Tuesday, June 28, 2016

St. James's Park, London

Situated at the southernmost tip of the St. James area in the City of Westminster is a 23-hectare (57-acre) park called St. James's Park.  Named in honour of a leper hospital that had serviced the London populace in the 13th century, the marshland that was to become St. James's Park was acquired by Henry VIII in 1532.  The area, through which the Tyburn River flowed, was meant to complement York Palace, subsequently renamed Whitehall.  The palace had belonged to Cardinal Wolsey.  Henry VIII acquired the palace, and believed that the nearby parkland would make the palace a more fit dwelling for a King.

James I ascended to the throne in 1603, and had the marshland drained and landscaped.  He added many exotic animals to the park, including crocodiles and camels and even an elephant. 

St. James's Park underwent more changes when Charles II was returned to the throne after his exile in France.  While in France, Charles had enjoyed the elaborate gardens of the French Royal Palace.  He redesigned St. James's  Park, most likely with the assistance of French landscaper Andre Mollet, to reflect what he had seen in France.  A huge canal, measuring 775m by 38m, was dug through the centre of the park. 

King Charles II opened the park to the public and used it as a place to entertain guests and meet his mistresses, including his mistress Nell Gwynn.  The park became a notorious meeting place for all forms of lecherous liaisons.  An account of such goings-on was given by John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, in his poem "A Ramble in St. James Park".

By the late 17th century and early 18th century, cows were allowed to graze in the park and milk was available from the Lactarian.  This place, where fresh milk was provided warm from the udders of cows, was described by the German scholar, Zacharias Conrad Von Uffenbach, in 1710. 

During the Hanover period in the 18th century, the canal was reclaimed for use for the Horse Guards Parade.  In 1826-27 the Prince Regent, later George IV, commissioned a remodelling of the park.  The modifications were overseen by architect and landscape artist John Nash.  The formal avenues were removed and replaced by more romantic winding paths.  The canal was made into a more natural-looking waterway.  In 1837, the Ornithological Society of London presented the park with birds and constructed a bird-keeper's cottage.  St. James's Park was opened to the public in 1887.

St. James's Park is bounded to the west by Buckingham Palace, the London residence and administrative headquarters for the reigning Monarch of the United Kingdom.  In 1761, Buckingham House was acquired for the use of Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III.  Buckingham House was expanded to create the Palace, and Queen Charlotte, an avid patron of the arts and amateur botanist, lived in Buckingham Palace until her death in 1818.

To the north, St. James's Park is bounded by The Mall.  This road has Buckingham Palace at its west end and Trafalgar Square via Admiralty Arch at its east.

Horse Guards forms the east boundary of the park, and the south is bounded by Birdcage Walk.  This street is named after the Royal Menagerie and Aviary, which were located there during the reign of King James I.  Initially, when the street was created, only the British Royal Family and the Hereditary Grand Falconer, the Duke of St Albans, a title created by King Charles II for his illegitimate son with Nell Gwynn, Charles Beauclerk, were permitted access.

The lake in St. James's Park has two small islands; West Island and Duck Island.  The resident colony of Pelicans that still live at the lake are descended from a set of Pelicans donated to the park in 1664 by the then Russian ambassador. 

The Blue Bridge in the park affords spectacular views of Buckingham Palace to the west and the Swire Fountain to the east.  To the north of Blue Bridge is Duck Island, and to the south is the Tiffany Fountain on Pelican Rock. 

On the 3rd of January 1804, Col. George Jones of the Coldstream Guards “perceived the figure of a woman, without a head, rise from the earth, at the distance of about three feet before me”.  She was dressed in a red striped gown with red spots between each stripe, and part of the dress and figure “appeared to be enveloped in a cloud.”  The apparition is said to be that of a woman lured to St. James's Park and then murdered by her soldier husband.  While he was dismembering her body and disposing of it in the lake, the murderer was spotted and taken into custody.  This ghost has been reported walking along Birdcage Walk and also the Cockpit Steps.  She has been sighted emerging from the lake.  In 1972, a motorist reportedly hit a lamppost trying to avoid hitting a misty figure dressed in white with what looked like blood on her clothing.

