All Aboard! Nature Excursions to Carp by Train in the 1890’s and 1900’s

History of the Hills – Part 6

People have been drawn to Carp’s natural beauty and its unusual geology for over 100 years.
The Ottawa Field Naturalists’ Club (OFNC) made the village of Carp and the Carp Hills an excursion destination at the turn of the twentieth century.  This was thanks to the railroad, which started regular service to Carp in 1893.  As documented in the 1896/1897 edition of OFNC’s transactions (1), the Ottawa, Arnprior, and Parry Sound Railway opened up new areas for the naturalists to explore with day trips all around the Ottawa and West Quebec area.  There was even local interest in establishing a branch of the OFNC in Carp, but this initiative never came to pass (2).
Founded in 1863 and the oldest natural history club in Canada, OFNC had many members who were distinguished scientists and researchers, often employed by Ottawa area government institutions.
OFNC’s interest in Carp started with geology and paleontology.  Geologist Dr. Henri-Marc Ami of the Geological Survey of Canada made visits to Carp in 1894/1895 (3) and 1896/1897 (4) to collect fossilized shells at an exposed sand/gravel stratification just south of the Carp Station.
The club organized two major excursions to Carp by railway in June 1905 (5) and in May 1909 (6). Members were interested in birds, insects, plants, and geology.
The famous Canadian naturalist and self-taught botanist, John Macoun, made a number of comments about the plants in the 1905 trip.  He also made a very perceptive observation about the similarity of the Carp Ridge flora to that of Kingsmere in the Gatineau Hills.  Both are part of the same Precambrian Shield formation.  We know that Macoun returned to Carp in 1907 and 1908, because there are lichen samples by him preserved by the Canadian Museum of Nature’s herbarium (7).
Local people made the club welcome and allowed access to their properties.  In the 1905 account, references are made to the properties of Mr. Johnson and Mr. Wilson.  It is thought that Johnson is a typo; it should be a Johnston, as the Johnston family owned land in Carp.  The 1879 Belden Atlas (8) shows the Johnston and Wilson properties adjacent to each other (Figure 1). The Diefenbunker is located on a portion of the former Wilson property where a sand pit was once operated.

Figure 1. From the 1879 Belden Atlas, this shows the village of Carp and the properties owned by Wilson and Johnston to the northwest of the village. The dotted line to the left of the Wilson property is today’s Craig’s Side Road.

We have annotated a 1945 aerial photo to illustrate places mentioned in the excursions (Figure 2).  This can be compared to an aerial photo from 1976, which shows the Diefenbunker (Figure 3).

Figure 2. This is an aerial photo from 1945, which has been annotated to show where points of interest were located in the early 1900’s. Road names are those from today. The portion of the Wilson property northeast of the Carp River became the Diefenbunker. (Source: National Photo Archives.)

Figure 3. Aerial photo from 1976 shows the Diefenbunker and its sewage lagoon on what was part of the Wilson property. The white lines are where roads and houses are located today. (source: GeoOttawa).

The Carp Station was located on Salisbury Street, which today is an undeveloped lot by the railroad tracks (Figure 4).  The club members walked from the station to today’s Donald B. Munro Drive, up the Carp Road hill to the school, which was located on Carp Road by Falldown Lane.  From there the club members walked to the Johnson (Johnston) property to view a grove and then visited the sand pit at the Wilson property.  It is believed that the grove refers to what people called the “picnic grounds”, which was also the first location of the Carp Agricultural Fair (9).

Figure 4. The location of the former Carp Station on Salisbury Street, now a vacant lot by the railroad tracks. (Photo: J. Mason)

The 1905 article mentions skirting the “Laurentian ridge” (Carp Ridge, part of the Laurentian formation) on the return to the station.  Here they viewed a mica vein, which is likely the small pit located at today’s Hidden Lake Park.  There was quite a bit of excitement about “curved hornblende crystals” taken at the vein of mica, which led to a separate article in the club’s journal, The Ottawa Naturalist (10).
No further trips to Carp by the club are mentioned after the one in 1909.
If anyone has more knowledge about the sand/gravel pit south of the station, the visited properties, and where the club may have gone, we’d love to hear from you.

OFNC’s publication, The Ottawa Naturalist, is available on-line from 1879 to 1919.  The publication then became The Canadian Field Naturalist with a national focus.  You can find these on OFNC’s web site.

(1)  “The Geology of the Ottawa and Parry Sound Railway”, The Ottawa Naturalist, Vol X, 1896/1897, pages 164-173.. A fascinating account of Ottawa Valley geology from downtown Ottawa to Barry’s Bay in 1896 by railroad.  Note the reference to the beauty of Chats Falls, a sight we can’t see today due to its being dammed for hydro electric power.
(2) Excursions Committee Report, The Ottawa Naturalist, Vol XXVI, 1910/1911, page 11.  Failure to establish an OFNC branch in Carp.

(3) Geological Notes, The Ottawa Naturalist, Vol VIII, 1894/1895 , pages 121-122 .  Documents a visit by H.M. Ami to a sand/gravel pit south near the Carp Station to collect shells. 
(4)  “Last Excursion of the Season to Galetta”, The Ottawa Naturalist, Vol X, 1896/1897, p. 141.  A short stop at the Carp Station to collect shells on the way to Galetta and Marshall’s Bay.
(5)  “General Excursion to Carp”, The Ottawa Naturalist, Vol XIX, 1906/1907, pages 91-94.  An account of the 10 June 1905  excursion to Carp.
Here is a PDF of the “General Excursion to Carp” article that you can download.
(6) “Carp, Ont.”, The Ottawa Naturalist, Vol XXIII, 1909/1910, pages 81-84.  An account of the 29 May 1909 excursion to Carp
Here is a PDF of the “Carp, Ont.” article that you can download.
(7) Lichen Portal – You can search for historic lichen observations in the Carp Hills at this site.

(8) Illustrated Historical Atlas of Carleton County, Ont; H Belden & Co: Toronto, 1879. (Facsimile edition printed 1971).
(9) Peg Blair – Huntley Historical Society – phone discussion on 6 July 20.
(10) “Carp Ontario”, The Ottawa Naturalist, Vol XIX, 1905/1906, pages 211-212.  Further geological information from the 10 June 1905 excursion about curved hornblende crystals: