Watson’s Corners- Kangaroo Capital of Canada by Ian Tamblyn
For a number of years in the 1980’s I had the pleasure of being the front man researcher
for Wayne Rostad’s television series, “Regional Report” which later morphed into “On the
Road” . In late February I would get a call from CBC producers Sheila Petzold or Sue
Stranks to research stories for Wayne’s show.
“We’re out of ideas Ian, can you help us out!”
It was nothing less than a great gig. I was given a CBC van to travel all around the Ottawa
Valley and Gatineau Hills seeking out stories for Wayne. I was given a perimeter of one
hour from Ottawa but sometimes a good story stretched these limits somewhat. During this
period I never actually met Wayne but I sure gave him and the crew some interesting
situations and adventures.
I can remember my first day on the job quite well. Because I had done a lot of touring
across Canada Sheila and Sue thought I might have a good eye for a story, and, with
some conceit I thought so too. I decided to take the van over to Poltimore, Quebec, on the
east side of the Gatineau River. I thought it might be a good place to start. I had heard it
was neat village. There was a funky bar in down town Poltimore and I knew you could
always find some characters catching the noon shift at the local, perhaps indicating my
own habits. I would talk to them and get some stories before their habit got the best of
them. This was my plan anyway.
I entered the bar, cosied up to the bar tender who was getting ready for the day and asked
her if there were any interesting characters in the bar. What a rube! She saw a fish in the
water and pulled me out ever so slowly.
”Nope- nobody interesting here but ah... you might want to talk to Mel over there, with the
I was ecstatic, first day on the job, first question, there’s the guy in the corner with the big
ears. Bingo – piece of cake! I didn’t even notice the hook was set. “What does he drink?” I
asked the bar tender.
“Canadian- quarts” she replied with a smile.
Does he speak English? I asked.
“Most days”. she said.
“Thanks for the tip”, I said.
I bought Mel a quart of Canadian with my CBC perdiem for such things and sidled up to
“Hi- I understand you’re Mel, may I sit down, I hear you like Canadian... “handing him the
“Who you been talkin’ to?!“he yelled as he wheeled around at me in alarm.
“The bar tender “I said, pointing her out as if to assure him. She waved back from across
the empty room.
“Well then, that’s alright I guess “. What do you want?”he yelled.
What I wanted was out of there, this surly geezer was certainly not interview material for
Wayne . Though Mel had the biggest ears I have seen on a human which might have
qualified as a story in itself, he was as deaf as post and realized I had been had by the bar
tender who clearly had issues with the CBC. Never mind- into the breach. She smiled
across the room.
“Mel”, I said, striking a conciliatory tone, “I hear you’ve lived around Politmore most of your
“Who told you that!?”
I mentioned the bar tender again.
“What the fuck does she know she’s only lived here ten years. Do you know she don’t
have pickled eggs here no more? What kind of fuckin’ bar doesn’t have friggin’ pickled
“Do you like pickled eggs?”
Wouldn’t touch ‘em, but my friends eat ‘em everyday he declared waving his hands around
There was simply too much information in his last statement for me to digest let alone
thought of the eggs. What person would eat pickled eggs everyday and, where were the
friends he was indicating around the room? I never got to ask those questions.
“They’re coming soon you know.”
“Every day they come, right on money at 12:30, you watch.”
“Mel- what are you talking about, who’s coming?”
“Cows. Everyday – right on time.”
“You deaf!? They herd the cows down the main street ever day at 12:30 sharp.”
I hadn’t been tricked by the bartender after all! Here was my story for Wayne – cows still
being herded down main street in small town rural Quebec. Amazing. We could have
Wayne in a cowboy hat, maybe even put him on a horse, it would be great, I have my
story! How good was that, first day on the job.
“Here they come, right on time.“Mel said at the stroke of 12:30.
“Mel- I’ ll be right back, I just want to catch the sound of the hooves come down the street!”
I grabbed my Sony and ran out the door to record the sound of the cows coming down the
street. Only – there weren’t no cows. I looked up and down the street, no cows, not one.
Maybe they were just a bit late …. but five minutes later, my tape deck still running, no
A passer-by stopped beside me.
“You waiting for something to happen son?”
“Yeah, I was told that you herd cows down this street at 12:30 every day…. I was opening
to catch them...”
“Cows you say? You musta been talking to Mel”, pointing to Mel in the window with his
thumb in the Don Cherry position.
“Yeah, I was..” knowing my story was sinking into the west.
“Figured” he said. “Mel’s been seeing those cows for years, every day 12:30 sharp. That’s
what he’ll tell ya. Figured that’s what you were doing”. Tape recorder, headphones...”
“Yeah I was.”
“You work for CBC, I’d guess”.
“Yeah, I do.”
“Saw the Suburban. Figured.”
The man nodded.“Never mind, Mel means no harm, he does see him, them cows you
know, and we let him go. That’s what we do here in Poltimore. Let him go. Say hi to Mel for
“I will “, I said. I contemplated this reasonable advice and as I looked up I saw McClelland
General Store and Post office across the street. “Say” I said, as the man turned to go,
“What’s that place across the street all about? “
“That’s what your story should be about son. McClelland’s is about the best general store
you’re going find anywhere in Canada. They got a hardware, cheapest price on wood,
they’ve got everything! Go see for yourself.”
“Thanks for the tip”, I said, and the man was off down the street.
I returned to the bar.
“How were the cows today?” the bartender said with smirk as I passed by.
“They were great! A moo- ving experience really.”
“Nice”, the bartender replied. “By the way, I put another quart on your tab for Mel, figure
you wouldn’t mind.”
“Not at all,” I said with a smile. I paid the tab and went over to say goodbye to Mel.
“Well lad, did you see ‘em!?” says Mel.
“I did, they were great, thanks so much for telling me about them.”
“There’s some that don’t see ‘em, they say Mel you’re nuts but I ain’t nuts cuz you seen
‘em too so like some people see ‘em and some people don’t, that’s all there is to it.!
“That’s it” I said remembering a phrase I had used before in similar circumstances. There
was really nothing more to say.
I said goodbye to Mel and headed across the street for McCelland’s, glancing down the
street one last time. You never can be too sure. McClelland’s turned out to be a great story
for Wayne, the store does have everything. They were very gracious and welcoming and
they went on to make a great episode. However, the best story can still been seen coming
down the streets of Poltimore every day at 12:30.
“Is this the way it is here in B(P)altimore”- I sang to myself as I headed out of that town.
I never saw them film the episode or any other. I was down another road of my own,
looking for another story. I found it in Lanark County.
I was playing in Macdonald’s Corner near Perth, Ontario, sometime later that spring when I
mentioned between songs that I had been out in the county researching stories for Wayne
Ronstad’s show On the Road. I looked into the Big Cheese in Warkworth, an old leaning
gas station near Maberly, and the county’s largest sugar bush. Between sets, this guy
comes up to me and says “You should do a story on the kangaroos of Watson’s Corners. It
was the kangaroo capital of Canada you know.”
I certainly didn’t know but it sounded like a great story for Wayne. The next day went to the
Perth Library and looked up the story in the archives of the Perth Courier. There is was
“Watson’s Corners – Kangaroo Capital of Canada.” What I read that day was remarkable.
It seems sometime in the fall of 1974 a certain man, Herb Butts claimed to have seen a
kangaroo on the side of the road near his farm. He claimed to have seen the animal
several times that fall and some nighbours attested that they had seen it as well. Of
course, according to wildlife officials in Lanark, a kangaroo could not survive a winter in the
county but reports of sightings persisted. In fact as I looked back in the papers records,
kangaroos had been sighted in Lanark county since the 1930’s and indeed there are a few
indicators like Kangaroo Lake and Kangaroo Hill that those reports were taken seriously
enough to give them a name. Some claim a circus passed through the county during this
time and lost a few kangaroos off the back of the truck. Officials came up with the idea
that the hopping animal might be an injured deer and a subsequent visit to the Ministry of
Natural Resources confirmed this version of events.
But at the time in 1974, the prospect of a kangaroo sighting seemed catch people’s fancy
and soon hundreds, even thousands of curious folks from Ottawa came out for a weekend
drive of kangaroo spotting. The people of Watson’s Corners saw a good thing and asked
the Ambassador of Australia to come out to Watson’s Corners and put a kangaroo
crossing sign at the corner across from the general store. One weekend that fall it has
been reported over 3000 people passed through in search of the kangaroo. The
ambassador arrived and deemed Watson’s Corners “the kangaroo capital of Canada”.
The thing was none of the 3000 visitors had actually sighted a kangaroo, interested waned
and the kangaroo entered Lanark mythology, similar to the notion that they make good
maple syrup there. I come from the Gatineau Hills where we do have the best maple
Ten years had passed since Herb Butts had seen his kangaroo when I arrived on the story.
I was guided to Watson’s Corners and there, in the now boarded up general store was the
sign that had come all the way from Australia, the famous kangaroo road crossing sign!
And, on the wall, a faded banner that stated proudly -”Watson’s Corners – Kangaroo
Capital of Canada.” There were still photos of the Australian ambassador helping to put up
the sign, shaking hands with the reeve, a crowd of people standing around. Everyone was
sort of sheepish about the kangaroo sighting when I asked as if it had been a bit of lark.
But for me the persistence of the stories going back in time kept me intrigued. I tried to
interview Herb Butts but he died under mysterious circumstances, a heart attack it was
said. Surviving members of his family were unwilling to talk to me. I was sure I had enough
with the general store, the sign, the story and all for Wayne’s crew to make something out
of it but I was still curious. Something took me down the road where the kangaroo had
been seen, past the Butt’s farm and stopped at his neighbours house. A man was outside
working by his shed.
Hi I said my name is Ian Tamblyn, I’m with CBC and I’m working on some stories for
Wayne Rostad’s show …
“Come in” he said, “coffee or tea? - been expecting you “
“Yeah- you the guy snooping around here looking after the kangaroo story?”
I guess I was as he lead me into his home. His wife brought some tea and cookies in the
“It was a terrible thing what happened you know.”
“You mean about nobody ever seeing a real kangaroo?”
“No!- don’t let them tell you there weren’t no kangaroo around here, I seen it myself! More
than once, in the rear view mirror! Right down this here road! Shame was I never told no
one, then it was too late! “
“Too late for what?” I was dumbfounded.
“For Herb- that damn kangaroo killed him!”
I had clearly entered a twilight zone of some kind but the man seemed clear headed.
“After all the fuss about the kangaroo passed, Herbie became the butt as they say of a lot
of jokes. Even people who seen the damn thing, now turned around and teased him
mercilessly about him seein’ any more kangaroos. At the feed station, the corner store,
what had made a killing out that kangaroo, down at the Legion, everybody made jokes at
his expense- just wasn’t fair.”
“Even his kids were mean to him!, his wife piped in from the kitchen.
“They was the one’s that really killed him”.
“Herb’s kids were real ‘hellers’, wouldn’t do nothing he’d say at the best of times, and then
like everyone else, when the kangaroo story kind of turned against him, his kids turned
against him too.”
“It was terrible the things they’d say to him”, his wife came in from the kitchen. She held
her husband’s shoulder.
“About a month after all this had blown over, the kids got a mind to play a joke on the old
man. They cut some card board and made kangaroo heads out of it and hid behind the
barn. When Herb comes round the corner they jumped out and scared Herb right to death.
A heart attack right there on the spot. Died right there. It was terrible.” The man was
shaking and in tears.
No wonder the family didn’t want to talk to me.
“I have felt real bad about it ever since.“
“Sometimes he wakes up at nights.”
“Why” I said, “you didn’t do anything.”
“Oh yes – that’s right, I did nothing- Nothing at all. Herb was my neighbour and friend and
during that whole time I never backed him up, I never said, ‘I saw the damn thing as well
as him!’ I should have said something! I could done something about the teasing but I let it
go, I didn’t want to get swept up in it.“
“It’s alright dear, it’s alright.”
“No its not, and it’s never going be. “
I left their place- shaken.
Wayne did the show on the kangaroos and apparently it was big hit. I heard they gave
Wayne some plywood Kangaroo feet like snow shoes and he stamped out some kangaroo
tracks in the snow at the end of the show. I never told them anything about my visit with
the neighbour, nor about the family, but I did ask the producers to respect the possibility
that there may be kangaroos in Lanark County.
There are some who claim that the Tweed area is the Bermuda Triangle of Ontario. There
seems to be a disproportionate number of UFO sightings in this part of Ontario,
paranormal events occurring. I am not sure but I can certainly attest to the possibility.
There have been many times when I have travelled Highway 37 and 7 in the Tweed vortex
and felt late at night that there some force holding me back no matter how hard I pressed
on the pedal. I would liken it to walking the wrong way on an escalator. There is definitely
something other going on in the Tweed area.
Many years before my time with the Wayne Rostad Show I worked with a wonderful
dance troupe in Tweed and got to know the environs a bit. I enjoyed bowling at the
quanset hut bowladrome in downtown Tweed. South of Tweed on the Stoco Road there is
an abandoned ceramic factory near Marlbank. You may hard pressed to find Marlbank
itself but close by is the home of the Philoxians. The Philoxians certainly believe in the
Triangle. At the centre of their universe is the belief that a UFO is going land at the
commune and take them to a “new day in the sun”. The Philoxians have built a space ship
launching pad on site, they have or had a huge menagerie of animals to go on the
spaceship like Noah’s space arc and they have huge ovens to supply the commune
members with lots of bread for their journey. There was no sign of fishes. I went to
Philoxia and found it to be quite astounding. I had known the Philoxians for their beeswax
and honey presentations at regional craft fairs. There was always something homemade
about their work . Even the books they put out about Philoxia were innocent and charming.
