Reminiscences of a Cottager

Memories of a Sharbot Lake Cottager by Gord Miller May 2004

The other day as I was surfing the Net, I came across a number of interesting old letters collected by the Sharbot Lake Historical Society. We have been coming to the Lake since the mid-forties and it occurred to me that, now that I am long retired, I should take time to record my memories of those happy summer months at the lake long ago, and pass them on to the Society for safe keeping.

My father, George W. Miller, was a long-time employee of the C.P.R retiring as Chief Engineer in the sixties and his work responsibilities brought him to the area on many occasions. You see in those days, the CPR Ottawa-Toronto mainline intersected with the Kingston- Pembroke (Kick & Push) line in the Village making it an important railway connection point. Many railway employees recognized the area as having great recreation potential and purchased retirement homes and cottages. Some of you might recall a Mr. Cudworth, a retiring CPR general manager, building a house on Elizabeth St. overlooking the lake above the government dock. In fact, many of the local railway workers owned small cottages on Craig Island including Rally Taylor and Carman Tripp.

In 1945 the Miller family began renting a cottage every summer from Thomson’s Homestead Resort owned by H.J. Thompson on the upper lake. I can clearly remember this because Aug. 14, 1945 was VJ day-the day the Japanese surrendered, and we heard the announcement on an old radio in cottage #1. One of my jobs that summer was to keep the icebox filled with ice which was stored in sawdust in the ice house/barn up the road and cost ten cents a block. The cottage came equipped with a Peterborough cedar strip boat on which we mounted our 5 horse Johnson outboard, having been purchased from J.R. Simonett Motors in_the village for $250. Many of the other cottage rentals offered a double pointed row-boat called a skiff. There is only one that I know of, still in use on the lake. I think the biggest outboard on the lake at that time was a 15 horse and a few of the island cottagers operated old lumbering inboard

Fishing was very good in those days with many bass in the 3-5 pound range and lake trout at 20 pounds or more. In fact, my good neighbor, Larry Jenson who is probably the most consistently successful fisherman on the lake (he takes after his father Bentley), has a 35-pounder caught in the sixties mounted on his cottage wall. What a sight when trolling for these monsters (which we called salmon trout- some even thought they were a landlocked salmon) and see bald eagles soaring overhead.

HJ [Harold Thomson] ran a dining room in the old homestead and we often walked up the road for an evening meal. Groceries were available at his store (now Harvey’s Valu-Mart) [2004] by walking across the tracks and up the 24 cement steps [replaced with wooden steps] to the back of the store. The old steps are still visible under the hillside vegetation. See if you can find them! The old store has changed ownership several times and has been added to over the years, but back then it had groceries and HJ’s office on the ground floor, and fishing and hardware on the second. I seemed to remember a funeral parlor in the back. You were issued a receipt for all your purchases but they were put on your tab and you settled up at the end of the month.

At that time, the Department of Lands and Forests began selling off crown land on many of the lakes in the Quinte District, and cottage lots were advertised on the north shore of the upper lake in Olden Township at the rate of thirty cents per foot front plus survey, ( yes, that’s what I said-thirty cents) with construction of a structure valued at $500 to be completed within eighteen months. The going rate for islands was $45 per acre plus survey. We bought two lots. Bye [Byron] Wing, a local school teacher and handyman, built our cottage on one and we built a boathouse on the other. He was married to Betty, HJ’s daughter, and their daughter Susan is now operating the cottage rental business.

The old Sharbot Lake hotel which burned down in the sixties (now the site of a memorial garden), had quite a history. It was built in the early 1880’s by the Doyle’s who also offered overflow accommodation on the small Doyle’s Island adjacent to Craig Island – a few hundred yards across the bay. Later Harold Roberts and his wife operated it. One of the more popular owners – Herb and Millie Mayst offered accommodation and fishing guide service (Skipper their son was a top-rated guide) to the many American visitors who arrived year after year to experience the excellent fishing. I remember the dining room walls festooned with many stuffed and mounted prize-winning fish – and Herb had a story about every one of them. I hope some of them were saved from that disastrous fire. I believe this same hotel was home to a blind chap for many years. Russ [Russell “Rusty” Yateman] was often seen walking along Elizabeth street from the hotel up to Thomson’s store, tapping his white cane. He would spend many hours on the store front benches chewing the fat with anyone who came along. I think he must have known every crack in the sidewalk and along the retaining wall.

Speaking of fishing again, I should mention that Allen’s Dock located on the lower lake near the causeway between the two lakes was a hive of activity. You could rent a boat and cottage, hire a guide, buy worms and minnows, launch your boat, and hear ‘big fish’ stories. The village public beach and the heliport was the former site of many of the Allen cottages.

As I mentioned above, in the early days Sharbot Lake was a very busy railway division point with the Kingston and Havelock subdivisions converging in the village. Some eight passenger trains arrived daily and parlor car day service, Pullman car night service and freight service was available. The CPR had its own dock under which was a long waterline feeding the elevated tank. The combination station/baggage room and the long wooden platform were located in the rail triangle across from the hotel. Other structures such as a freight shed, pump house, tool shed, gas house, stock pens, standpipes and order boards where scattered along the right-of-way. There was even a two hole privy. Too bad all this early history is gone but efforts are being made to collect and preserve artifacts.

I wonder if you knew that Sharbot Lake once had a zoo. Joe Vinkle had a collection of animals – a couple of big old mangy black bears, deer, monkeys, various birds including peacocks, and snakes; and had them in pens for many years at the intersection of Highways 7 and 38. It was a big tourist attraction, and he sold a lot of gas at 30 cents a gallon.

The Government Dock on the upper lake was a pretty rickety structure in the early days and has been rebuilt twice. Private float planes flying in fishermen used to tie-up inside the “L” but it hasn’t been used in that way lately. It must have been tricky taxiing in to the dock and trying to dodge the rock reef out front. By the way, you notice that I refer to the ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ Lake which is what they were called in the early days. It seems that everyone now refers to them as the ‘east and west Basin’. For crying out loud, a basin is for washing your face in – not catching fish. I guess people don’t know which way the water flows!

There were always interesting activities for the cottagers on weekends. Country and old-time square dances with live music, movies, and church events were great places to meet people. Even the old village dump (now closed) on the south side of Hwy 7 Just west of the Snow Road was an unexpected meeting place where you could exchange your junk! The soft-ball team was the pride of the community, had a big following, and competed with teams from Parham, Arden, and Mountain Grove.

Well that’s about enough. These rambling are but some of my now fading memories and I would encourage any of you old-timers reading this to put on your thinking cap and jot down your memories so that a picture of life in the old village can be preserved for future generations. Bye for now.