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A Home for Hockey – The York Street Arena

By Liam Kishinevsky

Please note, the following blog post draws from Murray Kelsey’s extensive 40 page article, “Hockey in Napanee, and Napanee District Minor Hockey” (March-October 2023), a copy of which is at the Archives of Lennox and Addington. Please contact the Archives for more. To read more about the history of hockey in Napanee, please read my previous blog post “A Brief History of Hockey in Napanee,” that also draws from Kelsey’s article. And, finally, to read more about the building of the York Street Arena as reported by the historical local newspapers, see Jim Sova’s blog post, Napanee Arena, Adding the Colour.

Building the New Arena

In 1954, a Community Centre Fundraising Campaign was announced with plans to build an artificial ice rink. The goal was to raise $131,500, with local businesses and citizens firmly behind the venture (and the Campaign asking citizens for $0.10 a week).  The project began after $105,000 was raised, with local figures like Bruce McPherson Sr. of Gibbard frame being instrumental in raising the money needed to build the structure (while also acting as chairman of the fundraising drive).  The Rotary Club also supported the venture, spotting an initial $5000 for the project.  All funds were raised without debts or tax-money, and the building was open for the 1955-56 hockey season.  The Comets would begin to play here, and there are references in the Napanee Beaver to kids’ hockey teams playing here as well.  In 1956, the Napanee Beaver reported that the Lions Club Hockey League had six under-18 teams, as well as a bevy of under-20 and under-23 teams as well.  It cost $50 per game to rent the ice, with the ‘Industrial League’ paying only $25 per game.

Photo Courtesy of the Lennox and Addington Archives A1976.P0819 – Here we can see a photo from the opening night of the York Street Arena. Note the multitude of people who came to see its inauguration.
Photo Courtesy of the Archives of Lennox and Addington, A1976.P0819 – Here we can see a photo from the opening night of the York Street Arena. Note the multitude of people who came to see its inauguration.
The Origin of Hockey in Napanee

A view of the York Street Arena in 1973 shows its intense usage and importance to the community of Napanee.  Improvements were made, and the roof was now lined with banners thanks to the success of minor hockey teams, as well as the Comets.  Hockey players from the community were able to meet here and facilitate the skills needed to then travel, develop their teamwork capabilities, and meet others from varying walks of life, an opportunity not always afforded to those of this time.  For example, in 1974, a Minor Hockey team from Napanee was able to visit and play in Sweden. 

Dave Fox managed the York Street Arena in 1974 and suggested the construction of a second ice rink in the municipality of Napanee.  The teams relied heavily on volunteer and community support, as there was a need for people to organize sporting schedules, prepare uniforms, fill coaching positions, deal with complaints, balance budgets, set fees, and time-keep.  Also, lots of energy went into fundraising by volunteers, often taking the form of bake sales, skate-a-thons, raffles, bottle drives, 50-50 tickets, phone book deliveries, contests to win vehicles, as well as sponsor donation.  Managing these “rep” and “house” leagues required the efforts of Executive members of the Napanee Minor Hockey Association, as well as organizations like the Mother’s Auxiliary.  Logos changed and provided people on the road with a sense of local affiliation as well.  Starting with a simpler black and white logo in the 1980s, the letter “N” would start to become synonymous with hockey in Napanee through to the 2010’s.

Photo courtesy of Douglas, Don. The Napanee Beaver, Wednesday October 17th, 1973. In this photo, you can see the many hanging banners which celebrate the accomplishments of local Napannean hockey teams. Further, this photo was taken when the arena had just made some improvements, like a new ice-making machine, new dressing rooms, new ‘boards,’ and a new clock/timing equipment. Also, the tobacco ad on the center-frame clock represents some of the sponsorships that went into the funding of the arena and hockey in Napanee
Photo courtesy of Douglas, Don. The Napanee Beaver, Wednesday October 17th, 1973. In this photo, you can see the many hanging banners which celebrate the accomplishments of local Napannean hockey teams. Further, this photo was taken when the arena had just made some improvements, like a new ice-making machine, new dressing rooms, new ‘boards,’ and a new clock/timing equipment. Also, the tobacco ad on the center-frame clock represents some of the sponsorships that went into the funding of the arena and hockey in Napanee
The Strathcona Centre

