Archive for the ‘Washburn History’ Category

Cow Pies

Posting stories of my childhood memories on Washburn Island, Lake Scugog is one of my interests. For 60 years, from the 1930s to 1990s there were at varying times five family cottages on the island. We lost my cousin Ronnie Baker in a tragic accident on Washburn Island in 1957. This first story introduces you to Ronnie. The legend at the bottom of the page locates the Baker cottage beside The Point on the west side of Wakeford Rd.

Ronnie standing beside Aunt May Hamlett c. 1954

Ronnie standing beside Aunt May Hamlett c. 1954

Cow Pies

Ronnie’s voice, high-pitched and excited, says, “Percy’s got a bloody bull at the farm!”

“You said ‘bloody’,” says seven-year-old cousin Phyllis.

Ronnie grins, and steps out a crisp military turn, a skinny eleven-year-old with bare feet pressed into the sandy ruts to Percy’s farm. Five girl cousins straggle out from under a cool cedar canopy to form ranks, awaiting orders.

Ronnie straightens his boney shoulders, flattens a stripped cedar walking stick under a bent left arm, and announces, “Right turn into the woods. Follow me, men.” Then he marches forward to the humming of the Colonel Bogey March, an inspirational march created in WWI to inspire British military fortitude.

Sadly today I know the same music is a popular theme song for the movie The Bridge On the River Kwai released in 195–but Ronnie will die before it’s release. The version Ronnie hums in 1954 he learned from his father’s collection of long-playing records ordered from all over the world. Ronnie’s not allowed to touch the records or the gramophone, but Uncle Harrie makes sure his kids listen to expensive international recordings of marches, operas, and classical music.

All the girl cousins

From left at the Baker Cottage: with back to the camera, Aunt Nora (or possibly my mum), Viv Burrows, Aunt May Hamlett, seated is me, my father jesting in a chef’s get-up, cousin Terry, her sister Phyllis, Ronnie’s sister Susie, my sisters, Maeve and Barb.

A file of girl-soldiers set off after Ronnie, ages ranging from six to eleven. Cedar boughs slap and scratch, but we happily troop behind our leader–and the only boy. When Phyllis won’t let go of his swear word and threatens to tell on him he pivots and commands, “no God-damn insubordination.”

“Twice. I’m telling,” she says.

Noisy chipmunks chase in the damp soil and kick up dried cedar droppings. My sister Barb, who is six months older than Ronnie, ranks next in the chain of command, but only comes to real power when Ronnie chooses to hang around with the uncles and leaves the girls to plan their own play.

“A God-damn bloody bull,” he says to Barb as she dodges low-slung cedar branches.

“Don’t swear,” she says, looking to see if the little ones have heard him swear again — and we have.

Mosquitoes attack exposed skin, made sweaty from humidity locked inside the forest. We swat at them and scratch tiny raised bumps on necks and legs.

“Cow pies,” Ronnie shrills, stopping beside a circular splat of brown muck.

Squeamish girls break ranks behind him, peering around each other to see the cow pies, erupting  “Eeewww” sounds, fingers clamped to noses.

“Fresh, too,” he says, grinning at my sister Barb, his best pal.

She wrinkles her nose and skirts the circle, saying, “C’mon, let’s go.”

“Who’s gonna jump in?” Ronnie challenges.

I’m second youngest of the gawking girls sweating and swatting beside the cow pies, but I know what might come next and I’m not budging.

“No takers?” he scoffs, looking at the faces of disbelievers. “Chickens.”

Ronnie pumps his arms, bends his knees – “One … two … three …” He lifts a perfect barefoot, standing-long-jump smack in the center of a smelly brown cow pie.

Little girls run in all directions, squealing and looking back at the laughing boy who has splashes of pooh coating feet and ankles.

“That was stupid,” said Barb, but she laughs because he laughs — at least he laughs until he has a hard time scraping off the filth.

It’s one of the first times I remember wishing I was a boy. I wished Mum wouldn’t yell at me if she heard that I jumped in pooh. I wished I were brave and naughty and laughing at pooh squishing through my toes.

We detour long enough for Ronnie to wash his feet in the warm shallows of the lake. No longer, soldiers, we tramp out of the trees onto the sandy road to the farm.

Phyllis told the adults about Ronnie’s swearing when we got back. As soon as we’d blurted out about the bull sighting, Ronnie’s cow-pie-stomp loomed large in our tale too. The bull sighting got a lot more attention from our parents.

“Was he in the barn? Tied up, or chained up? Did Percy let you in the barn? Don’t go there again.”

But the disgusting act of cow-pie-jumping didn’t seem to diminish Ronnie in anyone’s eyes. Ronnie good-naturedly chirped back at the teasing uncles who called him, ‘Simpleton, and Clodhopper.’

As the years pass, I’m aware of how much everyone liked Ronnie, my Dad especially. I can tell by the way he teases Ronnie about being a muscle man, even when at thirteen the boy is slight but wiry. Step-N-Fetch-It, Dad calls him. Ronnie responds by retrieving tools and lumber, eager to please. He hangs around the jocular company of uncles, telling jokes, listening to their stories. And he charms the aunts by helping set up tea under the elm tree in the front yard, or minds the little ones near the shore.

Ronnie is first to have a radio of his own. I don’t understand then why he and Barb choose to go into Aunt Nora’s cottage on a sunny day just to hover close to static, listening for rock ‘n roll tunes, like Elvis Presley’s Hound Dog. But the two are past the age of making clay ashtrays at the shoreline with the younger kids.

Until July of 1957, there was a sense of being safe at Washburn Island, like growing up inside a cocoon. Summer breezes and sheets of blue sky lulled us to complacency. We can’t know that soon a change in the weather will smash the cocoon to the ground and change our innocent reflections of childhood on the island.

Map Photo


You Can Never Go Back

Percy and Edythe Wakeford’s farm today. Once a lively place with typical farm critters, and a warm welcome from the childless couple who loved summer visitors and sold eggs and vegetables to them.

Prepare for disappointments when you return to a place that meant a lot to you as a kid. In your absence, progress advances, disguising your landmark memories with modernity or neglect.

For the current residents of Washburn Island, the narrow dusty tracks that rimmed Lake Scugog now have metal signposts with designated street names and house numbers: paved and wide enough for two cars to pass. It’s comforting to know that three of the street names honour the farming families that lived on the island from the beginning of cottage-ing in the early 1900s until today (Wakeford, Bowen & Grill).

The island is about 300 acres, with some of its land-locked centre under cultivation still. When I was a baby in ’47 (first visit at 3 weeks old), there were probably about 30 cottages on the sunny west side facing the larger Scugog Island where the Blue Heron Casino attracts visitors today. Farmer Percy Wakeford parcelled off 50-ft. lots during the ’30s depression, perhaps because he made more money selling land than he made for low-priced yields in a desperate rural economy.

Within weeks of building basic structures, most clad with Manitoba maple, cottagers cut down cedars trees, constructing branch fences as barricades against Percy’s wandering cows and horses. My parents told stories of four-legged creatures nosing up against their screened windows. I recall brown horses hanging their heads over the cedar fence at my grandparents’ cottage. Mum taught us to hold sugar cubes on our palms and let the horses squeeze them off our palms with rubbery lips.

Looking south from my Humphries grandparents’ cottage to the fronts of my Burrows grandparents’ and aunt and uncle’s waterfront beside The Point. High water in the Trent System ate up the beach and eroded some of the property at the shore.

Often when swimming in the soupy waters we’d look a hundred feet south at The Point. Percy’s cows cooled themselves ankle-deep in the lake beside the last remnant of unsold pasture at the water’s edge.

Before the Trent System raised water levels, a 20-foot sandy beach stretched around the west side, anchored by large boulders cleared to make way for crops in pioneer times. The sandy beach below a shallow bluff was our playground, a place of sand castles and moats, a rocky ledge for sun-baking ashtrays molded from clay found close to shore, a place for a narrow wooden dock and a cumbersome rowboat Gran ordered from Eaton’s catalogue .

