Seaway Inundation Memories: Part II

The above photo, dated July 2, 1958, looks north-west over Iroquois, showing the area cleared for flooding. Photo courtesy of the Lost Villages Historical Society collection.

IROQUOIS – “What do I miss most? I miss that you used to know everyone in the town, all the families and all their kids. Now that’s been lost. The memories of the old community are fading as the old families leave or die off.”

Rick Roberts was one of the local people who came out to the Iroquois beach on July 1, 2018, to share his memories of the great Inundation Day back in 1958, when the coffer dam blew, and the new Seaway was born.

The gathering at the Beach was organized by members of the Iroquois Waterfront Committee, under chair Jim Wilson. Main panel members were Lorne Strader, Jim Millard, Mike McInnis, Scott Robertson and Bonnie Adair, with Howard Kirkby acting as moderator.

At the end of the more formal presentations that day, people attending the meeting were invited to come to the mic and share their stories as well.

In part two of The Leader’s special series on the Great Inundation, here are their memories.

“There used to be around 13 Roberts families in this area,” Rick said. “Now we’re down to about two. With the loss of the old families, I imagine there are a lot of people in the town of Iroquois today who don’t even know the historic connections of our street names. That’s something I really miss, those connections.”

Rick recalled the happy summer homes that people once had all along the waterfront. He talked about the beaches and the orchards which all disappeared in the inundation. He even remembered the Rapids Prince that used to dock in town on a Saturday night.

“You knew everybody in the Old Town,” he said. “There was Mr. McCallahan who drove this team of beautiful horses, and used to pick up the town garbage. There was the man who delivered ice almost every day to our family ice boxes. We kids ran behind his wagon and grabbed the ice chips that fell off. It was just a lot of fun for us.”

Sarah (Grisdale) Lawson remembered October of 1957.

“We had our usual Thanksgiving dinner in our old house in the Old Town. When I came back in 1958, everything had changed. My home had been razed. Now there’s a red buoy out in the river right about where my house used to be. My dad sold his farm, and then he moved to Toronto. It was a huge change in all our lives.”

Perry Stacey’s family lived about a mile west on the Broken Second. He was a classmate of Bonnie Adair.

“The old Iroquois High School, its north side overlooked the CNR tracks,” Perry recalled, “and the south side looked out over the river. I remember a lot of really good times in the last grade 12 class. I also remember that as the Seaway progressed, there was this sign on the boathouse road, maybe eight feet by ten feet, that read We Have To Go, But Watch Us Grow.”

Pat Fawcett-Ault laughed that she used to be Howard Kirkby’s baby sitter, up at the old Point. “A little creek ran between my house and his house at the Iroquois Point. There was a really nice group of people who lived up there: we could walk across the locks and the weir to visit each other’s families. It was a wonderful place to grow up.

Now, there are almost no photos, even, left of the homes and gardens on the old Point.”

Joan Serviss Tupper recalled the day of the move as one of tragedy for her family. Just a teen, she was home with her younger brother, and the two of them had to deal with the movers and the big machine on the day theirs, almost the last house in the Town, had to be moved.

Her parents were both in Kingston at the side of her 16 year-old-brother, who was dying.

“I had to carry out the move,” she said. “I only have a photo of our house being moved.”

Randy Veinotte was too young to recall the day of the Inundation, but he fondly recalled an employee of his father’s company, Glenn Disheau, telling stories of the Seaway on Friday nights after work.

“Glen owned a garage east of Morrisburg and he had a wrecker with a winch. On the Inundation Day, somebody got into an aggressive mood and drove way out into the water and sat all day, watching it rise. But when he finally decided to drive out, his car was stuck fast.

Glenn had to drive his truck to the edge of the flood, wade out in water up to his chest, attach the winch to this trapped car, and drag it ashore. The way he told the story, it was hilarious.”

Doris Willard Serviss, who has moved back into the area after a number of years, had mixed memories of the whole Seaway construction.

“My parents ran a tourist home, with cottages and an inn. It was a lucrative business on the river, one they’d kept going through the Great Depression and World War II. Then their land was expropriated for the Seaway, and our family home ultimately burned down by Hydro.

My dad took it very hard when he and my mom were basically forced into retirement. Hydro gave people no settlement for their futures. They were never really recompensed for the years lost as well as the land, like so many people at that time. All gone and what was left was bare, muddy ground, no trees or grass for several years.”

Now, 60 years later, there are few signs of what used to be the Old Towns of Morrisburg and Iroquois. And villages like Wales, Farran’s Point, Aultsville and Mille Roches have vanished from everything but memory.

But something of the old world still exists in a way, underneath the very waters that flooded this area six decades ago.

“Go up in a small plane, if you can,” Randy Veinotte said. “From the air, through the river water, you can still see the locks, the canals, the old roads and the foundations of homes and buildings. They’re still there and still clear.”

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