Saturday, June 28, 2008

Ottawa Sightseeing and ATLA Day 4

This is my last full day in Ottawa, and today was the last day of the conference. Before I talk about the conference, I have to mention the Haunted Walk of Ottawa. The Haunted Walk is one of those walking (duh) tours where the guide shows you places that are allegedly haunted, and also talks about other nearby haunted places. This of course is the perfect tour for me.

The tour started on Rue Sparks. Our tour guide was a young woman named Dana, who did a good job of telling the stories, and also navigating us around the jazz festival that is taking place in town. The first site she discussed was Rue Sparks and the surrounding area itself. The post office on the corner of Sparks and Elgin was the site of an old graveyard where cholera victims were buried. There were few records of the burials, so when the current set of buildings were built, the city moved as many bodies as they could find. Of course, bodies were still turning up in the 1970s, so the chances that there are still more bodies underneath the street is pretty good. She told us about the Chateau Laurier, a castle-like hotel that has a haunted 5th floor (dang, I knew I should have stayed there), the oldest building in Ottawa which used to be a doctor's house, and is now a restaurant (Friday's—no relation to the American chain), the old city hall, the old Normal School, and the old barracks that served as a high school in the early 20th century. She walked us along the Rideau Canal, and told a story about a haunted house in a nearby town, and also about some haunted log cabins near the river. Our final stop on the tour was the Bytown Museum, which is believed to be haunted by an old shopkeeper. The latter is supposed to be scary enough that even the founder of the Haunted Walk was freaked out by his experiences there in the evening. She also told us about the old jail, which is part of the Ghostly Gallows tour given by the same group. The jail is also supposed to be very scary. Dana said that her employers want her to learn that tour so she can give it, but she actually doesn't want to—she's freaked out by the jail every time she goes in there. Naturally, I wanted to visit both the jail AND the Bytown Museum. On the walk, I met a former Ottawa resident named Maria, who was also a veteran of the Canadian military. She pointed out some places to me, and also told me a few stories of her own.

Needless to say I got in late on Friday night, and was not moving too fast on Saturday morning. I went to one ATLA conference session, given by Chris Anderson of Drew University. Chris works in the Methodist Archives, and currently wears many hats with regard to the archives and special collections at Drew. I introduced myself, as I work right across the street (and I'm also a Drew alum who uses their library for research quite frequently). He gave a presentation on the history of lantern slides, including their uses in missionary work among different Protestant denominations. The way that the “magic lanterns” provided special effects was pretty cool, although the lanterns themselves were quite dangerous. Some of the slides contained nitrate, the projectors were very hot, and the projectionist was often in a room made of asbestos. The room would sometimes explode under these conditions, setting fire to the theater and killing the projectionist instantly. It's no wonder that 35mm projectors became a popular replacement in the early twentieth century. A couple of librarians from the Burke Theological Library showed a rotting and ill-organized collection of lantern slides that they were trying to get their hands on to properly preserve. The slides are in the theological school, but do not belong to the library. Another librarian from Yale showed some of the lantern slides from the East depicting life in the Asian countries where the missionaries were working. There was a quick discussion of preserving and handling lantern slides, and also a business meeting for the special collections interest group.

After this presentation, I went to the Bytown Museum, to see for myself if I thought it might be haunted. (We're expecting thunderstorms here tonight, so the Ghostly Gallows tour is out, unfortunately). The museum shows the development of Ottawa around the building of the Rideau Canal by Colonel By. It was originally developed as an outpost during the War of 1812, when the “American threat” faced Canada in the U.S.'s war with Britain. Thus answering the question regarding the last time anyone in the U.S. seriously thought of invading Canada. The museum itself was interesting, and had some real historical rarities from Ottawa history. As to the haunted part—naturally I am not equipped to make a scientific assessment, but if I was to go on my intuition, I would say that something seems to be going on there. When I walk into a place that seems to have paranormal activity, I tend to feel a buzzing in my head and a tight, swirling feeling in my chest. This does not happen in every reputedly haunted place; in fact, it's pretty rare for me to feel it. I did feel it when I examined the first floor of the museum. There is a basement area just outside the main room of the first floor, where there is a mannequin dressed in 19th century clothing, and some old trunks, in what appears to be some kind of display, but there is no description. When I stepped back there, the feeling was very strong, and I heard footsteps behind me. I turned around to see a winding staircase, but it was clearly a leftover from another time, because it didn't go anywhere except into the wall. I heard steps on the staircase, but no one was there. I left that room and went upstairs to the other two floors. I didn't experience anything upstairs at all.

After visiting the Bytown Museum, I went to Darcy McGee's for lunch, and then returned to my room and collapsed. It was raining pretty steadily outside by this point, so I didn't feel like running around town. I've enjoyed Ottawa, but I am looking forward to getting back home.

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