Self-Guided Tours — Westmeath

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Spotswood’s Ferry (The Crossing to Waltham)


The first Spotswood ferry was launched around 1840The crossing of the Ottawa River from the north end of the Westmeath peninsula to Waltham was referred to as Spotswood’s Ferry. William Spotswood and his wife had left Scotland circa 1835 and settled in Kemptville, along with an uncle and two brothers. In 1840, he and his wife and first-born son moved to Westmeath and settled on a 58-acre farm, raising nearly every kind of animal on it, from horses to pigs to geese. The farm was the end of River Road (now known as Rapid Road), six miles from the village of Westmeath. He also built the first of two ferries that would be the heart of a business.

This ferry was designed to be lower in the centre section than both access points. It saved on the cost of lumber and was possibly safer for transporting cattle to the lumber camps up the Black River on the Quebec side. The ferry made its crossings, winched along by pulley and cable. There was one incident involving a horse-drawn carriage being transported where a horse bolted. A woman thrown from the carriage drowned.

The second Spotswood ferry launched in 1940Great-grandson Jack Spotswood was the final ferry operator. He took over circa 1940 and later built a second ferry, a two-car, 40 x 14 footer. This one was propelled by a pointer boat powered by a Model ‘A’ engine. The crossing season extended from April into December, 24 hours a day. His brother Gerald worked with him. The sound of a horn honking signaled another customer was ready to cross. Once in the night the horn was not heard. It was a taxi on the Quebec side with a pregnant woman heading for a hospital in Pembroke. The delay caused the baby to be born in the cab itself. All turned out well in the end. There was another incident at night where a car drove onto the ferry and partially off the other end. The back wheels hung up on the exit ramp. Mr. Spotswood, awakened by the commotion, got up and rescued the driver. He had been drinking and figured the ferry was a bridge.

Spotswood river front. 1951Upriver, the S.S. Pontiac operated between Pembroke and Desjardinville. However, it stopped service in early November each year. Spotswood’s by operating until Christmastime picked up some of the S.S. Pontiac business despite the longer drive for some of the customers. Sunday was the busiest day of the summer. Each hour up to 12 cars were ferried, from about noon until 6pm. Most were heading from the Ontario side to picnics in Quebec. At times, 20 to 30 cars were in line, waiting to cross. The fee to cross at the end of the business was 75 cents one way.

Jack Spotswood continued to operate for one year after the bridge from Ontario to Allumette Island was completed. Business was down so significantly, the family business expired. Someone in Fort Coulonge bought the ferry for $50; the pointer boat was left to rot and the engine given to a local fellow.

First Ferry Second Ferry Ferries out of service