ECHOES OF THE PAST
Phantom Light on Lakes Once Talk of the Town
Carleton Place Canadian, 07 March, 1963
By James Sidney Annable
A mysterious red light was seen for a week one summer moving high over the lower Mississippi Lake at night near Carleton Place. Evidently it was a windy week. This phenomenon was recalled in a series of old time yarns, some possibly including stray “Believe-it-or-not” incidents, written twenty five years ago by J. Sid Annable, then of Ottawa.
Two incidents on the Mississippi here in that year, as remembered by him, were the introduction of sailing catamarans and also the excitement created by the phantom light. He was a young Carleton Place boy at the time and had a leading part in promoting the flurry of excitement, recounted here as he described it.
“In the summer of 1883 when catamarans became numerous on the Mississippi River and Lower Lake, the elite of Carleton Place were all agog over the appearance of the first pontoon craft called the ‘Kattermeran’. It was constructed on two cigar shaped floats with a platform and a fancy railing two feet high. In the center was a mast sail and a jib. A rudder was built at the rear with an arm attached for steering.
This new pleasure craft was designed to carry ten or twelve people. It was equipped with comfortable rattan chairs. The proud owners of the strange craft were William Pattie and Alex Sibbitt. It became the envy of all the poor lads in the neighbourhood who had to be content with flat-bottomed monitors or log canoes made out of ash and basswood by the well known Indian brothers, Johnny and Joe Bay, on their reserve at Indian Landing. They were the noted basket makers of that period. Their colored hampers and clothes baskets were sold on Main Street by Eli Hutchings, Jimmy Weeks and Jim Sumner. Usually the Indians traded their wares to the merchants for food.
Just a mile away was Allen’s Point, now Lake Park, with one lone shack erected by the writer as a bunk house when pike fishing through the ice was his favorite pastime. This shack was a two room affair equipped with bunks for beds and an old fashioned ‘Forest Beauty’ stove for warmth and cooking, made by David Findlay of Carleton Place.
My chum ‘Peck” Wilkie and I used this shack as the base of operation in constructing a huge box kite. We had little difficulty in building the frame of old cedar rail material from the line fence of Bill Duff’s farm. Our kite was three feet wide and six feet long, covered with cheesecloth with glue sizing brushed on. The tail was six feet long. A wire was fastened to the nose to attach our twine and to make a perfect balance. To fly the kite as high as possible we bought five pounds of binder twine.
We then made a windlass with a crank on each side, placing a leather brake on to control it. Then we made a rack on the seat of our rowboat, fastened the twine, rowed out on the lake and hoisted our kite in a successful test.
TALK OF THE TOWN
That night we attached a railroad lantern to the tail of the kite and sent her up. The red light showing brightly in the sky caused quite a sensation. After people were all in their beds we brought our kite down and tucked it away for another night’s fun. Next day everyone in Carleton Place was talking about the mysterious light in the sky over the lake. The Carleton papers had a front page story, and the next night people came from Almonte and nearby villages in horse and buggy to investigate the strange phenomenon.
After a week of this, old Charlie Glover, crack rifle shot of the village, rowed up to Nagle’s Bay to take a pot shot at our mysterious light. We kept the kite moving and he wasted many shots before he made a lucky hit. Down came our kite in the lake, but the boatmen who set out in search of it failed to locate it. The next morning we retrieved it ourselves in the rice bed, some distance in from the edge. Our fun was at an end, someone spoke out of turn and let the cat out of the bag.
The frame of this kite was in the attic of William Wilkie’s home for a long time. W. W. Cliff, editor of the Central Canadian, published the story in 1884, picturing ‘Peck’ Wilkie as the Peck’s bad boy of the village. Some years later Peck Wilkie was drowned in the pond on the Boston Common.
Other owners of Catamarans on the Mississippi were Ad. Peden, James Gillies and Adam Dunlop. The fad was short lived, however, owing to the hard work of rowing home after the wind went down.”