Our Cottage on Georgian Bay

By Marjorie Gibson Hagerman

I well remember the day in 1967 when my dad (Oscar Gibson) came over to our home in Brantford Ont. and asked me “would I be interested in a cottage up North ????”

I was looking out the kitchen window in into the back yard and instantly thought, “Oh dad, we have just moved into this new home – no landscaping done, 4 little kids.”  I turned around, took one look at him and said, “I think that would be a marvelous idea dad. What brings this up?”

He went on to tell me about an offer his lawyer had made to him. The lawyer’s mother-in-law had decided not to purchase one of three properties, just north of Parry Sound (at the end of the Dillon Road) that our lawyer was buying, and so he was left with two properties, so he asked dad if he knew anyone who would be interested. I guess dad hesitated a bit and then said he would think about it for a little while and run it by me, his only child, and get back to him.

Dad had always loved the outdoors and especially the north, but my mother had always felt skeptical about it, so dad had never pursued a place there. Unfortunately, my mother had recently died and dad and I were really suffering from the loss.  She was only 62, far too young to go, but she had suffered badly for five months and we were almost glad to see her go as it was so hard to see her suffer. This was in the 1960’s when medical professionals weren’t giving pain suppressants unless they had to, which was so cruel. The extremely thoughtless head nurse said she might become addicted when I literally begged for her to give my mother a stronger dose. I said we both knew she is dying so couldn’t we make her last hours a little less painful?  But she just walked away with her nose in the air! That was a very difficult time in our lives, so when Clark, our lawyer, suggested the land purchase, I guess dad thought it would be something he could get involved in and enjoy, to distract him from his unhappy thoughts. It was quite well priced – $1100 for almost an acre of land, right on Georgian Bay. So, when he came to see me and I agreed he went ahead with it.

We drove up to the property in early spring, as we were all excited to see what it was like in the Parry Sound area. Neither my husband Bob, nor I had ever had the chance to travel in the north and this was a big experience for us. When we arrived all we could see was rock and water but dad had visited once before. He had been thinking about the lay of the land and where the cottage might look the best so he already had suggestions in his head.

He wanted it away from the road allowance, which was 44 feet from the water, because he was worried about what the township could do if it wanted to. He and Bob laid it out and he had already asked a construction friend in Brantford to put up the outside frame of the cottage, which he and his crew of men completed on a long weekend.  Then dad went up by himself and worked away closing in the rest of the building.

We joined dad as often as we could. We were all getting excited about the “home away from home” that we were creating. The kids had always been great at helping with chores they could contribute to, so they seemed happy to join in. As it progressed, dad made a small cement mixer so he could build a stone foundation under the cottage. My son, David, wanted to help so the two of them worked away at it. I decided to go up for the entire summer with the kids as there was far more to enjoy up there, than in the city of Brantford in the summer and the kids were thrilled with that. Bob didn’t seem to mind driving up on Friday nights to join us for the weekend and of course, we were always thrilled to see him.

This was the way of our summers for a few years that the kids and I really enjoyed. Sometime in this period, dad started building a small boat for rowing and then a 5 1/2 horsepower motor was added and a second son, Don being about 12, learned quickly to run it. Then Kathy and David joined in. We would try to go fishing as often as possible. Once when we were in Jolliffe’s Bay, we lost a good pole overboard and I was upset but David said he would try to dive down for it as we could see it about 15 feet below. I really hesitated to let him try but he was a very good swimmer by this time (they had all taken lessons at the Y in Brantford). So I let him go and he was able to retrieve it. We were so thankful that all turned out so well. Those were very happy summers. Dad and Bob continued to improve the cottage in any way that was needed.

Dad married again in 1969 to Helen Brown, who had grown up in Scotland and had become a Latin teacher at Hagersville High school. They seemed well suited for each other. I had a bit of trouble getting used to the idea but soon realized it was a good idea for dad and he seemed happier. Helen adapted to the cottage very well and they continued to go often.

Dad continued to build items for the cottage including a very useful kitchen cabinet that we placed against the centre wall, painted green and cream. It even had a little collapsible table that could be set up to help with serving items, or as a desk. Karen has it now, repainted a charming white, which she finds very useful in her downstairs sewing room. Two narrow bookcases dad built in 1948 for his house also came in handy as they were purposefully narrow and could hold a lot of books or other items. Karen also has those and finds them useful.

Dad opened up another door for us all by buying a 1968 Polaris Snowmobile. Oh my! As each one of us started to drive it, we really fell in love with the new sport. It was so exciting to discover areas that we had not been able to explore as either the terrain was too rough or uneven or it was someone else’s property but with the even snow cover and no one around, we explored and loved every minute of it, of course, being careful not to do damage or be too invasive. We were running on at least one to two feet of hard-packed snow, and usually a lot more, as we got far more snow in those days. The next year Bob and I added a very orange Moto Ski, three-passenger that we found heavy to manoeuver, so we soon got rid of it and started buying Polaris for the next few years. The year Bob retired from the Right House, a department store in Hamilton when it closed in 1996, we went up and traversed1165 miles on the snowmobiles.

One of our favourite jaunts was to explore Franklin Lodge on Franklin Island.  It was built in the 1920s and still had a lot of items in it – old beds, pots and pans and a piano, on which Karen, seven years old, and taking piano lessons, played a haunting Indian melody which we all were amazed to listen to as the sounds resounded throughout the huge old structure. Amazingly, lovely old white ironstone dishes had also been left. I still have a large metal mixing bowl that the kids brought back one time. I scolded them but was secretly pleased to get it. Rough linen sheets had been left too and one of those came back one time and it even had the name Franklin Lodge printed on it but it was too rough to use so it was finally discarded. What wonderful experiences we all had in that beautiful setting!

Bob had the Cottage dry-walled sometime in the 1980s as we had put up panelling when it was built but Bob wanted it to have a more stabilized look inside. That did make quite a difference. Now it looks like a regular home. By this time we had acquired a number of good “toys” – our snowmobiles, the rowboat dad had built, a16-foot Chrysler Boat, and a canoe so in 1988 we decided to build a garage to house these items for the winter.

I remember Bob calling me and saying why don’t we put an apartment on top of  the garage, as there may come a time when we would need more space, so we went ahead and had that done.

Thank goodness we did, as it is where we retired after selling our beautiful big Beamsville house on Merritt Rd on Lake Ontario in 1996.