In the 2000s, a large change came in the form of local leagues.  During the early days,
there would be maybe four peewee teams in the house league.  They did not travel and would play on York Street every week.  But, these teams started playing each other while travelling out-of-town to play ‘house league’ games in areas such as Frontenac, Gananoque, Tamworth, Stirling, Picton, Wellington, Amherstview, and Desoronto. These changes became part of the impetus for a new place of play. On September 4th, 2004, the Strathcona Paper Centre arena was opened near Highway
401 to replace the York Street Arena, with a large financial backing from sponsors and citizens.  It housed two ice-rinks (200 feet by 85 feet) in a 93,350 square foot multi-purpose
complex.  The arena can seat 1000 spectators on the Goodyear pad and has 200 bench seats in the Home Hardware section.  The center also houses a banquet hall, capable of hosting meetings, presentations, vendor sales, and wedding receptions.

Photo Courtesy of Kelsey, Murray. “Hockey in Napanee, and Napanee District Minor Hockey.” The Archives of Lennox and Addington (March-October 2023): Pp. 37. – This is a photo of the Strathcona Paper Centre taken by Murray Kelsey, showing the scope of the new arena.
Photo Courtesy of Kelsey, Murray. “Hockey in Napanee, and Napanee District Minor Hockey.” The Archives of Lennox and Addington (March-October 2023): p. 37. – This is a photo of the Strathcona Paper Centre taken by Murray Kelsey, showing the scope of the new arena.
The Arena on Fire

Tragically, the York Street Arena, which had served the community from 1955-2014, came to an untimely end.  A fire and explosion on October 23rd, 2023 burned the structure completely, with firefighters from Napanee, Loyalist County, and Kingston fighting to save the nearby Curling Club and residential buildings.  The arena was beyond repair, with residents even finding roof fragments on Simcoe Street (over a block away from the blast).  The event was declared an arson attack, with a fire at about the same time destroying a garage and vehicle in Yarker, at the home of a Fair Board Executive. 

However, Napanee is a resilient community, capable of weathering this hardship and thriving in its midst, a sentiment verified through Murray Kelsey’s statements on hockey in Napanee, as he says that “change is constant… the Executive always needs volunteers, tries to keep costs down, and struggles to please everyone.  The OMHA, which makes rules, sometimes conflicts with parent expectations.  Player safety, league composition, changing playoff formats, and at what age should players play ‘real games’ are a few of the present issues… [but] certainly, Napanee District Minor Hockey has been a driving force in the area… I am sure when you read this, minor hockey in Napanee will still be thriving.”

Source: Kelsey, Murray. “Hockey in Napanee, and Napanee District Minor Hockey.” The Archives of Lennox and Addington (March-October 2023): Pp. 1-40.

A Brief History of Hockey in Napanee

By Liam Kishinevsky

Please note, the following blog post draws from and builds on Murray Kelsey’s extensive 40 page article, “Hockey in Napanee, and Napanee District Minor Hockey” (March-October 2023), a copy of which is at the Archives of Lennox and Addington. Please contact the Archives for more.

Athletics in Napanee

It is a mystery as to when Napanee’s District Minor Hockey Association was formed, however, hockey and skating were local pastimes long before its creation, as frozen ponds and the Napanee River facilitated day-long ventures of skating and winter sports.  Sports were an important facet of life in Napanee, with the Archives of Lennox and Addington referencing an early curling rink in 1914, the Napanee Snow Shoe Club in 1885, a tobogganing club in 1886, the Napanee Tennis Club in 1889, the Napanee Cricket Club in 1900, the Napanee Golf Club in 1908, the Napanee Hockey Team in 1914-15, and Gibbard’s Hockey Team in 1916.

[Above featured photo: Courtesy of the Archives of Lennox and Addington, A1977.P0511 – A photo of the Enterprise Hockey Team, showing an early example of recreational hockey being played on local ponds and rivers.]

