Merry Christmas!

 

 

Click on the logo to discover my novels. Thank you.
Click on the logo to discover my novels. Thank you.

Save the Bala Falls!

Save Bala Falls! Click on the picture of Bala Falls to sign the petitions. Thank you.
Save Bala Falls! Click on the picture of Bala Falls to sign the petitions. Thank you.

The Bala falls is the one and only iconic heritage of the charming, historic town of Bala, Ontario. It has been used as a portage by Native voyagers on their way to Lake Couchiching and back, as well as fur traders, and explorers. Its significance lies in its connection to both the past and present, and once gone it cannot be replicated or replaced.

However, now the province of Ontario, together with a ‘for-profit’ outfit, is pushing through a plan to destroy Bala Falls as we know it. Why? For the purpose of making more money.

So how much is heritage worth? To a cynical, uncaring, avaricious government, apparently not much. But to the people of Bala it is priceless.

Please sign this petition and pass it on. Thank You.

Click here to sign the petition to save Bala Falls

Oak Island, Nova Scotia … Island of Mystery

‘The money pit’

oak island mapOne summer day in 1795 Daniel McGinnis, then a teenager, was wandering about Oak Island, Nova Scotia (see Geography) when he came across a curious circular depression in the ground. Standing over this depression was a tree whose branches had been cut in a way which looked like it had been used as a pulley. Having heard tales of pirates in the area he decided to return home to get friends and return later to investigate the hole.

Over the next several days McGinnis, along with friends John Smith and Anthony Vaughan, worked the hole. What they found astonished them. Two feet below the surface they came across of layer of flagstones covering the pit. At 10 feet down they ran into a layer of oak logs spanning the pit. Again at 20 feet and 30 feet they found the same thing, a layer of logs. Not being able to continue alone from here, they went home, but with plans of returning to search more.

A topographical surbey photo of Oak Island.
A topographical surbey photo of Oak Island.

It took the three discoverers 8 years, but they did return. Along with The Onslow Company, formed for the purpose of the search, they began digging again. They quickly got back to 30 foot point that had been reached 8 years ago. They continued down to 90 feet, finding a layer of oak logs at every 10 foot interval. Besides the boards, at 40 feet a layer of charcoal was found, at 50 feet a layer of putty, and at 60 feet a layer of coconut fiber.

At 90 feet one of the most puzzling clues was found – a stone inscribed with mysterious writing.

Note: For more information about the stone inscription and to try your hand at translating the stone’s inscription go here.

After pulling up the layer of oak at 90 feet and continuing on, water began to seep into the pit. By the next day the pit was filled with water up to the 33 foot level. Pumping didn’t work, so the next year a new pit was dug parallel to the original down to 100 feet. From there a tunnel was run over to The Money Pit. Again the water flooded in and the search was abandoned for 45 years.

The Booby Trap

Another  aerial photo showing the location  of the dig.
Another aerial photo showing the location of the dig.

As it turns out, an ingenious booby trap had been sprung. The Onslow Company had inadvertently unplugged a 500 foot waterway that had been dug from the pit to nearby Smith’s Cove by the pit’s designers. As quickly as the water could be pumped out it was refilled by the sea.

This discovery however is only a small part of the intricate plan by the unknown designers to keep people away from the cache.

In 1849 the next company to attempt to extract the treasure, The Truro Company, was founded and the search began again. They quickly dug down to 86 feet only to be flooded. Deciding to try to figure out what was buried before attempting to extract it, Truro switched to drilling core samples. The drilling produced some encouraging results.

First Hints of Treasure

7th century Spanish coins  found at one time or another at the Money Pit.
7th century Spanish coins found at one time or another at the Money Pit.

At 98 feet the drill went through a spruce platform. Then it encountered 4 inches of oak and then 22 inches of what was characterized as “metal in pieces””; Next 8 inches of oak, another 22 inches of metal, 4 inches of oak and another layer of spruce. The conclusion was that they had drilled through 2 casks or chests filled will coins. Upon pulling out the drill they found splinters of oak and strands of what looked like coconut husk.

One account of the drilling also mentions that three small gold links, as from a chain, were brought up. Unfortunately no one knows where they have gone.

Interestingly, the earth encountered beneath the bottom spruce platform was loose indicating that the pit may have gone even deeper. A later group of searchers would find out how much deeper.

The Truro Company returned in 1850 with plans to dig another parallel hole and then tunnel over to the Money Pit. Just like before, as they tunneled over, water began to rush in. They brought in pumps to try to get rid of the water but it was impossible to keep the water out. During the pumping someone noticed that at Smith’s Cove during low tide there was water coming OUT of the beach.

This find lead to an amazing discovery – the beach was artificial.

