Washburn Island, Lake Scugog, Ontario, aerial photo facing north, c. 1930
Collective memory takes you back …
The island I remember from my youth (pictured above) has little resemblance to today’s Washburn Island on Lake Scugog. When my maternal and paternal grandparents bought 50-foot lots in the 1930s from Farmer Percy Wakeford, three farming families lived on less than 300 acres – the Wakefords, the Bowens and the Grills.
A narrow causeway threaded the reedy shallows at the north end of the lake before a landfill project in the late 60s obliterated the sliver of causeway as we knew it. Demolition of older cottages and conversions to permanent homes began. Dusty gravel roads were paved over and given street names.
Lake Scugog attracts cottagers and home owners to surrounding towns and landmarks like Port Perry, Pine Point, Caesarea, Fingerboard, Seagrave, Little Britain, Valentia, Manilla, Port Hoover, Starr’s Beach and Ball Point. For over a century, the lake’s proximity to larger centers – Toronto, Whitby, Oshawa and Lindsay – gave cottagers quick access to a Kawartha cottage experience. Visit local heritage site, Scugog Township.
I’d like to share memories of family members with cottages on the island, relations holidaying with us, neighbouring cottagers, farming families, and others who have since owned homes on the island.
Parents, VIV AND BOB BURROWS
As teenagers in the mid-30s, my mum, Vera Humphries (Viv) meets my dad, Robert Burrows (Bob) on Washburn Island. Their parents’ cottages are separated by Baldwin’s cottage, all built between 1934 and 1936.
With siblings, their friends from Toronto invited to the island and new friends they meet on the island, the young people hang around together in groups.
In many photos, young girls wear skirts and blouses and men wear dress pants with suspenders over collared shirts.Labour laws stipulate a longer work week (44 hrs) for the working class, usually at work until noon on Saturday in Toronto. They likely drive to the cottage in their work clothes. It is also an era when you dress. I recall in the 50s we change out of cottage clothes to return to the city. It seems ridiculous today, but there were recognized standards about conventions like that.
Viv Humphries & Bob Burrows, Washburn Island, c. 1939. (It appears that Viv is wearing her “cottage clothes” in this shot)
Author, MARY and siblings, BARBARA, MAEVE & ROBERT
1952 photo of Viv and Bob Burrows with three daughters, Barbara (8 yrs), Maeve (6 yrs), author Mary (4 yrs) at the shoreline of Gran and Gramp Humphries cottage. (Son Robert born 1958) Note the sand beach, large boulders, low bluff and strip cedar fences to keep cattle and horses off cottagers’ properties. Mum sewed most of our clothes on a treadle sewing machine. As the youngest daughter, the hand-me-downs were pretty much used up when I was through with them. I’m sure I’ll weave the complaint into my book.
Once or twice each winter we visited the cottage. Sometimes we parked outside the forest because the road was unplowed, and we hiked in. Dad lit a fire in a black potbelly stove in the living room and we boiled water for tea on it, and ate sandwiches Mum pre-made at home. A couple of times we shoveled the snow off the ice on the lake and skated. Maeve and I were given skis at Christmastime one year and we found a slope to practise on.
Puffballs didn’t grow every year. They required particular climatic conditions. Mum and Dad fried them in an iron frying pan with big slabs of butter. I wasn’t convinced we were doing the prudent thing, and usually turned up my nose at them.
(Photo: Mary crouching, Bob, Maeve and Barb standing with trophy puffballs on Washburn Island, 1960)
Maternal Grandparents: Ernest and Edith Humphries
Ernie (Gramp) came to Canada from Dorset, England in 1906 when he was 17-years old. He signed up for WWI in Owen Sound, Ontario, and met Edith Collins (Gran) when he was on leave for a holiday weekend in Little Hampton, England, where she was born. They decided to make their life in Toronto, Canada, with my 2-year old mother, Vera (Viv) in 1920. In 1922, their son Ernie was born.
Ernest & Edith Humphries (Gran & Gramp), in front of their cottage, Twin Cedars, c. 1965, which they purchased c. 1936
Paternal grandparents, SAMUEL & MARGUERITE (DAISY) BURROWS
Daisy Whiteley (Grandma) was born in Buxton, Derbyshire, England. She met her husband Sam when they worked together in Southampton. They had five children born in England and one daughter born in Saskatchewan before they settled in Toronto in 1929. Daisy and Sam bought their cottage on Washburn Island in 1936.
