The brown-painted floors of the Forbes Memorial Reading Room creaked and moaned each time Jane Whiteside Craig retrieved another binder of photographs from the bookcase.

Under cathedral ceilings, where a handful of quilts, a few tattered hockey jerseys and dozens more photographs hang from poles and walls, she turned page after page until she found the right one.

“This was my father’s hotel,” Craig said, tipping the binder on its edge and running her finger over the image.

“Our living quarters were here in the back. My father owned the hotel, and he was also on the committee to build the church, and he was on the School Board to build the school.

“He did everything he could. He wasn’t college educated, but he wanted to help.

“I can’t think of a time between ’54 and ’58 when he sat down with us,” she said. “He was constantly on the move. He always had somewhere to go.

“But the most important thing to him was that people got fair compensation for their loss.”

But as Craig got older, she learned that some losses can’t be measured in dollars and cents.



VILLAGES MOVED

She was a 12-year-old schoolgirl in 1954 when word came that her small Ontario village of Moulinette would be flooded to redirect the St. Lawrence River and silence the raging Long Sault Rapids.

Moulinette was one of six Canadian communities to disappear on Inundation Day — July 1, 1958 — during construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway and the St. Lawrence-Franklin D. Roosevelt-Robert H. Saunders Power Project.

The international effort to tame the rapids and generate inexpensive hydroelectric power was completed in 47 months, using more than 5,700 American workers and 6,100 Canadians.

During construction, 6,500 people, 550 homes, 225 farms and 17 churches were moved from villages to two new communities created to house the displaced families.

Each new township would have schools, churches and parks built to replace lost property and amenities.



EXCITED AT FIRST

The Lion Hotel was near the last to be demolished, Craig said, because her father’s place was one of the few where work crews could get an adult beverage and something to eat.

“I was just a pre-teen in 1954, and for my friends and me, we were just so excited. We would be moving into new homes and going to a new school.”

But her parents, Doug and Bessie Whiteside, and many older residents had a harder time.

For one thing, each village had its own barber, grocery store and shops. But when six municipalities were reduced to two, many business owners had to find other work.

“I was just a schoolgirl, so how they settled it, I don’t know,” Craig said, adding that even years later, some of her questions were unanswered.

She set the binder down, closed it and explained.

“Seniors, from 1958 until 1977, would not even talk about it. If the subject of the inundation ever came up, they just would not talk about it. Even my mother.‘I’d say to her, ‘now where was it that someone lived?’ and she’d say, ‘Oh heavens! It’s all under water. Forget about it.’”



TEARS

Craig watched as neighborhoods slowly grew quieter and bleaker as homes and families were moved to the new townships one by one.

The hotel was ultimately burned to the ground, too structurally unstable to move safely.

“It’s a desolate feeling you have, seeing it burn,” Craig said. “I cried and cried. I was a teenager by then, but I can’t imagine how my parents felt.

“And oh, there were tears — a lot of tears, especially when a place had been in a family for a number of years. It was like the end of the world.

“We were children, and we didn’t realize what we were losing. In 1957, our place was sold, and we moved. In 1960, my father died at age 57, and my mother felt it was all of the stress over this.

“That is when her bitterness set in.”



LOST RIVER, ISLAND

Craig said it wasn’t until 1999 when she retired from the Bank of Nova Scotia and took a college-enrichment course that her own sense of loss surfaced.

She realized how much she and her friends missed when they no longer had access to the St. Lawrence River, which had been their main source of entertainment and pleasure all year long.

“I don’t know any kid who didn’t have a boat,” Craig said.

And the displaced people missed the roaring of the Long Sault Rapids, which, she claims, would now rival Niagara Falls.

As president of the Lost Villages Historical Society, founded in 1977, Craig is invited to speak and gives bus tours where you can still see paved streets under the water.

The society’s museum is about seven miles west of Cornwall off Highway 2 on Fran Laflamme Drive, named for the woman who brought reluctant people together to talk about the past and explained, “People have to know what happened to us!”

Even after dozens of tours and speaking engagements, Craig admits there is still one aspect of the inundation too painful for her and her friends to touch: the loss of Sheik’s Island.

To children of the 1950s, it was the epicenter of community gatherings, family picnics, games and recreation for nearly everyone from the Lost Villages.

Now, it is gone.

Craig reached for the binder, absently running her hand over the cover to touch the memories tucked inside.

“Oh, Sheik’s Island,” she said sadly, as she shook her head and turned her face away.



E-mail Denise A. Raymo at:

draymo@pressrepublican.com

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