I love visiting St. James's Park.  It is populated by a huge number of interesting birds and, most excitingly, by the gorgeous squirrels that have become so tame that they are happy to come and pose for a photograph.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Chateau Frontenac

One of the most photographed hotels in the world, the Chateau Frontenac looms at an elevation of 54m (177ft) above Quebec City with commanding views of the Saint Lawrence River.  The hotel is situated on the site that was originally the Chateau Haldimand, the official residence of the British Colonial Governors of Lower Canada and Quebec.  In 1784, Frederick Haldimand ordered the construction of a castle.  The then Governor of Quebec, Haldimand established the castle as the seat of Colonial Government from 1786 to 1791.  By 1860, the Chateau Haldimand had become the headquarters for the Legislative Assembly of Canada.  It served this purpose until 1866.  Part of the castle was then used by the University of Laval until 1892, when it was demolished to make room for the construction of the Chateau Frontenac. 

William Van Horne, the General Manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway, commissioned American architect Bruce Price to design and construct a series of train stations and hotels along the railway line for customers to enjoy.  Price, an architect and innovator, designed the Chateau Frontenac in the Chateauesque style.  It was a revival style based on French Renaissance Architecture.  The Chateau Frontenac opened in 1893. 

The Chateau was named after Louis de Baude, Count of Frontenac.  Louis de Baude was a French soldier and courtier before becoming the Governor General of New France.  He served in this role from 1672 to 1682, and then again from 1689 to 1698.  During his governorship of the colony of New France, Buade established a number of forts and fought battles against the English and the Iriquois.  He died on November 28th 1698 after a brief illness. 

The Chateau Frontenac was built near the Citadelle, the construction of which was begun by Frontenac at the end of the 17th century.  The Citadelle remains an active military instalment and the official residence of the Canadian Monarchy and the Governor General of Canada. 

On the outside wall of the entry to the now 600-room hotel is the Frontenac Coat of Arms.  Within the vaulted lobby there is a 300-year-old feature stone bearing the Cross of Malta.  The rich polychromatic surfaces and the picturesque eclecticism of the build were a direct reflection of the taste in Victorian architecture at the time.  The five brick-and-stone wings and central tower of Chateau Frontenac were built over seven stages between 1892 and 1993.  Up until 1993, many expansion projects were carried out on the original Chateau.  The Citadelle construction occurred in 1899, the Mont Carmel construction in 1908 and, in 1920 and 1924, Saint Louis and Tour Centrale work was conducted.  In 1926, a central tower was added to the Chateau, designed and constructed by architects Edward and William Maxwell.  In June of 1993, the inauguration of the Claude-Pratte Wing took place. 

There are two distinct apparitions that have been sighted at the Chateau Frontenac.  The first is said to be the ghost of Louis de Buade.  Although de Buade died at a chateau close by, he is said to have been seen sitting, in period clothes, on window sills.  He has also been sighted wandering the halls of the Chateau as well as the ballroom.  Several guests have reportedly woken up to find the ghostly apparition of de Baude apparently watching them sleep.  There are many conflicting stories about the de Buade ghost, some even saying he paces the halls of the Chateau Frontenac waiting for the arrival of his fiancĂ©.  This story conflicts with actual history, as Frontenac had a wife who remained in France while he went to the colonies.  The female apparition said to haunt Chateau Frontenac has long hair and reportedly watches people sleep, and sometimes climbs into bed with hotel guests.

The hotel is a beautiful landmark in the even more beautiful Quebec City, which I love.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Hockey Hall of Fame

Emerging from the depression of the previous decade, the 1880s proved to be a prosperous time for Canada.  Reflecting this growing wealth was the construction of a building on the corner of Yonge and Front Street in Toronto.  Commissioned by the Bank of Montreal, the building was designed to inspire confidence and represent prosperity.  The building was constructed by Canadian architects Frank Darling and his partner S. George Curry.  Darling was significant in the design of many ornate buildings in Toronto.  Curry had started as a junior in Darling's architecture firm, only to become one of Darling's Partners.  Darling favoured the Beaux Arts Style of architecture, and this is evident in the building he designed for the Bank of Montreal to serve as its head office in Toronto.

