We’ve done a lot of walking and running around Octagon Pond in Paradise. It’s where we often train for the Tely 10 or occasionally take our son when he’s climbing the walls with more energy than Muskrat Falls will ever generate.
The trail is an ideal spot us, a short drive from home, sheltered from traffic, and natural enough in parts to feel like being in the woods.
In the decade I’ve been hitting these trails, I’ve always assumed Octagon Pond was named after its shape, even though I’ve never checked for eight sides.
What other reason could there be?
Turns out a pretty cool one.
Last week, when my wife mentioned running there, her aunt asked if we knew the origin of Octagon.
I confidently suggested the pond’s shape and she proceeded to tell me about Octagon Castle and a man known as “Professor.”
“Don’t you know anything?” she chided.
Admittedly, I don’t know a whole lot about anything.
But Google seems to know almost everything about anything, and a quick search turned up more info about the castle, which officially opened 117 years ago tomorrow. According to an entry in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography by Michael Harrington, the castle consisted of a four-storey, eight-sided tower. There were wings off three of its sides.
“The imposing style of the exterior was complemented by a dazzling interior that has been described as a combination of 18th-century baroque and the Arabian Nights,” the item reads. “Hundreds of yards of satin and tinsel decorated the banquet hall and the rooms set aside for reading, smoking, dressing, and private dining.”
Harrington’s article says the highlight of a castle tour was the coffin belonging to owner Charles Henry Danielle. He is said to have slept in it.
“Elaborately decorated with more than 7,000 white satin shells, (the casket) was displayed in a vault on the fourth floor surmounted by a gilt-framed inscription that read, “In the back of this Frame will be found Full instructions to be followed Immediately after my death.”
Obviously this Danielle guy was a tad eccentric.
And it was that characteristic that led him to build a castle in a place then known as Irvine.
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Danielle was born in Baltimore in the 1830 and settled in St. John’s in the 1880s after numerous visits here.
A dance instructor and dressmaker, he leased the old Victoria skating rink, which once stood near Government House. There, Danielle held elaborate balls and skating shows.
“Soon, the Professor became infamous for the outrageous outfits he wore to the costume balls given by his dancing pupils,” reads Planet Paradise, a website developed by Paradise Elementary students in the late ’90s.
The rink was destroyed by fire. Danielle disappeared from the St. John’s scene for a while, but resurfaced, organizing more balls as well as operating restaurants and a roadhouse.
“(His) eccentricity eventually led to a serious falling out between himself and the residents of St. John’s,” Planet Paradise says. “In 1895, proclaiming that he could no longer endure persecutions of the people of the town, he fled St. John’s and travelled to what is now known as Paradise.”
He built Octagon Castle and it became a desired destination for Townies. Danielle died in 1901 and is buried in the Anglican cemetery near Quidi Vidi Lake.
The Octagon Castle was operated by a couple of different people after his death and it was destroyed by fire in 1915. I hadn’t a clue about any of this. And the story behind Octagon Pond — which is actually shaped like an elephant’s head — will come in handy, giving me something to think about other than pain during those arduous Tely 10 training runs.
Email Steve Bartlett at email@example.com. On Twitter, he’s @TelegramSteve.