I haven’t lived in Ottawa all my life. I consider myself a transplant, although I’m shortly coming up on 20 years here, so I suppose I’m as much an Ottawa resident as the next guy on the street.
In my conversations with Ottawa-area plate geeks and armchair historians, I learned a couple of years ago about a fabled car junkyard, buried in a forest, with some wrecks as old as the 1930s. I guess it’s no big secret, but no one really said exactly where it was, except that it was back in Monaghan forest, north of Fallowfield Road and east of Richmond Road.
My son has, from time to time, concocted imaginary stories of he and I walking in the country and happening across some old cars in a meadow. I heard opportunity knocking: I had an empty Sunday morning, the mosquitos weren’t out yet, the early-May trees were still mostly bare, and the tall grass hadn’t yet grown into a haven for ticks. I sipped my morning coffee and Googled some related keywords. To my surprise, I found the location of the dump, complete with GPS coordinates! I woke my son up, got him dressed, and we went out to make an imaginary story real.
I don’t have a great GPS app, aside from Google Maps, but it was enough. I plugged the coordinates in once we got to the Monaghan Forest entry point. The dump was off-trail, but it was pinned at the centre of the map, and my roving position was shown with a blue dot. All I had to do was just stick to a northwesterly trail as close to the dump as it would take me, and then just “home in” through the forest for the remainder of the way.
We found it. There’s nothing salvageable. The cars there have been robbed of any dials, adornments and upholstery, leaving bare metal boxsprings for seats (if any). The dented and folded body shells are basically all that remain of the cars. I couldn’t tell what make any of them were, as the manufacturer plaques are all missing. The oldest one looked like a boxy 1930s Ford or Chevy. The newest one couldn’t have been any more recent than the early 1950s. One of them was made by GM, and another is of British origin, but that's all I can figure out.
It’s a tricky exploration, because there are broken glass bottles everywhere. Not liquor bottles left by ne’er-do-wells, mind you, but now-antique medicine bottles. I found a Bromo-Seltzer bottle perfectly intact with beautiful cobalt blue glass, so I kept it as a souvenir. It was partially buried in the ground, and surrounded by soft leaf litter and soil. Aside from bottles, there are old, rusted tin cans that used to contain concentrated juices, dish detergents, and ham.
From what I was able to glean from my Googling, this land, now known as Monaghan Forest, used to belong to two farms, which were sold / transferred to the NCC decades ago as part of the greenbelt initiative. These cars, cans and bottles are dumped in a stand of cedar trees in a small ravine. The most logical explanation is that this ravine was used as a private dump for the landowner, and was either forgotten or ignored by the NCC after they acquired the land. There are no warning signs or fences to warn people of the hazards of the dump. Not that I personally care about the lack of signage-- this secluded dump is only going to be found by people like me who want to find it.
My son and I were wearing our thick boots, and I showed him how to move carefully about. He had a great time, and couldn’t stop asking questions about the cars, or why there were there, or who drove them, or how old they were.
Any plates that remained attached to these cars have long since been buried in the soil as the cars have sunk over the years, or they’ve been taken by other suburban explorers as souvenirs. But what sorts of plates would have been left on the cars for yesteryear’s explorers to find?
I can’t find any info to confirm when the National Capital Commission purchased the land as green space, so the designs of the cars and cans are my only clues. The newest car had bulbous fenders in front of the doors with a couple of chrome adornments / bezels remaining, so my guess is that it would date from the early 1950s. Vehicles from the later 1950s generally had straight lines on the front fenders. A typical family car from this era, before the days of rust-proofing, would have been exposed to salt and moisture throughout the winter, so I would estimate the working life of a typical farm / family car to be ten years or less (based on many dated archival pictures I’ve seen where the oldest cars were made 8-10 years prior to the picture being taken).
Based on that, plus the design of the juice cans and plastic Mir detergent bottles I found, I’d say the newest items in this dump were placed there in the early 1960s, with the NCC purchasing the land not long afterward. If there were ever plates to find, my guess is the newest car might have been wearing 1960-63 plates before it was dumped. These plates were not primed and were prone to rusting. I suspect they may have completely oxidized by now if they weren’t collected earlier.
My own recurring dream sees me crouching down outdoors and finding a forgotten stack of porcelain plates under some leaves. This wasn’t quite that dream come true for me, but my son will always remember the day we found the old cars in the forest. And that’s more important.