Sam Burrows (top left) died in 1941 (in his fifties) shortly after this photo was taken on the steps to The Burrows cottage he built with his sons (Bob and Syd) in 1936. His wife Daisy lived to be ninety-four years old. Sam was born in London, England and joined the Royal Navy at an early age.
Margeurite (Daisy) Burrows (Grandma) with granddaughter Mary McIntrye, Washburn Island, c. 1948
Dark Secrets Revealed
The dark secrets of family mythology are embedded beliefs. These beliefs build family values and motivate the actions of individual family members to varying degrees. Values govern behaviour, communication and interaction with others.
“Predominant themes emerge over generations and are imprinted on a family as a kind of private mythology. How has this theme worked through the generations, positively and/or negatively? In what ways has it helped create a sense of loyalty and identity among family members …?”
I can’t speak for every member of my extended family, but here are some generalities I think we’d agree on.
Americans can’t make a decent cup of tea. They just swish a tea bag through a cup of hot tap water.
- Hardly an earth-shaking, dark secret, but shows a long-held view by some Brits about Americans. Americans rejected our tea (Boston Tea Party) so we scoff at them. I recall hearing, when crossing back into Canada on returns from American vacations, We’re finally going to get a decent cup of tea.
- Beliefs about tea go even deeper. Brewing a pot of tea is the first thing that is done in a crisis. The tea pot must be warmed first. Tea is best drunk from china tea cups. Tea should be steeped. You can never drink enough cups of tea in a day. Knitted tea cozies were favourite knitting projects by Gran Humphries.
We are working class people
- This goes along with, Don’t try to rise above your station. At the turn of the 20th century when all of my grandparents were growing up in England, there existed a well-defined class system based on education, jobs and family connections. Looking at the occupations of my four great-grandparents, I sense what my grandparents believed of their station: a gold-leaf painter for churches, a labourer, a heating & metal works business owner and a river pilot.
- At risk of sounding trite, the working class expected to work – often physically and for long hours. It wasn’t until they lived in Canada under a modified American system of “getting ahead” that they dared to believe that future generations could throw off the constraints of the class system.
- You help your own first, everyone else second. Be loyal to family. Family rewards you in turn. Family is to be trusted. Strong family values benefit all. Family forgives. Family members are your best friends. Do not bring shame upon your family. Make us proud. Put your best foot forward.
We are Christians
- Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This Christian based belief is at the foundation of British social teachings, at least man to man – not country to country (we can’t forget that Empire building is an ugly business based on annihilation or assimilation, not accommodation).
- “Manners Maketh Man” was inscribed in stone above the entry to the Anglican Church School my father and sibling attended in England.
There will always be an England
- Loyalty to England was a rallying cry for grandparents and parents signing up in two world wars. Victorian expansionist policies at the turn of the twentieth century had reached its zenith. British newspapers and literature exploded with exploits in foreign lands. Empire was something to be proud of in workaday lives back home. Power of one nation over another. (The dark secret was to ignore the destruction of Empire-building to the vanquished.)
Work before pleasure
- At its core this can be stripped down to a universal truth, If you don’t hunt, you don’t eat. Hard work is rewarded, laziness is not (Grasshopper and the Ant). Put your shoulder to the wheel, was often repeated in my family. A stitch in time saves nine. You reap what you sow. Get on with it. All hands on deck. Many hands make short work.
I will address superstitons and family myths in follow up posts.
Washburn Island Cottages
The Humphries Cottage “Twin Cedars”
Ernie and Edith HUMPHRIES bought Twin Cedars from Frankel Bros. Lumber (Lindsay) when it was partially built on a low foundation. The original purchasers, a young couple with a baby, were unable to pay for the cottage they arranged for Frankel Bros. to build. Frankel Bros., who supplied the materials, claimed the property in lieu of materials and labour costs. As a sign of the times, deeds stipulated that only gentiles could own property on the island and Frankel Bros., being Jewish, sold the unfinished cottage to my maternal grandparents, Ernie and Edith Humphries in 1936.