In the early ’50s, I had two sets of grandparents with cottages one lot apart, a great-aunt and uncle with a cottage “down the line,” and an aunt and uncle’s cottage beside The Point. Each unique cottage was a place for me to visit, to get a drink of water, a biscuit, to celebrate with a fire at night, marshmallows on a stick, a place to find an outhouse, a place to pump a well. Each cottage had clusters of relatives and their visiting friends. Each parent knew they were providing something special for their kids, something they couldn’t have dreamed of in England from where they came.

Every cottager had a well and pump. This is all that remains of Farmer Wakeford’s pump. I remember swinging on the gate that opened to their property from the narrow dusty road.

It’s gone now. Other peoples’ memories are progressing at Washburn Island. Percy and Edythe Wakeford moved and shortly after died nearly 40 years ago. Gran Humphries died in 1970, and Gramp hung on for a few years, but the loneliness and upkeep overwhelmed him and he sold. My aunt took over Grandma Burrows’ cottage, but her husband died and with uninterested teenagers, she sold. Her sister who’d owned the cottage beside The Point reconsidered the long drive from Toronto’s west end, and the tragedy that affected them personally on the island, and sold too. By the early 70s, the only cottage left was the lot my parents bought from Farmer Bowen in ’56. They sold it in ’91, preferring travel to cottage maintenance. Sixty years of memories ended with my own children barely able to recollect our rare visits.

There are hundreds of homes on the island now. New roads with names like Sugar Bush Trail. I took pictures of the old cottages two weeks ago, transformed though they are, some in good ways, some by neglect.

You can never go back. You feel like you’ve been robbed of something precious.

Legend for Old Washburn Island

Legend for Old Washburn Island


Readers comments and stories are welcome.

Or, contact by email:

Bill Duncan’s Washburn Island Memories

Bill Duncan is 92 years old. That alone is a great accomplishment. Bill shared a couple of Washburn Island stories with me. He’d been a friend to my dad in Toronto in the ’30s, and it’s because my grandfather helped his father build their Washburn Island cottage that my grandparents located there later in 1936. When the Duncan family sold their cottage on the island after the war, the families gradually lost touch. I wish my dad could know that we’ve reunited two families through our interest in Washburn Island. Read Bill’s funny stories below, stories I happily shared with my dad’s sisters, May and Sheila, who have fond memories of the relationship between of the two families.

Bill Duncan Bio:

  • Born Jan 18, 1920
  • Grew up in Beach District in Toronto
  • Attended Adam Beck Public School
  • Attended Malvern Collegiate, where he played football and hockey
  • Graduated from U of T in Mining Engineering
  • While at U of T, played more football and hockey
  • In early war years played football for Balmy Beach, which was a member of the Big Four and which had won the Grey Cup a couple of times
  • He and his wife, Marion, are members of the Peterborough Golf and Country Club where he still plays golf and has shot his age about thirty-five times – several times this year
  • For several years he was a director with the Ontario Cottagers Association
  • Has a cottage in the Kawarthas, built 1972, is a Past President of the Eels Lake Cottagers Association and was a director for many years
  • Spent 4 years in the Canadian Army with Service in Canada, Great Britain, Italy, France and Germany
  • Checkered Engineering career and retired in 1985
  • He and Marion play duplicate bridge and have many friends in that field
  • They have two children, a son and a daughter, and two grandsons

Read Bill’s entertaining stories below the legend. The Duncan Cottage was on Wakeford Road between # 13 and #14.

Legend for Old Washburn Island

Canada Geese

Hiding the Evidence, by Bill Duncan

Long ago, on Washburn Island in the land of Scugog, the Duncan cottage had a cedar strip boat equipped with a 4.7 Muncie outboard motor. The captain of the craft was Billy Duncan, the oldest teenaged son. Because he owned the boat, Bill Duncan Senior, with Billy at the helm, had prior rights for fishing in Starr’s Bay or at Bowen’s Seven acres.

