Local author James Turner has drawn on his childhood experiences growing up in the small Hurdman’s Bridge neighbourhood, on the periphery of Sandy Hill, to provide the background for his novel, Strange Wind. This historical thriller tells the tale of Nazi hunters come from Germany to track war criminals in Canada during the Cold War, woven through with a story of a young boy coming of age in the Ottawa of the 1950s. “It’s a work of fiction, but set in a real setting with lots of historical characters, like Mayor Charlotte Whitton and Prime Minister Mackenzie King,” Turner explains. “I’ve changed the names of some people, including my family members, but all the background is true to life. I did considerable research to write accurately the parts set in Germany. My own memories are there too, like sitting around the radio with family listening to broadcasts of the Lux Mystery Theatre and the fun of getting muddy chasing a greased pig. Times have changed.”
Hurdman’s Bridge is the name given to the area lying between the current Strathcona Heights development and the Queensway. “It was always sort of isolated,” says Turner, “cut off now by the Queensway and then by the railway tracks that crossed the Rideau River there.” It was also the site of industrial activity, with coal yards, a slaughterhouse and meat packing plant by the river, and a large cement works where the current City maintenance yard is located. “During the war, German prisoners of war were housed at the Hull jail and brought by truck every morning to work at Haley’s cement factory, making cinder blocks,” Turner remembers. “After the war, some stayed on in Canada and continued to work there.” The nearby land along the river was the site of a “hobo jungle,” convenient to the old railway tracks where the itinerant men could jump trains going south for the winter. Now apartment buildings and the Lees campus of Ottawa U occupy the space, but in the book, set 60 years ago, the undeveloped land makes a perfect hideout for the Nazi hunters while they are tracking their prey.
Sandy Hill residents who are interested in exploring through fiction the history of Nazi Germany, the Cold War and their neighbourhood’s place in that history can purchase a Kindle edition at www.amazon.ca. A paperback edition is available from www.amazon.com.