(Search & Recovery ---- Lost & Found)
There’s nothing like an Underwater Project to bring people and interest together, especially when you think that you’ve seen enough of the local dive sites. The Upper Ottawa Valley is a far cry from the premiere dive areas of the St. Lawrence and Tobermorey, but we have our own local interesting sites that are worth exploring and developing for the benefit of others.
Presently there are five such Projects that we’ve been making progress on in recent years (and that will spill into 2005 and 2006);
Exploration of new, local dive sites,
search for the wreck of the Weeso (our own local shipwreck),
search for the Mackey Creek Trestle,
development of the flooded Stonecliffe Village site, and
cleanup of the Ottawa River shoreline in Deep River
Here in the Upper Ottawa Valley, we’re surrounded by small lakes and streams (in addition to the Ottawa River that is). Some of our weekly evening dives are dedicated to the pursuit of new sites, i.e., nearby lakes that have good VIS, good marine like, and interesting underwater landscape. And some of this exploration is carried out covertly, with the results fed back into the DRUC records.
The first challenge is whether you can access the lake – which can be an adventure of its own (e.g., a chainsaw is worthwhile luggage to clear roadways). The second challenge (rather, hope) is whether the access point to the lake has a reasonable entry point, or whether a boat is required to reach the most interesting-looking spot (usually a set of cliffs on the far side of the lake). Next – the mosquitoes, and in 2005 electrical storms compounded the adventure on one remote dive. The Rescue Diver course doesn’t cover this category of stress inducer, but tactics include gearing up as quick as is humanly possible, and simply ignoring the pin-pricks of dozens of the starved creatures enjoying the unprotected skin on your back and legs. This is not to deter you from the challenge, but this type of frontier diving is a class of diving of its own. Chances are, you’ll pull off a “first descent” on the lake (if that’s of interest to you, as it is for some), and if you’re lucky, you’ll be rewarded with an interesting site that makes it onto the “top ten list” of local dive sites.
In 2004 we explored 4 or 5 lakes in this manner, and of those, one made it onto the top ten list (Little Clear – shallow, but very nice and quite interesting), and one came close (McSourley Lake). In 2005 we returned to the favourites of 2004 and explored several new lakes. As well, new dive sites at Lake Clear (near Eganville) were explored, and this is where we had our greatest success.
While any of the islands at Lake Clear offer excellent diving, the one site that score top marks was off the north tip of Blueberry Island, where in addition to the Bonnechere wall (a 4 km long cliff structure that forms part of the grabben valley that forms the lake), sunken treasures (anchors, lures), abundant fish (1 to 4 lb smallmouth bass), and best of all, underwater mineral occurrences – biotite, appatite, calcite, scapolite, etc. This site deserves serious exploration in 2006, and will the site for the placement of a dive monument in 2006.
While our focus in exploring the upper Ottawa Valley has been on in-land lakes, the Ottawa River has an endless number of sites to explore, namely;
Offshore from the many old wharfs (since removed, but we know where they were) that were used to ferry people and supplies across the river during the log drive days,
Offshore from lumber camps such as the Schyan Depot,
The cribs offshore from the NPD site, downstream of Swisha (underwater log cribs),
Shoals (anchor nests) such as at Balmer's Bay and McQuestion Point,
Sturgeon flats (allegedly) – a site where large Sturgeon tend to congregate (location to be determined, but maybe an urban legend), and
Many farm sites in the Stonecliffe-Mackey area that were flooded when the hydro dams at Rolphton were building in the 1950’s.
Wreck of the Weeso
Situation – in 2005 the site where the Weeso sunk to the bottom of the Ottawa was found, but the boat is missing. One resident reported observing a similar boat in shallow waters downstream of the site, which will be followed up in 2006.
The Weeso was the original starter boat (and rescue boat) for the Deep River Yacht Club – some of you locals will be able to put an image to mind. It was a wooden vessel roughly 24’ long, with an open cabin (wheelhouse), powered by an inboard/outboard engine. This vessel was originally a “pointer boat” used during the days of booming logs down the Ottawa River. In the early 1960’s the boat was donated to the Yacht Club. After the end of its useful life, the engine was removed and the boat was sunk (scuttled) in the Ottawa out from the end of the Pier – in the late 1970’s. Some of the people involved in the sinking are still in the area, so local knowledge was used to assist in locating the site (rather, locating the centre point of what would be a search area).
The search for the vessel was carried out in September of 2005, with the search & recovery dive being an element of the NAUI Master Scuba course. The focal point for the search was a GPS fix (307916E, 5108861N, zone 18) on a strange irregularity in the depth profile and sediment density, as determined using a depth sonar (fish finder) and anchor (thumper). This location was particularly attractive because it corroborated with the description of the location of the sinking from the people involved in the 1970’s. The description included the point that the vessel was sunk at the top of the “second drop off” (i.e., in 22 to 25’ of water), which fit the position of the bottom anomaly. The challenging aspect of this search was the fact that the site is in the Ottawa River, which means that limited visibility, darkness, and silting are matters to contend with. At 25’ depth, there is only a trace amount of sunlight that reaches the bottom (the start of the “red zone”), which means “night dive”.
Initial progress with this project involved collecting information on the history and sinking of the Weeso has been collected. An interesting twist to this phase was the report of the Weeso being presently located in shallow water roughly 1 km downstream from the pier (at Tack Point, for those that are familiar with this name). This report came from a person who claims to have seen the vessel in the fall when the Ottawa River level is very low – described as a wooden boat full of rocks. The description fits, but the discrepancy in location was initially thought to be a mystery – perhaps a different vessel that suffered the same fate as the Weeso. How could a boat full of rocks move 1 km and move to a shallower position? Initially, it was thought that this second vessel could not be the Weeso.