Otherwise, the boat’s use was for recreational purposes: incidental trips to Caesarea where there was an ice-cream parlor and pinball machines, and even a dance hall. The boat was in demand to carry people to the annual regatta at Caesarea, to take part in swimming races and watch the sea fleas charge around. The passengers were usually Ken, Don and Fred (The Joker).

In the middle of Lake Scugog is a huge island composed of farms and an Indian Reservation [Scugog Island]. In recent years the natives have built themselves a large money-making casino.

One day in late August the usual gang made a trip across the lake to Scugog Island and landed in a clearing. After beaching the boat, the gang traipsed ashore, and confronted a gaggle of domestic geese led by a bad-tempered gander who visciously hissed and pecked Bill on the leg. In self-defense Bill picked up a handy stick and wacked the gander on the neck. The gander did not enjoy this treatment and promptly collapsed in a heap.

Panic!! Panic! What to do? What to do?

We held a hasty conference. Afraid of being confronted by angry natives or furious farmers, the gang picked up the carcass and returned at full throttle to the Duncan cottage. But their problems were not over. Mrs. Duncan would not cook a goose for a gang of thieves – the word would get out – what would the neighbours think? – it was against the law, etc. However, the silver-tongued Billy convinced his mother that the evidence needed destroying, and eating the bird would be very efficient. The bird was plucked, drawn, made ready for the oven and a feast was laid on for the following day.

The next day the gang of thieves, with a few special guests, assembled at the Duncan cottage while the goose was cooking. With the table set, a pleasant aroma filled the room as the bird sizzled in the oven.

Suddenly there was a pounding on the back door of the cottage.

“Open up! Open up! This is the O.P.P. We have received a complaint from farmer Jones.”

Mrs. Duncan, the chief cook, turned pale and clutched her throat. There was a sudden silence throughout the room. About 30 second later, Fred (the Joker) appeared at the back door with a big smile on his face. There was a joint sigh-of-relief from the feasters who then set about destroying the evidence. However, Fred (The Joker) dropped steeply on Mrs. Duncan’s popularity list.

All the above is true.


My dad, Bob Burrows and Len Hamlett with homemade sailboat on Washburn Island, 1940s

A Second Life for the White Punt, by Bill Duncan

Long ago on Washburn Island in the Land of Scugog, the Duncans owned a white punt, which had been built to receive a sail – but had no sail. 

Bill Duncan, the oldest son at 15, accepted this challenge. Percy Wakeford, the local farmer, had a huge cedar bush only steps away. Thus, armed with a blunt hatchet, Billy cut down and trimmed two trees of the proper size, and using canvas from an old tent, fashioned a sail of sorts.

Shortly afterwards it was clear that sailing the white punt without a centre board did not work satisfactorily. Under sail the boat did not go where intended.

Billy resorted to rowing the punt to mid lake, hoisting the sail, and charging with the wind back to harbour.  As this practice consumed much energy the white punt resumed its normal function for fishing, etc.

However, the Duncans were a careless lot and did not look after the punt. The bottom began to rot.  It became a leaky punt, pulled up on the shore to await a natural death.

At some point,  a smiling May Burrows [Mary E. McIntyre’s aunt and daughter of her grandparents who had a cottage on the island] approached us and asked if she could have the punt for a flower box. Of course she could.  With difficulty and much bailing the boat was rowed to the Burrows cottage at the point.  A few days later, what appeared on the horizon but a buoyant white punt rowed by a smiling May Burrows. The Burrows boys [Mary E. McIntyre’s father Bob, grandfather Sam, and uncle Syd] had been busy. The bottom was removed, the sides planed down to remove the rot, and the bottom replaced with new lumber. Voila – a new boat.

I will cherish forever the saga of the white punt and have only exaggerated a little.


Map Photo

Readers comments and stories are welcome.