The design is ornate, with elaborate stone work.  Holbrook and Mollington were responsible for designing the statues that decorate the building.  Their sculptures are based on sketches provided by Darling.  The interior of the bank was said to be the most decorative in the dominion at the time.  The west wing contained the Manager's Office, a board room and a private apartment that had outside access through an adorned door with richly ornamented surrounds on the exterior of the building.

The largest dome in Toronto soars above the bank hall.  The dome was constructed by Joseph McCausland and Sons with stained glass.  Twenty-four fanned panels decorate part of the dome depicting allegorical dragons protecting gold from gorgons and chimaeras.  The outside is decorated with a cornucopia of flowers and fruits.  Piers were decorated with carved masks and shields under which elements of the arts and industry are represented.  A carved telegraph pole represents communication and the railway, while coins and ledgers represent banking.  A lute and clarinet illustrate music, tools represent architecture, while sheaves of wheat depict agriculture. 

The building remained the head office of The Bank of Montreal until 1949 and an important branch of the bank until 1982 when it closed.  The beautiful building remained mostly unused until it was restored by BCE Place (now Brookfield Place) for use as the Hockey Hall of Fame.  It reopened as the Hockey Hall of Fame on the 18th of June 1993.

The building is said to be haunted by the ghost of Dorothy Mae Elliot.  A nineteen-year-old teller, Mae reportedly shot herself in the upstairs ladies washroom early on the morning of Wednesday March 11th 1953.  She died twenty-two hours later at St Michaels Hospital.  The long-since defunct Toronto Telegram ran a short item explaining the incident as "an attractive young brunette may have been despondent over a love affair".  Three paragraphs about the suicide were run a day later by The Toronto Daily Star suggesting that Mae's death had been incited by her lover "taking a job on the boats".  There have been rumours that Mae was, in fact, saddened by an unrequited love for the bank manager.  Visitors to the building have experienced flickering lights and eerie feelings.  Doors and windows seemingly open and close on their own, and a crying woman has been heard in deserted parts of the building.  A harpist playing at an event in the building reportedly saw a full-bodied female apparition on the staircase above where she was playing.  Some employees have refused to go to the upstairs parts of the building, saying they feel as though they are being watched.

The Hockey Hall of Fame is housed in a beautiful building that now hosts more than 300,000 visitors a year.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Pinjarra Bridge

Pinjarra is a town in the Peel Region of Western Australia. For over a thousand years the area was inhabited by the Bindjareb Bilyidar Nyungars.  The lands of the Pindjarup were first explored by Europeans in 1829 by Lieutenant P.N Preston and Dr Alexander Collie, a Scottish surgeon and botanist who travelled to Australia to explore and serve as a colonial doctor. They took the British vessel HMS Sulphur to explore the Peel Inlet, the Serpentine and Murray Rivers and the Leschenault Inlet.

Following the establishment of the Swan river colony in Western Australia in 1929, Thomas Peel, second cousin to the British Prime Minister Robert Peel. was given a substantial amount of land. from Cockburn Sound to the Murray River.  Born in Lancashire Thomas Peel originally wanted to settle in New South Wales but instead became a member of a group to found a colony in Western Australia.  In early 1829 all members left the group leaving only Peel. He was promised 250000 acres of land if he could find 400 settlers. Peel arrived in the Swan River Colony (later renamed Western Australia) in 1829 aboard the Gilmore. The land that was granted to Peel was primarily to serve for farming use as the land along the waterways was fertile. The area now known as the Peel Region included the town called  as Pinjarra.

As Peel attempted to settle the area conflict began right away with the aboriginal people being angered by their tribal lands being taken.  In retaliation they began by spearing cattle. The area became treacherous with ongoing hostilities between the settlers and the indigenous people.  Aboriginals and settlers were killed, crops were destroyed and fires were started to destroy buildings.  The ongoing incidents came to a head when a servant of Thomas Peel was murdered.  The Battle of Pinjarra ensued.  It has in recent years been termed a massacre with many aboriginal men, women and children killed in the onslaught.

