Memories Strandholt

18 Oct

The cottage at 1465 Champlain Road is now owned by Jamie and Tanya Davies, and their children, Nolan and Sienna. They bought the cottage in August of 2015 from one of the most energetic of the old time Clearwater Beach pioneers – Dawn Strandholt.

Dawn Strandholt is a self-possessed and spry woman in her eighties with a long and deep history on Clearwater Beach. President of a thriving long term care home/retirement residence complex in Collingwood Ontario, she has fond memories of her earliest days on the beach when she and three other women, Bobbie Jarlette, Isobel Wright and Anita Barber spent their summers at their cottages with their young children. Accordingly, her recollections of those days reflect her intense devotion to family, friends and social pleasures.

“It was an easy life.” she says, “There was no pressure on us. We sat in the sun, we fed the kids when needed, we kept an eye on them while they played and swam. Sometimes we took the whole crew into town. It was a wonderful life.”

Dawn and her late husband Al first discovered Clearwater Beach in 1958, shortly after the first wave of pioneer cottagers like Alfred Metcalfe and George Townsend had settled in.  She and Al drove up from Toronto with their one year old daughter Karen. They had been invited to a cottage rented by Alex and Bobbie Jarlette at what is now 1469 Champlain Road (currently the Burkett cottage).

Bobbie had earlier been a part owner of the Wright cottage just down the beach, and had introduced her husband, Alex, to life at Clearwater. Alec and Bobbie lived in North York at the time, and Alec was a good friend of Al Strandholt through their jobs on the North York Police force.

Dawn remembers that on that short visit they thought it was a wonderful place – safe for children, a beautiful sand beach, warm water for swimming – but there was no thought of taking root there. They simply didn’t have the money to contemplate a summer home.

But the next year, 1959, the Jarlettes bought the place they were renting and soon Dawn and Al were making regular weekend visits. In 1963 Dawn and Al took yet another step forward, renting the Gauthier cottage two weeks a year for their summer vacation (this was at 1467 Champlain Rd. next door to Dawn’s present cottage.). They did this for two years.

Dawn recalls: “In 1965 our son Scott was three years old. Alex Jarlette came running over one night and told us he’d been talking to the Belairs, who owned the cottage at 1465 and had decided to sell. Alec was very excited as he thought the place was going to move fast at the asking price of $5,000 so we scratched out an offer on a blank piece of paper and the two of them immediately drove off to Hamilton where the Belairs lived. The deal was signed that very night and so we had moved from being casual visitors to renters to owners in a scant seven years.

We had to borrow the $500 down payment and commit ourselves to $500 a year for what seemed like forever. But we owned it. And of course we paid it off long before then.”

The Belairs had built the original cottage and occupied it for about 10 years. It was just a kitchen and two little bedrooms and a small sun porch on the front. Mr Belair was a short man and so all the doors were undersized. Dawn still has a piece of silver foil hanging from one of the bedroom doors as a warning to the tall Strandholts that they should mind their heads. Belair was evidently a framer and had built the place with six inch spikes. It wasn’t going to blow down.

Dawn was working as a private secretary for Dominion Caulking in Willowdale and later Thornhill. The first year she took three weeks at the cottage, but the next year she took the whole summer off work and spent it at the cottage with the children. That set the pattern for the future. Al would come up on weekends and his holidays.

Dawn has a magnificent view of the bay from her front window but it wasn’t always that way: “When we came here you couldn’t see anything. The Belairs disliked getting rid of trees. So Al spent our first summer cutting them down. We had a huge bonfire and someone told us to throw some old tires on it. That fire burned for three days and nights. I think that would be illegal these days. But the result was a good view. And we didn’t have to buy fire wood for a very long time.”

In 1969 the Strandholts moved from Toronto to Collingwood and started their  family business – the Bay Haven Nursing Home. But they maintained the same pattern – Dawn stayed at the cottage all summer and Al would come over one night a week and on weekends.”

“The road wasn’t too bad.” she says, “It was a rough country road. They graded it. Then they tarred it and the kids would get covered in guck. We used to go along the Bush road and down a logging road. The straightaway past Coutenac wasn’t there then. That was built later. They changed the numbers. We used to be lot 31. Now we have a street number – 1465.”

As Dawn remembers, this was an idyllic period. Her children, Karen and Scott, spent all their summers at the cottage. Then there was Isobel Wright and her children Joanne and Andrew. Anita Barber was there with her kids, Rob, Steve, Ruth and David. Bobbie Jarlette was there with her children, Bruce, David and Sharon.

The Strandholts added the big bedroom and bathroom at the back around 1971. Al Strandholt did most of it with the help of Alex Jarlette – he was very handy and a good friend. But they had a contractor put on the big front living room, fireplace and deck in 1977, the same year as Al’s forty-fifth birthday.

Dawn recalls: “We had a big party to celebrate and so many people came that the deck collapsed, came away from the house, right in the middle of everything. It was awful but it was funny too. Luckily, no one was hurt.

We had an outhouse at the back – a two seater. It came with the cottage. I wouldn’t go out there in the dark by myself so Al would go up with me. Now that’s togetherness!

After we built the back room we added an indoor washroom. My aunt and uncle had put a new bathroom in their house so we got their old bathtub and toilet and we had to buy a sink. I wish I had a dollar for everything we carted up the highway in the car.”

Like many cottaging families the Strandholts would leave Toronto Friday night around midnight and roll up the highway 400. There wasn’t much traffic at that time. Al would put two beer cases in the back seat and balance the crib mattresses  on top of them. The kids would fall sleep and Al would carry them into the cottage when they arrived. One time Dawn recalls dragging a trailer with the boat and the trailer got a flat.

“We had to leave it behind by the side of the road. Karen was in tears at the thought of leaving that boat all alone.”

Finally, much later, in 1982, Dawn and Al also bought the cottage next door from Albert Gauthier (1467 Champlain Road). The Gauthiers had originally been from Penetang but were then living in Hamilton where Mr. Gauthier worked for Westinghouse. Mr. Gauthier had built the cottage and used it for over 20 years.

“Karen and her husband Frank kept having babies, Marc, Dane, and Drew,” Dawn says, “And they needed more room. We’d outgrown our cottage and we wanted another one for them.”

Dawn remembers that her son Scott wouldn’t walk in the sand in his bare feet. He always wanted to wear socks, white socks. He complained that he didn’t like the sand on his feet. It made him feel dirty. Now, she says, forty years later, Scott’s son Spencer is exactly the same:

“The last time I was here I asked Spencer why he was wearing socks and he said ‘I don’t like sand on my feet’. And it just clicked. Is that sort of thing in the genes?”

Karen and Joanne Wright, being very close in age, became fast friends. They swam, canoed, waterskied and went boating together. “One time Karen and Joanne were together gassing the boat up and Karen dropped the gas can on her big toe. She made a big fuss of course, and the toe swelled up so that she limped around moaning and groaning most of the summer. Finally Al had enough of it. He heated up a paper clip and drilled it through her toenail into the wound so that it bled a lot. Karen was in stitches over it but it solved the problem. I guess Father knew best.”

When Karen was a Brownie she had to learn to knit but she didn’t have the patience. Dawn says: “God, she didn’t like knitting.  So I would sit her in the rocking chair in the living room and chant ‘In, Over, Out, and Off’ and she would follow that pattern. She hated that but now she has grown up to be a good knitter. That was her summer project so she could get her Knitter’s Badge”.

Dawn says that Joanne Wright was famous for wearing her favourite long sleeve greenish shirt all summer. Her mother Isobel would insist on washing it every so often and Joanne would walk around in her bathing suit until it was dry. She wouldn’t wear anything else but that.

“When the kids could swim between our dock and Jarlettes’ dock they could go to town for an ice cream cone, and when they could go from our dock to the Wright’s dock they could go to town for lunch. Joanne, Karen and Bruce all did this but of course we’d take all the little ones with us too.

“It was a good life.” says Dawn, recalling those earlier days: “On a rainy day we would all go to town and do grocery shopping and take the kids to lunch. We’d go to the laundromat in Penetang or Midland.. We’d be desperate for food and clean laundry. And the kids needed some city life every so often.

We always went once or twice a year to the drive in movies. We’d pack a lunch and take lots of junk food because we couldn’t afford the food stand at the show. I remember we saw Lawrence of Arabia there. Going to the drive in was a big thrill. The kids enjoyed it but would fall asleep half way through.”

Dawn says: “If we were going to town we would never go without Joanne, and if the Wrights went they never went without Karen. The boys seemed to like to stay with their mothers. Andrew would fall asleep at our place and I would carry him home.”

The Strandholts did most of their shopping in town but sometimes went to Sawlog for extras. They were always buying more milk! Apparently Andrew Wright often came over to drink theirs because his mother, Isobel, made their milk from skim milk powder and he didn’t like that. So off they’d go to Sawlog.

But Dawn remembers one time when she came home to find the boys, led by Andrew, hanging from the rafters in her cottage and leaping onto the beds below.

“They were in big trouble that night, I can tell you.” she says.

The kids used to play Nicky Nicky Nine Doors which involved knocking on someone’s door and then running away. Al Strandholt used to play along with this, chasing them up into the woods, bellowing at them in a really deep voice. The kids would scream and yell, terrified but thrilled by it all.

When it rained the mothers would send the kids out to play wearing green garbage bags on their bodies and plastic bags on their feet. Dawn explains: “We let them come in if it started to thunder or rain. Then they would play board games or cards.

Dogs were an important part of Strandholt cottage life. They had an English Bull called Brutus. He was extremely protective. When the kids went rowing in Alec’s small rowboat they would leave Brutus behind, but he would swim out and grab the oar in his powerful jaws so they couldn’t move until they took him. Then they had two miniature gray poodles, Susie and Sticky. Sticky’s real name was Michelle but they called her Mickey. She made such a mess of her face when she ate that Al started to call her Sticky Mickey. Soon she was just Sticky.

Unfortunately Susie was hit by a car and succumbed to her injuries. But Sticky got to go boating. Says Dawn: “She didn’t like being in the boat, especially when we got off to do something. But I learned to lay her down on my nightgown and she would be content and we could go off and do what we wanted.”

Dawn says that Sticky used to catch frogs and bring them home expecting praise. Unfortunately the frog’s skin made poor Sticky froth at the mouth. Karen, already showing signs of being a good nurse, worried that she had rabies. She brushed Sticky’s teeth to get rid of it. When not occupied with frogs Sticky would sit by the wood pile crying as she waited for chipmunks to chase.

Sticky would cause even more trouble than that. One time Sticky went for a run in the woods, tramped through some poison ivy, and came home and grabbed the back of Dawn’s pants.

Says Dawn: “I got poison ivy so badly up and down my ankles and legs. It just spread and spread. I had to go to the doctor and get a shot.”

Dawn laughs to recall a time at Killarney Park when she had forgotten Sticky’s leash and had her on a tethering line almost as big as she was. A man came along and said to her: ‘You must really be afraid of losing that dog.’”

The Strandholts were always avid boaters. And their neighbours, the Jarlettes and the Wrights, were the same. Dawn can rhyme off a series of boats they owned:

“In 1971 we had a fiberglass boat. Then Alec Jarlette bought The Chalet in Penetang where he sold boats and we bought a series of boats from him. Then we got a twenty-seven foot Calglass we re-named The Viking (that grandson Dane Milligan owns now), and the last boat was a thirty-four foot Carver. We went from a sixteen footer to a thirty-four. The Carver was best. It was luxury living. But we had lots of fun in the little boats as well. We’d be out in a rainstorm and put the kids under tarps and go like the blazes to get home before everyone was soaked.

One time we were out the other side of Beausoleil Island with Norman Wright and his family and there was a terrible storm that forced us into Honey Harbour. It was too rough to keep going. But Al said he could do it. So he went out alone, managed to reach the cottage and brought back the car and trailer to take Norm’s boat home. While we waited in Honey Harbour I didn’t have a cent and Al had taken his money on the boat. But Norm had luckily stuffed twenty dollars in his pocket and so he bought us all a hamburger. Everyone took care of each other in those days.”

Another time, Joanne Wright and Bruce Jarlettte, Jay Engel from Sawlog Bay, and Karen went camping on Giant’s Tomb in Norm’s little boat. After a stormy night it was calm in the morning. But they could see more trouble brewing so they quickly pulled up stakes and started home.  But the next storm hit faster than they expected and it was too late to turn back. The water was washing into the boat which was already weighed down with camping gear so they finally grounded the boat at Kettle’s Beach. A local cottager drove them back to the cottage, leaving the boat on the shore. They were received at home not with gratitude for their survival but with anger for venturing out in such terrible conditions.

Another time, inspired by Dorothy Townsend who used to swim across the bay, Karen and Joanne decided to canoe across to Beausoleil Island. The weather conditions on Beausoleil turned out to be completely different than on the cottage side and the rough windy weather drove them to the south tip of Beausoleil Island. But Al had kept an eye on them through the binoculars and seeing their troubles went out in the motorboat to pick them up.

“Nevertheless we loved boating. We loved the beautiful scenery, the open water and the fresh air blowing over us. It’s beautiful country up there – up through the islands. There is nothing nicer than a warm sunny summer day and the smell of the pine –I loved it. We ignored our misadventures; they only taught the kids to be more resilient.”

Dawn is obviously proud to boast that she’d never been on one of the commercial tour boats out of Midland or Penetang until two years ago. She says: “We always had our own boat. The Georgian Queen didn’t go fast enough!”

And then there were the parties.

“We used to have wonderful parties. Norm Wright would send his kids down the beach with invitations for cocktails and everyone would follow the sound of the jazz playing on the reel to reel to join the party. Norm would make his famous Manhattans – rye and sweet vermouth with aromatic bitters and a maraschino cherry. I have no idea why he was so keen on Manhattans. He would make them up individually, measuring everything out very precisely. I didn’t like them at first but they grew on you.”

Sometimes these parties led to mischief. One time Norman and Isobel had gone to bed early and Alex and Al continued partying until late at night when they decided  to invade the Wrights’ cottage. As Alex pushed Al through the Wright’s kitchen window Al got stuck. Isobel, protecting her territory, grabbed her closest weapon, a huge salami, and began beating Al over the head. Poor Al was stuck between Alex’s pushing and Isobel’s salami. Finally they relented and went back for more Manhattans.

Dawn observes: “I can’t imagine what the children used to think of all this, though I suspect they really thought it was great fun.”

Dawn has vivid memories of repeatedly leaving these parties and falling over a huge hole in the sand in front of Wrights. Andrew Wright, who was only five or six years old was desperate to have a boat but of course he was too young. To compensate he used to dig a big hole in the sand and pretend it was his boat. Alex Jarlette gave him a discarded windshield from a boat to enhance the fantasy. And Dawn coming home in the dark would stumble into this ‘boat’ all summer.

The men, particularly Alex, used to love water fights. One day Norm and Al were against Alex. Norm was on the outside hand pump assisting Al with a bucket of water to throw at Alex, but when the water reached the top of the bucket Alex stole in, grabbed the bucket and doused Norm. A fine thank you for his hard work.

Later on that night, the guys sought to involve the girls and Norm invaded the Strandholt cottage. He dumped a bucket of water over Dawn as she lay in bed, warmed by her electric blanket. Dawn thought she was going to be electrocuted. But she survived. And was glad to see them leave.

Her verdict: “Norman was so strait-laced, but give him a couple of drinks and God help us.”

Another time Alec Jarlette threw a string of firecrackers down the Standholt chimney. Dawn and Al were relaxing after supper when their space heater went crazy. Al was mad at him for a while – he yelled at him that he could have set the place on fire. But all was forgiven. They would be at each other’s throats one minute and best buddies the next.

Dawn’s face lights up when she recalls some of the younger men’s adventures: “The Barbers cottage used to be full of young men. One time when the Barbers cottage had an open ceiling the boys were trying to shoot the chipmunks off the rafters with BB guns. They were crazy. It’s a wonder they didn’t kill each other. The Barbers had beds all over the place. Ron and Anita had four kids of their own and there were always at least four others. Now all those crazy kids are married with kids and totally sane. Hard to imagine.”

Then there was the infamous Swineliner.  The Williams brothers, Dan and Morgan, also known as the Slap Brothers because of their reputation with the women, had a homemade boat they called the Swineliner. Mr. Williams senior had a cottage up near Honey Harbour but the boys would roam around the bay partying. There used to be tons of kids on it, including Scott, Karen and Frank. They’d all get on and then later on, after a lot of drinks, they’d discover they didn’t have a way to get back to shore. There was a big old horn they’d blow on when they really got going. Once they used a big barrel to make a sauna on the boat. Another time they moored just off Barbers and partied until the wee hours. Al finally had to go out and tell them it was enough.

Dawn recalls: “Scott was one of the ringleaders but when things made people angry he would always stand up close to his father in the hope he wouldn’t be included in the scolding. I think Joanne was out yelling at them too. Cathy, Dawn’s niece, wasn’t allowed to go on the Slap Boys boat. Scott said she was too young even though she was the same age as him.”

Another time, when Karen had three babies, the Slap Brothers came down and anchored in the afternoon at the Strandholt’s dock. They partied through the afternoon and into the night. Dawn remembers that it was fun at first but early the next morning it was getting to be a bit much. Frank and Al went out and yelled at them. They quieted down. The Slap Boys never came back after that party.

Well, if there were party animals were there also real animals? Dawn says no.

“We never saw wild animals. Just skunks or coons. I had a call from Doug Trott a few years ago to say a black bear was on the beach coming my way. He said I should get indoors. I watched for that bear but never saw him.”

Dawn and Al were always immersed in the annual end of August Ratepayers Association picnic, usually preparing food. Later Karen and Scott got involved. After the picnic they’d all go to the Strandholt’s or Jarlette’s for more partying. All the kids would be there. Everyone would bring something to eat. Ron Barber worked for Dominion Store and he always brought big sheets of pizza. The kids loved that.

“We always got together at Thanksgiving as well. Some years we would go out for dinner and some years we wouldn’t. We’d go to the Brooklea golf course down on Highway 93, and then the hotel in Port McNichol, or the Highlander in Midland.

Sometimes everyone came to our place. That would have been the Wrights, the Jarlettes, the Barbers, and sometimes Charlie Sanderson and his family. Charlie never came for dinner here but sometimes he’d join us when we went to a restaurant. Sometimes my mom and dad would be there as well. That tradition continues to this day.”

Dawn recalls a situation uncomfortably familiar to many cottage owners: “We used to have a lot of company. People would arrive and thought they were on vacation. I would be cooking and cleaning while they sat outside and drank beer. I soon smartened up but when you first get a cottage everyone wants to come and see. One couple always brought a roast and arrived about 3:00 pm Saturday afternoon, expecting it to be ready for supper.”

“We used to have pig roasts here. For Scott’s sixteenth birthday and then again for his twenty-first.  We also had one for Karen’s fortieth birthday. They were a lot of work. We got smart more recently and hired a guy called the Boar Master to do it. When Frank Milligan was alive he used to build a big barbecue and we would put a huge slab of beef on it. Frank was very talented that way. The kids would throw the dregs of their drinks on the fire and it would taste up the beef ever so nicely.”

Dawn seems to be at her best when telling naughty stories about Norman Wright.

“We had a bridal shower for Ruth Barber and all the cottage crowd were there. I was passing sandwiches around and Norm was talking to someone and absentmindedly picked one up and started eating it. I watched because I knew he hated asparagus. You should have seen his face. I didn’t know whether he was going to spit it out or what. I really enjoyed that.”

For a period in the 1970s and early 80s snowmobiling was the craze. And as usual the Strandholts, Wrights and Jarlettes were in the thick of it. The Strandholts had a furnace put in so they could stay overnight, but people mostly got together at the Jarlettes for après snowmobiling. Bobbie and Alec were living in their cottage then and had it well winterized. Electric blankets were very helpful at this stage.

The snowmobiling too was not without its misadventures. Dawn says:

“One time we went out with the Jarlettes and the Townsend’s daughter Dorothy and her husband Scotty. We went way up the bay and got completely lost. Al went out trying to get his bearings and fell down a hill and hurt his leg. Then the snow machines started breaking down. But we had to keep moving – it was getting dark. We left Al and David Jarlette, only twelve years old, in a ranger’s hut with a stove that we had stumbled on. Karen had just had her appendix out and had stayed home with Bruce Jarlette to look after young Sharon. This was the end of March and Scott’s boots were leaking and he got soaked. The ranger gave him plastic bread bags to put inside his wet boots. Sharon became worried when we hadn’t returned by dark and called the police. There was an emergency out on us. Karen also called her boyfriend, Gary, and he was the one who finally found us and rescued us. Three of the machines were out of service and eight of us came back on the three other machines. The next day the boys went out and brought back the broken machines. It was a terrible experience but it was exciting and something to talk about.”

Dawn and Al had a little trailer for the snowmobile and would go out with the kids in back and wander the wilds. Sometimes the kids would be out driving the snow machines all day, and when they finally went to bed, Alec and Bobbie and Dawn and Al would go out in the cold darkness and roar up and down the ice in front of the cottage. They only had one snowmobile so one pair would sit on the dock awaiting their turn.

“It was good clean fun,” she says.

Not such good clean fun was the invasion of the Tent Caterpillars:

“It happened at least 15 years ago, maybe more. It was awful. You couldn’t go out the back but they would drop on you. You would see them walking across the road in a black path. You’d have to drive through them. They ate the leaves. I think they did a lot of damage to the trees – I don’t know if they killed them but they sure ate all the leaves.  At the side of the road you could see there were just sticks left. You had to wait until they got back to their nests at night and go out and cut them down and burn them. It was like a gray paper bag full of wiggly jiggly worms.

I remember Karen came in the house one day and she had a caterpillar on her shirt. I told her and she went ballistic. They were harmless but they were creepy. Ugly. It was a yellow shirt with a black bug.”

Dawn recounts how her neighbor Peter Ridout got people organized and everyone contributed some money and they had a plane come over and spray the whole beach. It worked. They haven’t seen anything like them since.

Like everyone Dawn is perturbed by the dropping water levels: “It’s a mystery to me. When Scott was maybe 18 months old we kept our boats out in the channel on a hook. It was such a long walk out Al and I had to take turns carrying Scott or the cooler.

Then it got so deep that twenty-eight years ago we had to put in a stone retaining wall.  I remember because Karen’s son Drew was just a baby. They were mixing cement and special cloth to stop sand from washing through it. Frank Milligan did a lot of that. So sometimes it was so deep you could walk out and dive off the end of the dock. We could bring the boats right in back then. But someone pulled the plug and now it gets shallower every year. It fluctuates a lot. I think we’ll soon be walking out to the channel to get wet. Where is it going? Are we all going to be without water?”

Karen Milligan, Dawn’s daughter, also has poignant memories of her youthful days at the cottage. She remember a daily routine with her buddy Joanne Wright. They would start off with a morning swim, walk up to Sawlog Bay store for a treat, go back for another swim, take a walk on the road, and end up on the wharf around 11:00am in the morning.

“Then we’d look at each other and say: ‘What do we do now?’”

She remembers that Isobel Wright had a whistle to call her kids home for lunch or whatever, Bobbie Jarlette had a horn for the same purpose, and her mother, Dawn,  had a bell. It always worked, she says, because the kids would be grounded if they didn’t respond.

To which Dawn adds: “They had to come when they were called. The kids were all very responsible. They had to be.”

And Karen has the last word on that, saying: “This is why Joanne and I are such worrywarts. Our parents were always off having fun and we had to take care of ourselves and the kids. We had a wonderful childhood at the cottage. We continue our cottage traditions with the next generation of our family and with our lifelong cottage friends.”

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