The Way We Were

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the July 29, 2009 issue. Reprinted with permission.

More submerged secrets of lost island discovered

by Louise Schwartz

In the July 16 Low Down edition, I wrote about Pearson's Island in Kirk's Ferry, basing my story on archival photos taken during the period Bill Pearson owned it (from 1913 to 1926 when it was expropriated by the Gatineau Power company).

The Way We Were
The labour-intensive construction of Bonniview Castle, on the Gatineau's now-submerged Pearson's Island. Photos courtesy Linda Pallister.

Readers may recall its castle-like cottage - complete with central turret and castellation. Although the property records document who owned the island prior to Pearson, I found nothing about these former owners, nor any details on who had built the cottage or why it had such an unusual design.

On the day local residents found that edition of The Low Down in their mailbox, I received an excited phone call from reader Linda Pallister of Lacelles. I learned that Linda is a passionate amateur historian and guardian of many albums of family historical photos, journals, and the genealogy of her family. She had recognized the photo of the cottage immediately.

It was called Bonniview Castle and was built by one of her great-grandfathers, Sidney William Lee. Indeed, Lee had bought the unoccupied island in 1906 from Robert Ince for $300, before selling it seven years later to Bill Pearson.

The Way We Were
The early stages of Bonniview Castle, circa 1908. Photos courtesy Linda Pallister.

Sidney William Lee had Scottish and Irish roots, having immigrated to Canada in 1870. He owned a haberdashery on Elgin Street in Ottawa and in 1908, to allow his wife Frances and their six children to escape the hot Ottawa summers, he had Bonniview Castle built on the island. Lee's desire was to design and build a cottage reminiscent of the architecture from his ancestral land.

The building of this structure must have been a labour intensive exercise. Lumber and other materials were brought to the island by the local ferry. The wood to form the rounded turret was prepared by soaking the planks in the river so they would bend. Nonetheless, one can assume a great sense of satisfaction prevailed at the completion of construction, and that many fine summer days and evenings were spent by the Lee clan enjoying their island retreat.

The Way We Were
Sydney William Lee's four daughters - Violet, Gladys, Ruby and Myrtle - paddle by the finished castle in 1910. Photos courtesy Linda Pallister.

The obvious follow-up question to this story is what would possess someone who built this labour of love to sell it only five years later? The answer lies in Sydney and Frances Lee's large family of six girls and two boys (Linda's maternal grandfather and his brother).

As Linda tells it, the girls were approaching their 30s and remained unmarried. The best option was to get them out west, where the supply of eligible men was higher.

The Lees ended up buying a fruit farm in Vernon, B.C. which he operated until the 1920s.Linda speculates this required funds only available from seiling their island sanctuary.

It is a thrilling postscript to have my original story of Pearson's island supplemented with Linda Pallister's in depth knowledge of her ancestoral Bonniview Castle and her trove of photos. How many other undiscovered historical caches are also out there?

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