REMINISCENCES OF LAC DES ILES
By Dr. HAROLD R. GRIFFITH (1973)
As I sit at our home and look out at the lake I marvel at how little the view has changed in the almost 70 years I have gazed at it. I know and love the contours of all the hills and islands and the shoreline looks just about as it did when I first saw it in 1903. I feel like quoting the old habitant in Drummond's poem, "Venez-ici mon cher ami and sit down by me so and I will tell you story of old time long ago. I close my eye just so and see".
My father, Dr. Alexander Randall Griffith, was a family doctor with a large Montreal practice. Among his patients, who were also his friends, was the family of Mr. and Mrs. D.A. Budge. Mr. Budge was the General Secretary of the Montreal YMCA and he and his friend, Mr. D.W. Ross, had summer cottages at Lac des Iles, built about 1890.
In 1902 Mr. and Mrs. Budge were abroad when some one of the children summering at Lac des Iles, took sick, and Dr. Griffith was sent for. It was my father's first view of the lake. He fell in love with it and immediately decided that he wanted a place here for his family too. So that same year he bought from M. Joseph Leroux for $100.00 a lot 270 ft. sq. with a shoreline extending "in an easterly direction from a blazed birch tree". This property has been extended by various subsequent purchases until it now comprises about 10 acres of wooded land with the shoreline extended a further 90 ft. in a westerly direction.
The Laurentian region of that era was remote when compared with modern standards, but it was by no means completely unsettled. The CPR line went as far as Labelle. There were numerous small villages and farms dotted along all the range roads. Over the years much of the land had been cleared of trees, and rail fences marked the boundaries of sandy, rocky fields where farmers attempted to grow hay, oats and buckwheat and a few cows and sheep grazed in the weeds and sparse grass.
The railway station at Ste-Marguerite was busy with freight and passengers and transportation to Lac des Iles was a slow, rough twelve mile drive over narrow dirt roads by farmers' wagons.
Halfway to Lac des Iles, there was the old established village of Ste-Marguerite and numerous cottages and boarding houses on Lac Masson.
There were two well-known and well-run boarding houses on Lac Charlebois, the next lake to Lac des Ties – Gauthiers' and Charrons'. At Lac des Iles there were Chartiers' original hotel - we called it "The Biscuit Box" because of its square shape - and boarding houses owned by the Leroux brothers, Ludger and Zotique. Another brother, Ben Leroux, had a large boarding house on land`which fronted on both Lac Charlebois and Lac des Iles.
All these hotels had primitive accommodations and served simple meals, but they were popular during July and August. Many families returned year after year. Of course there was no electricity or running water.
There were a few summer cottages built before ours, around Lac des Iles and Lac Charlebois. Mr. Ross owned several miles 'of shore around the eastern end of the lake and most of the islands. Besides the Ross and Budge cottages there were the John R. Motts, the G.A, Robertsons, the Barrys, and on Lac Charlebois, the Cockfield cottage and the Mathesons. Charles Calhoun, recently married to Effie Budge, built their first little house in 1902. In that year the original Ross house was dismantled and moved on the ice to be reconstructed on a new site and occupied by Rev. McConaughy and his family from Northfield. Massachusetts.
The McConaughys later moved to Philadelphia. Jim, the eldest son, became President of Wesleyan University and was once Governor of Connecticut. The house was sold and occupied by various tenants – for many years by Mr. and Mrs. H.E.O. Bull and is now owned by Stephen Edson. It is actually the oldest cottage on Lac des Iles.
A new Ross house was built during 1902 and 1903 on the original site in the bay using prize-winning plans by George A. Ross, then just starting his career as a renowned Canadian architect. This luxurious house has remained ever since as the sort of seigniorial manor of the Lac des Iles community.
There were numerous habitant farmers around the lake. The best known and best liked family as far as the summer cottagers were concerned was that of Edmund Daviault, whose house, made of squared logs, as were all of the habitant houses, was situated where now our private road joins the public road and where later for many years the Emile Perreaults lived. The Daviaults had seventeen children, all living – happy, healthy and hard-working. I used to know all their names – Clement, Joseph, Oscar, Ludger, Louisa, Alphonse, Michael, Alfred, Albert, ,Anna, Rock – and some I have forgotten. There was never any shortage of strong, cheerful men whenever we wanted work done.
