Memories Along The Moira River
Author: Connie Carson
Connie is a well-known local story-teller and professional who has a passion for the history of the City of Belleville, in particular, the downtown streets.
This writer’s memories of the Moira River span seven decades of playing and daydreaming along its banks. The spring torrents of cold icy water that crashed over the dams changed to a slow, warm trickle of water and weeds in the late summer and fall.
My friends and I spent countless hours swimming in the river before the new dams were built, and we knew every deep hole from the Front Street Bridge to Lazier’s Dam. Fishing and tubing were also a big part of growing up beside the river.
Hunting fossils on the riverbed was a favourite pastime for my little brother and me. We spent our summers hunting for prehistoric brontosaurus bones along the river bank. All we found was fossilized coral. Catching polliwogs in the creek that ran into the river near Moira Street was another favourite activity.
We helped our parents wash their cars as they drove them right into the water beside Parkhurst Motors. It was a fun-filled, splash-happy time as the kids, cars, and dogs all shared in the fun.
We could stroll down the middle of an almost dry river bed in the late summer at the Upper Bridge. It seemed like the whole river had transformed into another world of quiet, reflective space.
It was common to see people on lawn chairs gathered in groups along the river, watching canoes and kayaks quietly paddling along the river towards the Bay of Quinte.
Our family enjoyed many Sunday picnics of KFC, shared with tiny ants, on our red-checked tablecloths along the water at the Station Street Dam. Late afternoon outings often ended with a trip to the Dairy Queen and a visit to Victoria Park to watch the sailboats return from whatever magical place they had sailed to.
One particular event stands out in my mind as an adult, and that’s the Rubber Ducky Races at the Dundas Street entrance to the Waterfront Trail.
This memorable fundraiser for the Rotary Club of Belleville was a joint venture with the Telephone Pioneers. It required the purchase of a ticket on a numbered duck which you hoped would win the race by floating fastest down the mighty Moira River.
Rotarian Bernie Ouellet reports, “We had to tag every darn duck with a number that corresponded to the ticket number. After the race, we had to retrieve them, clean and pack them up to send them off to the next racing event.
When it came time for launch day, the little yellow ducks were put into a dump truck. A plywood slide on the riverside was built, allowing them to be dumped into the water.
There was not enough water for the ducks to float, and someone reported this problem to the people in charge of the dam on the river. They suggested leaving the dam open a little bit longer, and the controller on the river said, ‘If I leave the dam open much longer, the fish will be flopping in the Moira River!'”
The Elliott Foundation supported the event with a grant, and Mrs. Edith Elliott was on hand for the launch day. As volunteers prepared for the launch, one of their hydraulic hoses wrapped around her foot, but, luckily, she was caught before she was knocked to the ground. Bob Michaud Jr. and Jack Miller provided the play-by-play from a boat in the middle of the river.
Wouldn’t you know, on the day of the race, there was a strong wind from the south, and the flock of competitors actually floated UPSTREAM! The Belleville Fire Department came to the rescue with their hoses, attempting to flush them DOWNSTREAM!
I bought my lucky ticket and watched and cheered myself hoarse from the sidelines. My tiny champion floated sideways, got tangled in weeds, turned upside down, and, sadly, sank out of sight.
The first prize was a Suzuki tracker, won by Rotarian Jim Pine’s son, Curtis, who was about six years old at the time! The entertainment value of the event made us all feel like winners.
Whether you walk, bike, or run along our fantastic Riverfront Trail, you will be sure to enjoy the beauty of the Moira River. Pause a moment to look for my unlucky RUBBER DUCKY, still tangled somewhere in its weedy depths.
Stroll of Discovery Guide
Looking for more history on the Riverfront Trail? The Stroll of Discovery: Riverfront Trail guide was developed by the Hastings County Historical Society in partnership with Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County.
Illustrated by contemporary and historic photos, the Stroll of Discovery takes you along the Riverfront Trail – from Meyers Pier, through downtown Belleville and up into Riverside Park near Highway 401. The Moira River is rich in history – from the Anishinaabe people to United Empire Loyalist settlement in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, to the present day.
The walking tour is five kilometres long and takes about an hour to complete or it can be broken into shorter segments. It’s also fully accessible by bicycle, stroller and wheelchair. Have a coffee and pastry at a Downtown Belleville café while you plan your route.
The Stroll of Discovery booklet is available at the Belleville Chamber of Commerce log cabin, the Belleville Public Library, the Community Archives and other locations.
Download the Stroll of Discovery on the PocketSights app from the Apple App Store or Google Play.
View the tour on the PocketSights website: https://pocketsights.com/tours/tour/Belleville-Stroll-of-Discovery%3A-Riverfront-Trail-Belleville-5775
Download the Walking Tour PDF from Community Archives: https://www.cabhc.ca/en/publications/publications.aspx
Photo credit Amanda Hill, Community Archives