The Witch of Plum Hollow

“Though the appellation of “witch”

may have a sinister sound,

her name is honoured and revered

in the district in which she lived.”   

“The Ottawa Journal”, May 14, 1953

witch at Hallow'en

The readings always began the same way, with her visitors climbing the rickety wooden stairs to her cramped attic reading room.  She motioned her guests to sit across from her, at a small pine table.  A fresh pot of tea sat on the table, along with two cups.  She’d pick up the pot, shake it vigorously, and pour a cup, watching as the leaves slowly sank to the bottom.  Next, she swirled the tea around, poured the liquid back into the pot, then instructed her visitor to do the same.

fortune telling room

(the attic in Jane Barnes’ cabin)

Jane Elizabeth Martin Barnes was a beautiful young woman, when she arrived in North America. She left her home in England after refusing to marry a man twice her age. Her father, a Colonel, had instructed her to wed his friend, an unattractive middle-aged soldier, and Jane would have no part of it.  Instead, she fell in love with a handsome young man, Robert Harrison, and they left Britain together, married, and had a son.

Sadly, Robert died shortly after they settled in Ontario, and Jane was left alone to raise their baby.

Jane had a lovely slim frame, fair complexion, and bright eyes.  It wasn’t long before she began to date again, and a young shoemaker, David Barnes, won her heart.  They married, and settled near Lake Eloida, not far from Plum Hollow, about fifteen miles south of Smiths Falls, in Leeds & Grenville, Ontario.  Jane and David had a large family – six sons, three daughters, and Jane took in three neighbourhood orphans after their mother passed.

Jane Barnes young

Jane Elizabeth Martin Barnes

Jane’s husband David, was a bit of a wanderer, and he left her, abandoned the children, and moved to Smiths Falls. After her husband left, Jane’s son Williston ‘Ton’, and his family, moved into the little cabin with Jane, to offer her support.

Williston Barnes

Jane’s son, Williston Barnes, and his wife Lydia Compo

Williston Barnes and friends at cabin

L to R:  Williston ‘Ton’ Barnes , two visitors (unknown), and Lydia Compo Barnes in front of Jane’s tiny cabin, where they all lived.

David Barnes, Jane’s estranged husband,  moved in with their son Samuel Barnes, who had a home in Smiths Falls, and who later became Mayor.

Samuel Barnes son of Jane Barnes

Samuel Martin Barnes, son of Jane Barnes, and Mayor of Smiths Falls – 1897 & 1898

Samuel Barnes was among several other prominent business leaders who brought about the incorporation of the ‘Smiths Falls, Rideau, and Southern Railway Company‘, in January of 1898.  The purpose of the incorporation was to construct and operate railways in, through and from the Town of Smiths Falls, in the County of Lanark.

The other members were James Maitland Clark, John Reeve Lavell, Alpheus Patterson, Richard Alexander Bennett, Matthew Ryan, Robert J. Brodie, Adam Foster, Robert Hawkins, George T. Martin, and Alexander Gray Farrell, all of the Town of Smiths Falls.

Samuel married Agnes Chalmers, and they had a large family of 10 children.  Their youngest was Roy Barnes.

Roy Barnes in 1947, Grandson of Mother Barnes (Witch of Plum Hollow)

Roy Barnes

Roy Barnes, son of Samuel Barnes, grandson of Mother Barnes, he moved to Copper Cliff, and was an Inco employee beginning in 1910.  “Inco Triangle”, Volume 6, Number 11, February 1947 page 12, (part one of two-part article)

Part 2 of Roy Barnes article

Roy Barnes story part 2

“Inco Triangle”, Volume 6, Number 11, February 1947, page 13, (part two of two-part article)

Jane, in need of an income to raise all of their children, began to read tea leaves.

Witch of Plum Hollow # 4

“The Ottawa Journal”, Aug. 7, 1943, p. 14

“This week, we present a story related by David Farmer, of Cumberland, who had actual contact with Mother Barnes, in his youth, and says her fortune telling was positively uncanny.”

