If you had a chance to join Dead Centre of Town at Fort Edmonton this Halloween, you may have had the chance to hear these tales in their own unique style.
If you were wondering about the history behind the haunt, read on!
A feu-de joie¦of doom
As the year 1827 turned into the year 1828, there was much festivity going on in Fort Edmonton. The men had been given their New Year’s rations of rum and there was dancing, fiddling and general merriment. Everyone was enjoying themselves and for them, that also meant a feu de joie, or a joyful firing of their muskets. John Welch, the blacksmith, had too much libations and decided to fire off the Fort’s old cannon to celebrate. Now this had been a previous New Year’s tradition in Fort Edmonton, but the cannon was old and had not been fired in some time (Fort Edmonton’s cannons were famously never fired in anger and mainly used for signalling purposes). Morning came, and the fort inhabitants had not seen John Welch in some time, so they went looking for him. What they found was not a pleasant sight. They found what was left of Welch splattered on the walls of the bastion with what was left of the cannon. The lesson folks is clear, rum and artillery do not mix.
Next summer, you can visit the blacksmith’s shop in the 1846 Fort and ask him about his predecessor’s poor judgement, or visit Rowand House where Mr. Rowand’s steward keeps the rum under tight lock and key.
The Bones of One Pound One
John Rowand was a very large man with a very powerful personality. He was about 5’4″, well over 300 lbs and hated disorder amongst his employees. He was known for his swearing and anger when breaking up fights. One of Rowand’s employees, Gladstone, said : “Our boss was an incarnate fiend, the harshest man, at that time, in the whole Service. He was a Mr. Rowand¦ and would curse you blind if you looked sideways”. One such occasion, during a trip to Fort Pitt, Rowand saw two men having an argument. Right away and red in the face, he headed to them at full speed. On his way there, he simply keeled over and died.
He was buried at Fort Pitt, but it was later found that his will stated for him to be buried in Montréal near his father. His body had to be unearthed at Fort Pitt. It was still very large, but by now somewhat decomposed and so in a somewhat gruesome fashion, his body was boiled down to the bones to make for easier shipping. They were then put into a cask filled with rum to preserve the bones. The cask was labeled “Buffalo tongues” to disguise its contents. George Simpson feared that if the superstitious labourers knew the contents of the casks, they would throw it overboard and so Rowand’s bones were sent by way of York to England in order to come back to Montréal. They were lost along the way and a few years went by before they turned up again. When they discovered the casks and eventually got them to Montreal, they were without their alcoholic preserving fluid. The rum had likely been siphoned by sailors. Rowand’s bones were finally laid to rest in Montréal.
As befitting a man that was larger than life (literally), Rowand’s bones have gained folklore of their own. Some said that foul curses hissed out of his bones as they were boiled “ the last rages of an enraged man. An entertaining folk song imagined that those voyageurs who may have drank the rum in which his bones were packed were then haunted by his dancing ghost! It was said that some of the fort’s indigenous women made soap out of his fat, of which he had no shortage, but the author of this statement advised his readers not to believe it, as a man so far from godliness could never be an agent of cleanliness!
Join us in the 1846 Fort next summer and meet the inhabitants, any one of whom can tell you a story about the legendary John Rowand. On some special event days, you just might meet the man himself!