Posts Tagged ‘Wakeford’

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 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:

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