Friday, July 22, 2016

Exploration: Mohr's Road, Fitzroy Township (Updated)

An ongoing pursuit of mine has been to explore ghost roads and pioneer settlements in unexpected proximity to Ottawa. For instance, in 2008 when I worked in the Ottawa high-tech suburb of Kanata, I prided myself on finding a route that enabled me to commute from my home in Almonte, a distance of about 35 km, almost entirely on dirt roads and bush tracks requiring full knobby tires. At the time there was only one fully paved direct road from Almonte to the nation's capital--rather remarkable in this modern era. While that particular option has been greatly "improved" since then, there are many other forgotten byways to explore nearby.

One such byway is Mohr's Road, which runs south-east from its start in the hamlet of Galetta. In the mid-1800s, the Fitzroy area was becoming an important settlement area and stop along routes north to the lumber camps and other pioneer settlements. By 1853, the hamlet of Mohr's Corners began to take shape--and eventually got its name--as the result of efforts by the German settler Ephraim Mohr:

Today Mohr's Corners is a bona-fide ghost town with little remaining to suggest its former importance. Mohr's beautiful stone home (see picture below) is gone, but the former schoolhouse remains today as a private residence.

By the early 1900s, the village of Galetta just a mile up the road had taken over as the local centre of bustling activity, driven by its access to valuable water power from the Mississippi River, and the thriving Kingdon Lead Mine nearby. Kingdon Mine, now a ghost site, was once one of the most productive lead mines in North America. Today it's mostly forgotten except by locals. However, in Google satellite view you can still see the mine tailings as an obvious white patch on Morris Island.

Here's a period map of Fitzroy township in Carleton County where Mohr's Road is clearly depicted leaving the green squares of Galetta:

Mohr's Road is now unremarkable except where the modern section abruptly ends south-east of Mohr's Corners and assumes its original pioneer character:

Obviously this grassy track was too irresistible to pass up--even at dusk--so there I went. Later, using Photoshop, I superimposed Google satellite imagery over the original map above to see how the remnants of the road follow the original surveyed road allowance. It's pretty clear that the Mohr's Road of the old map aligns with some intriguing trails found on site. Moreover, the old map suggests that right in this area were some farms with buildings. I didn't notice any evidence of them but will investigate on a future trip.

The above grassy section passes through some heavily rutted sections full of thick clay mud before it finally emerges at Grant's Side Road:

If you head east down Grant's Side Road a few hundred metres, you'll enter an impressively dark tunnel formed by a remnant of the original forest that would've covered the entire area.

Back at Mohr's Road, the trail continues past Grant's Side Road as this tempting track. Since the maps suggest it follows the road allowance, it too was irresistible to explore:

In simply crossing the road, the fertile clay soil gave way to the unforgiving limestone pavement that is common throughout the region west of Ottawa.

The pioneers who arrived here only to find that their 200 acre land grant was useless rock must've been heartbroken--all the more so if the neighbour's land was fully productive soil. It's no wonder this section of the trail was abandoned. Continuing along the trail reinforced my suspicions. Here the trail entered a low, forested area. The thin soil has eroded down to bedrock and, clearly, this section is probably flooded in wet conditions:

The trail became more Hansel-and-Gretel-ish, but according to my GPS still followed the road allowance. Can you imagine dragging a wagon through this?

Soon after it entered a swamp that I wasn't going to attempt to ride through. I explored a well-travelled trail around the swamp for a short distance, but it devolved into a maze of ATV trails. Since there was no clear way to follow the road allowance, I turned back and looked for the exit at the other end, off Panmure Road.


The map and satellite suggested that the far end of the Mohrs Road is almost certainly what is now Morningdove Drive in a newish subdivision off Panmure Road. Here's what it looks like at that location:

An old road leads straight into the bush. Looking back towards the subdivision it seems pretty obvious:

But heading in the other direction, the well-travelled track veers left soon after passing a downed tree, and the part that continues straight along the road allowance peters out rather fast:

Yep, that's the road passing straight back through the scrub in the middle of the picture below! 

Many indications that this area is actively hunted. 

From here I was able to reconnect with the route I'd taken from the other end at Grant's Side Road, which would enable me to complete a run of the historic Mohr's Road, right on Ottawa's doorstep. However, the obvious, well-travelled trail bends east around the road allowance before meeting up again with the straight section on the road allowance. Heading straight into the bush along the road allowance doesn't seem to be a viable option.

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