“Well Doggone Me Anyway!” Memories of Snug Harbour

by Bruce Davidson —

Those of us fossils who have been around for a few decades, recall a time when Snug Harbour was more of an outpost in the wilderness then the tourist hub that it is today. Driving here from Toronto was a tortuous trip through Gravenhurst and Bala before ending up on a dirt road north of Nobel which, in turn, became little more than a logging track running on bare rock for considerable stretches the rest of the way into Snug.

The relative isolation of Snug Harbour in those days goes a long way towards accounting for its colourful cast of characters over the years. Allow me to recount a brief history of some of the larger than life residents of the Snug from that time onwards.

As a kid in the early 1950’s, I remember wandering around rusted old hulks of trucks, cars, wringer washing machines, propane tanks, water tanks, tires and plain old junk. These were the treasures of John and Marie Ladouceur, the early tenants of the cabin which remains today behind Terry’s house. John was an eccentric, but likeable sort who, in addition to his penchant for never throwing anything away, was famously remembered for forever saying in a moment of surprise “Well doggone me anyway!”

The neighbours to the west of the Ladouceurs were the Christies who had built a log cabin on the water near the present day store and the Grahams who moved to the mainland from the Mink Islands, having built both an icehouse and cottage at the entrance to Snug as a base for their ongoing commercial fishing operation.

The Ladouceurs were succeeded by Harvey and Agnes Wing, who opened a ‘general store’ in a tiny log cabin sitting on the peninsula where the boat ramp is today. As a trip to Town was a fair undertaking, we were delighted to be able to buy daily essentials like milk (in glass bottles with creamers) to take back to the cottage to bury in sawdust in the icehouse. Back in those days before electricity and telephone, my Mom was pretty isolated on Snug Island for the whole summer and, being an inveterate letter writer, hugely devoted to the daily mail delivery. Imagine her angst when Alex informed her one day that, yes he remembered having picked up some letters, but now couldn’t figure out what had happened to them. Needless to say we were rousted from our comic books and sent back to find them. After an hour or so of fruitless searching, the delinquent letters were finally discovered in the ice cream freezer of the store.

In 1952 Don and Elinor Christie, were flooded out in their little waterside cabin and decided to upgrade their home by purchasing the farmhouse on a property owned by the Hailstones in Carling. Don painstakingly took apart the hewn post and beams on site, numbered them in that hard laundry soap of the times, and brought them by sleigh to reassemble in Snug Harbour. Unfortunately, it rained hard in the middle of the proceedings and Don ended up with a huge pile of freshly washed notched beams with no clue as to how they all fit together. Eventually the pieces were sorted out and the Hailstone farmhouse was reborn at Snug to house canoes, fishing gear, gasoline and ultimately groceries on the ground floor with living quarters above. Around 1959 Don built the house where Terry and Sarah live today and acquired the lands to the east for boat storage. My favorite Don Christie story is the one where he and his buddy had landed a monster Muskie which was thrashing about in the bottom of their small flat-bottomed rowing punt. Don’s buddy stood up to deliver a stunning blow to the fish by way of an oar butt. Unfortunately, the butt skipped off the bony head of the beast and went clean through the bottom of the boat. And that’s when the fun began.

In 1971, after having built or renovated close to 200 cottages in the area, Don and Elinor sold the business to recently arrived immigrants Manfred and Gerta, and retired to Fitzgerald Bay. In the summer of 1972 my mother and I were crossing the Big Sound in our wooden Grew when the pounding of the waves opened up a seam and we sank just off Killbear beach. I swam the boat to shore, hitched a ride to Snug, and borrowed a friend’s boat to get my mother and tow our own sunken boat back. Manfred, new to the area, spotted me taking the Hume’s boat and immediately phoned the police! So a couple of hours later, as Mom and I limped into Snug with boat in tow, I recall her innocently observing “Why is that nice looking OPP officer standing over there staring at us?”

In 1977 a couple of guys who worked together in Mississauga decided to pursue their dream of owning a business in cottage country. Rick and Ian were the new proud owners of the Marina, despite being landlubbers. A fine example of their learning experience was told to me by Rick. It was the occasion where his partner managed to put the big green machine into the Harbour up to its windshields. (The big green machine was an old school bus that got sliced and diced until it resembled an army truck on steroids.) Seems that Ian couldn’t quite manage to get it into reverse in time, an unfortunate omission, as the machine had no brakes!

In 1983 Bryan and Renai Perks came into the picture and really put Snug on the map by deciding to open a restaurant. I have to confess that, while I kept my opinion to myself, I thought he was nuts. Who were the customers? There were only a handful of locals in the area, many with children, and going out for dinner was not at all a lifestyle. Needless to say, I totally missed the Killbear and Regatta Bay markets. My favorite story from Bryan’s era concerned a headstrong young lady who ran the water taxi for the Marina. One evening a particularly obnoxious customer cast some aspersions on her handling of the boat, which was definitely a no no. She thereupon ordered him off the boat on the nearest uninhabited island and took off. Poor Bryan had to leave the kitchen in the middle of dinner and go rescue him in the pending dark.

Finally we come to Terry and subsequently Sarah, who bought the business in 2001. The focus was now fully on the restaurant, which underwent several facelifts and renovations, outside staff were hired, menus updated and expanded. Today the parking lot is jammed most summer nights, with lineups common outside the restaurant. In addition to the restaurant activity Snug Harbour now is said to rival Tofino B.C. as the busiest kayak launching facility in the country, with the result that the harbour is now a hive of activity most of the summer.

Quite the change in one lifetime from a sleepy old log cabin in the woods surrounded by a junkyard, to the bustling harbour it is today. Well doggone me anyway!