On the evening of September xx, the initial Weeso search & recovery dive was executed, with Marc and Peter executing a radial search pattern, and Peter remaining at surface as the rescue diver. Within minutes, the divers had located the cause of the anomalous sonar readings, which was a sharp, elongate depression in the soft, silty sediments of the Ottawa. The depression can be described as a 3 to 4’ “cliff” (vertical face) in the mud. The sediments were so soft that you could extend your arm horizontally to your shoulder with little effort. Given the face that the sediments were originally deposited in a low energy environment (evident from the fine texture of the material), and there were no indications of scouring from period of strong river current, this mud wall had to be man-made. The length of the feature was generally consistent with the Weeso’s length, but the real kicker was the presence of gravel, cobbles and small boulders in the center of the depression. In searching the site, coarse sediments or bedrock was not observed anywhere else, indicating that these coarse sediments were unusual. The fact that they existed in the middle of a boat-shaped depression in the mud is a strong indication that the Weeso resided at this location for some period of time, then rolled over loosing some of its ballast, and moved with the river current to another location.
The absence of the wreck, combined with the sighting of another vessel of similar description provides the basis for the searching in 2006.
Photo of Weeso to come
Photo of the Weeso in the 1970’s
Mackey Creek Trestle
Topographic maps of the Stonecliffe-Mackey area of 1920’s vintage show that before the hydro dams at Rolphton were building in the 1950’s, there was a large railroad trestle near the Village of Mackey where the rail line crossed over Mackey Creek. Although the photo below doesn’t serve the structure the justice that it deserves, according to the topo map, the structure was roughly 100 m long, with a height of about 20 m above Mackey Creek. After flooding of the reservoir (now Holden Lake), the bridge decking would be in about 20 m of water. Whether or not the bridge was removed (or to what extent), is unknown. GPS coordinates for the bridge can be (the plan) taken from the topo map after some careful referencing work, and a boat with a fish-finder should be able to quickly verify the site location, and characterize the site (as would trolling with an anchor).
This exploration wouldn’t be for the light-hearted – the Ottawa River at depth is a “special place”. The last trace of natural light is between 7 and 9 m, and by 20 m even the best lights will appear as though the batteries are almost dead. Still, it would be a very interesting site if we found that the trestle was intact.
The Mackey Creek Trestle
Flooded Stonecliffe Village
According to the early maps, there were two parts to the Village of Stonecliffe that were flooded when the hydro dams at Rolphton were building in the 1950’s. The lower village is now under about 30 m of water, but the upper village is much shallower – 5 to 10 m. The upper village consisted of a number of homes and farms, a railway station, a church (Saint Zephrim Roman Catholic Church), a general store (McKechnie's General Store), and all the accessories (rail bed, fences, telephone poles, etc.). Before flooding the village, the railway tracks and wooden ties were removed, the buildings were removed, the telephone poles cut down, etc., but what remains as ghostly reminders of the past are building foundations (and the front steps of the church), the remains of brick chimneys (brick piles), fencing sections, telephone pole stumps, and lots of “material” left behind that would have been small backyard dumps (bottles, cans, shingles, boots – you name it!).
Another group (divers from Petawawa – the Proper brothers) has stretched a line from shore that allows easy access to the site, with the line forking to take you to either the church or the railway station, but the site could benefit from mapping, more lines, and underwater signs to bring the site into historical context. Someday, a sign on shore depicting the layout of the site would be a nice way to finish developing the site.
The activities in 2005 were limited to maintaining the guidelines, and exploring the perimeter of the village site. The plan for 2006 is continued exploration, upgrades to the guideline, and the installation of signs underwater.
For more information, and photos of this site – check out this ->
the flooded Stonecliffe Village site Project 2004 Stonecliffe Village.pdf , in particular, the photographs on pages 179 through to 189.
Ottawa River Shoreline Cleanup Initiative
The DRUC initiated a project to cleanup the Ottawa River shoreline at Deep River in 2002. The issue at hand was that the riverbed in front of Deep River was littered with old, abandoned moorings. This waterfront is a shallow sandy bay, making it an ideal mooring area. After several decades of use, a wide range of homemade moorings were scattered throughout the bay, making walking in the shallow water hazardous.
After some effort to establish a grid to mark zones in the bay, a number of volunteers from the DRUC, as well as from several other local clubs that make use of the waterway (the Yacht and Tennis Club and the River Recreation Improvement Association), plunged into the water and removed a considerable collection of junk. Most of it was inert, but some items retrieved were not inert (oil, lead). While about one third of the bay was cleared in this sweep, the plan is to return to the site and clear another sector. The plan is to return to this activity in 2006.
Here’s a listing of the junk removed from the riverbed;
· 34 cinder blocks,
· 8 tires (5 concrete-filled),
· 4 large unidentifiable metal objects,
· 3 large cast concrete objects,
· 1 engine block,
· 4 sand-filled oil jugs (one still containing motor oil),
· 1 cast lead anchor,
· about a dozen glass and plastic bottles,
· 3 bags of garbage from the shoreline,
· and many miscellaneous things like pieces of plastic, cans, wrappers, small metal objects, cinder block and brick fragments (but no fishing lures ... rats!).
Our efforts made honourable mention in the North Renfrew Times, and all that participated can take pride in making a positive contribution to the environment!