Posts Tagged ‘cottage’

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


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

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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.

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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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