Following the massacre a military post was set up in Pinjarra. The early settlement however struggled due to lack of farming skills and labor.  Peel eventually died in poor circumstances in Mandurah in 1865 and is buried in the churchyard there. 

With such a violent history it is little wonder that Pinjarra has its share of paranormal tales.  One of the most famous is about the Pinjarra Bridge.  The bridge was constructed to connect the town to Perth and has been built five times. The first bridge in 1840 was washed away.  The second bridge was lost to floods two years later.  A third bridge was also washed away and the fourth was built in 1897  The current bridge saw pioneer graves dug up from the churchyard of St Johns and the bodies moved to accomodate the pylons of the new bridge.

The most famous ghost story featuring Pinjarra Bridge was recounted in the diary of a settler : SOURCE: Diary of Thomas Scott, 1870-74

"I had occasion during my stay in Pinjarrah to see Mr. C. on some small business transactions. Mr. C. was a near relation of the nocturnal visitant of which we are about to speak. On the third evening of our stay at Mr. Greenacre's Mr. C. paid me a visit. He was a man of firm resolution and would laugh trifles in the face. And a thorough unbeliever in such things as disembodied spirits. On my remarking how unwell he looked he only shook his hand and said, 'No wonder, Sir, for we have seen her again. And this makes the sixth time of her reappearance, and more distinct she appeared than she has on the former occasions.'

" 'Seen who? may I ask,' said I.

" 'Seen who?' reiterated Mr. C. 'Why surely, Mr. Margrave, you have not been in Pinjarrah these three days and heard nothing of the Ghost of the old Bridge?'

" 'Indeed then I have,' I replied. 'But you really don't mean to tell me that you believe in the story? Why, it was only last night, rather late that I came across the old Bridge and met none save one solitary individual, an elderly lady to all appearance who was attired in a light loose dress.'

"My poor Aunt, Mrs. C.,' exclaimed my friend, 'who has been dead for the last seven years, and this is the anniversary of her mysterious death. Why, Mr. Margrave this is the veritable ghost of the old Bridge of which I was just speaking to you about, and which makes its nocturnal appearance on the old Bridge every year about this time. Whether it is the disembodied spirit of my aunt, which carries her feature and is recognised by us all, or whether it is but a phantom of the mind. God only knows, for it is very mysterious.'

" 'Strange, no doubt, as you say,' I ejaculated, 'but I rather think you are labouring under some illusion.'

" 'No illusion whatever,' said Mr. C., 'it is too true. She walks that old bridge towards midnight nine days in each year just before and after the anniversary of her death. She has been recognised by her two sisters, her brother John, and Mr. Koil (?), my uncle.'

" 'You say she has been dead for the last seven years. May I ask in what manner she met her death?'

" 'Certainly, Sir,' answered Mr. C. 'She was found dead seven years ago on the old Bridge. She was supposed to have died from an apoplectic fit, but whatever the cause of death was she was interred next day as the weather was too oppressive to keep her any longer than that short time. On the 1st July, one year from the date of her demise, she, or rather her apparition for I cannot be convinced to the contrary, was first seen by my uncle at midnight walking the old Bridge like a silent sentinel from the place of departed spirits. My uncle came home - I remember the night well - just as he had finished telling us what he had seen, three distinct, loud knocks were heard at our back door. It was a beautiful moonlit starry night - not a cloud was seen in the vast blue firmament; and bewildering stillness seemed to reign supreme. There was no time for anybody to have made off nor was there any place of concealment near at hand, as instantaneously we all ran to the door - but there was nothing to be seen and there was not a breath of air stirring. With palpitating hearts and big drops of perspiration on our foreheads we returned to the house. The door was hardly closed when three more knocks louder than the first was heard again, and at the same time we heard as distinctly as possible my uncle's christian name repeated two or three times outside the door. The sound or voice was that of my an aunt, which
was recognised by all present. We all stood looking at each other in mute fear and astonishment - terror seemed to sway every heart now beating thrice three times as fast. My uncle was the first to break the spell. He rushed to the door, closely followed by myself, as if ashamed of his momentary fear, to behold a tall stately figure of a female clad in a light loose dress similar to that she had on at the time she was found dead on the old Bridge. 'Yes,' said my uncle, in a tremulous hoarse voice, 'Yes, that is my sister Kate or her apparition which I saw on the old Bridge.' She was walking or rather slowly gliding as it were in the direction of the old Bridge, which is about a quarter of a mile from our farm. My uncle instinctively shouted out 'Kate,' his sister's name. But, as if by magic, on her name being called she immediately disappeared from our view. We all proceeded to the old Bride with the expectation of seeing the apparition there, for we were all fully convinced now that the figure was nothing else, but we were disappointed. None of us slept that night but kept a vigil till morning. On the third night after this the apparition was seen again but could not be approached by my uncle. Finally it disappeared altogether until the following year about the same time it made its reappearance again. Each succeeding year to the present one has brought us the ghostly visits of my deceased aunt, and for what purpose is to us as yet a mystery.'