Artificial Beach

It turns out that the pit designers had created a drain system, spread over a 145 foot length of beach, which resembled the fingers of a hand. Each finger was a channel dug into the clay under the beach and lined by rocks. The channels were then filled with beach rocks, covered with several inches of eel grass, and then covered by several more inches of coconut fiber. The effect of this filtering system was that the channels remained clear of silt and sand while water was still allowed to flow along them. The fingers met at a point inland where they fed sea water into a sloping channel which eventually joined the Money Pit some 500 feet away. Later investigations showed this underground channel to have been 4 feet wide, 2 1/2 feet high, lined with stone, and meeting the Money Pit between the depths of 95 to 110 feet.

To the Truro Company, the answer was now simple – just block off the water flow from the beach and dig out the treasure. Their first attempt was to build a dam just off the beach at Smith’s Cove, drain the water, and then dismantle the drain channels. Unfortunately a storm blew up and destroyed the dam before they could finish.

An interesting note: the remains of an older dam were found when building the new one.

The next plan was to dig a pit 100 feet or so inland in the hopes of meeting with the water channel underground at which point they could plug the channel. This scheme too failed. And this was the last attempt by the Truro company to uncover the secrets of Oak Island.

The Pit’s Collapse

The next attempt at securing the treasure was made in 1861 by the Oak Island Association. First they cleared out the Money Pit down to 88 feet. Then they ran a new hole to the east of the pit hoping to intercept the channel from the sea. The new shaft was dug out to120 feet without hitting the channel and then abandoned.

A second shaft was run, this one to west, down to 118 feet. They then attempted to tunnel over to the Money Pit. Again the water started to enter this pit as well as the Money Pit. Bailing was attempted and appeared to work. And then

CRASH!

The bottom fell out. Water rushed into the shafts and the bottom of the Money Pit dropped over 15 feet. Everything in the Money Pit had fallen farther down the hole. The big questions were why and how far?

Over the next several years different companies tried to crack the mystery unsuccessfully. They dug more shafts, tried to fill in the drain on the beach, built a new dam (which was destroyed by a storm), and drilled for more core samples. They met with little success.

The Cave-in Pit

In 1893 a man named Fred Blair along with a group called The Oak Island Treasure Company began their search. Their first task was to investigate the “Cave-in Pit”. Discovered in 1878 about 350 feet east of the Money Pit, the cave-in pit appears to have been a shaft dug out by the designers of the Money Pit perhaps as a ventilation shaft for the digging of the flood tunnel. It apparently intersected or closely passed the flood tunnel. While it was being cleared by the Treasure Company it started to flood at a depth of 55 feet and was abandoned.

Over the next several years The Oak Island Treasure Company would dig more shafts, pump more water, and still get nowhere. In 1897 they did manage to clear out the Money Pit down to 111 feet where they actually saw the entrance of the flood tunnel temporarily stopped up with rocks. However, the water worked its way through again and filled the pit.

The treasure company then decided that they would attempt to seal off the flow of water from Smith’s Cove by dynamiting the flood tunnel. Five charges were set off in holes drilled near the flood tunnel. They didn’t work. The water flowed into the Money Pit as rapidly as ever.

At the same time a new set of core samples were drilled at the pit itself. The results were surprising.

Cement Vault

At 126 feet, wood was struck and then iron. This material is probably part of the material that fell during the crash of the Pit. On other drillings the wood was encountered at 122 feet and the iron was missed completely indicating that the material may be laying in a haphazard way due to the fall.

Between 130 and 151 feet and also between 160 and 171 feet a blue clay was found which consisted of clay, sand, and water. This clay can be used to form a watertight seal and is probably the same “putty”; that was found at the 50 foot level of the Pit.

The major find was in the gap between the putty layers. A cement vault was discovered. The vault itself was 7 feet high with 7 inch thick walls. Inside the vault the drill first struck wood, then a void several inches high and an unknown substance. Next a layer of soft metal was reached, then almost 3 feet of metal pieces, and then more soft metal.

When the drill was brought back up another twist was added to the whole mystery. Attached to the auger was a small piece of sheepskin parchment with the letters “vi”; “ui”; or “wi”; What the parchment is a part of is still in question.

More convinced than ever that a great treasure was beneath the island, The Treasure Company began sinking more shafts in the attempts to get to the cement vault. They all met with failure due to flooding.

2nd Flood Tunnel

In May of 1899, yet another startling discovery was made. There was a second flood tunnel! This one was located in the South Shore Cove. The designers had been more ingenious and had done more work than previously thought. Though this find certainly strengthened the case that something valuable was buried below it didn’t bring anyone closer to actually finding the treasure.

Blair and The Oak Island Treasure Company continued to sink new shafts and drill more core samples, but no progress was made and no new information obtained.

Between 1900 and 1936 several attempts were made to obtain the treasure. All met with no success.

Stone Fragment

In 1936 Gilbert Hadden, in conjunction with Fred Blair, began a new investigation of the island. Hadden cleared some of the earlier shafts near the Pit and made plans for exploratory drilling the next summer. However, he made two discoveries away from the Pit.