The Origin of Hockey in Napanee

In 1913, the Napanee Beaver highlighted the Napanee Collegiate Hockey team, which played in the Quinte High School League (though it is unclear where they played their home games).  Organized Junior hockey had its roots in the 1960’s with teams like the Comets, the Napanee Red Wings, the Kelly Tiremen, and the Warriors.  However, the Napanee Beaver references games played earlier by an Intermediate B-OHA team, with a team from Napanee playing at Queen’s University in the 1940s.  The Napanee Comets played at the A-Level in 1955, but found greater success at the intermediate C-Level from 1958-60, as they were able to import players, and ended up winning three titles.  Further, player and coach Walt Gerow was an excellent scout, able to find players that would help Napanee against the World Champion Whitby Dunlops, only losing to them by one point (10-9).  Their success showed, and in 1959, when Napanee’s population was only around 4000, the Comets drew a crowd of around 1800 people.

The Changing Nature of Napanee's Hockey Teams

From 1960-65, the Napanee Red Wings led the way in Junior C hockey (changing their name to the Kelly Tiremen in 1966-79 while playing in the Eastern League).  In 1980-86, they became known as the Warriors, with sponsorships from Chapmans, as well as Napanee Brick and Tile.  However, due to league changes, there was nowhere to play until 1990.  When locals in Napanee got a deal on some Raiders sweaters, and were then known as the Napanee Raiders, playing in the newly re-formed Eastern Ontario Junior C League (with the league becoming known as Empire B in 1997, and then the Tod Division of the Provincial League in 2016).  A moment of glory came in 1993, as Napanee won the championship by beating Hanover in the finals.

International Spectacle
In the 1950s, spectacle came to Napanee, as the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings played the Comets at the York Street Arena, something foreshadowed in 1933, when a Detroit Red Wings signed stick was sent to the Gibbard Athletic Club by Jack Adams.  Jack married a local from Napanee named Helen Trimble, creating a connection that would last a generation.  Jack also promised to bring the Red Wings to Napanee if they constructed a rink, and once they did, he brought the Red Wings twice. On February 27th, 1958, the Detroit Red Wings were met in Napanee with fanfare and crowds pouring out from the train station.  Gifts were exchanged, and the Red Wings went on to beat Napanee 11-3.  Detroit would return in 1959, met by 1500 school children. After an exhibition match, the Red Wings played the Napanee Comets, beating them 13-1, with all proceeds from the evening being donated to the Napanee Minor Hockey Association.
Photo Courtesy of Kelsey, Murray. “Hockey in Napanee, and Napanee District Minor Hockey.” The Archives of Lennox and Addington (March-October 2023): p. 5. – This photo is of an advertisement for the arrival of the Detroit Red Wings, and their game against Napanee. Further, the placement of Detroit’s name on this poster shows the importance Napanee felt by having an original NHL team come to play.
Technological Changes

Hockey in Napanee was slow to embrace the technological age, with the first digital master Registry List of players created in the 1990s (on a ‘floppy disc’). Agendas and minutes of meetings were printed as hard copies, and not usually filed for later reference. Timekeeping and scoring were done on paper, containing information about standings, playoff pairings, and other pertinent information.  Files would eventually become electronic, and by 2019, time keeping and scoring using ‘iPads,’ as well as other tablets, brought technology to the forefront of hockey in Napanee.  Another noticeable change from the 1990s-2000s was the emergence of infrastructure geared towards women’s hockey, as the opening of a new arena in 2004 saw the rise of the Napanee Crunch Organization (created solely for women players).  This did, in turn, leave some Napanee men’s teams lacking a highly talented female player (as up until this point, women would play on men’s teams, though in numbers that often misrepresented their importance).

Photo Courtesy of Kelsey, Murray. “Hockey in Napanee, and Napanee District Minor Hockey.” The Archives of Lennox and Addington (March-October 2023): Pp. 27. – This photo shows two things that are influential to hockey in Napanee. First, it shows the changes to technology in the scoring of hockey games, being done via tablet rather than scorecard. Second, it shows the importance of local volunteers to the infrastructural operations of hockey games in Napanee.
Photo Courtesy of Kelsey, Murray. “Hockey in Napanee, and Napanee District Minor Hockey.” The Archives of Lennox and Addington (March-October 2023): Pp. 27. – This photo shows two things that are influential to hockey in Napanee. First, it shows the changes to technology in the scoring of hockey games, being done via tablet rather than scorecard. Second, it shows the importance of local volunteers to the infrastructural operations of hockey games in Napanee.
Hockey During the pandemic

Like most of Canada, hockey in Napanee would be affected and halted by the Covid Pandemic. The Finals for the 2020 series were not held, only reconvening in 2021, as the OMHA Championship was initiated for regional winners to play for the championship title.  With the World Junior Championships having just happened, one can only hope to see the same excitement and sportsmanship that hockey has facilitated in Napanee over the previous century.

