Mysteries in Kearney
Death on the Islet Lake Bridge
During World War I, it was common for trains to carry troops as they passed through the Kearney area on their way to Ottawa. As the trains passed through the town, the bridges were watched by railroad crews or by a park ranger to prevent potential looters from jumping on the train as they slowly moved over the bridges. The crews were divided up into section guards, and on the fateful night, it was the Blue Lake guard’s watch, of which seventeen-year-old Joseph Kehoe would be taking his first night shift on the Islet Lake Bridge.
Joey Kehoe had been working for the railroad for two years, and he was the nephew of the supervisor. He was a hard and dedicated worker with aspirations of advancing in his guard’s rank. Working the night watch would show his commitment and it would also mean extra pay, as Joey was the sole supporter of his mother and siblings. Joey was avid, eager, and ready as, like the others stationed along the line, he settled in for a quiet night.
The next morning when the shift was over other members of the crew arrived at the bridge to pick Joey up. He was dead! Somewhere, in the discreet early hours of dawn, Joey had undoubtedly been killed by the train. But how?
Some speculated that he had he been murdered by the train robbers he had been assigned to guard the bridge against. But the conductor and the troops on the train all agreed the train had crossed without incident. Others speculated that Joey had fallen asleep and fell onto the tracks, but the section of the track before the bridge was on a steep grade and any approaching train was required to sound their horn, a sound that was loud enough to be heard from more than a mile away. The horn blast would have, without a doubt, woken a sleeping Joey and allowed him plenty of time for him to move to safety. Some people, the ones that didn’t know Joey or his aspirations well, suggested that he had committed suicide, but those who knew him felt this was “just completely not so!”
A coroner’s jury of seven men was struck, but only one of the seven men, Tom McCormack, voted for an inquest which wasn’t enough to warrant an investigation. Even though the bridge had a safety barrier between the guard’s station and the train tracks, Joseph Kehoe’s death was ruled an accident and the case closed. The boy was laid to rest, and except for the recollections of Ralph Bice who wrote, “The boy gave up his life for his country the same as the soldiers that were overseas,”, his story faded from the public mind.
The Beaver Lake Monster
The year is 1942; World War II is raging in Europe and the Pacific, Stephen Hawking and Mohammed Ali were born, Bing Crosby introduces the world to White Christmas, the motion picture Mrs. Miniver sweeps the Oscars, and in Beaver Lake a monster lurks!
At first, it was just rumours that circulated among the locals; tall tales easily dismissed as the product of over-active imaginations to spice up the otherwise mundane day; but, the story, whether true or not, had legs and soon reporters were arriving from Toronto in search of the Beaver Lake Monster.
Ralph Bice, the mayor at the time and the one who had very likely given the story those legs, was away when the reporters showed up. The town clerk, however, was more than happy to shoo the reporters off, assuring them that the stories were nothing more than a rumour. The reporters, having travelled this far, would not be dissuaded and awaited the mayor’s return. Mayor Ralph Bice, hunter, trapper, and chronicler would not disappoint the reporters: Ralph assured the reporters that he himself would personally investigate the stories, and that those who had reported the monster’s activities were of good character and completely reliable (they included Ralph’s son Fred and Paul Rice, a reporter for the Huntsville Forester). So Ralph, ever the frontiersman paddled his canoe up the Magnetawan River to Beaver Lake (officially renamed later as Bethune Lake, but still Beaver Lake to the locals).
Ralph’s first stop was the Reeds family farm where he spoke to Mrs. Reeds who claimed that she and her children had seen the monster on several occasions. The children confirmed their mother’s story without hesitation. Mrs. Reeds, to Ralph’s surprise, quite lucidly speculated that what she had seen had been an alligator.
Ralph next interviewed a man who often cut cord wood on the east side of the lake. The man told that he would work all day, and then he would return home by raft to the west side of the lake. As the man was crossing the lake, early one morning, he realized that something in the water was following him; something big and it was coming fast. The man, horrified by what he saw, made for the eastern shore with the monster in pursuit. Landing the raft, the man ran for the woods and the creature did not follow. At the end of the day, rather than risk the lake, the man walked all the way around the lake, crossing at Kearney.
Ralph talked with another man who had been fishing with a friend in Beaver Lake near the mouth of Magnetawan River. They had just dropped off their lines in the water when the creature surfaced near their boat. The men rowed away as fast as they could and the monster disappeared back into the lake.
Another angler had a similar encounter. As with the previous angler, he lit out of there as soon as the creature appeared, but he returned later with a rifle in the hope of killing the thing. The monster did not reappear and the man returned home disappointed.
Apparently one family that lived on the lake had considerable trouble with the monster, and their encounters were frequent. They told of ongoing incidents of the family being tormented and the trouble they had trying to kill the monster. The man of the house told Ralph how bullets from his
.22 calibre rifle would bounce off the monster’s skin and that it would snap their lines when they tried to hook it. Just rumours, indeed!
The sightings and encounters continued over the next few years then suddenly stopped. Whatever had been stalking Beaver Lake had moved on.
The monster’s shape and size were never verified and there are no known photographs or evidence of its existence, but most accounts seem to indicate that it was an alligator that had terrorized the lake from 1942 to 1945. Nevertheless, how an alligator came to live in Beaver Lake and survive at least two harsh Canadian winters is very much a mystery in of itself. If it was an alligator …