Saturday, October 24, 2009

Peter Aylen

The plaque says:
“C. 1830. Aylen Heney House,150 Richmond Road. As built in the 1830's. This building housed labourers on the farm of Peter Aylen. Aylen was notorious as a Leader of the shiners, Irish labourers whose riotous habits enlivened early Bytown. In the 1870's, John “Buffalo” Heney added the metal clad mansard roof.”
Just when I was about to snap the picture a woman drove up and parked her mini-van. She ran to the brick house next door. I waited for her return, but eventually had to take the picture as I was on my lunch hour.

“Enlivened” was a polite and generous term, in my opinion. Peter Aylen was nicknamed King of the Shiners. He was born in 1800, probably in England. (While not researching Peter Aylen myself, I have since learned that Peter was born in Ireland). As a teenager he was a cabin boy on a British frigate. He had a stone house and a stone barn on the Ottawa River. (but it was probably set far back from the river, situated where the Canadian Bank Note Company is today).  Are the ruins still there today? (the ruins are no longer there today as the Canadian Bank Note Company is on the manicured site today)   “Imbedded in the wall of his barn was a mysterious stone inscribed with the initials P. A. V.(1).  Peter employed shiners who were “fearless, fighting rivermen.”. I have read that they even fought with Big Joe Mufferaw (Joseph Montferrand). Peter Aylen was many things in his lifetime, one of them being a lumberman. “All his timber rafts to Quebec were manned by shiners...Peter...married a daughter of William Thomson, and his son married into another great river family when he became the husband of a daughter of Charles Symmes.” The son’s name was also Peter Aylen, and the woman he married was my 3rd cousin 6 time removed! The house in picture above sits kitty corner to the Canadian Bank Note Company, which was the site of the original Peter Aylen homestead

(1) I have since been informed that the P.A.V. in the wall of the barn stands for Peter Aylen Villiers (or de Villiers) the name he was born with but took the name of his mother when he jumped ship at Quebec City. (the reason for this has not been researched but as a guess he may have owed money for his passage)  This information comes to me from a great grandson of Peter Aylen, and Peter's birthplace according to family, was near the border of northern Ireland, and not in England.

Still not sure how this blogging works.....but UPDATE :  I have since learned after posting the above paragraphs that a great uncle of mine Edward Sands Bradley (1802-1836) was beat up by the Shiners, in the late 1820s.  He died as of a result of his injuries some years later, in 1836.  Newspaper reporting in the Ottawa Valley was scant to say the least.  I have only been able to find a one or two lined death notice for Sands, but no account of the beating.  If you have information on Sands demise, please email me at

John Burrows Headstone at Beechwood Cemetery. This stone lies flat on the ground. He was probably moved here from another Cemetery (Sandy Hill, or one in Hull) since he died before Beechwood Cemetery opened. It reads "John Burrows, Born in Plymouth, England, May 1st 1789, Died in Bytown July 27th 1848, Honored Pioneer gentleman, civic and religious leader, Royal Engineer, and Superintendent of the Rideau Canal, Came to the wilderness of Canada in 1816, From England.
From "Women's Canadian Historical Society", 1901: "Mr. Burrows lived for a short time on the uncleared land he eventually sold to Mr. Sparks, the only settler in a wilderness of forest and rugged hills. He had come out to Canada in 1818, and settled on a farm between Hull and Aylmer. After Colonel By's arrival he was appointed on the engineering staff of the Ordnance Department, where he remained until his death in 1848. He build the first Methodist Church, which had the honor of being as well the first of any creed erected in Ottawa at his own expense. It was a little frame building on Chapel Street, just below Rideau St. and gave it's name to the former street. Unfortunately it was destroyed by fire a few months later....We are told that the first school in Nepean met at the house of Mr. Burrows."