Source: Kelsey, Murray. “Hockey in Napanee, and Napanee District Minor Hockey.” The Archives of Lennox and Addington (March-October 2023): Pp. 1-40.

My Practicum at the Archives: Researching the CR 9 Tomato Cannery

By Laurie McBurney

Hi, everyone! I’m a Carleton University history student. I am working on a practicum at the Museum of Lennox and Addington which ends in December.

What is a practicum anyway?

A practicum is a program designed to give a student some work experience outside the traditional classroom setting and provide the opportunity to apply some of their historical training to help an organization, like the Archives, meet its own institutional goals. In my time here, I hope to provide the Archives with a short, well-researched history of a small rural area of Napanee.

I am grateful that Archivist Heather Wilson agreed to oversee my practicum. Taking this on has certainly added to the workload of a very busy person. Heather directs me in accessing and using archival records, suggests next steps when I am running into blind alleys – which has happened often – and will write a final report on my activities when the practicum ends.

Heather and I decided my project would be to research and write about a small tomato cannery located on County Road 9 on the north shore of Hay Bay (also referred to as CR 9 tomato cannery). This topic was of personal interest to me, since the cannery was apparently located on my own and my next-door neighbour’s property. I also thought it would be of general interest to the public as an example of one of the myriad ways area farmers were able to earn supplementary income to support their families.

Gretna Church was sold to the County of Lennox and Addington and demolished in a road widening project. The church, along with Anderson, Sand Hill, Bethany and Hay Bay churches, composed the "Hay Bay Circuit." Only Hay Bay Church remains standing today.
One of the one-room schoolhouses that once opened their doors to the children of CR 9, Jubilee School can still be seen on the part of CR 9 commonly known as River Road.
The Elusive cr 9 tomato cannery - lost to time or never existed?

Initially, the only information I had about the CR 9 tomato cannery was what I had heard during casual chats with a few neighbours. I believed it would be fairly simple to confirm that information and flesh it out with a little research into the archival records. I assumed there would be ads and stories in local newspapers, perhaps mentions in local memoirs, clippings and photos in the local Women’s Institute Tweedsmuir History Books, business listings in old phone books.

Well.

After several days of reviewing all these archival materials and more, I came up dry. I found no information about a cannery on CR 9 at all. Concerned that my practicum was heading for disaster, I spoke to Heather about changing the focus of my research to a more generalized history of CR 9, including the little one-room schoolhouses; the five churches that made up the “Bay Circuit;” the building of CR 9 itself, including its widening in the 1960s or 70s; and the ferries that plied Hay Bay between the north and south shores. We agreed to chart a new course.

Located on Little Creek Road, Anderson Church was one of the five churches included on the "Bay Circuit." It was located on Little Creek Road, near County Road 9. The church was torn down in 1967, but its hymn board was saved and now hangs in the foyer of Trinity United Church in Napanee.
Neighbourhood stories and memories

But, you know, it seems the minute you decide there is no further information to be found via your own method, the information seems to come forward all on its own. And historical research is rarely done in a straightforward fashion. If you think it’s easy to go down rabbit holes on the Internet, try reading through a personal memoir. Tantalizing little clues pop up on nearly every page, just begging you to veer off your original course and investigate further. And I did indeed to veer to find out the truth of the CR 9 tomato cannery; I veered right off the document track and right back to the neighbours from whom I heard about the cannery in the first place.

It turns out my neighbours were doing some of my research for me – by talking to other people in the community. They discovered that they knew someone who knew someone else who remembered the CR 9 tomato cannery. When I interviewed the “people who knew”, they not only verified the presence of the mysterious cannery, but they were able to provide the names of the people who operated it.
They had memories of their farmer fathers loading up bushel baskets of tomatoes on wagons to take to the cannery. They remembered their aunts and mothers peeling tomatoes at the cannery warehouse. And they even recollected the noise of the factory and the smell of the waste it produced. Even better, they knew approximately when the cannery closed and who bought it.

This was great information! I could picture women in aprons, surrounded by simmering pots of water, wiping the sweat off their brows as they peeled endless piles of tomatoes on hot summer days. I could see the overall-clad farmers lining up in their wagons, waiting their turn to have their produce weighed.

verifying memories with documentation

Unfortunately, up to this point, all of these pictures exist only in my own imagination. The people who have personal experience of the CR 9 tomato cannery unfortunately have no pictures or documentation about it. No receipts for tomatoes delivered, no pay stubs representing the long, hot hours of peeling tomatoes.

But.

I do know now that the cannery existed and the approximate dates it operated. Consultation with the land registry tells me who owned the property at the time. I know who the cannery sold to – a bigger operation in Deseronto. These are all leads that I can follow up on to hopefully flesh out a fuller picture of a small industrial operation that helped farmers and their families make ends meet through some rough years in the farming business. It is a story I can document as best as I am able before it is lost in time. It is a story I can include in my more generalized research project about the history of CR 9, for which the Archives holdings have provided a wealth of information in personal memoirs, the Women’s Institute and the valuable scrapbooks they created that reflect the history of their communities at the time, the stories of the little local churches and schools contained in minute books, in the Trinity United Church archives, the newspaper reports and architectural investigations.

One of the many sources of valuable research information I have used for my project include the old phone books carefully preserved by the Archives.
the value of our archives

There are many ways to research history. As my CR 9 tomato cannery story demonstrates, the personal memories of people are of vital importance. But we need to preserve the documentation, the wills, the pictures, the newspapers, and, even more critically today, our digital records that are so easily erased or discarded due to technical advances, to verify personal remembrance and to give us a broader understanding of our history and what brought us to where we are today. Our archives are essential to this endeavour.

The Tweedsmuir History Books compiled by members of the Women's Institute are a goldmine for researchers searching for local history. This collection by the Centennial Women's Institute is protected by a wooden cover made by a husband of one of the members.
Thanks to...

I am grateful to the Museum of Lennox and Addington for allowing me to do my practicum at their wonderful institution. More particularly, I am grateful to Archivist Heather Wilson, whose duties have been made more onerous by agreeing to supervise me, and is always available, always helpful and always finds different routes to teasing out information significant to my project. I also thank Liam Kishinevsky, a History graduate and Archives volunteer who has generously given me access to his research; Peggy King, Trinity United Church Archivist, who has been invaluable in providing information about the Bay circuit churches; County Road 9 neighbours who shared their memories about the CR 9 tomato cannery, particularly Ralph Bedwell and Al Sherman; and Wayne Bower – a published genealogist and very supportive husband, who spent many an autumn afternoon on County Road 9 with his directionally challenged spouse pinpointing the location of long-gone schools and churches.

Napanee Arena: Adding the Colour

By Jim Sova

At the Archives, we regularly receive requests for some particular fact.  It can be a date related to an ancestor, or information about when golf first started in the Napanee area.  Sometimes I am asked to look through the newspaper collection to see if I can find the fact they are looking for.  After the recent disastrous fire at the former Napanee Arena on the morning of October 23rd, we received an inquiry about a time capsule that had been placed at the Arena.  I searched the newspapers from around the time of the Arena’s construction and initially did not find a reference to the time capsule, but I did find a lot of other interesting information.  This said, Heather, the Archivist, did find information on the time capsule in the December 22nd, 1955 issue of The Post-Express. An article on page one indicates a corner stone was laid outside the Arena by Mayor Lorne Smart’s son, Teddy. Placed inside this corner stone were issues of the previous week’s papers covering the Arena’s opening, 1955 coins, and then names of town council members, the Arena commission, and the original executive committee. 

Although the information I originally unearthed did not answer the time capsule question, it does provide a lot of background to the construction of our beloved Arena.  I call this “Adding the Colour” to the initial fact that was asked, because it gives a lot context to the significance of the time capsule.  In genealogy, I love to find the stories that surround the facts of when and where an ancestor was born, lived and died.  Sometimes it may be a prison record and the newspaper stories of the case that put them there, or a business newsletter that profiled them as a valued employee of the business.  The stories bring the person to life and help us understand the person and their time. 

