The latest book from artist, animator, and history-sleuth-turned-author Andrew King chronicles an eclectic cross-section of local “lost” history—from the first brewery to the last Zellers to 17th-century sailing vessels to the RMS Titanic’s affiliation with the Fairmont Château Laurier—all in an effort to preserve and reinvigorate interest in Ottawa’s past.
Ottawa Rewind 2: More Curios And Mysteries, from Ottawa Press and Publishing, is an informal yet informative compendium of 32 stories celebrating the quirky, arcane, and formative history of the nation’s capital (and a few places beyond). I had the opportunity to speak with Andrew King about his recent release.
Responses have been edited for clarity and length and will be featured here as well as in a full interview to follow.
Ottawa Rewind 2 is sure to satiate a hunger for local history, mystery, and adventure. King’s appeal lies in his infectious let’s-go-exploring attitude and excitable curiosity, both of which are on display throughout the book. “Knowing about our history can really change the way you feel about the city,” says King. “My work is meant to inspire a sense of wonder and adventure.” To King, I say: mission accomplished.
King establishes each story’s significance to the National Capital Region and substantiates it with comprehensive research, field reports, and his own artistic impressions. The result is a colourful and thoughtful journey through, as King writes, “the stories that have been overlooked by history books.”
Take, for instance, the hometown connection to “the Bandit from Bells Corners,” an Old-West outlaw named Chris Evans. King traces Evans’s roots to an unassuming piece of land in Nepean, where “the greatest Western story yet to be told” began.
At 16, Evans left his parents’ farm, which King located off Greenbank Road in the NCC Greenbelt, to make a name for himself in the United States: First, as a Union Army sharpshooter in the U.S. Civil War, then alongside American legend Lieutenant-Colonel George Custer (of “Custer’s Last Stand” fame), and subsequently as a train robber and outlaw in California.
King recounts a legendary gunfight known as the Battle at the Stone Corral and—without giving any more away—concludes that Hollywood would have a winner on its hands retelling the story of the Ottawa-farmer-turned-outlaw.
King’s passion for the material is palpable. Since 2013, he’s documented more than 150 adventures via his blog, also called Ottawa Rewind. He regularly engages in commentary with his online audience—a thoughtful selection of readers’ comments have been included in the print edition.
Last year, a number of popular posts were compiled into King’s debut release, Ottawa Rewind: A Book of Curios and Mysteries. The same strategy was employed for his latest release. While re-releasing abbreviated versions of existing content does not inherently impact the reading experience, King should consider adding exclusive content to enhance the allure for his core online audience.
The success of the blog and subsequent first book release indicate a growing interest in local history. “I appreciate that my work touches new audiences and generations,” says King. “When ‘lost’ history finds a new audience, it’s no longer lost.” One particular story in Ottawa Rewind 2, a relic from the city’s pandemic past, feels morbidly relevant to audiences in 2020.
Hidden in plain sight, a bridge linking Porter’s Island to St. Patrick Street once served as the sole entry point to a quarantine hospital during a smallpox outbreak. Built in 1894, the now-defunct crossing endures as a literal and figurative bridge between our past and present—my only hope is our current situation does not provide any material for Ottawa Rewind’s 127th edition in a century’s time.
Ottawa Rewind 2 covers the truth behind a widespread collection of local curiosities. Occasionally, King’s search for answers only yields more questions… these are Ottawa’s unsolved mysteries. At the top of King’s list is the fabled silver-dollar stash supposedly buried near Carleton University. “The story goes that a keg of American half-dollars was stolen from the paymaster’s cabin [near Carleton’s present-day engineering building] and never recovered,” says King. “That would be quite the find.”
In my full interview, King highlights more of Ottawa’s greatest mysteries, recounts a close call while snorkelling a shipwreck, and answers the important question: Are government bodies doing enough to preserve local historical sites?
Ottawa Rewind 2 appeals to all readers. King delivers a delightfully engaging look into our past while reinvigorating the way we see the city today.
Ottawa Rewind 2: More Curios And Mysteries is available at independent bookstores and all Chapters, Indigo, and Coles stores in Ottawa. Please visit the Ottawa Rewind blog for Andrew King’s latest adventures.