" 'You say,' said I, 'that the apparition is to be seen on the old Bridge but will not be approached; must I understand by that it disappears on your approach to it?'

" 'Precisely so,' answered Mr. C. "And,' he went on, 'if you, Mr. Margrave, have no objection you are welcome to join our little private party who are going to watch for it to-night."

" 'I shall be too glad to accept your offer,' I replied; 'and I only hope I shall have a glimpse of your nocturnal visitant. May I bring a friend?' "Certainly, with pleasure - half a dozen if you like - the more the merrier.'

"The hour appointed by the C. party for apprising the apparition was fixed at midnight, that being the accustomed time of its first appearance. On my informing Mr. M. of our midnight adventure and the object it had in view, he most readily assented to accompany me, saying at the same time, 'And, by my soul, if it were a ghost we'd better be after letting the poor creature rest. faith, or may be it will be giving us a turn as well as its own people, sure. But no matter, go we will and if it should turn out to be some spalpeen night-walking, that wants waking, faith an' we'll give him a good ducking in the river that runs under the old Bridge.'

"According to previous arrangements half-past eleven that night found our small midnight party, comprising five in all, at our respective positions. The night was beautifully starlit with a full moon coursing in the heavens above. To the right of the Bridge was a burying ground and on either side but this lay nothing but the dark, dense forest, that looked in this lonesome hour the very place for a ghost scene. Twelve o'clock came and - no apparition appeared - a quarter-past twelve - half-past - and now five-and-twenty minutes to one and yet no appearance. We were literally counting the minutes after twelve but to no effect.

" 'Bad luck to it,' exclaimed Mr. M.: "I believe after all it will turn out nothing more than a hoax, sure.'

'Well,' said, I, 'never mind, Mr. M., we will keep it up till one o'clock, then we'll give it up as a ----------' 'Hist. Look!' interrupted Mr. M. 'By my soul, but there's somebody coming over the Bridge.'

"On looking at my watch I found it was just twenty minutes to one. Scarcely had the last word died on Mr. M's lips when from four different quarters we advanced as previously arranged, with stealthy step (like 'stealing a march') toward the Bridge. A slight thrill ran through me as I clearly recognised the same figure I had seen the night previous. The old Bridge was a wooden construction about 50 yards long, with railing on each side as a protection to the dark waters beneath. We were not twenty yards from the apparition when on the death stillness of the surrounding dark looking forest broke the prolonged and mournful howl of a dingo or native dog, causing us to fairly start. But it was only momentarily. Mr. M. and myself arrived at one end of the bridge whilst at the other end appeared at the same time the C. party.

"The apparition was in the centre of the Bridge and seemed to be on the move. It was quite recognisable by all parties and the same that has already been described. We instinctively stopped to watch it for a few minutes. The signal was given by the other party to apprise it, and simultaneously we all rushed to the spot where the apparition stood, visible as plain as day, and - aghast, we stood gaping at each other scarcely believing our own eyes. The figure whether earthly or spiritual had vanished. Five men, whom I am in a position to prove were in there sane senses witnessed the mysterious - what shall we call it? - a delusion? - a phenomenon? - or what? The world in the nineteenth century laughs at as gross superstition, viz., a ghost or spirit of the departed. 

Modern day Pinjarra is an interesting place to visit with delightful historic buildings and beautiful town parks.