From The Cottage Porch Book Launch

On a sunny May weekend when cottagers head north to shake winter out of their cottages, publisher Jessica Outram of Sunshine in a Jar Press, hosts a book launch for a perfect summer read titled From the Cottage Porch, an anthology dedicated to all cottage lovers.

Publisher Jessica Outram

My short story Cookie Goes Swimming is one of the stories. Ms. Outram introduces Master of Ceremonies James Dewar, President of WCDR (Writers’ Community of Durham Region) and contributor to the anthology. James introduces a few readers who read their poems and short stories (blood-sucking leeches and smelly outhouses in there), followed by a break for drinks, light snacks and more music, after which readers round off the launch with a few more readings (walking trees!).

James Dewar, President WCDR

Jessica generously thanks many people for their support in this process. But it’s clear that Jessica is a can do woman. She juggles full-time teaching with finishing her Master’s degree – and starting a publishing business, Sunshine in a Jar Press.

Eighteen Contributing Writers From the Cottage Porch

Writer Mary E. McIntyre and Publisher Jessica Outram

From the Cottage Porch, an anthology


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.

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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.

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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’s rowboat (the one they’d ordered from Eaton’s catalogue) and Uncle Len Hamlett and Uncle Harrie Baker took the Burrows’s 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

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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.

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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

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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

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