Signs commemorate local hero, royal visit

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by Brent Eades

Mayor McLaughlin and Councillor John Edwards joined members of the Heritage Committee and the Lanark County Genealogical Society for the unveiling of two renewed signs commemorating local history.

The first is by the farm where George Eccles was born and raised, on Concession 8 east of Clayton Road.

Though his name isn’t well-remembered now, for a time in 1909 Eccles was celebrated as a hero in newspapers around the world. He was the wireless telegraph operator in a ship (the SS Ohio) that struck a rock off the BC coast and quickly began to founder. This report from a San Francisco paper described what happened next, as he became the first in his field to die in the line of duty:

George E. Eccles, the wireless telegraph operator who went down with the ill- fated vessel, performed deeds of heroism… After summoning help until he was assured that the Rupert City and Humboldt were en route to assist the Ohio, Eccles directed his attention to the rescue of the passengers.

Learning that one of the soldiers had not been transferred to the lifeboats and that he was probably lost in the lower part of the vessel, Eccles and Purser F.J. Stephens went below in an effort to find him. The rapidly filling vessel was all but submerged when they abandoned the search.

Stephens was caught below decks and, it is expected his body still lies in the sunken wreck. Eccles was cheered by the occupants of the lifeboats as he appeared on the deck and he was urged to leap overboard. As he did so his head struck a timber, his skull was crushed and he sank to rise no more.

Eccles sign on Concession 8
Edward, circa 1857

The other sign is around the corner on Clayton Road towards #29, and commemorates the stop in 1860 by 19-year-old Edward, the Prince of Wales, for a drink of water as he approached town during the first royal visit to Ottawa. He was near Bennie’s Corners, a town that once nearly rivaled Almonte as a commercial hub until the railroad showed up.

Edward in time became King Edward VII, great-grandfather to our present Queen Elizabeth.