The Way We Were

Early Days 1930s to mid-50s

In the time of the 1930s Depression, Farmer Wakeford’s most lucrative crop on Washburn Island was the sale of  50-ft lakefront lots. On weekends British immigrants drove along bone-rattling Mariposa Township’s washboard roads to trade industrial Toronto for cottage country. By crossing a narrow dusty strip of causeway threading the shallow gray waters of the north end of Lake Scugog, cottagers anticipated the promise of  fresh air, warm breezes and a change from work-day routines.

Before building simple cottage structures, they lived rough – sleeping in tents, used outdoor privies, conducted water-witching (dousing) to find well water, and lit the night with oil lamps – minor inconveniences compared to carefree roaming, wind-up gramophones on the beach and swimming contests to a tiny resort town, Caesarea. They built rowboats, or bought them from Eaton’s catalogue and rowed to prime fishing spots that dotted the reedy shoreline.

The island was a summer playground for four generations of my family. Our story weaves a tale of  cautious interdependence between land-loving farmers and sea-loving Brits. Old timers whispered about a murder on the island, and hinted at Indian wars, exaggerations that seemed true from the number of arrowheads picked out of the topsoil. Little stores opened, vegetable sellers appeared, newspapers delivered and electricity fueled lights and appliances.

Most of my family was working class, British immigrants steeped in Empire. They melded with their hosts, cautious hardworking farmers of rural Canada. Those innocent times were altered for my family by a tragic accident in ’57.  Our loss was a watershed event for us.

The regional geography and climate is typical four-seasons Southern Ontario; snowy winters, spring rains, hot summers and cool colourful autumns. In wintertime, the three farming families living on the island traversed narrow icy roads that wound around snow banked fields and frozen woodlots. Winter was a quiet time for farmers before the spring invasion of summer-folk, two social groups dependent on each other. The farmers sold us their land and their vegetables. They delivered our newspapers and chopped down our trees for us. We bought their lakefront lots and their produce. We bought their eggs and their chickens. We swapped stories and argued politics and sniggered at each other’s differences. Island revelations were incremental, tedious at times, but lasting.

Map Photo

Readers comments and stories are welcome.

Or, contact by email: marye@bell.net

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