Just going through some old files and I came across this wonderful remembrance from my mum which she wrote at age 91 (she died at 100 in 2020). Thought I’d share it with you…
I’m standing on the shore of Portage Bay, Lake Rosseau, gazing with amazement at the construction of my son’s 3,400 square foot “cottage”. Peter and his wife Louise relocated to Muskoka full time from their Toronto residence in 2009 and are now building their “dream home” on the lot next to the log house that saw great memories for 25 years.
This new beginning sends my recollections back through the six generations of cottaging experiences our family has enjoyed. I stop and realize I’ve spent every summer of my 91 years in Muskoka. Back when I made my debut in this special land, life was much more primitive. It was 1920 and at the tender age of 4 months, my parents brought me to my maternal grandparents’ cottage on the Baysville River, just where it opens up into the Lake of Bays. Jack and Maude Featherstonhaugh had begun their family cottaging homestead with a basic structure they called “Hillcrest”. “Daddy Jack”, as my grandfather was known to everyone, became recognized as an “early-adopter” cottager. And for the next 7 years, my summers were blissful times spent with a collection of 13 grandchildren doing what kids do at the cottage. Soon, the families of two sets of cousins built their own summer home on the adjoining land, “Happy Landings”, which they shared. We were invited to partake in this growing compound but my father, Ted Cockin, who had ventured to “the colonies” from England many years before, reasoned that relatives likely remained on a talking basis when separated from day-to-day proximity.
My imaginative father purchased a piece of land not too far away along the river and promptly traded his Durant car to a local inhabitant, Mr. Pretzell, in return for taking possession of the log cabin that sat on his property. An agreement was reached where the cabin would be transferred to our lot on skids pulled by a team of horses during the winter. Can you imagine such an arrangement being made today?
“Big Timber Lodge” was so named because of the gigantic size of the logs that formed our cottage. It sat back from a lovely beach that provided hours of endless swimming for me, my sister Betsy and our many cousins. One special relative, Anne Campbell, and I would be daring and arrange camping trips each summer. The first year, we were a little tenuous with this idea so we only ventured to spend the night at a little beach within Daddy Jack’s view. In fact, he and Nana came out in their “putt putt” disappearing propeller boat just to ensure we were OK. Anne and I were delighted with their visit: it included a batch of Nana’s scrumptious butter tarts!
As we matured, so too did our wanderlust and we set out to grow our achievement from the previous summer. The crowning glory was paddling all the way to Marshes Falls at the head of the lake where we camped out and experienced our first visit from a porcupine: it fell to me to chase the little devil away before it consumed our camp dinner!
Life was grand: we sailed with Daddy Jack, swam endlessly and rode horses at the neighboring Bastedo farm. It was there that I was thrown from the nag I was on as he jumped over a stump and sent me reeling to the ground where I was dragged for several yards. A trip to the Bracebridge hospital revealed a broken arm and a deep gash to my leg (the scar of which I still proudly display).
Where today my family hops into Port Carling to acquire bags of fancy groceries, I had the job of travelling by foot to Langton House where the King family sold us eggs, vegetables and a pail of milk still warm from the cow. This we stored in the ice box. Oh yes, I should tell you that hydro was but a dream for cottagers like us: coal oil lamps lit our evenings and cord wood fueled our stove as I learned to bake bread.
It was also a time of summer romance! Anne and I would fashion evening dresses out of whatever material we could find while the boys, in their white slacks and blazers, would squire us to Bigwin Inn for the dinner dance. How posh we were!
But all things must change and so Lake of Bays gave way to Lake Rosseau when I fell in love with my future husband, Bill Jennings. Boy, was I in for an awakening! From our simple, rough and ready log cabin existence, I was introduced to the grandeur of Fairview Island, just off the Muskoka Lakes Golf & Country Club, where my future in-laws were a reserved couple considerably older than my parents. But Lake Rosseau was in Bill’s soul and by 1956 we had purchased our own place near Port Sandfield, “Rockbottom” where we raised three kids to cherish Muskoka as we did (two of whom now live here full time).
Today, looking back, I’m indoctrinating my new great granddaughter Ryleigh Catherine (after me, of course) McGee Jennings into my Muskoka with the assurance she will come to cherish this special land the way I still do after 91 summers.
Cay Jennings was a Lake of Bays and Lake Rosseau cottager who enjoyed time in Muskoka every summer during her lifetime. She was part of a six-generation cottaging family and visited the area throughout all four seasons. Turning 90 years of age did not slow her down: she went hot air ballooning at dawn over southern Ontario and was determined to experience Edge Walk where adventure lovers walk outside on the CN Tower’s rim, dangling 116 storeys above the ground! Here she takes in some calm lakeside views seated in my 100+ year old mahogany launch “Ruth”.
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