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 When I was visiting Sarnia recently, I saw a sign for “Plank Road”.  Last fall, while driving through the Caledonia area, I noticed a sign for a “Plank Road” there. Could you please explain these references to plank roads?

P.I. – Dundas

A:   The reference is to the means of construction. Plank roads were literally that- roads made of heavy planks, three inches thick and eight feet long.  These were placed across stringers (wooden posts), laid right on the ground, parallel to the direction of the road.

Plank roads were cheap to build, costing a fraction of macadamized (gravelled) roads. Furthermore, they could be laid over existing dirt roads.

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These farmer’s highways connected farming communities to the ever expanding railway system.

Bucking the normal course of events, this innovation spread from Russia to Canada and then to the United States.

The builders had predicted that the plank roads would last seven years but most roads only survived for two.  The heat warped the planks while the stringers, absorbing moisture from the ground, rotted.

Unrepaired plank roads became dangerous as rotting planks collapsed under the weight of the wagons and horses.

The cost of constant repairs dried up the investors’ profits.

The plank road craze which lasted some ten years from the mid 1840’s to the mid 1850’s bankrupted many of its overconfident investors.Plank Road 

Elgin Mills 21st May 1850
£0 7s 6d Received from Sec. Mr. Dickson [?] seven shilling and six pence [?] for chain bearing two day to Sec. McPhi′pps P.L.[?] measuring road for the Markham Elgin Mills Plank Road Company
Francis Chadwick


Recently, while driving along Cootes Drive, I saw that some construction was underway where the pier is to be built. I know that it is expected to be finished by the spring. Can you tell me what progress has been made?

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Matthew J. Hall, C.E.T.

Director, Capital Projects & Strategic Services

viewing plaform

We are currently wrapping up some final detailed design changes prior to steel fabrication and contractor mobilization onsite. The final area will look something like the original concept. However, instead of having fabric shade structures (as shown) there will be a wooden trellis feature overhead to provide some shade for visitors.

Just one point to clarify; we consider this more of a viewing or resting platform than a “historic pier” replication. The intention is not to recreate a historic element of the site.


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In your recent presentation on the Desjardins Canal, you said that Samuel Zimmerman’s arrogance cost him his own life. Then you said, “but that’s another story.” OK, What is the story?

train disaster 001

website (124)A Legislative Act of 1851 stipulated that all trains approaching a draw bridge must come to a complete halt for three minutes. Under pressure and threats from Samuel Zimmerman, the Legislature of Canada West declared that the act of 1851 was not intended to apply to the Great Western Railway Company.
If the ill-fated train’s engineer had been forced to observe the three minute pause, the damage to the locomotive might have been spotted as the train attempted to restart, or its lack of momentum may have lessened the damage to the Desjardins Canal Bridge.train disaster 003

Survivors said that Samuel Zimmerman reached the coach’s open door just one second too late and that he was flung back the entire length of the railway coach. Along with 59 others he perished in the Desjardins Canal Disaster.



I went on the website looking for information about the next presentation and was confronted with a “gross” ad promoting an arthritis medication, which featured a disturbing photo of a diseased knee. How do I eliminate these ads?  Where do they come from?

D.D. Greensville           Ad inserted

                            View of the “Home” page

                            on website  


                            The inserted advertisement



WordPress hosts websites for such a small charge, that the service is actually a lost leader. They make their real profits out of the ads that they sell and then place on the individual websites such as

If I, as the administrator of the website, paid a considerably larger sum of money, they would no longer place the ads on I am instinctively opposed to that action and prefer the following solution. Individual viewers can set up “ad blocker” on their browser. Type in “How do I activate ad blocker on Firefox” (Chrome, etc.) and follow the instructions.

TheAd blockerre is, however, a downside to activating ad blocker. Many sites that you try to access will not allow you to see their material because you have activated ad blocker.

Dave MacDougall Website administrator


QMy great, great, great uncle, John Leeming kept a diary as he travelled throughout Upper Canada in the autumn of 1840. Since the trip combined business, personal and general interest, he recorded a great variety of observations. One of these concerned the conditions of the roads.John Leeming

But bad roads are a real evil in summer, for when rain has fallen the roads are next to impossible. Government have spent a deal of money on macadamizing and great good is the consequence,”

Would you please explain the term, “macadamizing”.  Robert Leeming  St. George, Ontario

pioneer road 005

AMacadamized roads were constructed first of a base of large crushed stone. Then progressively smaller and smaller layers of crushed stone would be placed on top of that base.


The final layer was the powdery material left over from the crushing of the stones. Once the powder was exposed to rain water; it would dry to a concrete-like surface. The road was constructed so that it was slightly higher in the middle, forcing rain to run off into the ditches.


The corduroy sectionhorses on poor roads of the more primitive roads were such a danger to horses that farmers were forced to use plodding oxen to pull their wagons. Now, on the macadamized road they could use horses and cut their travel time in half.      editor


I have enclosed a picture of a bottle that we discovered in our old house.  This bottle is heavy. It is a beautiful colour. For some reason it is unable to stand upright.  002Obviously, there must be a history to this bottle. What can you tell us? Is it valuable?

The bottle in your photograph is a torpedo bottle. They were first created in England by the Schweppes Company in 1794. Schweppes, one of the first producers of soda water, found that because the carbonation in the soda water was under pressure, it readily leaked out around the cork. To ensure that the cork remained moist, the company developed a bottle that would not stand up. This moist cork in turn prevented the leaking of the carbonation.

In the 1850’s, the neck of the bottle was thickened with the addition of the blob top – a thick band of glass around the lip.  This blob is clearly evident in your photograph, indicating that your bottle is from the last half of the nineteenth century. The blob neck distinguishes newer from earlier torpedo bottles.

The bottling companies retained ownership of the bottles. The consumer was expected to return empties which were reused many times. This led to excessive chipping and other damage to the bottles.

Torpedo bottles such as yours would sell in the ten to twenty dollar range.

Earlier bottles from the pre-blob era; bottles in pristine condition; bottles that are embossed with a manufacturer’s name or have an unusual colour would be worth considerably more.

Canal Park one


Canal Park two Canal Park Three