There were definitely cult aspects to the Philoxian commune but for the most part they
were welcoming and open.
I took this story to the producers of Regional Report, and the producers agreed that I could
expand the territory of my research to take in the Philoxians. They saw plans for Wayne
Rostad closing the show on a spaceship. I journeyed back to the Tweed area in my
Suburban and headed down the road to Marlbank, stopping in the land of Philoxia. I took
my friend Andy Rush along to make sure I came back.
There nothing square in Philoxia by design and to my sensibilites the commune had a
Hobbit like quality to it. The Philoxians are an active bunch, very enterprising and hard
workers. Everyone seemed to be involved in the bees, the waxworks, the tending to the
animals which included a 2000 pound pig, and a tiger. They also had too many snakes and
lizards. Later they got so many animals they started a zoo but it was closed down later for
various reasons. They also spent a good deal of time making ready for the landing of the
spacecraft. The Philoxians were invariably friendly and welcoming and bustling about in
their Philoxian wear which was colourful and – Hobbit like. It seemed that all was good in
Philoxia. The houses on the commune were all different colours and all of them were on
some sort of angle, none of them were exactly straight. This design had been set forth by
Steve Philoxian the leader shortly before he stopped talking for seven years. Fortunately
for me he was talking again and I got to talk to him.
Ian:– I understand you stopped talking seven years ago. How did the people know how to
follow your directions or plans for the commune if you weren’t talking”.
Steve: Ian – communication is an interesting thing as you know, and as it turns out I found
you can get your message across more effectively through telepathy than through the
spoken word in most cases. It worked perfectly for seven years.
Ian – but now you’re talking.
Steve:- Yes I had break my silence. Unfortunately, some people had stopped listening to
Ian: How could you tell?
Steve: I found that people were sleeping more and not getting the work done. Then it
came to my attention that my wife was having an affair with one of my best friends and I
had to let them know. I was not comfortable with the idea. They did not seem to getting my
Ian: You didn’t talk to your wife for seven years.
Steve: I thought we were communicating but it seems we lost touch.
Ian: Yes, that can happen. I hope things are better now that you’re talking.
Steve: I have mostly tended to a monogamous life but we ‘re working on a new
Ian: Tell me- what did you do before all this began with- Philoxia.
Steve: I was working on the outskirts of Montreal, Vaudrieul . I was a used car salesman .
Ian: Come on!
Steve: I know it sounds unlikely but that was my life before the vision came. I know it
sounds unbelievable but that is the life I lead. I was not happy then.
Ian: The vision-
Steve: It all came to me in a dream at first and then the visit happened and further directed
me to Marlbank . My wife and I came here ten years ago.
Ian: With the Philoxians?
Steve: No Ian, we’re the Philoxians! Have you not read some of our books ?
Ian: I have, but I must have missed something.
Steve: The spirits that came to me gave us this name and this place to get ready for their
arrival. They told me pretty well everything that is here and is ready from them now . I have
simply been the communicator of their message.
Ian: This all astounding!
Steve: It really is, isn’t it Ian. It is quite amazing what we have done in ten short years.
Ian: Yes it is, can you tell me a little more about the- visitors.
Steve: Well to be honest with you it reads like most other abduction stories, there was a
light in the field behind my house, I went towards it, I was taken away to a mother ship and
they communicated this vision to me.
Ian: I’ve not heard of any UFO s speaking with those abducted. What language….
Steve: I said they communicated. There was no language. How they did this I have no
idea but they did. They gave me the idea of course that I could communicate with
members of the commune with out speaking and it seemed to work for seven years.
Ian: Yes – I see that. You’ve got a lot done around here for not speaking to anyone.
Steve: – I was – communicating at the most profound level. Have you seen our ovens?
Ian: Yes I have, they are quite incredible. Your wife was telling me they can cook 500
hundred loaves of bread in a day.
Steve: Yes – and when they come, we will be ready to go.
Steve: Yes, people have made than analogy but I don’t see myself as saviour at all, simply
a guide. Would you like to see some of our new reptiles.?
As we walked out to the reptile shed there was one thing about all this that made sense .
Steve was still a used car salesman. He had clearly convinced everyone with maybe the
exception of his wife that Philoxia was a viable universe. Judging by those around him he
had found a group of people who needed shelter from life’s storm. I could not judge that
but there was something about Steve I couldn’t put my finger on it. I felt a salesman at
work and I was anxious to leave Philoxia.