I remember my father telling of an incident connected with the construction of our house. He and a contractor friend from Montreal had chosen the site, then densely wooded. He asked M. Daviault for an estimate as to what it would cost to clear the land. The contractor friend whispered to father – offer him $25.00. But father said nothing and finally M. Daviault gave his price - $5.00. Those were the days when manpower and horsepower were cheap, carpenters' wages Were $1.00 a day and the whole cost of land, materials and labour for our original house amounted to about $1,000 (but doctors also made house calls in those days for $1.00 or$2.00).
Rough plans were prepared for a large frame house, supported on cedar posts, with a central stone fireplace.
A very rough wagon road was cut on the right-of-way west of the property, in order to haul in building materials approximately along the electric line of today. This early road in a few years degenerated into a footpath and for many years the only way of getting baggage and supplies to the house was by boat from Ludger Leroux' wharf. Even after we started to come to the lake by auto in the 1920's, for years we left our cars at Leroux' and rowed to the house. Finally, around 1900, we made a friendly arrangement with Sam Milligan allowing us to extend the road behind his house to ourproperty and since then we have had an informal road association with the other users of the private road which was originally provided to the Mott property.
Construction was started on the Griffith house in the spring of 1903 and proceeded rapidly using mainly local workmen, with á, few carpenters and a mason from Montreal.
May and June of that year were very dry, and forest fires ravaged over many miles for more than a week. The railway line was impassable and we began to wonder whether our property would be burned over. Fires burned around Lac Masson and many of the cottages there were destroyed. Fire could be seen atop the hills on the north side of Lac des Ties and it only needed a change of wind for fire to circle the lake. At the Mott house, where Mr. and Mrs. Turner were staying with the children, John and Irene, while their parents were abroad on one of their frequent trips, preparations had been made to row to one of the islands if the fire came down to the lake. Fortunately, however, rain came and Lac des Iles was saved. I shall never forget our first drive from Ste-Marguerite Station to the Lake early in July. For most of the twelve miles it was a desolate scene – nothing but blackened and fallen trees. We all said a prayer of thankfulness when finally we got the first sight of our lovely lake still green and fresh. And we were excited when we saw our new house, nestled among the trees. In main outline it was then about as it is today, except there was no bathroom in the south east corner; this was added thirty years later. The walls and roof were clad in hand-split cedar shingles; those on the walls are still in place after seventy years and never painted Or treated in any way.
We were an active group and I marvel at my mother's courage and skill in handling us all so well in such an environment. My brother Hugh was ten and I was within a few weeks of my ninth birthday. Jim was four and Arthur two. Of course we always had one or two maids to help with the housework and the cooking, but my mother was always the Commander-in-chief – friendly and efficient. Father's visits to his family in his new house were short and irregular. It was uncertain when he could be away from his practice in Montreal. He had a large family practice with much obstetrics and he had continuing responsibility at the Homeopathic Hospital of which he was then and for nearly forty years the unpaid Medical Superintendent.
We still lived on Wellington Street in Pointe-St-Charles, but he had an uptown office in Tooke's Building at the corner of Peel and Ste-Catherine and he made many house calls all over the city. We moved to a rented house at 196 Peel Street in 1904 and in 1906
Father purchased the house at 221 Peel Street which then became our permanent family home. However, in spite of all his other responsibilities and pre-occupations Father got to the Lake whenever he could and he loved every inch of it. He was an ardent fisherman and he would be out in the rowboat within 4.11 hour of his arrival and the fishing was good. One could always count on catching enough trout for a good meal. Favourite spots were off of the big rock which is no4just past Garlands wharf or at the point of Bon Repos Island. One could usually see old Mr. Boyer, sitting in his rowboat in Barry's Bay with three or four rods and lines in thewater, and we often went to his house to buy trout – a little log cabin about where Trois Coins Hotel now stands. We could always buy fresh trout at the General Store in St-Etnile. It was a good many years before over-fishing and the invasion of other species filially destroyed the speckled trout in Lac des Iles.
