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Canada’s Capistrano

“A symbol of summer and talisman of good fortune.” Collingwood Ingram
From the early 1970s and for a 20-year period thereafter, Canada’s largest concentration of swallows and martins made Pembroke their home. Each summer a flock of up to 100 000 birds would roost in a small stand of willows on a .2 hectare plot of land near the Pembroke Marina. Located at the confluence of the Muskrat and Ottawa Rivers this landbase provided the birds with perches, tree cover and food. In turn the birds provided displays of aerobatic wonder. Displaying a natural phenomenon, at sunset each day they would return to the roost in waves of 5000 per minute, performing aerial acrobatics before settling in for the night.
The disappearance of the swallows in the early 1990s was due to a combination of factors. Larger numbers of merlins – their natural predator – moved into the area, and building development adjacent to the swallow roost decreased availability of food and cover. As well, the natural progression for a roost is to expand over a period of time and then disperse to new areas in smaller flocks. It was a rare natural phenomenon that Pembroke was proud to host even for a short period of time.

Workhorse of the Rivers

Designed and built by three generations of the local Cockburn family, the pointer boat was instrumental in the settlement of Pembroke and the development of Canada. It was the workhorse of Canadian rivers for over a century. Locally the pointers were contracted by lumber companies to clear or sweep grounded logs from shallow rapids, shoals and beaches along the Ottawa River.
The Cockburn pointer, painted a trademark brick red colour, had two high pointed ends from which it derived its name. Each boat was powered by six to eight men rowing in unison using 3-metre long oars. Eventually the Cockburn family built a dozen different types of pointers, the largest being 12 metres long and weighing one tonne. Each was stable, tough, graceful, easy to handle, and – because of its symetrical design – could reverse direction without being turned around. Legend has it that because of its ability to navigate in only 2 cm of water the Cockburn pointer boat could ‘float on heavy dew’.