Witch of Plum Hollow # 16Witch of Plum Hollow # 17

“The Ottawa Citizen”, Feb. 9, 1935

“He was a sound man, a solid man, a man who declared he couldn’t be carried away by the foolish capers of an old women; no sir, not he.”

Witch of Plum Hollow Michael Fizmaurice

“The Ottawa Citizen”, Dec. 9, 1933

Connections to the Joynt Family

“Three generations of Joynt women, descendants of Mother Barnes – Lera Joynt, her daughter Carol, with Susan Joynt and Lisa Joynt, daughters of well-known farmer and auctioneer John Joynt.

“I recall Grampa Samuel Barnes telling of hitching up the horses for the long ride from Smiths Falls to Plum Hollow.”, Lera reminisced.

Witch of Plum Hollow Joynt family

“The Ottawa Citizen”, Oct. 28, 1982

She predicted the return of a stolen wallet

Witch of Plum Hollow # 18

“The Ottawa Citizen”, Jan. 3, 1951

The Ancient Art of Fortune-Telling

In the late 1800s, telling one’s fortune by reading tea leaves became very popular.

tea leaf reading painting

In those days, loose tea was used, and so the leaves at the bottom of the cup often formed shapes or patterns, and these were interpreted by the fortune-teller, to predict future events.

loose tea

Loose tea was measured into a tea pot filled with boiling water.  After the tea was consumed, the loose leaves lay at the bottom of the cup

holding a cup with leaves

Then, the fortune-teller, or tea-leaf-reader, would interpret the meaning of the individual’s leaves.

Many believed that the position of the leaves in the cup itself, had meaning.

tea leaf 3

tea leaf symbols

The images of the leaves in the cup were often matched with a series of standard symbols, used by many in the trade.

tea leaf symbols 2

News of Jane’s accuracy in her predictions spread quickly, and she had visitors from neighbouring towns, cities, provinces, and even visitors from the northern states.

One of her most famous customers was the future Prime Minister of Canada, John A. MacDonald.

John A Macdonald

John A. Macdonald, 1st Canadian Prime Minister, client of Jane Barnes

He asked Mother Barnes where Queen Victoria would locate the capital of Canada…

Witch of Plum Hollow # 9

“The Ottawa Citizen”, Aug. 6, 1989, p. 39

She located a lost deed, for the Jackson family

Witch of Plum Hollow # 5

“The Ottawa Journal”, June 3, 1933, p. 16

Albert Hudson, C.P.R. Engineer, was driving through the country, near Plum Hollow, and out of curiosity called upon the witch, and had his fortune told….

“After I am dead”, said the witch, “you will lose a hand and part of your arm”

Witch of Plum Hollow # 1

“The Ottawa Journal”, Oct. 11, 1895, p. 5

“She always wore a dark dress, with a cape or a shawl, and her fee was twenty-five cents.”  If a customer couldn’t afford her fee, she would accept dried apples, or tea, as payment.”

Jane Barnes old

Interesting Career of Mother Barnes –  ‘The Witch of Plum Hollow’

By: Harry D.  Blanchard, “The Athens Reporter”, Feb. 1936

“As promised, we shall, here and now endeavor to do justice to the memory of a lady of the old school, who truly had as keen and as well trained and as thoroughly disciplined an intellect as anyone of our day and generation in our beloved native county.  We refer to our long ago departed and much respected fellow citizen, who was early known as “Mother Barnes”, who as her years increased was usually designated as “Old Mother Barnes” and who was unjustly, and with crude irreverence, spoken of by those who knew her least as “The Witch of Plum Hollow.”  The Old Farmersville folk never called her by such a name, nor did any of her neighbours who knew her best, for all who were intimate with her respected her and treated her with deference.  It is true that she had a sharp tongue, but the only folk who ever felt its stinging lash were those from far distant parts who at times came into her presence with boisterous demeanor.  She was pre-eminently fitted to handle just such a case and in a few crisp quietly spoken, even gentle words, she promptly put the culprit in his place and engendered in his heart and mind an infinitesimally small estimate of his own worth and importance in affairs terrestrial and in divine matters of the spirit world.  Such a smart visitor went away dazed and with a deep realization of the fact that here in the backwoods of Canada was a personality which dominated everyone and everything in a manner far transcending that of any of the national orators, preachers, politicians, lecturers, phrenologists and other celebrities then the vogue in New York, London, Paris.  This characteristic, and her native ability to see right through everyone, and even turn their  minds and thoughts inside out, after a few moments’ conversation: these two God-given attributes made Mother Barnes famous and compelled the people to beat a track to her door to her little tea studio up under the eaves, for many long years.