Or, contact by email:

Beavers, Bears and Mooses

For the life of me I can’t figure out why three generations of my family are awake before dawn and gathered in the front porch of my grandparents’ cottage on Washburn Island. They sit in the dark on old wicker chairs, with me, and my sister Maeve atop the double bed at one end of the room. I strain to see through the screens that overlook Lake Scugog in the pre-dawn light. Why don’t we light the lamps?

… paddle like three arrows …

Squinting, I detect a large beaver scurry over the land ridge at the front of the cottage. It crosses our sandy beach to enter the shallows of Lake Scugog. I call out to my family when I see the large rodent followed by a smaller female and then a third very small one I think is their offspring. They paddle like three arrows into deeper offshore waters.

… tall-legged silhouettes with antlers …

My family gathers at the windows across the porch, excited next to witness an unexpected bear sighting. A shadowy creature lumbers into the water and follows the gentle wake behind the beavers. We point and babble when more bears step out of the darkness and follow the first.  Awestruck, we watch a giant moose followed by a few more: black, tall-legged silhouettes with antlers, wading with bears and beavers. An endless march of gray-brown shapes silently part the calm waters as they head into the channel.

What is happening? It’s like a tidal wave of wildlife swimming away from our island before the sun rises over the eastern rim. Animals keep coming out of the darkness from both sides of the cottage: more than twenty fleeing bears and a dozen mooses stream into the water and cross Lake Scugog. I can’t tell if the bears mean to harm the beavers that have disappeared into the pale shimmer of fading night. My family stands mesmerized by the mysterious migration.

When I turn away from the window, only my sister and I are in the room. I warn her that I saw a bear turn back. It heads up the side of the cottage and I don’t know if the back door is locked. Maeve rushes across the living room to the kitchen door to lock it, but when the bear pushes through the screen, she shrieks and runs. Fearful, I pull shut the glass-paned door to the porch — leaving Maeve with a wild bear that follows her across the kitchen and living room. Where are the others? Maeve sends me a disgusted look through the glass panes as the bear leans up against the door that separates me from her and the invader. She grabs at the brown furry neck, as if the animal wears a collar. I think the bear will kill her — but I don’t move. She drags and shoves the animal back to the kitchen door as if it is a wayward puppy. The chastised bear submits and exits the way it came.

… black shapes sway precariously …

I run to the kitchen door. My family is outside where rangers with guns tell my father what needs doing about the bear invasion on our island. It’s still dark in the cedar forest where we gather. The rangers point to the treetops. Furry black shapes sway precariously on branches over our heads. I think the rangers will shoot them down. Instead they talk to the bears. One by one the bears loosen their grips and tumble to the ground around us, making oomph-noises, and laying docile at our feet.

I hear the first ring but I want to know if the bears are dead or alive. The second ring makes me count: one, two. How did the rangers charm the bears out of the trees? But the bears fade. Light invades dark on the third ring: one, two, three. I pick up the phone beside my bed and say hello. It’s my financial advisor.

“Did I wake you?”

The true story:

What seems so ridiculous about the dream of beavers and bears and mooses is that in all the years my family spent on Washburn Island, Lake Scugog (60 years), there is not one story (or sighting) of beavers, bears or moose, that I know of. That’s  not to say they might not have been there in the early days, but they were long gone with the decline of forestry and invasion of settlements.

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:

Fishing Lake Scugog

Fishing on Lake Scugog Near Washburn Island

Author’s father Bob Burrows, Washburn Island, Lake Scugog, small muskie, c 1946.

Author’s father Bob Burrows Washburn Island, bass, 1953

None in our family owned a motor boat in the 50s, so their willingness to row in the dawn mist determined where the men dropped anchor. My father and my uncles (Len Hamlett, Harrie Baker, Ernie Humphries Jr.) kidded each other about secret fishing spots they preferred around Washburn Island. Dawn or dusk was in question for which was the best time to lure the fish to the bait. Large mouth bass hid in the warm weedy waters among the lily pads. Small mouth bass roamed cooler open waters. Crappie, muskellunge, catfish and carp rounded out the anticipated catches of the day. The food chain was healthy for sport fishermen – zooplankton, insects, crayfish and minnows, and up the fish ladder to the large muskellunge.

