Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Botanical Artist – Maeve Hughes

Trout Lilies by Maeve Hughes Honourable Mention March 2014

Trout Lilies by Maeve Hughes
Honourable Mention March 2014

In April 2013, my sister, Maeve Hughes, and I crawled on hands and knees in local woodlands to photograph one of our favourite spring plants, the Trout Lily.

We did the same thing when we were kids on Washburn Island — but without a camera. Our mum, Vera Burrows, loved our little bouquets of wildflowers, putting them in cheap glass vases she probably bought at Stedmans, or maybe Woolworth in Lindsay.

In early spring, the appearance of the trout lily is followed by yellow and purple violets. Farmer Bowen’s maple forest was our closest woodland shelter for early spring specimens. The forest was mere steps from the end of our driveway on what is now Sugar Bush Trail. Back in the 50s, it was a narrow track with a few cottages dotting the shoreline.

As a botanical artist today, Maeve uses this photographic memory to help create watercolour paintings, or coloured pencil drawings. Her interest in nature, and a natural artistic talent from a young age are factors in her success as a Botantical Artist. All of those romps around trails, fields and shorelines of Washburn Island, with accompanying wet feet, sunburns and burrs stuck to our clothes contributed to Maeve’s love of wildflowers, waterlilies, berries, and all growing things.

Toronto’s Todmorden Mills Papermill Gallery featured The Botanical Artists of Canada Juried Art Show titled The Four Seasons. Jurors selected 64 outstanding works for the exhibition by artists from Newfoundland, Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.

My sister achieved placement in the show for four of her juried submissions in the Watercolour category.

Fiddleheads by Maeve Hughes Honourable Mention March 2014

Fiddleheads by Maeve Hughes
Honourable Mention March 2014

(See Maeve’s Coloured Pencil winning entry, Rosehips, from the show November 2012). This year she earned 2 Honourable Mentions for Trout Lilies and Fiddleheads. Recognition for her work makes crawling around the damp woodlands in the chilly spring worthwhile.

Months of preparation by the executive and membership of Botanical Artists of Canada paid off. The heritage venue, Todmorden Mills, is an excellent locale for hosting an art show of this calibre. A record-breaking number of guests at the opening reception enjoyed a buzzing ambiance and delicious food and refreshments.






Readers comments and stories are welcome.

Or, contact by email:



From literary magazine Geist: Fact and Fiction, Summer 2012.

Claudia Cornwall’s essay titled That Beautifully Unworldly, Reasonless Rampaging of My Old Self resonated with me about complex memories of summers at Washburn Island. 1956 traveller, Curt Lang wrote in his diary:

The past is always so alive. It encroaches like a green tide on every hour and day, breeding a sadness in everything. A summer sun reminds me of lost summer suns, the rain of misspent days.

And two days he writes:

All the usual discontents and doubts banging around inside.

The imagery elicited a strong emotional connection with me, something that I could not have identified at the same age he was when he so casually wrote his impressions in his diary.

Readers comments and stories are welcome.

Or, contact by email:

A Boy’s Cottage Diary 1904

A Boy’s Cottage Diary 1904

A friend loaned me a book she’d come across in her research for her husband’s family, A Boy’s Cottage Diary 1904 annotated by Larry Turner. Because my grandparents on both sides of my family came out of the same era, although a few years later, I was curious about how they afford to buy a cottages on Washburn Island Lake Scugog at the height of the Depression in the 30s. My family was working class, as were most families in Canada at the time. It mystified me that they could buy cottages when there was chronic unemployment in Canada. If their stories of hardship are true, there wasn’t a dime to spare in the household.

The 1904 diary was originally penned by 16-year old Fred Dickinson. Fred lived in Kemptville, Ontario, north of Kingston. For one month in the summer of 1904, Fred and three young men set up a tent on his grandmother’s cottage property, Sunnybanks, which was adjacent to the lower lock at Beveridges Bay on Lower Rideau Lake, one of the chain of Rideau Lakes that formed the headwaters of the historic Rideau Canal in Eastern Ontario. His adventures of early cottage life are intriguing. Author Larry Turner ‘s grandfather was Fred’s younger brother.

Although my father was only 16 years old when his family purchased a cottage on Washburn Island, he believed that as an immigrant family in Canada for 7 years, they wanted to emulate Canadians who believed in the Canadian dream of owning a summer place. All very nice and neat as an explanation, but still a little baffling.

Larry Turner’s book A Boy’s Cottage Diary 1904 goes a long way to helping me understand the idea of cottaging in that era. Many readers may have experienced Ontario cottage life, and recognize its uniqueness to our culture. Cottages pass down the generations in many families, and with the passing down of property there is the passing down of collective memories and family lore, knowledge of the community and tall tales. If you’ve experienced a tradition of cottaging, the following insights will ring true for you.