If anyone wishes to make a shrine of the old home of Mother Barnes, which would be a fitting way to perpetuate her memory, he can easily locate the house by turning north from Main Street, Athens, at Sydney Taplin’s old corner, now owned by Mrs. Avis Daniels Harte.  He should then proceed along Elgin Street, past the Area Parish Memorial Park on his right, and so along Livingstone Avenue, past the Villa to the Guide-board corner.  Here, he should turn neither to the left along Wright Avenue to Plum Hollow, nor to the left along Robeson Avenue to Hard Island.  He should keep straight ahead north along Eliada Parish Avenue to Mother Barnes Avenue, which is the town-line between Yonge and Kitley.  There, on the southwest corner is Mother Barnes’ old home, Lot 13, Concession 11 Yonge.  Mother Barnes Avenue runs from Atkins Lake, north of Rockspring, through Eloida, all the way to Soperton.

Mother Barnes was born Elizabeth Martin. She was a dearly loved daughter of Col. Martin, of the British Army, but when she came of age, she ran away with the man of her choice, Sergeant Robert Harrison, coming to America in a sailing ship which took six weeks in crossing.  Thus, having disobeyed the wishes of her parents, she was a stranger to them during the rest of her pilgrimage below, true to the then prevailing mode in English families of the military, clergy, and gentry class.  Elizabeth ‘Jane’ Martin, and her husband settled in Cobourg, Upper Canada, where one son, Robert Harrison Jr., was born to them, who in later life became Colonel Robert Harrison, commanding officer of a regiment from Kansas in the American Civil War.  Col. Robert Harrison died in Kansas, and his mother in her home, at the corner of Mother Barnes and Eliada Parish Avenues, had his pictures in full regimentals.  After the death of her husband, Robert Harrison, the elder, Mother Barnes, then known as Mrs. Elizabeth Martin Harrison, married David Barnes, an American, by whom she had nine children.  John and Thomas died in youth.  Next came Lucy, born in 1837, who married Joseph Haskin, of Plum Hollow.  They moved to Modale, Iowa, travelling in a covered wagon.  After the death of her husband, Lucy married a cousin of our dear old neighbour, Horace Brown, of Farmersville.  She last visited her Athens cousins in 1906 but died some years ago.  Next, came Samuel Barnes, a blacksmith, who married Agnes Chalmers of Montague, near Smiths Falls, a cousin of our old chum, Will Chalmers.  Their daughter, Mrs. Lily Barnes, still resided in Smiths Falls when the record was made a few years ago.  It was in the home of Mrs. And Mrs. Samuel Barnes, Smiths Falls, that David Barnes, husband of Mother Barnes, died.  The next child was David Barnes, also a blacksmith.  He went to Iowa in early life and died there.  Next came Margaret, who married Arthur Robeson, of Sharbot Lake, where she died. Next came George of Athens, who married Clare Kyo, of Watertown, N.Y., and died young. Next, came Williston Barnes, of Eloida, who married Lydia Compo.  Last came Jane Elizabeth Barnes, (Janie) born March 1st, 1847, who was the wife of our very popular old neighbour, Charlie Wing, of Farmersville.  Mrs. Wing died Nov. 10, 1910.  In one of our stories we described the home of Mr. and Mrs. Wing, on Elgin Street, which was one of the neatest, best kept and most attractive in the village.  An adopted daughter of Mother Barnes and her husband David was Bella Sheldon, who was the wife of our cheerful old neighbour, Erastus Livingston.

And now we feel better, for we have completed a pleasant task, which has confronted me for a long time.  We wanted to do justice to Mother Barnes, but it is not until now that we have been able to get around to it.  We think that our good friend, Prof. Fred Lawdon, of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board, should see to it that the site of the old home of Mother Barnes is suitably marked for the enlightenment of posterity.  Canada has never had as one of its citizens a lady of stronger character or keener intellect than Mother Barnes and this brief story of her life, which will be permanently preserved in the Canadian Archives, should be called to the attention of posterity by a suitable marking of the place of her residence and the centre of her activity, her old home near Lake Loyada (Eloida).  Thus, Elizabeth Martin, a daughter of the gentry of England, lived among us for three-quarters of a century.  What did she think of us?  If she had put her impressions in the form of a book, it would now have an enormous sale.”

She predicted the location of money stolen from a resident of South March

Witch of Plum Hollow # 10

“The Ottawa Citizen”, Aug. 12, 1939, p. 26

“She helped local police solve a murder.”

Witch of Plum Hollow # 2

“The Ottawa Journal”, Aug. 31, 1940, p. 15

During Jane’s time telling fortunes she was able to find missing objects, missing farm animals, and even missing people.  Jane’s predictions were so accurate that even the police called on her to assist them from time to time.  She even had a few very famous customers, in the many decades of her practice, in that little cabin in the country.

newsclipping about mother barnes

As the decades passed, news about Jane’s gift for predicting continued to spread far and wide, and there were often carriages lined up down the road near her little cabin.

“It was alleged by many, that Mrs. Barnes could tell all about a person, a hair from whose head was presented to her.”

Witch of Plum Hollow # 15

“The Ottawa Citizen”, Dec. 12, 1925, p.2

“They said Mother Barnes seemed to have eyes that could penetrate the very inmost soul…”

news about Mother Barnes

“Kelly’s grandmother took his father to visit the witch in 1883.  The cabin was guarded by ferocious dogs, and he climbed a rickety ladder to the second floor…..”

Witch of Plum Hollow Thomas P. Kelly Jr. 1968

“The Ottawa Citizen”, June 20, 1968

“Mother Barnes predicted deposits of silver on the farm of Lupton Wrathall, Lot 15, Con. 6”

Witch of Plum Hollow # 19

“A geological survey conducted by J. Dugas, Department of Mines, Ottawa, 1948-1949, made no reference to silver, but the department admits the possibility of silver outcroppings in the Harper area, although anything found would likely be of a small quantity.”   (an excerpt from an article in ‘The Perth Courier’, “Harper, a Hamlet Steeped in Folklore”, December 12, 1963.

Young people went to Jane, to ask advice on their love lives, and she was able to predict who they would marry.  If any of the neighbours misplaced anything, they walked to Jane’s little cabin and she would tell them exactly where to look.  Farmers went to Jane when their cattle or horses wandered off, and she always directed them to precisely the right spot. Business people consulted Jane for advice on their professions, and politicians sought her advice on elections and policies.

“The walls in the little room downstairs, were closely covered with the names of people from Canada and the United States, who had come to have their fortunes told.”

Witch of Plum Hollow # 3

“The Montreal Gazette”, Oct. 6, 1928, p. 9

She predicted her own horse’s death

Witch of Plum Hollow predicts horse dying

“The Ottawa Citizen”, Dec. 19, 1932

 “Her fame spread all over this continent, and on any week-day, a motley cavalcade of saints and sinners waited on this remarkable women. Politicians, and peddlers, rich and poor, all consulted the Witch of Plum Hollow”

Witch of Plum Hollow # 7

“The Ottawa Journal”, May 14, 1953, p. 12

“After paying a nominal fee to the old lady, McLaughlin told his story, then sat back, while she consulted her cards.”

Witch of Plum Hollow # 20Witch of Plum Hollow # 21

“The Ottawa Citizen”, Feb. 8, 1936

“Why do they come to see her?

What do they seek?

Witch of Plum Hollow what do they seek

“The Ottawa Journal”, Nov. 10, 1945, p.19.

 Jane’s tiny cabin fell into disrepair over the years, and was listed for sale in 2004

Witch of Plum Hollow # 13

Mother Barnes’ cabin, for sale in 2004

Eloda Wachsmuth Buys and Repairs Jane’s Little Cabin

Eloda Wachsmuth, of Navan, Ontario, purchased the cabin in 2005, and invested $35,000 to restore the home, using much of the original logs and lumber in the restoration.  Eloda wanted to preserve the history of Jane Barnes, so that she would be remembered.

Witch of Plum Hollow # 12

After Restoration:    Photo of cabin of Jane Elizabeth Martin Barnes, Amy Mackie, Brockville Museum, Brockville, Ontario

By the fall of 2007, the cabin was restored, and it was Eloda’s intention that it would be open to the public, so they could learn about Jane Barnes and her years spent as a well-known fortune-teller.

Jane's cabin

Mother Barnes, as she was affectionately referred to in Leeds, lived a long life, and passed away, at the age of 90,  in that same little cabin, where she had shared her predictions over the years.

Jane Barnes' death certificate

Jane Elizabeth Martin Barnes, fell ill with pneumonia, and died on Feb. 4th, 1891, at the age of 90.    (Archives of Ontario; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Series: MS935; Reel: 61)

Witch of Plum Hollow # 14

329 Mother Barnes Road – Google Maps

Witch of Plum Hollow # 8

Illustration by: Dallyn Lynde, “The Ottawa Citizen”, 1989

Mother Barnes drawing 1889

obit of Mother Barnes

“Winnipeg Tribune”, Feb. 17, 1891, p.1

Witch of Plum Hollow # 11

“The Smiths Falls Recorder”, Feb. 6, 1891

Mother Barnes Ottawa Free Press 1891 Perth Museum

(first line should read, “Mrs. David Barnes…” (Samuel was her son).  This is a transcript of an article published in “The Ottawa Free Press”, March 16, 1891, and is from the collection housed at the Perth Museum, Perth, Ontario)

Jane is buried at the Sheldon Cemetery

Sheldon Cemetery

When Jane passed, she was buried in an unmarked grave.

Plum Hollow cheese-makers from 1924-1974, Claude and Ella Flood, erected a stone in memory of  ‘Mother Barnes’. (note: the dates on the stone are incorrect)

Claude Flood, Plum Hollow Cheese Factory

Claude Flood, Cheesemaker, Plum Hollow Cheesefactory, and admirer of Mother Barnes. He and his wife, Ella, paid for a headstone to mark her grave. (dates on stone incorrect)  Claude Flood came to Plum Hollow in 1924 and worked as the Cheesemaker until 1960, when he sold it to a Co-Op.

Plum Hollow cheese factory 2015

Sadly, the Plum Hollow Cheese Factory burned down in 2015

Jane's gravestone

Dates on headstone should be 1801-1891 as per Jane’s death provincial registration (Archives of Ontario; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Series: MS935; Reel: 61)

Children of Jane Barnes:

Robert J. Harrison Jr.        1829-

John Barnes                      1831-1832

Margaret Barnes               1832-1891

Thomas Barnes                  1833-1857

Lucy Barnes                       1836-1929

Samuel Barnes                   1837-1922

David Barnes                      1840-1923

Williston Barnes                1845-1920

George Barnes                   1846-1906

Jane ‘Janie’ Barnes            1847-1910

Bella Sheldon                     1853-1935

Descendants of Mother Barnes:

Jane had a large family, including three adopted children.

Her son David Barnes died in infancy, age 1,  and her son Thomas Barnes lived only until age 24.

Her eldest daughter, Margaret ‘Maggie’ Barnes, at the age of 52, married James Robinson.