The men assembled fishing rods, reels and lures, tackle boxes and lucky fishing hats the night before. At dawn my mum, Vera Burrows and Aunt Gert Humphries rose with my dad and Uncle Ernie. The wives made breakfast and tea, packed sandwiches and a thermos with more tea, filled a glass jar with water, and maybe slipped in a couple of beers for the hottest part of the day when the sun beat down.

My dad and Uncle Ernie rowed Gran and Gramp Humphries rowboat (the one they’d ordered from Eaton’s catalogue) and Uncle Len Hamlett and Uncle Harrie Baker took the Burrows heavier rowboat. I woke long enough to hear voices through the screened window, Mum and Aunt Gert calling out their goodbyes and good lucks from the dock.

The tall reeds of Starrs Bay was a favourite fishing spot, and the swampy areas beside the causeway attracted a few fishermen. Toss an anchor into the mucky bottom, or toss a line into the lily pads.

Later in the day, most of the cousins and aunts and grandmothers gathered on the beach for an afternoon swim. The men rowed up the lake with their catch, hailing from a long way off if they’d had a successful trip.

Catch anything?” someone would shout across the water.

We can hardly row the boat’s it’s so heavy.”

The Hamlett and Baker relatives gathered at the Burrows‘ dock, and the Humphries and our family gathered at the Humphries‘ dock, anxious to see the strings of fish dragging behind the boat. Once tethered, and the fishing gear lifted to the dock, our group sauntered across the beach at the front of Baldwin’s cottage to the Burrows’s beach and compared the catches.

Everyone was in high spirits akin to a hunter’s return with bounty for the gatherers waiting on the shore. The men joked and teased about who caught the biggest fish, the one who had no luck, the one who nearly fell in the lake and the one that got away. The families divided the catch. It was likely we’d be eating fish for our dinner.

My parents monitored my siblings and I when we explored the lures in Dad’s tackle box. They were exciting oddities with multi-pronged hooks attached to silvery green underbellies. Some had painted eyes and speckled sides like minnows, others bright coloured, big and small. My favourite was a green frog with legs that pumped like a real frog. We were warned away from a fish knife tucked into a long tray. Other compartments held varying sizes of hooks, feathers, sinkers, a roll of fishing line, and maybe a few band-aids and beer bottle caps. Some hooks had dried worms crusted on them. It was a male domain.

When my parents took my siblings and I fishing, we used worms, metal sinkers and red and white bobs that floated on the surface. If a fish nipped at the drowning worm, we yanked up the line. I’m sure both parents wearied from skewering worms for squeamish little girls: but my brother Bob mastered the manly art of hooking a worm at an early age. It was enough that they’d made us dig for our bait in the back forest and put frantic worms and stinky earth into a little tobacco can without a lid! I kept a close eye on the can in the bottom of the boat. If we were lucky enough to land an immature fish before boredom overcame us, usually a slim sunfish, it was Dad’s job to unhook it, allow us to inspect it, and toss it back into the lake, hopefully a little wiser for its ordeal.

To learn about Fishing in Lake Scugog

Readers comments and stories are welcome.

Or, contact by email:

Lake Scugog or Scugog Lake?

What’s in a name?

Since writing about my cottage experiences on Washburn Island, my research reveals new sources that name the shallow waters around it, Scugog Lake. This is puzzling to me because my extended family bought cottages on the lake in the 1930s, and we refer to the lake as, Lake Scugog. Did we have it wrong for 65 years?

Last summer my buddies in Life Writers Ink enjoyed a writers’ retreat at an island cottage on Otter Lake. Why not Lake Otter? Famous Canadian painter, Tom Tomson, died mysteriously at Canoe Lake. Why not Lake Canoe?