Here is some of the “Added Colour” I found in my search for the Napanee Arena time capsule.

Building the Napanee Arena
The Napanee Arena after the July 5th,1955 wind storm.

Construction on the Arena for Napanee was a dream with fundraising campaigns starting after World War Two. The main fundraising began in 1954.  The initial target was $131,500.  The Napanee Beaver and The Post-Express newspapers are full of details of the fundraising, including a Peanut Drive by the Women’s Community Centre Group and a Community Auction. The newsworthy specifics of who was giving what was down to $5.00 and below.

The original fundraising target included artificial ice.  However, in April 1955, a contract was signed after $105,000 had been raised to cover the $106,000 price for the building portion only.  The expectation was that the building would be completed in time for the Napanee Fair anniversary in September 1955. 

The sod turning took place in early May.  Construction was well underway with the walls erected when a windstorm with “tornado like winds” on July 5th took down three of the four walls. The picture above is not one of the Arena after the recent fire, but after the windstorm in 1955. The damage was estimated at $40,000! It was covered by insurance and the building was partially completed by the time of the Fair.  

Fundraising was then redoubled to bring in the $25,000 that was needed for artificial ice. In October, the Committee was still $7,500 short of the artificial ice equipment target, but facing a deadline, the ice was ordered. 

The fundraising was accomplished, the Arena completed and on December 17th, 1955, the Arena opened debt free. This event made the headlines in Napanee and Toronto.

Click the images below to expand and read some headlines and articles!

TIES to LiSTOWEL ARENA

In 1955, Napanee residents were alarmed to hear of the collapse of the arena in Listowel, Ontario. At the time of the fundraising, pictures and room layouts of the Listowel Arena were used for publicity. Although the contractor was given the layout of the Listowel Arena to draw the plans, none of the blueprints from Listowel were used and Listowel was rebuilt by a different contractor. 

Listowel Arena, The Napanee Beaver, May 11th, 1955, page 1
Keeping Stories of the Napanee Arena Alive!

Am I sorry that I did not initially get the details about the time capsule? Yes, I always like to answer the request, but sometimes the information gleaned along the way can prove even more interesting than the information you were looking to find in the first place.

Tag the Museum on social media (Facebook or Instagram) as you reminisce about your own memories of the Napanee Arena! And feel free to stop by the Archives to learn more and browse the local newspapers.

If you have any photographs of the Napanee Arena that can add even more colour its stories, please contact the Archives by email at archives@lennox-addington.on.ca or by calling 613-354-3027 x 3523!

 Let’s keep the history and stories of the Napanee Arena alive!

Five-year old Joe Wightman's first time on skates at the Napanee Arena in December 1955.
From The Napanee Beaver, December 22, 1955 (page 1).
Newspaper Issues Featuring the Napanee Arena

Here is a list of The Post-Express and The Napanee Beaver newspaper articles I found about the building and opening of the Napanee Arena (this is by no means exhaustive!):

  • The Post-Express
    • July 7, 1955 (page 1) – “3 walls of community centre collapse, damage is $40,000”
    • May 5th, 1955 (page 1) – “Construction starts at community centre” and “Volunteer help given opportunity on centre”
    • December 21, 1955 (page 1) – “Arena opens, 2,000 present” and “Tot, 5, cuts ribbon, kids surge onto ice”
    • January 5, 1956 (page 1) – “Contractor gets last cheque for the arena” and “$1,400 more comes in for the community centre”
  • The Napanee Beaver
    • April 20, 1955 (page 1) – “To build a community arena”
    • April 27, 1955 (pages 1,2) – “Text of arena contract”
    • May 4, 1955 (page 1) – “Site prepared: Arena construction starting this week”
    • May 11, 1955 (page 1) – “First sod turned for arena”
    • May 18, 1955 (page 1) – “Calendar: Arena fund raising activities”
    • June 1, 1955 (page 1) – “County give $1,000 cheque to new arena”
    • June 15, 1955 (pages 1,6) – “Report presented on community centre fund”
    • July 6, 1955 (page 1) – “Wind storm lashes district”
    • July 13, 1955 (pages 1,3)- “Check arena work, clean bill given” and “Arena artificial ice plant is in doubt”
    • August 19, 1955 (page 1) – “Getting ready to roof arena”
    • September 14, 1955 (pages 1, 3) – “Drive on for artificial ice”
    • September 21, 1955 (page 1) – “Artificial ice fund climbs to $5000.00”
    • October 12, 1955 (page 1) – “Only four day left artificial ice drive”
    • Ocotber 19, 1955 (pages 1, 3) – “$7500 short, but ice ordered”
    • October 26, 1955 (pages 1, 3) – “In by December: Artificial ice for arena is explained”
    • December 7, 1955 (page 1) – “Volunteers in action”
    • December 14, 1955 (pages 1, 3) – “Arena will open debt-free”
    • December 21, 1955 (pages 1-3) – “Why the arena was built…” and “Skating returns to Napanee”

