For some reason, the obituaries were full of drowning deaths in the early days. Whether it was caused by the clothing that was worn (nobody dared leave their home without that three-piece suit or bulky day dress with bustle and hat), a lack of lighting along the water (last week we discussed Herbert Foster that drowned in the canal at night), or simply the inability to swim (many never learned, as there was too much work to do during daylight hours to waste time swimming when just a quick sit in the shallow water could cool you just as well), drowning was certainly near the top of the list of accidental deaths. One thing that they all have in common is the effect it had on family and community.

The Tragic Loss of Helen Barker

Helen was the daughter of Murray and Emma Pearl (nee: Whitmarsh), and she met her fate on The Mill Pond in 1928. On Helen’s death certificate the place of death was listed as “Westport Mill Pond”, which is much more specific than usual. Sadly, Helen’s death was most likely not caused by her clothing, lighting, or the inability to swim, but simply being a child having fun on ice that was too thin.

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Helen Barker, born January 21, 1914, died December 15, 1928. Source: The Obituary Book loaned to The Rideau District Museum

Helen can be seen in the back row of this class photo from 1923, second from the left wearing the big hat. Top Row: Leila Botting, Helen Barker, Freda Ainse, Alice Myers, Jean MacDonald, Beatrice Tooley, Mabel Forrester, Norma Stevens, Gertrude Donnell, Sybil Berry, Lila Derbyshire, Evelyn Barker, Velma Thompson. 2nd Row: Alann Bailey, Harry Bradley, Howard Myers, Noah Chamberlain, Ronald Wing, George Alfred, Jack Forrester, Fred Abrams, Frank Abrams, George Curry, Howard Green, Jim Last, George Sully, Buster Lockwood, Harold Merkley, Floyd Green. Front Row: Olive McEwen, Violet Tooley, Cecile Barker, Mary Barker, Helen Kilpatrick, Luella Merkley, Lilian Merkley, Lila Porter, Marguerite Dennison, Gladys Sully, Erlene Thake, Annie Curry, Ruby Steele, Edythe Chamberlain, Helen Conley. Photo Source: from the archives of The Rideau District Museum, with students’ names identified by the late Beulah Knapp