- The Humphries Cottage, Twin Cedars, the late 30s before porch addition and dock construction. All-day sunshine. Shortly after this photo was taken in the late 1930s, a shuttered and screened porch was added across the front of the cottage. Most cottagers constructed cedar strip fences to keep Percy Wakeford’s horses and cattle away from their windows. Cottagers today may be surprised to see the deep sandy beach and low bluff which was a permanent feature until the 1960s when water tables changed. The boulders helped to keep the shoreline stable. At the top of the bluff in front of the fence was a level grassy landing for deck chairs.
Ernie Humphries sold the cottage in 1972, two years after his wife Edith’s death in 1970. In this 2003 view, gone is the outhouse, gone is the big maple with the circle of stones and ferns around its base, gone is the tool shed attached to the left side of the cottage, gone is the high dense cedar fence separating the properties, gone is the split cedar fence and gate that kept out the farmer’s cows and horses, gone is the long narrow cedar lined driveway leading from the sandy cottage road. Gone.
THE BURROWS COTTAGE
Daisy Burrows and 12-year old daughter Peg Burrows sitting on vacant lot beside the Burrows cottage, 1939. Lot purchased 1936. Where they are sitting will become the lot where her daugher Nora and husband Harrie Baker will build their cottage in 1953.
Sam and Daisy (Marguerite) BURROWS bought their 50-ft lot from farmer Percy Wakeford in 1936. The family of six camped in tents until Sam and sons Bob and Syd built the structure pictured above. On the left stands a giant elm tree that nearly 20 years after this photo was taken played a role in a tragic death at the cottage. The lot where Daisy and Peg are sitting was bought by her daughter Nora and her husband Harrie Baker in the early 50s. They built a cottage there in 1953. (Below, Bob Burrows 1939)
- Back view of the Burrows cottage 2006. A single storey cottage was built over the original Burrows cottage in photo above by Sam and Daisy Burrows’ daughter May Hamlett when she took ownership from her mother. New owners added a second floor in the 1970s.
My aunt, May HAMLETT sold the Burrows cottage in the late 70s. The photo above shows a second storey addition, a shed and satellite dish. The structure on the far right had been Baldwin’s cottage in the 30s.The tall cedars that lined the driveway and car park stretched behind the cottages are gone. The cottage on the far left belonged to Aunt Nora and Uncle Harrie Baker.
THE BAKER COTTAGE 1953
The BAKER cottage is situated on the most westerly point of Washburn Island beside the original Burrows cottage. In the late 50s, on the left side of a tall cedar fence, a sand trail led from the cottage road to a public beach (considered unpopular by seasoned cottagers). As a child, I recall the farmer’s cows cooling themsleves in the shallows at the point. The best swimming on the island is here where the westerly winds bleows across the lake and creates wave action solidifying the bottom. The original structure, including outhouse was separated by a fence and cedar trees from the parking area pictured above. A short cedar hedge separated The Baker cottage and the Burrows cottage.
BOB & VIV BURROWS COTTAGE
Viv and Bob Burrows bought a lot from farmer Alex Bowen in 1956, situated in a maple forest and facing south into Starr’s Bay
The dark building on the left was a shed Bob Burrows constructed to serve as shelter while he built the cottage. The structure on the right was half of the cottage: kitchen, dining room and living room. A bedroom addition was erected the next year at the right side of the existing structure. The shed served as a tool and storage shed. About 10 years later Bob constructed a hip roof on top of it. View of the Burrows cottage modernized in 2003, purchased by an Oshawa couple in 1991 and renovated to become their retirement home.
LILLIAN AND BILL RICHARDS COTTAGE
Great Aunt Lil and Great Uncle Bill were related to my Gran Humphries (sisters). They owned a cottage on the Wakeford cottage road, then sold it and rented another cottage on the same road for a few years, then bought a lot from Grills and erected a small structure on it. I don’t have any photographs of their cottages, but hope to get some from Lil & Bill’s granddaughter Linda.
Washburn Island Setting
Lake, Beach, Shore, Cottage, Road and Farm
- Heading southwest on Wakeford Rd. to Percy Wakeford’s farm.
- The access road to the cottages in Bowen’s maple forest, named Sugar Bush Trail. Here is a pretty opening in the forest behind the cottage of Viv and Bob Burrows. In spring the forest floor was a carpet of pink, purple and white violets and white trilliums. In summer wild strawberries grew along the roadside.
Forthcoming Book: Washburn Island: Memoir of a Childhood
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