This area was occupied by First Nations people who traded up and down the river. The village of Kemptville began to emerge from the forests of Oxford-on-Rideau, when Lyman Clothier bought a hundred acres on the south branch of the Rideau River in 1812. People were often buried near where they died, stored through the winter ‘til the ground softened in spring. Where human beings congregate, murder and mystery inevitably follow.
As you wander through the tranquil streets of Kemptville, and from the corner of your eye you discern movement, which upon closer scrutiny evaporates, remember all may not be how it seems. Could it be the early residents who died beneath those now still waters near the Prescott Street bridge you see? Could it be a Bigfoot moving beyond the spill of light from the lampposts? Do souls rest easy when their grave markers are tossed aside? And what are those at the next table to yours going to get up to on their way home tonight? Small towns aren’t always what they appear.
The Kreepy Kemptville Walking Tour evolved from a series of articles. Tales of death, murder and intrigue were gathered from early newspapers, legends and lore. Those who contributed wish to remain anonymous.
west of the Prescott Street Bridge
While the ‘creek’ now appears calm, a large volume of water once flowed here. During the spring thaw of 1894, four men worked to complete repairs to the grist mill. All four men were standing on a single plank that stretched from the abutment to the top most post near the corner of the mill. It suddenly gave way. One man was able to jump to safety, while the other three were swept away, along with the newly installed timbers. Neighbours responded to the screams for help. Through the heroic efforts of those on shore, two men were rescued suffering from varying levels of hypothermia. The badly battered body of Edward Jones, carpenter, was finally located in the frigid waters nearly completely covered by timbers. Men stood chest deep in icy waters shifting timbers, while someone looped a rope around one leg and Edward’s frozen body was pulled to shore.
22 Clothier Street West
Now known as Greystones, it was once known as Beckett’s Hotel. Over a hundred years ago, it was the scene of a trial that can only be described as bizarre. It was the trial of a yeti, a sasquatch, a bigfoot. the year was 1837. A ‘wild man’ was caught in the bush. He was found entirely nude with substantial hair over his entire body. He was marched before the magistrate where, it was said, he ‘did not seem to exhibit the appropriate respect for the majesty of the law.’ Having no viable alternative, he was released. ‘He took to the woods, running like a deer, and was never afterwards heard from again.’
ST. JAMES ANGLICAN CEMETERY
35 Clothier Street West
The first church was built on this site in 1831. It is unclear why this site was chosen. However records show that William Bottum, an early settler, buried his daughter Lucia here in 1812 and his first wife Marcia in 1822. Perhaps this was why he donated this section of his land. They were joined by Bessie Wood in 1825 and A. Clothier in 1830.
where Rideau Street meets Sanders Street
The origin of the name is unclear. Some vaguely remember hearing tales of a brawl in which one person brandished a knife and shouted ‘I’m going to stab you, stab you all.’ Others attribute the name to early Irish settlers who may have found the triangular intersection on a hill reminiscent of Ballydehob on the east coast of Ireland where Huguenots joined the locals against English landlords. Robert Swanton, one such landlord, known as Black-hearted Bob, attempted to take over the village with the assistance of the local garrison. “Black-hearted Bob” encountered more resistence than expected and when he tried to flee he was pursued and killed by Pierre Carrier who returned to the main battle with shouts of ‘stab ‘em! stab ‘m all!’
corner of King and Grenville Streets
This cemetery was located on what was the outskirts of Kemptville. The earliest cemeteries were built adjacent churches. Persons of faith had to be buried in ground sanctified by their church. The Union cemetery evolved when churches didn’t have land or the deceased had no particular faith. The earliest graves date to c 1840. Notable among the oldest stones are the number of children under the age of two.
CURRY STREET BURIAL GROUND
corner of Clothier Street East and James Streets
The small frame methodist church, that once shared the lot, served the community for decades, until the large brick church was built on ‘gospel hill’ at the corner of Prescott and South Victoria Street (south Reuben Crescent). The frame building was sold and moved. The monuments fell into disrepair. The grounds were challenging to maintain. Information from the headstones was noted, the stones were moved to the edges of the property, It is alleged that some of the stones found their way into private gardens. A few of the more legible stones were laid around a central obelisk and surrounded by a gated fence. The remaining headstones were buried in place. No record exists of the location of the graves. Presumably the early settlers of Kemptville rest easy despite there being no record of where their mortal remains are actually located.
corner of Prescott Street and Asa Streets
The MacPherson hotel once stood at the corner, and in 1900 was owned and operated by Chas and Catherine Banks. Their sons Lancelot, aka ‘Lol’ and Chester, operated Banks Bros. Livery behind the hotel on Asa Street. Four drunken young men entered the livery on the night of Wednesday March 6, 1901 where Lol’s 15 year old son was working the overnight shift. After being verbally and physically assaulted, he managed to escape and ran next door for his father. Lol Banks tried to eject the young men. John Garrett took up a wooden stake and struck Banks Sr. The four men left. Lol Banks struggled to his house where he died within hours. The autopsy revealed a blood clot two inches in diameter under the wound, the left eye was filled with blood causing it to bulge and once the skull cap was removed a blood clot measuring one and one-half inches, weighing six ounces was found compressing the brain. The four young men were bound over for trial. They were eventually found not guilty. The case became known far and wide as a ‘failure of justice.’
east of the Prescott Street Bridge
Just east of the Prescott Street Bridge, when houses were not equipped with flush toilets or bathtubs, it was not uncommon for people to bathe in the South Branch of the Rideau River. In june 1894, a group of fellows began to do so while many residents were still in church. They spent time near the shore. Despite warnings from friends, three decided to cross the river. The younger lads returned without mishap but noticed Edward Warren, 22, in distress midway through his return swim. Edward’s 13 year old cousin Mattie tried to rescue him, but was nearly drowned by the panicked Edward. William and Jimmie MacGregor recovered Edward’s body and helped take it to his aunt and uncle’s hotel where Edward had been employed as a bartender. Edward made his final trip home to Smith Falls on the 11:45 pm train later that night.