The Witch of Plum Hollow - My Weekend Adventure
(c) Shannon Parsons 2004
Some adventures just beg to be shared and I feel this is one of them. This past weekend, myself and five friends decided to go on a weekend get away to the Opinicon Resort on the Rideau Canal. The night before we left, my neighbour did a search on the net for Opinicon and discovered
that the resort is near an old Ghost Town- that was once called Lake Opinicon. The town, once a thriving place, eventually disappeared, leaving just a schoolhouse to mark its existence. Legend states that there are ghosts who haunt the lake (where the resort is located) and that the resort itself has been known to be haunted. So, we were pretty excited at the news of what we considered a bonus
for our trip!
Once at the resort, we inquired with several staff about the actual location of the original town, but no one seemed to know anything about it- or they weren't talking. One woman actually
snapped "No!" when we asked her if she knew anything. It was weird. Then, finally, we asked a woman who worked at the tuck shop about the ghost town and she started talking about
the local folklore. She asked us if we had ever heard about the Witch of Plum Hollow- which
is a nearby town. Apparently, the Witch, Elizabeth Barnes, was a psychic who lived in the 1800's
and was consulted by many people from all over- including the New York State. Although she couldn't give us specific directions to the house, she was sure it was still standing. She said if we went to Athens, a town along the way, we would be able to ask around and discover its location. This totally peaked our curiosities and we decided we would definitely set out to find the Witch of Plum Hollow's house the next day.
In the morning, we headed for Athens. Once there, my neighbour talked us into going to the Steadman's Department store instead of the Tourist Centre, because she had a feeling about it. We met the owner of the store right away and began explaining what we were looking for. Then her husband, Giles, came in and graciously offered to take us right to the house! We couldn't believe our "luck"- it was
like something out of a movie. So we got in our cars and followed him in his truck out into
the country until we came upon the old homestead.
It is basically a very tiny log cabin which looks like it is about to fall down any day. The property is for sale (by her family) and the Royal LePage sign out front actually says "Witch of Plum Hollow 1843 Homestead" on it! Giles told us that Elizabeth's family had put a historical plaque outside the home to tell people about her. Unfortunately, someone had removed it from the stone it was on.
We had a beer on the side of the road with Giles, thanked him for his hospitality (small towns are awesome!) and then he left us to investigate the property.
When we got back to Ottawa that night, my neighbour and I looked Elizabeth Barnes up on the net and got some very interesting information about her. She was born in Cork, Ireland in the year 1800. It is rumoured that she was the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, which apparently was her explanation for her amazing clairvoyant talents.
In her early 20's she married an Irish sergeant and moved to Canada where they had one son. Her husband died and so did the son- much later during the Civil War.
A young widow- Elizabeth decided to remarry. Her new husband, Mr. Barnes was a shoemaker by trade, and they
had nine children. In 1843, they moved to the Plum Hollow homestead. Years later, Mr. Barnes chose to leave her to move to Smith's Falls- taking two of their children- and leaving her to care
for 7 kids on her own in the tiny house. Needing to support her kids, she decided to do more of her "fortune telling" for additional income. She would do readings for 25 cents each and she
earned a great deal of respect as a very wise seer- drawing people by horse and
carriage from as far away as New York State. Even Sir John A. MacDonald went to Elizabeth for consultation!
Most notably, she helped solve a local murder, aided farmers in finding their lost
livestock and helped locate a buried treasure. She apparently lived to be over ninety years old and is now buried in an unmarked grave in Sheldon's Corners.
It was quite an adventure and I think the photos speak for themselves. There was an amazing energy about the place. It is not often you come across such an interesting piece of local history- especially one steeped in mystery of the esoteric kind!
Legends Told in Canada by Edith Fowke 1994 R.O.M.
Leeds and Grenville Their First Two Hundred Years, by R. McKenzie 1967 McClelland and Stewart
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