Lumbermen's Graves along the Madawaska River
Painting by Ruth McMillan in 1976
Shows the Head of the Rideau Canal Locks in Ottawa, Canada in 1893
April 8, 2010:
Thanks to Taylor Kennedy who sent along the following article from the Ottawa Citizen:
Ottawa Citizen - January 9, 1930
Rivermen Thought They heard Voices From The Graves at the Madawaska River
Men Who Slept At Portages of the Dangerous River Besides the Graves of the Drowned Were Always Nervous
Didn't See Ghosts, But Heard Things, - Graves Had A Sobering Effect On the Men Who Slept Near Them
On every river in this district where there are rapids, rivermen have met their deaths. If the river fatalities
since the twenties of the last century (1820's) could be known, the figures would certainly be startling.
At the rapids of the Ottawa River itself and all the tributaries of the Ottawa, on the Gatineau, the Rouge, the Blanche,
men have lost their lives in connection with the lumber trade. The game has always been a risky one for those
who engaged in it.
Those who claim to know say that no river in Eastern Canada have more men lost their lives, in proportion to the length
of the river, than on the Madawaska.
Mr. Louis Lahaise of Britannia, who worked on the Madawaska in the seventies, says there is not a rapid on
the river where there are not graves.
Even in the seventies there were many crosses and grave marks along the portages of the Madawaska. So many dead were buried
there, that the shores of the landing spots looked like miniature cemeteries. It was the custom that when a riverman was
drowned and his body found, it was buried in the open spaces at either the head or foot of the portages.
By the late seventies there were so many men buried at the various landing places, that the ascending rivermen were
forced to sleep very close to the graves. Mr. Lahaise tells of one occasion when a large gang was going up the river
in the seventies, that some of the men actually had to lie close besides the graves.
The presence of the graves with their rude crosses had a very sobering effect on the men who slept near them. On these nights
no ribald jests or loud laughter was heard. The men always conversed in quiet tones, and paid great respect to the dead.
They never knew, as Mr. Lahaise says, when they to might be buried at that spot or some other spot on the river.
The O.T.S. (Old Tyme Stuff series in the Ottawa Citizen in the 1920's and 1930's) asked Mr. Lahaise whether the men who
slept at the spots referred to have ever seen any "ghosts." "No", he replied, "but they often used to say that they heard voices -
sort of whisperings - when they woke up in the night. Often when they heard these voices they would awaken their companions
because they were afraid. Probably had they heard these voices at some place where there were no dead men, they would have
not minded. But in a cemetery - well, one can understand how it would be."
"I was a young man then, but I did not mind much, as I figured that the poor chaps who had been drowned,
wouldn't want to hurt anybody."
E-mail Allan Lewis