Insights from Larry Turner:

  • The whole place evokes a living tradition in sense, smell and texture. Pictures, artifacts, furniture, tools, games, books, blankets, plates and the dim light fixtures are constant reminders of family tradition.
  • Where the nuclear families of the 20th century have scattered across the country following the lures of opportunity and the reality of employment, old family cottages have become those places, like gatherings at Christmas, where the family congregates once again.
  • Cottages have become family anchors, shared experiences, keeping the ties that bind.
  • Where urban environments are subject to change, renewal, and displacement, the concept of the rural, the pastoral and cottage country have come to define a sense of place and meaning. It is this sense of a cultural landscape, rather than specific buildings, trees and lakes, that seems to resonate among cottage country activists.
  • … the sheer magnitude and necessity of creating a pastoral landscape out of the original wilderness … encouraged a love-hate relationship with the land. … visitors were acutely aware of the romantic and picturesque qualities of the uncultivated panorama.
  • The accessible, controlled, and serviceable lakelands of the southern Canadian Shield emerged as “cottage country,” a comfortable compromise between the search for wildness while clinging to civilization.
  • The lumbering frontier had moved into the new north above Lake Nipissing, leaving a near north to be manipulated in a new romance of the woods.
  • Being in cottage country or having northern experiences became part of what was seen as the developing Canadian character symbolized by energy, strength, health, purity, and self-reliance. The lakes, rivers and forest of the Shield provided a fertile patch of land on which to help define an authentic national legacy, the celebration of personal character, and a vigorous vision for the future.
  • According to Witold Rybczynski, “The idea of having a ‘place in the country’ probably entered human consciousness at the same time as people began living in cities. It was a reaction to the constraints of the rules and regulations that governed behaviour in urban society, and was also a way to temporarily escape the curbs that city living inevitably put on the individual.”
  • The purpose of having a cottage had little to do with the kinds of experiences one gets visiting new places, but was a kind of inward journey, to discover self, nature, and unhindered relaxation.
  • Increased affluence, discretionary time, and more efficient access to the lakelands opened up opportunities once limited by the rhythms of work, time and space. … but in the towns and cities experiencing increasing industrialization time away from bustling work-lives offered a new horizon, especially with the widespread use of Saturday afternoons for relaxation.  At the turn-of-the-century, this was the beginning of the concept of the weekend.
  • The first decade of the 20th century extended the widespread notion that as the  economy changed and the twin focus of urbanization and industrialization shifted families way from traditional farm labour, a new class of children, known as adolescents, were unprepared, marginalized, and vulnerable in their new setting. … there was concern that town and  city living led to idleness delinquency and worse.
  • Youth camping was seen as a means to toughen children from non-farm settings where it was believed that, in a natural environment, they would learn useful skills when schools were closed for summer vacation.
  • Outdoor activities brought people closer to lakes, and encouraged a tradition of Ontario camping and cottaging that continues to define summer vacation from many families.
  • Where public excursions, picnics, and resorts required a degree of middle-class respectability and deportment, camps, cottages, and boats allowed greater personal freedom and brought the home into the venue of the lake and forest. The cottage and boat excited the individualist and family-oriented notion of retreat and solitude from everyday life.
Think back on your experiences of Ontario cottaging. I’m sure the insights resonate with what a cottage means to you and your family and friends.
A Boy’s Cottage Diary 1904 by Larry Turner (Petherwin Heritage, Ottawa)

Readers comments and stories are welcome.

Or, contact by email:

From the Cottage Porch Cable TV Interview

As Seen on TV

If anyone predicted a year ago that I’d appear on Rogers Cable TV show, Daytime, because of a story I’d written about our dog Cookie at Washburn Island, I’d have laughed out loud. But it happened on June 13.

I have company for this performance: James Dewar, President of the Writers’ Community of Durham Region. We are two of many authors that Jessica Outram of Sunshine in a Jar Press selected for the anthology From The Cottage Porch.

I’m not nervous in the Green Room until a very nice lady puts a mic up my shirt. In Oshawa, Roger’s Green Room is a spare office with two bright green couches, a coffee machine and a gallery of local awards covering the walls. I realize that I haven’t thought much about what is about to occur. I wonder what will happen if James doesn’t show up – or how James will feel if he catches sight of me driving off before show time.

Lights – Camera – Action!