The confusion calls for research. I google – Ontario Lakes – The Great Canadian Experience. Did you know The Sunset Country travel region located in the Northwestern section of Ontario has more lakes than any other part of the Province? I count over 550 lakes in their list from Abram to Yukon, most ending with the word Lake. I noted the exceptions: Lake Despair, Lake of Bays, Lake St. Joseph, Lake Kashabowie, Lake of the Woods, Lake Nipigon, Lake Savant and Lake Superior. There are only eight lake names that begin with the French word Lac. Do the math to see that the word Lake is most likely to appear after its given name.

Some lake names make me snicker. I imagine the stories behind the the names: Blindfold Lake, Booger Lake, Cuss Lake, Confusion Lake, Keg Lake, Hooch Lake, Loonshit Lake, Ghost Lake, Rat-Trap Lake, Unnamed Lake and Wine Lake.

I’m beginning to think that by placing the word Lake before the name Scugog, some well-intentioned official, a long time ago, ranked our lake into an elite group. The lakes close to Scugog are named: Balsam Lake, Sturgeon Lake, Pigeon Lake, Curve Lake and Rice Lake. Why is Lake Scugog set apart?

The Great Lakes spill their deep cold waters into The St. Lawrence Seaway – having names with the word Lake up front: Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, Lake Superior. Lake Scugog doesn’t have the historical clout they do, especially since Scugog is a man-made lake, the result of flooded swamps east of Port Perry in the early 1800s.

Perhaps naming lakes was the result of a mistaken stroke of a pen–or quill. Perhaps the differences came from inconsistent translations between early French and English, flipping between Lac before a place-name and Lake after a place-name.

I won’t waste any more time on this silly conundrum, especially because my father and other relations affectionately referred to Lake Scugog as Mud Lake. There is still a Mud Lake Road somewhere near Lake Scugog. Although 17 miles long, the silted bottom of the lake lays only 6 feet below the surface at its deepest point. My sisters and our boyfriends used to get our sailboat mast stuck in the mud when we flipped it in open water. The greenish/brownish/yellowish warm waters are more like a giant puddle than a lake. Maybe the lake should be renamed Scugog Pond.

Readers comments and stories are welcome.

Or, contact by email:

Washburn Island General Store

Washburn General Store, Washburn Island, circa 1952

I put out the call and you answered.

My cousin Terry Hamlett found this photo of the Washburn General Store circa 1952 in her mother’s collection. Terry is the little girl on the left and her sister on the right is Phyllis. As young cousins we spent a lot of time together on Washburn Island. (See legend below to locate store on the island)

The building, located near the boat launch outside Percy Wakeford’s farm gate, played an important role in Washburn Island’s history before the store closed and the building became a cottage. You have to imagine how difficult it was for cottagers to transport groceries from Toronto at a time of poor refrigeration. Often the cottagers lowered foods needing refrigeration on a pulley and bucket system to the bottom of their wells to keep it cool.

The little store was a 10-minute walk along the sandy cottage road and became a reliable source for cottagers to buy milk, bread, cigarettes (see the advertising on the outside of the building), cold pop, and treats like gum, chocolate bars, licorice twirls and jube-jubes. And my favourite – ice cream, stored individually in cardboard canisters that could be peeled back and placed upright in a little cone. You could have any flavour you wanted as long as it was vanilla, chocolate or strawberry.

I’m calling on anyone who recognizes the building, or knows anything about who owned the store, (possibly the Byrds), and their recollections of the store, to email me:

When this store closed, another one opened nearby on a smaller scale (possibly the Byrds), then it closed too. The stores struggled before the population explosion on the island in the 1960s. I assume the number of existing cottagers couldn’t buy enough to sustain store owners who hoped for better returns on their time and investment.

The last local store I recall from the 60s was on Starrs Road before you made the left turn to go south to the naarrow Washburn Island causeway. Local farmer, Mr. Starr, sold milk mostly. I don’t remember much else. We’d pull our car up to the shed-like building that was roadside and Mr. Starr or his wife came out of the house to serve us. I think it remained open for a few years, but there was no magic to buying only milk roadside, compared to the fun of walking the cottage road for ice cream at the Washburn General Store.

Map Photo

Readers comments and stories are welcome.

Or, contact by email:

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 catalog 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 are 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:

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: