Memories Bannerman

18 Oct

The handsome cottage home high on a ridge overlooking the Bay at 1635 Champlain Road has a fascinating history that would match any other on the beach. It is currently owned by Wendy Bannerman and her husband Ron, but carefully managed so as to honour the achievements of the former owners, Fred and Betty Hutchinson, Wendy’s parents. This cottage was originally owned by the Whites, of whom we know little at this time.

In early summer 1965, Fred and Betty Hutchinson, met a couple at church who mentioned that they were thinking of selling their cottage. Fred, who had been a mathematics teacher at Central Technical School in Toronto since 1952, and his wife Betty, who graduated from Toronto General Hospital as a nurse in 1946 but was working at home and occasionally as a substitute for nursing studies  at Central Tech, had a young family and had been renting cottages every so often, particularly around Lion’s Head. So they decided to take a look.

Shortly after, they drove up with the children, had a picnic down the road, and then dropped in on 1635 Champlain Road for the first time. There was no turning back. They loved it instantly. As Betty says: “We liked the deep water and the good swimming. We liked the big expanse of water compared to a little lake. We felt there would be more activity, more things to see changing each day and more places to go on the water.”

They had previously looked at a place down near Waubaushene but it wasn’t nearly as interesting. It didn’t have the big freighters and the occasional passenger ships moving up and down the bay, which promised a regular source of entertainment. Best of all, there was the magnificent view to Gin Islands and Beausoleil Island. The Gin Islands used to have cottages but the federal government had bought them as part of the park and by this time the cottages were deserted.

Wendy remembers: “I was seven years old, Alan was ten, and Jane was thirteen. We loved it. The shallow warm water was perfect for swimming.”

Fred says: “We bought it right away. Our property is 149.2 feet at the front and 80 feet at the back – a pie shape. Other lots were only 100 feet of waterfront so we naturally felt we were getting the best of all possible sites.”

Fred recalls that they paid about $7,000 for the place, and the taxes were about $90. Back then the road was dusty and noisy and in fact, crossed right through the south end of their property. The hydro people came in and strung electrical poles and wires along the same thoroughfare. It was years before the road and the poles were finally moved southwards and off the Hutchinsons’ property.

Betty recalls that when they first took over the front lawn overlooking the water was about six feet high with weeds, like a meadow. The cottage was really not much bigger than their garage at home. There was a combination living room/dining room, a small kitchen and two 10 X 12 bedrooms. There was a potbelly stove between the bedrooms, and a little porch with a wringer washer. Trees were growing right up against the porch. And of course, there was a one holer outhouse and a small boathouse. But Fred and Betty could see the potential.

The Hutchinsons remember bringing in their drinking water from the old Waterworks at Robert St and Champlain Rd in Penetanguishine. At the time many said it was the best water in Ontario. But then it got condemned, possibly because of spillover from oiling the road, and that was the end of that. Then the Hutchinsons dug a sand point well on their beach and that worked fine until it went dry and that led to them drilling a proper well up near the cottage in 2000.

“Everyone used to have a crib dock,” says Wendy, “Every year we would have to repair it. It was rocks enclosed by wood. You could always cast off from the dock and catch bass. We’d swim around the dock. Because of the shallowness there was no fear of children going beyond their depth.”

The Hutchinson’s had a canoe at first, then graduated to an old wooden blue boat with a yellow stripe they bought from Dalrymples, their next door neighbours..

“No one had super boats back then, says Wendy, “Forty five horse power was regarded as a big motor, and that was enough to waterski behind.”

The Hutchinsons didn’t do a lot of work on the cottage at first. The main thing was Fred keeping all the weeds and grass at bay with a huge scythe. They still have the monster. Fred put in the ceiling but basically left the rest to hired people. He says: “For a mathematician I was fairly practical but I had my limitations. So I let the experts do what they knew best.”

While Fred was overseas he had made friends with a master woodworker called Walter who now came and put the pine walls in their living room.

Betty got into the habit of staying at the cottage all summer with the children while Fred was teaching at Camp Borden. He was an army veteran and the military needed instructors to teach truck driving to the new recruits.  As a school teacher, Fred did not get paid during the summer months, so this annual stint at Camp Borden, plus teaching summer school, was a good source of extra cash.

Wendy has nothing but great memories of hanging out with the neighborhood kids.

“We simply ran wild every summer” she says, “Sue, Nancy and Jane Montgomery, Jane Guthrie and Diane Goodfellow and my sister Jane were all within six years of each other. My brother Alan was stuck with us as the only boy in the area. Sue and I were inseparable. There was a well worn path between our four cottages. At night we used a flashlight; but there was a time we put fireflies in a plastic container and use that as a torch.

Most of us were up here for most of summer. Parents didn’t worry if their kid was gone for the day because they knew they were at another cottage. Lunch could be anywhere, most likely hot dogs and peanut butter sandwiches.

We had games nights that went on for hours. Losers risked getting thrown off the dock the next morning. And Jane created a local newspaper with the saying: ‘Smelly Telly, Stinky Star, Local Rag is Best By Far – The Paper To Clean Your Fish On’. We had a “Dear Jane” column, I wrote the fashion stuff, and we explained how to build a fort, or catch a fish. There were one or two issues each summer. We also dragged our parents out to watch our plays and fashion shows on a tent platform that was in the woods.”

Remember how your teenage years were focused on ‘getting your license’? Wendy recounts: “We all learned to drive cars on the back road. Our parents would drive us up to the store at Sawlog, then called Joyces, and then we would drive the back road through the woods and circle back to the cottage. You’d never meet any other vehicle – it was perfect for a young driver.”

And of course, what would a teenage summer be without a budding romance. Wendy says: “Sue and I felt a dearth of young men. We watched boys go by but none stopped. Then Jane Guthrie brought up twin boys one time and we thought that was just great.

One time Mr. Hodgson brought up the players from the Argonaut football team. Sue and I canoed in really close to shore to have a look. Unfortunately no one seemed interested in asking us up!

We had such a good sisterhood that we didn’t decry the lack of boys that much. We had guys back home at school. But if any boys came here, we were certainly on the lookout.”

Betty remembers a task she made up to keep the kids busy.

“I used to pay them a nickel for each basket of stones they’d collect so they could get spending money. They would take the money and buy blackballs. I think it used to drive the storekeeper wild counting them all out. One of the girls, Nancy Montgomery, set a record by shoving about 70 blackballs into her mouth all at once. Those girls were imps.”

The Sawlog Bay store, run at that time by Joyce Dupuis, has been a fixture for many cottagers, despite its up and down history, and was a major hangout for Wendy’s crew. Wendy confesses to a love affair with Buried Treasures, an ice cream confection that lured youngsters on to frequent purchases through the promise of a little white plastic figurine  hidden in the ice cream. The hope was to get the white horse one by the end of the summer. Wendy must have truly loved the place because she  got a job helping Joyce for a couple of summers flipping burgers, pumping gas, and selling whatever.  But when the Government changed from gallons to liters a story emerged that there was apparently no money available to help small shop owners with the changes to their cash registers and the current owners went broke. Wendy who had worked there for two years off and on was unemployed.

Betty says: “We loved visiting our neighbours, enjoying the view and the country side and the opportunity to be free and to go off by yourself once in a while. And the clean air – when we first came up we used to fall asleep quickly from the fresh air.

We often saw deer and once there was a bear down on the dock. A Chinese visitor was sitting on the dock and she looked up and said: ‘Is that a bear?’ And it was. Alan dashed down ready to protect her but it ran away. We used to see rescue planes come by at night, and the Hodgsons’ [former cottagers and previous owners of the Toronto Argonauts] plane ferrying them and their visitors to and fro.”

Wendy remembers swimming from Gin Islands to her cottage just before she turned 40. It took about two hours, drifting from one side to the other. Jane Guthrie accompanied her in a canoe in case she faltered. The Miss Midland came by at one point and all the passengers came on deck to cheer her on. Says Wendy: “I didn’t want to know where the drop off was because I was afraid that the big fish and weeds would get up near me.”  Incidentally Jane Guthrie had actually done this at the age of thirteen and had received a hundred dollars from her parents for the achievement.

“If I had known that I would have asked for something myself!” says Wendy.

Like so many other cottagers, the Hutchinsons remember a period when water skiing was very popular. Everyone seemed to be doing it. When this is written (2015) that has changed. One rarely sees water skiers. Perhaps it is the high cost of gas, or maybe people’s tastes have changed. But from an even more practical viewpoint, back then people had smaller boats and could run them for waterskiing in the relatively shallow waters inside the drop off. But now the bigger boats have to go out in the channel for safety and that is too cold and too deep for many fledgling water skiers.

Nevertheless Wendy Bannerman still remembers the dramatic day when her mother was persuaded to give it a whirl.

“She was about forty years old and after much cajoling she said she would try. She got up on the first attempt and skimmed around the bay flawlessly. Then a big freighter came by and she found herself wafting over the huge wake it created. But she stayed up and finally scooted into shore barely damp. It was a major triumph. But she never went up again. She claimed she didn’t have the time.”

Fred and Betty occasionally brought their family up in the winter to skate and toboggan, and one time Wendy remembers going out in early spring in the canoe and herding ice burgs. She remembers swimming one Easter when there were still ice chunks in the water. She says: “I jumped in and came up and said ‘that was a stupid idea’.”

Wendy remembers going to the annual beach picnic at Hooks cottage which was just four cottages away. It was later moved to Mary Grove.

“One year Jane Guthrie and I won first and second in the potato sack race. We were looking forward to a very significant prize and being tomboys were disappointed in the tiny china figurines dressed in gold and blue we were given. But I still have mine and now I think of it very fondly. It’s Delft china. I didn’t appreciate that back then.”

The “legal” bed time at the cottage was 9:00 o’clock. Even if you were feeling tired you had to stay up until 9. On Canada Day they always had fireworks. Mrs. Guthrie always encouraged them to stand up with their hands at their sides to sing O Canada as it got dark.

Like most people, Wendy knows exactly where she was when the U.S.A. first landed man on the moon: “The Montgomerys had a moon party. I was about ten years old. The Montgomerys had a tiny TV and a moon cake with marshmallow moon men. Sue was dressed up as an alien. All the adults got chairs but Sue and I were under the table with pillows, watching it all happen.”

And of course, Wendy has sparkling if embarrassed memories of her wedding shower: “When I got engaged Sue Montgomery had a shower for me. She told me to come over for a swim. I went over in my swimsuit and found myself facing ten guests and a wheelbarrow of gifts. I was the only one in a swimsuit. It was wonderful”.

With a young family, meals are always important. Wendy recalls one time when things went awry: “One time we were getting to the end of the groceries and my mother was making soup to get us through. Then our seven cousins and their parents dropped by unexpectedly so she watered the soup down to feed them all. We called it Clearwater Soup and Mom  never lived it down. People noticed it was truly bad. We went shopping soon after. There was no choice.”

Wendy recalls with similar mixed feelings the disappearance of the girls treasured tree fort: “We had a double decker tree fort. We called ourselves the Teeny Bopper Club and that was fort was our sacred refuge. Unfortunately, it straddled the right of way against the Guthries’ property and one day a man across the street declared that it was impeding his access to the water. Days later, when we weren’t there, he came in and took it down. We were heartbroken. But he died a year later and we decided that was poetic justice.”

Like most of us, the Hutchinsons and the Bannermans have seen many changes over the years. Water levels are the most obvious of course, Wendy remembers when the water was so high they had to sweep it out of their boathouse. But people have also changed.

“When we first came this was a remote place and we had a shacky cottage like everyone else. And small boats – that’s all that people could afford. Now it’s all different. There are so many permanent residents, much bigger boats, and sailing is the way to go.

We used to have a ton of huge garter snakes – they used to sun themselves down on the dock, then slither off. There used to be a salamander under every rock – I used to play with them. Now I can’t find them.”

Times weren’t always perfect. Fred remembers how one year they watched a flotilla of sailboats go out the bay just before a bad storm struck. A little while later Wendy saw something floating down in the water and it turned out to be one of the sailors who had unfortunately perished after being swept overboard.

“I called the Coast Guard to come to their rescue.” says Wendy, “One of the sailors swept up on Guthries dock next door. I remember the Coast Guard handling the whole situation with great respect for the victim.”

Like most cottagers the Hutchinsons saw their cottage as simply a humble place of escape, and they were content with it as it stood. But also like most cottagers, the renovation bug eventually was set loose amongst them.

In the early 1970s they put in another bedroom and a fireplace in the north end. They also graduated to indoor plumbing and there was a dramatic evening when they burned the old toilet seat in a bonfire down on the beach. But there was still no foundation – it was still a cottage.

Then in the late 70s, with Fred approaching retirement, the Hutchinsons observed that they liked life on Clearwater Beach better than Toronto. They decided to do something about that, and in 1982 Fred completed the transition by retiring and moving to Clearwater Beach full time.

Fred says: “Our district in Toronto was changing and we felt happier up here. I like to look out at the water and see different things all the time. What’s wonderful about here is the way it changes. Beausoleil seems to move in and out depending on the weather. We can see Gin Island from our kitchen window and some days it seems close and sometimes it looks farther away, depending on the weather. It’s magical.”

With this dramatic move the cottage obviously was evolving into a full time residence and changes were needed. Over time they put in a basement, a new kitchen, moved the bathroom to the south end and a new patio. Fred likes to say: “We were the first permanent residents to have a basement. Jack Purkis was here before us but he never had a basement.”

Most of the heavy duty work was done by contractors. But fortunately, Fred’s associates at Central Tech had been super generous when he retired, presenting him with a number of woodworking tools, including a lathe and a saw.

Says Fred: “When I retired I wanted to get away from measurement. But they gave me all that equipment. I shouldn’t have been fooling around with furniture but I did anyway. – I had an interest but I didn’t like calculating the rate of wood. I liked the three dimensional sense better.”

It’s a good thing he didn’t stray too far from measurement. The results are still apparent in the current cottage. There is a beautiful lamp decorated with a carved fish in the living room, and the tables that he made to match the chesterfield.

Yet the period around 2008 proved to be another transition period for the Hutchinsons and for 1635 Champlain Road. Betty and Fred were getting older and found that they needed to be closer to medical facilities. They decided to move to Toronto and bought a three bedroom two level  condominium with a fireplace near Avenue Rd and Lawrence.

This led to a period of soul-searching amongst the children as they tried to figure out what to do with the cottage. At this point it was more or less half cottage and half house, and there were small and larger building issues that would require fixing. Eventually Wendy and Ron stepped forward and assumed ownership. This was a major commitment as it had become evident that renovations were needed if it was to continue as a viable building. Wendy was determined not to let her parents’ accomplishments wither away. Finally, after soul searching between renos vs teardown, she and Ron developed a plan to tear down the original building and using the same foundation replace it with a modern home that would incorporate as many elements as possible from the original cottage. In 2011 that’s exactly what they did.

Wendy says: “I am a real one for ‘traditions’ and family lore, so it was very important to me that mom and dad approve of the final result, and that we keep the cottage feel to it.”

A visit to the Bannerman home these days demonstrates how successfully Wendy and Ron accomplished their goals. Wendy says:

“Ron and I took it over because it was too much work for mom and dad. We all had so many memories of the old cottage, and it was hard to make the decision for a change. The way regulations work now you can’t just throw up anything like in the old days. You have to build to the code, even if you feel it’s just a cottage. So we had to follow the rules, but we tried wherever we could to build in features from my parents’ efforts.

For example we kept a lot of the old stone from the fireplace and tried to keep the woodsy feel of the cottage. Dad built the stone stairs at the front so we kept them and we made sure we preserved the trees. It makes it look like the place has been here forever

          We took out a lot of the original cedar paneling and hope to incorporate it into the new structure. We have kept the pine that Walter used and will use that when we finally finish the basement. Also all the flagstone was preserved and put back together in the path to capture the old feel. Mom and Dad had snow skis that they used to use in High Park so those will be hung up again in the new place. And our old wooden water skis are hanging in the bathroom with new hooks on for swimming towels. The mantle from the fireplace was a beam from the historic Penetaguishine fort that Dad got from the original contractor. We kept that and are now using it as a shelf.”

Wendy, being an artist, designed the new place, aided by a few suggestions from an architect at Timber Mart. They used the old foundation so they could preserve the original footprint. They had a local contractor put up the actual building but after that Ron and her did the interior.

“Ron is very talented,” Wendy says, “And I am good at assisting (or he may say, bossing!). I’m the one worrying about the final look, and Ron just wants to get it done, and done properly, so we had some energetic discussions. But it got done.”

Ron, who has a sports turf business with his brother in Toronto, is certainly talented: he did all the electrical, plumbing, dry walling, tiling and trim. And now the new place also incorporates an old table from Ron’s grandfather’s former Bannerman Hardware Store in Weston,Toronto.

But throughout all this work, Wendy had a definite point of view (probably too definite, she says!)  on the little details of the place. She says: “A cottage is a place where you can forget the rest of life. You forget about it and let things go. It doesn’t have to be perfect. A lot of kids nowadays don’t have that anymore – they expect matched furniture. You appreciate it more when you’ve pulled it all together yourselves. I have used chairs and all sorts of bits and pieces throughout – and that’s OK by me. It’s a cottage.”

Fred seems to approve of the new look. He says: “I like the openness of the new place and the big windows. It’s brighter – it’s a big improvement. The only thing I notice is that the old wooden walls really absorbed the sound and now there is an echo from the drywall. And because it’s an open concept there aren’t many walls to absorb sound. But that will disappear once everything is finished.”

Wendy sums up her life on Clearwater Beach this way: “To me very little has changed. When we came to build this latest cottage I was in knots over preserving the best of the old. Then a friend of mine told me that the cottage isn’t the building, it’s the land. I agree with that.  It’s a chunk of land away from the city. The land hasn’t changed for me and I know every little knot and crevice.  If we had to choose between Toronto and here, I would sell Toronto. Clearwater Beach is home.”








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