Ghost Stories and Legends from the Archives Collection

By Liam Kishinevsky

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! Tis the season of fall leaves, long sleeves, pumpkin spice posts, and ghastly ghosts! So in celebration of All Hallows’ Eve, we thought we would share with you a local ghost legend that Liam Kishinevsky, one of our amazing Museum Volunteers, came across while working in the Archives! Don’t worry, it isn’t scary, however, it is filled with local history that may send you on a wild treasure hunt!

Liam has kindly written a summary of the legend of Murdoff’s Tavern below. You can find the full story in the Archives in a March 1990 article for the Lennox and Addington Historical Society, written by Wesley M. Alkenbrack and titled “Murdoff’s Tavern: At the western edge of the Great Marsh on the Napanee River” (A2008.027.06). 

Liam working away in the Archives

The Legend of Murdoff's Tavern

Murdoff’s tavern had long been subject to mystery and conjecture in the county, as even the name of the family was left ambiguous, with some calling him “Murdock.”  Alkenbrack gives his explanation to this as being the result of rural people in the tavern era having a carelessness by turning names into something more easily familiar to their own tongue.  This account by Alkenbrack thus seeks to rectify such discrepancies.  The tavern’s years of operation cannot be solidified with absolute surety, but nonetheless, it is a vivid component of the river’s history.

Establishing a Tavern

Three Miles from the town, along Deseronto Road, lies the Daly Farm.  The Daly family came from Prince Edward County in 1857, already an active business tycoon in the blending of teas.  They continued business of this Napaneean farm, establishing the Daly Tea Company in 1876.  The registry office shows the purchase of Lot E1/2 Con. 1 Township of Richmond from an R.R. (Robert Russell) Murdoff on September 2nd, 1857; a sale of 100 acres for a total of $1100.  This is corroborated by a letter Alkenbrack received from Archie Wilson.

Murdoff erected his tavern on the riverbank of his farm, with the first record of this coming from December 9th, 1846, when he purchased 100 acres from E. Dewitt for $500.  The elevation in price Daly paid for seems to be the result of new buildings erected on the property.  Murdoff had recorded possession of the farm from 1846-1863, so the tavern must have been built sometime during this 17-year period.  There was a double purpose to this building, combining a dwelling with a tavern to take advantage of the growing activity along the river.  Two buildings became synonymous with the Daly farmstead in the early 20th Century: a red-brick dwelling, most likely built during the barley rush; and a farmhouse built well-before, and associated with Murdoff.  This latter building had a superior frame dwelling to those made during this era of construction. 

A Busy Tavern

Being located near the Big Bend, where the confluence of waters flows into the Bay of Quinte, schooners would have lined the north shore.  Ships like the Lyman Davis would run well into the 1800s, and ships would often run aground on sandbars like those off of McKendry’s island, needing to be kegged off at high tide, or freed by Pyke Salvage from Kingston.  On the cleared and stone-buttressed banks of the shore lay the tavern.  It seems a removed and distant place for travelers seeking a tavern, though it was the river traffic that saw Murdoff’s tavern plans put to fruition.  The river was busy at this time, moving much of the local commerce.  Napanee, Deseronto, and Picton all relied on the waters of the bay, as roads and railroads left much to be desired for efficient transportation.  This only increased with the ‘barley rush,’ as ships would travel across Lake Ontario to offload stores at American ports.  A grain wharf lay only a few hundred yards west of Murdoff’s Tavern, resting at a depth that allowed grain schooners to rest alongside and load barley, connected to further wagon trains that formed along the roadways.  This traffic provided ample customer bases for Murdoff’s Tavern, probably boasting a small landing strip for docking vessels as a result. 

Photograph postcard of the Lyman Davis schooner in the Napanee River
Photograph postcard of the Lyman Davis schooner in the Napanee River. From the Archives, A1976.P1645.

Murdoff’s closest competition was Kimmerly’s Tavern, less than a mile away at the intersection of Deseronto Road and Barker’s Side Road.  The busiest times for Murdoff were in the late spring and early summer when the river drivers worked the vast and continuous log businesses flowing down the Napanee River, past the Tavern, to the Rathburn’s great mills.  Whiskey was also flowing greatly during the spring/summer log drives.  Murdoff’s local legend grew, especially the idea that his fortune was physically close to him as some form of gold, amassed and hoarded.  This legend of hoarded gold may have been due to his closed and frivolous nature, or perhaps due to community imagination, however, both during his lifetime and after his demise, the call of gold still lingered in the imaginations of the community. 

Local legend grows

In Murdoff’s time, banks were not trusted by rural folk, and gold was a measure against hardships and times of crisis, thus leading to many hoarding it as a hedge of sorts.  Safe-keeping was a preoccupation of thrifty people, dealing in exaggerated fears regarding momentous events beyond their borders.  The American Civil War saw the northern states dangerously aroused with arms and victories, causing concern amongst Canadian communities along the frontier.  Memories of 1812 still lingered, and with the US’ internal quarrels resolved, might they not turn to another frontier to conduct wars with their ‘Grand Army?’  The sporadic Fenian Raids that occurred after the Civil War only heightened concerns, to such an extent that locals were called up as volunteers for defence.  It was said that at this time, Murdoff buried his gold for safe-keeping, and the legend that he forgot his hiding place grew evermore prominent.  He was often seen pacing back and forth across the fields of his and the Oliver farm, as if searching for something.

"Doing a Little Digging" [Camp Le Nid]. Photograph of a man digging into soil with a spade and another man seated next to him.
"Doing a Little Digging" [Camp Le Nid]. From the Archives, A1947.T01B.34. [Note: These men are not digging for Murdoff's gold, but we imagine Murdoff and the treasure hunters would be digging similar to them!]

The neighboring Oliver Farm had once encompassed all four farms between Oliver and Baker Sideroads as a Crown grant to the original Oliver.  Harry Oliver had a family interest in the tavern story, as his grandmother (Lucy Woodcock), worked as a servant at the tavern when she was a young girl.  It was here that she met Fredrick Oliver, the man she would marry.  Harry, now an aged man and one of the few remaining authorities on the tavern, sat down with Alkenbrack for a conversation on January 21st, 1961.  He reported his grandmother’s musings of how Murdoff would empty his pockets of gold at the end of the day, putting them in a strongbox in his bedroom.  Occasionally, she would find a five or ten gold piece on the floor and return it to Murdoff (she thought that he was testing her honesty).  Harry stated that as a young boy, he worked the fields and saw freshly-dug soil by the line fence between the two farms.  Puzzled by this, he went to tell his uncle what he’d found.  The two went down to the field, and upon seeing the dug up pile, his uncle exclaimed that someone was digging for Murdoff’s gold.  Harry returned to the house for a shovel and began digging, but to no avail.  Harry reported that digging occurred on the property for a few years by unknown persons.  So the hunt lingered, with the story adding that Murdoff’s ghost joined in the hunt as well, pacing the fields at night, mournfully longing for his treasure.  

Ghost Stories from the Historical Napanee Express

Browsing through historical local newspapers in the Archives always proves entertaining. The Archivist Heather came across some ghost stories in historical issues of the Napanee Express that we think are share-worthy! (Some are even comical!) Thanks to all the work done by the Archives, you can access these stories, along with others in the Napanee Express, online from home!

So here are a few of our favourites for you to delve into…perhaps, late at night along with your ghost friends!

Happy reading!

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