The first was a fragment of a stone bearing inscriptions similar to those found on the inscribed stone discovered at the 90 foot level of the Money Pit. The second discovery was of several old timbers in Smith’s Cove. These timbers seem to have been from the original designers due to the fact that they were joined using wooden pins rather than metal. As will be seen later these timbers were only a small part of a much larger construction.

Mystery Deepens

The next treasure hunter was Erwin Hamilton. He began his search in 1938 by clearing out previous shafts and doing some exploratory drilling. In 1939 during drilling two more discoveries were made. The first was the finding of rocks and gravel at 190 feet. According to Hamilton they were foreign and therefore placed there by someone. The second finding came after clearing out an earlier shaft down to 176 feet. At this point a layer of limestone was encountered and drilled through. The drilling brought up oak splinters. Apparently there was wood BELOW the natural limestone.

Tragedy Strikes

In 1959 Bob Restall and his family began their attack on the island which ultimately proved tragic.

His one discovery was made on the Smith’s Cove beach while attempting to stop the drain system. He found a rock with “1704” inscribed on it. Though others believed it was prank left by a previous search team, Restall believed it was from the time of the original construction.

In 1965 tragedy struck. While excavating a shaft Bob passed out and fell into the water at the bottom. His son, Bobbie, attempted to rescue him as did two of the workers. All four apparently were overcome by some sort of gas, perhaps carbon monoxide from a generator, passed out and drowned.

Heavy Machines

Bob Dunfield was the next to take on the island. In 1965 he attempted to solve the problem with heavy machinery – bulldozers and cranes. He attempted to block the inflow of water at Smith’s Cove, and may have succeeded. Then on the south side of the island an trench was dug in the hope of intercepting the other water tunnel and blocking it off. The flood tunnel wasn’t found, but an unknown refilled shaft was found, possible one dug by the designers of the Pit. The shaft apparently went down to 45 and stopped, its purpose is unknown.

Dunfield’s other findings were based on drilling. It was determined that at 140 feet there was a 2 foot thick layer of limestone and then a forty foot void. At the bottom of the void was bedrock. This information matched with a drilling done back in 1955. There seemed to a large, natural underground cavern, something apparently common with limestone around the world.

Recent Discoveries

Daniel Blankenship, the current searcher, began his quest in 1965. In 1966 he dug out more of the original shaft found by Bob Dunfield in 1965. It turned out that the shaft did go beyond 45 feet. Blankenship found a hand-wrought nail and a washer at 60 feet. At 90 feet he met a layer of rocks in stagnant water. He assumed this was part of the south water tunnel but couldn’t explore further because the shaft could not be stopped from caving in.

A pair of wrought-iron scissors were discovered in 1967 buried below the drains at Smith’s Cove. It was determined that the scissors were Spanish-American, probably made in Mexico, and they were up to 300 years old. Also found was a heart shaped stone.

Smith’s Cove revealed some more secrets in 1970 to Triton Alliance, a group formed by Blankenship to continue the search. While Triton was building a new cofferdam they discovered the remains of what appeared to be the original builders’ cofferdam. The findings included several logs 2 feet thick and up to 65 feet long. They were marked every four feet with Roman numerals carved in them and some contained wooden pins or nails. The wood has been carbon dated to 250 years ago.

The western end of the island has also revealed several items. Two wooden structures, along with wrought-iron nails and metal straps were found at the western beach. Nine feet below the beach a pair of leather shoes were unearthed.

Borehole 10-X

The next major discoveries came in 1976 when Triton dug what is known as Borehole 10-X, a 237 foot tube of steel sunk 180 feet northeast of the Money Pit. During the digging several apparently artificial cavities were found down to 230 feet (see: drilling results).

A camera lowered down to a bedrock cavity at 230 feet returned some amazing images. At first a severed hand could be seen floating in the water. Later three chests (of the treasure type I would presume) and various tools could be made out. Finally a human body was detected.

After seeing the images, the decision was made to send divers down for a look. Several attempts were made but strong current and poor visibility made it impossible to see anything.

Soon after the hole itself collapsed and has not been reopened.

Today

Blankenship and Triton still continue the quest.

Click on the logo to discover my novels. Thank you.
Click on the logo to discover my novels. Thank you.

Source: ‘Mysterious and Unexplained.’

Save the Bala Falls!

Save Bala Falls! Click on the picture of Bala Falls to sign the petitions. Thank you.
Save Bala Falls! Click on the picture of Bala Falls to sign the petitions. Thank you.

The Bala falls is the one and only iconic heritage of the charming, historic town of Bala, Ontario. It has been used as a portage by Native voyagers on their way to Lake Couchiching and back, as well as fur traders, and explorers. Its significance lies in its connection to both the past and present, and once gone it cannot be replicated or replaced.

However, now the province of Ontario, together with a ‘for-profit’ outfit, is pushing through a plan to destroy Bala Falls as we know it. Why? For the purpose of making more money.

So how much is heritage worth? To a cynical, uncaring, avaricious government, apparently not much. But to the people of Bala it is priceless.

Please sign this petition and pass it on. Thank You.

Click here to sign the petition to save Bala Falls