I am afraid we must share some of the responsibility for depleting the lake. For several years my father invited a party of his men friends for a few days fishing over the Victoria Day holiday and there was no limit on the catches. Our old guest book records that from May 21.st to the 26th in 1908, a party of fourteen men caught a total of 1099 speckled trout, the largest weighing I lb. 2 oz. and the record number for one fisherman was 161. My own total catch was 64.
But to get back to recollections of our first Bummer – when we arrived, there was still much finishing to be done and one workmap, Mr. Martin, stayed on all summer. He was a skilled carpenter recovering from some chronic illness and he was glad to just work for his board and lodging. He used to walk through the woods looking for appropriate pieces of birch or cedar with which to make furniture. He built the sofa and chairs which for many years were a familiar part of our furnishings. The only remaining things in the house to remind me of his work are the birch railing on the stairway and the two birch stools which for 70 years have sat on each side of the fireplace.
My mother and father were noted for their hospitality and the first of a long trail of guests began to arrive. The first guests were two Faptist ministers – Rev. J.R. Webb and Rev. Joseph L. Gilmour, then both in Montreal churches, who arrived on July 13th, 1903. They record their impressions as "feeling much honoured to be first guests at this beautiful house" and a quotation from the Bible reads, "and the barbarous people showed us no little kindness for they kindled a fire and received us everyone because of the present rain and because of the cold".
The names of fifteen other guests are recorded during that first summer, including Miss Imogene Bradford of New York who came for a whole month and brought with her a young boy who was some sort of protégé, and added one more to our noisy tribe. Our Aunt Imogene, as we called her, was a favourite visitor for a good many summers.
Our principal mode of transportation was the flat-bottomed rowboat. Some of these rowboats were made locally, but the best ones were made by Saint-Pierre of Vercheres, Quebec and we had two of these — twenty Feet long — pointed at both ends, sold for $20.00 and shipped up by freight to Ste-Marguerite. Mother was a great rower in the early years while Father was never known io be anywhere else than in the stern as the pilot
The land between Leroux' and our property was mostly hay field in which cows grazed and raspberries flourished. Our bush was filled with maple trees and every spring both before our time and during our early years, Leroux tapped the trees for sap. There was a great round iron kettle sitting just at the edge of our property where the sap was boiled down to sugar. Most of the farm families n-aade their own sugar in this way, and one could always buy maple sugar for about 15 cents a lb. We never used anything else on our morning dish of porridge. Maple syrup] was harder to make and not so plentiful as sugar.
St. Emile was then as now our nearest villa e and we went there for some supplies, although most of our staple food for the summer was sent up from Montreal by freight and transported to the Lake by farmer's wagon. Getting to St. Emile meant a long row, often against a strong wind and then walk* from the wharf at the end of the bay. A church, a general store, a sawmill run by water power, a baker, a butcher, a blacksmith and a few houses comprised the metropolis I remember the baker had an outdoor oven where he baked round loaves of bread in hot ashes. The butcher did his own slaughtering. Local beef was tough and w6inever bought any, but the lamb was delicious and pork plentiful. One didn't pay much attention to sanitation — it is a wonder that so many of us survived. Milk was delivered to us raw by the Daviault children for 5 cents a quart — cream twenty cents a quart — eggs Z5 cents a dozen and butter twenty cents a lb. also came from the local farmers. One of tile Daviault boys brought our mail every day having walked over from the nearest post (*lice which was then at Gauthiers' on Lac Charlebois.
Our own post office called Entrelacs, situated where now is Trois Coins Hotel, was opened in 1908. This remained a popular place for the young people to gather when the mail arrived in the evening until about fifteen years ago when rural route delivery was started and ourpost office became St. Emil0 de Montcalm.
After we opened our house in 1903, my brother Hugh and I soon made friends with our neighbours. Kenneth Ross, the youngest iii, the D.W. Ross family, and Donald, the youngest Budge and John, the eldest in the Mott family, were all in our age group and we became chums. We went in bathing that swimmer and though we did not learn to swim, we were allowed to go out in the boat and row by ourselves as far as Budges. I marvel now when I think of all the chances we took and at my mother's temerity and equanimity. The next year, 1904, we did not come to the Lake, but spent the whole summer in Grand Forks, ND, getting to know our numerous cousins and celebrating our Griffith grandparents' Golden Wedding. In 1905, we were back at Lac des Iles and have never missed a summer since then — at least for part of the family.