I push aside thoughts of public speaking phobias and dry mouth syndrome long enough to enjoy the moment. James arrives, we warm up by conversing about our cottage experiences, which is like runners stretching before a race. We’re escorted to the studio, and given no time to back out, or be sick. Two interviewers, Chris and Amy, two guests, James and Mary, a crescent-shaped table with stools — lights – camera – action!

Our dog, a beagle named Cookie, rolled in dead fish before we left Washburn Island to go back to Scarborough. For dog lovers who live near water, you already know the odour on the snout of your dogs when they revel in a fish carcass on shore. My story is about my father’s reactions to sharing a car ride with a foul smelling beagle.

Readers comments and stories are welcome.

Or, contact by email:

Meet Matt Vardy

Former Washburn Island Resident, Matt Vardy.

Former five-year resident of Washburn Island, Matt Vardy has created waves in the photography world. Some of his most recognized achievements are photography for the music industry. He’s young, fresh, talented and attracting a strong client base in his career.

Matt Vardy, View from Washburn Island Lake Scugog, looking west

Matt shares a special Lake Scugog sunset he photographed  from his former home on Washburn Island. I’m familiar with the expansive blue skies reflected in calm evening waters; the horizon glimmering with the remnants of golden pink sunsets.

I asked Matt a few questions about growing up on Washburn Island. As a more recent resident, the memory of place is different for him than me because he lived in a permanent home. Only cottages and three farmhouses were on the island when I was his age.

What years did you live on Washburn Island?

I moved there when I was thirteen around 2000. I took a school bus to George Hall Public School in Little Britain for one year, and went to LCVI in Lindsay for high school. When I was eighteen, I moved out on my own to Toronto when I was offered a full-time job as a graphic designer for a large cosmetics company.

What did kids do for entertainment on Washburn Island?

If you were a resourceful outdoor person the island had lots to offer for recreation. I liked to go kayaking, boating, fishing, biking and snowmobiling in winter. On the flip side, I definitely felt a sense of isolation on the island. There’s very little for a young adult in terms of culture and social life. Your options are limited.

What was it like to live in a community mix of cottages and permanent homes?

The area I lived in had mostly permanent homes – out of the dozen or so homes on my street, only three were cottages. It was a tight-knit community, everybody knew everybody, and in times of crisis (for example: after a major wind storm when trees and homes were damaged), it seemed that there was always a neighbour standing by, willing to help.

Did you interact with the farmers?

No. Never had the opportunity to, or was never invited to.

Did you have a favourite place on the island?

My favourite place was my back yard. My family had a beautiful corner lot on Helen Crescent with mature trees and tons of space to play and explore. My favourite fishing spot was on the northeast side of the island along the marshes.

Did you know any of the history of the island?

I didn’t know very much about it except that (I had been told) at one time there were very few houses on it, and it was mostly farmland. The road connecting the island to the mainland was either non-existent or much smaller than it is today.

Are you in touch with anyone living there now?

My parents are in touch with a few of the neighbours that were close friends.

How did photography become such an important part of your life?

I took my first photography class in Grade 10 in Lindsay. My love for the art has grown steadily ever since, and now I’m proud to say it is my career.

Thank you Matt for giving us a new perspective of growing up on Washburn Island.

Readers comments and stories are welcome.

Or, contact by email:

Murder and Mayhem on Washburn Island

The following excerpt about a murder on Washburn Island from a History of Kleinburg site:

John Stegmann’s death was tragic, unexpected and bizarre, precipitated by a strange series of events which began in 1803 when a white trader named John Sharpe killed a Mississauga Indian named Whistling Duck on Washburn Island, Lake Scugog, about 25 miles north of Oshawa. A year passed and the white man was not brought to justice. This so enraged Whistling Duck’s brother that he shot Sharpe dead. Then, when the Indian band was camped on Toronto Island, the murderer, under the influence of liquor, boasted about his crime, and was apprehended and charged. The court-appointed lawyer, however, argued that the trial could not be held in York since the crime took place in Newcastle district. Stegmann was brought in to survey the exact location of Washburn Island and a change of venue to Presque Isle was ordered. And so, on Sunday, October 7, 1804, a distinguished company boarded the government schooner, Speedy, for Presque Isle. The passenger list included the judge, the Solicitor General of Ontario, the accused’s lawyer (also a member of the legislature), a law student, an Indian interpreter, the prisoner himself and Stegmann. The following day the schooner was within hailing distance of its destination when a gale sprang up and drove the ship out of the harbour. In the terrible storm that followed the vessel sank with all hands. And John Stegmann at the age of 50 and at the height of his career, was dead.

Readers comments and stories are welcome.

Or, contact by email:

%d bloggers like this: