Saturday, February 21, 2015

Tragedy and heroism in the Ottawa River

This week, I posted a photo of my grandfather Ted Sauve on the Mechanicsville facebook page, a busy and well loved page that features dozens of long-time Mechanicsville residents chatting about the old days. There are even quite a few members of a certain age group that you wouldn't necessarily expect to be posting on facebook group pages. But thankfully they are, and within minutes of posting a photo and caption about my grandfather's 1942 hockey team, I had replies from a couple of people who knew him. One even brought up the story that is well-told within our family, and which was a fairly big story in the area back in 1947.

The conversation prompted me to dig out the copies of newspaper articles I had found for my grandparents about 15 years ago, when I tackled the microfilm reels at the public library with a vague year and month. While this story is sadly far from being the only one of its kind in Ottawa's history, it was one that really did touch the residents of west Ottawa and especially Mechanicsville back in 1947. And for my grandfather it was a tragic tale in which he lost his 19-year old cousin with whom he was quite close, but luckily not only survived himself, but helped save two of his companions on that terrible day. 

My grandfather will come up a lot in this blog in future posts I am sure. He was a fixture of the Mechanicsville and Champlain Park communities, was a third-generation railway man, and his great-grandfather was one of Mechanicsville's first residents. He was also someone I respected immensely and had a million great stories about the 1930s and 40s in the neighbourhood. I know a lot of the reason I love history so much is because of him. Since I have the ability to choose any topic at all for the blog, I'd like to share this story that was such a pivotal event in his life.

The accident occurred on Sunday July 13th, 1947, a little after 8 p.m. My grandfather Ted Sauve, then of 83 Carruthers Avenue, his cousin Clarence Corbett, and three female friends June Leafloor, Teresa Holmes and Helen Grant, all between the ages of 17 and 20, had spent the afternoon and evening swimming and canoeing around the spot which was informally known as "The Beavers". As the newspaper articles below will state, the canoe began to sink and the group panicked. My grandfather always mentioned that Clarence was the best swimmer of the bunch, but he had stayed with June Leafloor, who was unable to swim. The pair drowned likely due to the strong undercurrents in the area that pulled them under quickly. June's body was found a few days later, but Clarence was never found.

The area where it happened, then and now (as always, I encourage you to click on any photo below that will open a little filmstrip where you can view the photos in an enlarged format):

Aerial photo from the era. That is Emmerson Avenue visible at the top, with
Forward, Hinchey and Carruthers running north to it (now only Forward does).
Lemieux Island is pictured at the top, and you can see the islands connected
at the very top by the pier (mentioned in one of the articles). The accident
likely occurred just at the top and center of this photograph.

2011 aerial photo of the same area. As any long-time residents of
the area will tell you, the two bays were filled in significantly when
the NCC prepared the area for the River Parkway in the early 1960s.  

The front page of the Ottawa Citizen July 14, 1947. The Canadian Press
reported that it was a horrific weekend for drownings in eastern Canada,
with an incredible 23 victims in all that very weekend.

The Toronto Star published the photographs of all 5 friends (neither Ottawa
paper included a photo of my grandfather, it is a bit odd that the Star did)

Ottawa Journal's coverage - July 14, 1947

Ottawa Journal - July 14, 1947 continued

Ottawa Citizen - July 14, 1947

Ottawa Journal - July 18, 1947

No comments:

Post a Comment