Remembering the Healing Springs of Eastern Ontario

Dominion House Hotel, Carlsbad Springs, Ontario

Dominion House Hotel, Carlsbad Springs, Ontario

I live in Ottawa, Ontario, very close to a town named Carlsbad Springs. A hundred years ago, Carlsbad Springs was a renowned spa town, with four grand hotels and steeplechase horse racing. It is rumored that Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, stayed at the Dominion House hotel. The Dominion House burned down in 1930 as the North American spa culture died out and it was never rebuilt. The last of Carlsbad Springs’ grand hotels closed in 1968.

When I first moved to Ottawa, there were still ruins of a bridge leading to the spa’s site. Today, there is almost nothing left, just one spring house and a plaque to commemorate the glory days of the springs.  The trees have grown in and Carlsbad Springs is part of suburban Ottawa now, with houses on standard size lots and some townhouse developments not too far away.  There is one original spring house still standing and there is a historical plaque along with a small park commemorating the glory days of Carlsbad Springs.

Carlsbad Springs, March 2015

Carlsbad Springs, March 2015. Russel Road Bridge over Bear Brook

I enjoyed watching the spring water gurgling out from under the spring house on the day I took this picture, which is taken from almost the exact same spot as the one above – if I had gone to the exact same spot, we would have a picture only of trees!  The little spring house to the right of the modern photo is the one to the far left of the old photo (I think!) For a detailed history of these healing springs, see the Carlsbad Springs Community Association’s web page at http://www.carlsbadsprings.ca/?page_id=165

Caledonia Springs Hotel, 1872 Photo Source: Library and Archives, Canada Photo

Caledonia Springs Hotel, 1872
Photo Source: Library and Archives, Canada Photo

In researching this post, I learned that a little east of Carlsbad Springs was the even grander Caledonia Springs. This video, featuring University of Ottawa Chief Archivist Michel Prévost, describes the four springs with their different curative properties, the bottling factory and the hotels frequented by rich members of the elite on doctor-supervised thermal waters cures. The video is in French, but the pictures and ruins are evocative even without the audio.

Mr. Prévost raises a good point that bottle mineral springs water was the only safe water to drink in the days before sanitation. A hundred years ago, drinking water didn’t come out of a tap – you needed a well to find it.

Take some time to think about the history of springs and look around where you live to see if there are some springs that may be almost forgotten.  Let us know what you find!

Ad for Caledonia Springs from Harper’s Bazar, 1879.  Unlike Caledonia Springs, Harper’s is still around!

Baden-Baden’s Caracalla Therme

Emperor Caracalla

I think this was the first fully developed hot spring baths I ever went to. If you’re going to start going to baths, where better than in a town named Baths-Baths?  Baden-Baden is one of the most famous spa towns in Germany.  There have been baths here since at least Roman times.  The most modern of these is Caracalla Therme, named for the Emperor Caracalla who visited this town almost 2,000 years ago to treat his arthritis.

Twelve springs supply the 4,000 m² of pools and saunas at Caracalla Therme.  There are many different bathing areas, including a large “no-bathing suits” sauna section.  The overall feel is very clean, white and modern with a passing salute to Rome from the columns and statues by the pools.  There are three outdoor pools and some poolside seating but most of the baths and saunas are indoors.  It can get quite busy and the atmosphere is family friendly, accepting children aged over 7 years, so it can be good to go early in the day when there is less traffic.

In the adult only nude section, there can be older German men who unabashedly ogle women.  I was there with my husband so I don’t know how they behave with single women.  I took it in stride as a cultural thing – when you travel you can’t expect everyone to behave the same way they do in your home country.

hot springs aficionado caracalla bubble jetMy best memory of Caracalla Therme was the bubble jet bath.  I love underwater air jets, especially where these were located in the middle of a larger pool – it gave a real sense of airiness to the experience.  I loved the sensation of so many tiny bubbles massaging my body.  It gave me a tingling sensation running up my back and bubbling to the surface like champagne – it was almost a feeling of being immersed in a giant cup of bubbly Reisling, very light and airy.  Being surrounded by white columns and white statues gave a very classic feel to the experience!

hot springs aficionado caracalla whiteWe spent many hours at Caracalla Therme, wandering from one experience to the other, trying different scented saunas, relaxing in the outdoors area, dining, and always returning to the centerpiece pools with their tall glass solarium walls that marry the feeling of being indoors with the feeling of being open to the air. That was my overall memory of Caracalla: a sense of airiness and openness.

In the lobby is a fountain from which you can drink the waters – at the time I went, little telescoping cups were provided as souvenirs, and I still have mine! The waters are from natrium-chloride springs and are quite strongly flavoured with salts and sulfur, so they taste medicinal and you won’t be drinking very much. The temperature at the main spring is 68C (155 F).

Add Caracalla Therme to your travel plans if you are going to the Black Forest – it’s a wonderful place to spend a day relaxing and recovering from your trip!  Watch the promotional video below to see more of the interior of Baden-Baden’s Caracalla Therme.