Her daughter, Lucy Barnes married Metcalfe Peer,  Joseph Haskin,  and Alva Brown

Her son, Samuel Martin Barnes married Agnes Chalmers

Her son, David Barnes married Fannie Ryel

Her son, Williston ‘Ton’ Barnes, married Lydia Compo

Her son, George W. Barnes married Clarissa ‘Clara’ Kio  

Her daughter, Jane, married Charles Wing

Other surnames in ‘Mother’ Barnes family:   Bell,  Joynt,  Cooper, Goodwin, Williams, Buchanan


Discover the fascinating story of Jane Barnes, and her years as a local fortune-teller.  Find out about some of Jane’s most prominent and famous customers.  Who were the high-profile movers and shakers who sought Jane’s advice on a regular basis? Read about a grisly murder case that perplexed police, and was finally solved by Jane. Who was the famous and controversial newspaper publisher who sent his wife to ask Jane’s predictions because he didn’t want to be seen visiting a ‘fortune-teller’.  Learn about the case of a poltergeist in Quebec, where the family seeks Jane’s help in solving the violent and frightening haunting of their house.  Discover these stories and more, in the book:
“Lanark County Calling: All Roads Lead Home”, the complete story of Jane Barnes, a gifted lady, also known as – ‘The Witch of Plum Hollow”  ISBN 978-0-987-702661

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

Member, Association of Professional Genealogists
Member, Lanark County Genealogical Society
Author of 10 books: “Lanark County Christmas”, “Lanark County Comfort”, “Lanark County Collection”, “Lanark County Calling”, “Lanark County Classics”, “Lanark County Connections”, “Lanark County Calendar”, “Lanark County Chronicle”, “Lanark County Kid”, & “Recipes & Recollections”
available at local stores or email:

9 comments on “The Witch of Plum Hollow

  1. Jackie says:

    This certainly piques my interest with all of the pictures, information on tea leaf reading, and photos of Mother Barnes.and her little cabin. I can see you have done a lot of research and have found some very interesting photos and news clippings. I can’t wait to read the story!

  2. Thanks Jackie. She was certainly an interesting lady, with some unique abilities. I often wonder if she would have started her fortune-telling business if she hadn’t been left to support all of those children on her own.

    • Elaine Farley says:

      Mother Barnes, as she was known, did run a business. She charged 25 cents per person for her ‘ tellings’ . There are documents of the coaches coming from the Farmerville (now Athens) train station. Janes’ first husband died in the United States and her son stayed there after her marriage to Barnes, also in the United States. Early census records in the USA list her as a fortune teller.

  3. Jocelyn says:

    what were the names of her adopted children? And did the children come from the surrounding areas?

  4. One of the adopted children, was Isabel Sheldon. She was the daughter of Samuel Sheldon, who approached Jane Barnes, after the death of his wife, Sarah Wilson Sheldon.

    • Jan says:

      Can you give me any additional information on how Isabel came to live with Mother Barnes? She is a distant relative of mine. When did she go to live there? I know that Samuel Sheldon went to B.C. to mine for gold. Did he have to pay Mother Barnes to take his daughter?

      • Hi Jan – Isabel Sheldon’s mother, Sarah passed away at the age of 36, and Samuel asked if she could live with Jane Barnes, and Jane agreed. Isabel ‘Belle’ was one of three children that Jane raised in addition to her own.

  5. Jan says:

    Wonderful stories. Thank you!
    Do you have any additional information on Isabel’s father? Or her other siblings?

  6. Arlene thanks so much for posting all of this wonderful information on Elizabeh Barnes. I’m writing a book with information about psychics and am using some of the information from the newspaper clippings you posted if that is okay with you? This is such a gold mine of fascinating information. I grew up in Smiths Falls and knew about “The Witch of Plum Hollow” but until I started doing some research this week didn’t realize what a phenomenal women she was. I’m so glad to see she is getting the respect and recognition she deserved. I would love to buy a copy of your book “Lanark County Calling.” Can you tell me how I could purchase it? Sincerely Marina Quattrocchi

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s