The Lady in Blue
from the Parks Canada Edukit, 2000
Lady in Blue...
The red-haired lady in blue, Kathleen McBride, arrived in Burritts Rapids sometime in the 1860s on an early summer's day, long after the Irish labourers and the British army had finished the Rideau Canal. Kathleen McBride took a room in the hotel beside the canal bridge. She rented one room and the maid reported that she had brought with her only one of everything- one blue dress, one pair of shoes, one brush, one suitcase.
Throughout her stay, Kathleen spoke to no one. All summer and into the fall, her flowing red tresses and long trailing blue gown travelled slowly on the path from tip to tip. Many a long hour she spent, standing on the upriver hill at the end of the island. She would look out over the Rideau River where the water divides, part into the canal and part downriver to the dam. Often, she stood at the dam watching the water roaring down the sluiceway as it released the surplus water. Most other time was spent walking the mile along the bank of the canal and the river, searching the water. What was she searching for, a son, a husband, a lover? Where could he have gone? Was he one of the many killed by accident during the canal construction? Did he die of the dreaded fever? Had he wandered off, work done, to seek a new life somewhere in America?
Kathleen went out for her last search on the moonlit night of October 31st, with frost crisp underfoot and the water bright and cold. She searched and searched, we know not where or why. Two days later a torn piece of blue satin dress was found on the bank, where the new bridge crosses the river in the middle of the village. In those days most of the countryside was forest, and wild animals abounded. Kathleen McBride might have drowned or been eaten by the bears.
As the years went by, whispers spread that on moonlit nights on the tip to tip trail near the dam, and near the little hill at the top end, Kathleen appears. The red-haired lady in blue still searches, walking or floating through the air, with her torn dress clutched to her breast. Some have been close enough to feel the chill in the air as she passes by. Some have been close enough to hear a tiny keening cry as she searches on. As the decades pass, the sightings still continue. So, if by chance you venture out on a summer's eve and she passes you by in the moonlight, please move to the side so you don't hinder her everlasting search.
Sources: “Edukit”, Rideau Canal Office, Parks Canada, 2000