Where is the Ann Sisson?

Updated: Since this post was written the archives of “The Ottawa Citizen” (1898-2018) and “The Ottawa Daily Citizen” (aka “The Packet” 1846-1897) have become available. New/different information appears as block quotes through the body of the article.

Britannia has several links to ships, boats and boating on the Ottawa River, but this is probably the least well known of them, as well as something of a mystery.

Ann Sisson at the wharf at Quyon QC

According to Progress is Fine the correct attribution for the photo is Robert Legget, Ottawa Waterway, Gateway to a Continent, University of Toronto Press 1975

From 1832 to 1914 steam ships were one of the most important and easiest ways to get up river. The Deschenes rapids meant that the river was only navigable from above the rapids, not from Ottawa itself, and then only as far as Chats Falls.

While Britannia could have become the main transit point for shipping upriver from Ottawa, that role fell to Symmes Village (later part of Aylmer) on the Quebec side. See Steamboats on the Ottawa River for a quick history of the steamboats.

In yet another example of historical irony, Symmes Village was accessed by “Britannia Road” (later “Turnpike Road”, now Hwy 148; see notes for Britannia Road).

In the later years the G.B. Greene “Queen of the River” would stop at both Aylmer and Britannia Pier (at right) for pleasure cruises up the river and back, but as far as I know that was the extent of shipping to and from Britannia

For 15 years the “Ann Sisson” was one of the ships that plied the river from Aylmer to Chats Falls.

According to the records she was a “Lumber tug; passenger accommodations added”, which was the norm for most of the ships. Their primary role was to bring log booms down the river, with passengers and cargo being a little extra add on.

Update: However, apparently she was originally built to haul stone for the never completed Chat’s canal1 and later became a lumber tug. That said, in 1865 her accommodations are described as “elegant”1, and in  1860 she was chosen to carry Albert, Prince of Wales up to Quyon, and in 1869 his brother Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught1, so despite being a working boat she must have been kept in very good condition for the better classes who rode as passengers.

In an article about rivalry between the “Ann Sisson” and the “Emerald” from 1858 states that the Sisson’s Captain is Findlay, and in 1869 it is reported as Finlay, presumably the same man. However,  in 18652 and 18663 her Captain was reported as Bokus, and in 1868 as Murphy (see advertisement from Pembroke Observer at bottom).

Bokus on the Ann Sisson
Supposedly in 1873, two years after the Ann Sisson was beached and burned.

According to the Pembroke Observer advertisment, and others, the Ann Sisson would depart from Symmes Landing (Aylmer) at 7 AM daily, excepting Sundays. She would arrive at Quyon at 11 AM, and then depart for the return journey an hour later, arriving at Symmes landing at 3 PM, in time for passengers to be in downtown Ottawa for 4 PM.

Excepting details of the royal voyage, the only other information I could find about the life of the Ann Sisson was that in July of 1865 a resident of Quyon named Daniel Burn(?) drowned while stepping off the Ann Sisson4. Rather cruel to drown in the small space between a boat and the shore, but rescue was undoubtedly complicated by the fact that many people cannot swim and hence would not have attempted any serious form of rescue.

According to The Great Lakes Maritime Collection the Ann Sisson was 279 tons, 139′ feet long with a 25′ beam. She was built in 1857 in Pontiac (Aylmer) PQ. Her history:

    • 1855 or 1857 Built
    • 1860 Owned Brewster & Mulholland, Montreal, QUE.
    • 1861 Strengthened.
    • 1863 Owned Union Forwarding Co., Ottawa, ONT.
  • 1871 Abandoned.

But now the juicy part:

ann-sisson-record

So, where is she?

Any thing that large would leave traces. Even if absolutely every scrap of wood and organic matter had rotted away to nothing, a ship that size would still leave a pretty noticeable pile of nails, fasteners, strapping, other metal bits, ceramics, glass, and what have you. Furthermore they would be laid out on the ground in a pretty distinctive pattern that was clearly ship shaped. So where is she?

My best guess is that in 1871 materials were still pretty dear, particularly metal in any form. An abandoned ship would have been stripped for every piece of usable anything by the locals long before it had a chance to rot away. Timber, nails, fittings; every usable scrap would have found it’s way into local buildings and equipment, if not the forge or wood stove as appropriate. Everything that could be used somehow would have been, and the rest would have also been taken on the basis of “I’ll find a use for it.”

I can think of no other possible explanation for there to be absolutely no trace, either physical or in the community memory.

UPDATE:  According to this excerpt from the book “The Carleton Saga” the Ann Sisson was “beached and burned” on the sands above the old Britannia Lighthouse. This would have been in and/or on the edge of the shallows SW of the current pier, but the exact location remains unknown.

The remains of the ship were apparently found in 1963, although it is a little difficult to imagine that no one had known where they were for the reasons mentioned above. The source does not mention exactly where they were found, nor can I find any other reference to this discovery.

According to the excerpt above the remains were then “relocated”, although why and to where are also not mentioned. Presumably the City archives may have something on this as by this point Britannia is part of the City.

Update: As discussed in No, really, it’s the Ann Sisson, the remains were found in 1962, not 1963. Further, as we shall see, they were never moved and are still where she was originally abandoned.

Of course the other mystery would be “who was she named for?”

The story continues: see No, really, it’s the Ann Sisson

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The Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa, Canada Saturday, August 14, 1937 pg
Ottawa Daily Citizen, Ottawa. Canada, Wednesday, June 14, 1865
Ottawa Daily Citizen, Ottawa. Canada, Thursday, July 26, 1866
Ottawa Daily Citizen, Ottawa. Canada,  Thursday, July 13, 1865

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