Hugh and I learned to swim that year taught with patient kindness by old Mr. Budge, at a shallow spot between the Ross and Budge louses. The next year we became really good swimmers, swam our official distance "fro Flavia Island to Rosses' bath house" and thus qualified for our first canoe and to be allowed to paddle alone. John Mott was always the best swimmer, diver and paddler in our group, but we all became fairly expert and there was never any rivalry.
Rowing was a chore which we avoided whenever possible, but paddling a canoe was always fun and in later years we sailed in our canoes with considerable skill.
One adventure of these early years standsciut in my mind. Father had foolishly, perhaps, let us buy a 22 caliber rifle - Ken had one too. One morning we set off in a group to see what we could find to shoot. We were standing on the shore of Lac Croche when Hugh aimed at a crow sitting up on a tree, but the crow flew away and Hugh put down his gun with his finger still on the trigger. Just at t at moment Ken fired his gun at another crow and involuntarily Hugh pulled the trigger and shot himself in the foot. We were in a panic and I was sure he would die. One of the boys ran back at full speed to Lac des Ties and roused M. Daviault and another man 40 came and carried Huh back home. He was sent in to the hospital in Montreal that ;evening. The surgeon decided not to operate and now more than 65 years later he still 11.4.s that bullet in his foot and it has never bothered him.
Another episode which comes to mind is how our house, in one of those early years, was miraculously saved from fire. We had no screens on the veranda and frequently, when the flies were bad, we burned a smudge pot; and depended on smoke to drive the mosquitoes away. Early one morning, Mother was awakened in her bedroom by the buzzing of a mosquito. She noticed a flickering light on the gallery and got up to find that the smudge pot, which had been carelessly left alight, had burned through the gallery floor and was just starting to blaze. Mother calmly got a pail of water, put out the fire and went back to bed without disturbing anyone else. Somehow this story got into the newspapers and it was recorded all across Canada how a mosquito had saved a family from fire.
Once again, about thirty years later, the house nearly burned down. That time it was owing to sparks from the chimney which set fire to the wooden shingles of the upper roof. Several women were in the house with small children. Fortunately John Milligan, then a strong young teenager, responded to the alarm and after strenuous effort with water from a bucket brigade, he managed td get the fire out with no more damage than a large hole in the roof After that we changed the roofing to more fire resistant graveled paper.
In our Lac des Iles community in the early days, Sabbath observance was puritanically strict. We were not allowed to go swimming except for the morning sanitary dip, and boating was taboo except to row or paddle 10 church. It has been known that young people accidentally tipped over their canoes on the way home from church, but on the whole the rules were strictly observed. There was no rule, however, forbidding walks and so long Sunday afternoon tramps through forest trails were often organized by the boys and girls. There were popular walks -60 Trempe's Hill, or to Lac Charlie Hum or to Gauthier's Hill from which one could see sixteen lakes.
Regular Sunday morning church services were held in Rosses' Big House for more than seventy summers and my mind is filled with cherished memories from the inspiring and happy gatherings. It was not a bit like going to church in the city. We came by rowboat or canoe, were received at the wharf by members of the Ross family, escorted into the spacious living room of their luxurious home where chairs were set up in rows – often a fire burning in the big fireplace.
In the early days, Mrs. D.W. Ross presided at the organ and Mrs. D.A. Budge, with her sweet voice, led the singing. The small children sat on the winding stairway and the older ones found places in the dining room ;at the back of the house. The minister stood between the two rooms and often as many as sixty or seventy were in the congregation. We had no regular minister, but the service's were regularly led by Lac des Iles residents who were professional religious workers. The most famous one of these men was, of course, Dr. John R. Mott, then at the height of his influence as a world wide Christian missionary leader as well as heading the CA.
Others in YMCA-related work were D.A. Budge, Charles Calhoun, Fennell Turner and Rev. James McConaughy. All these men took turns at conducting the Sunday Services and frequently there were guest speakers – lends of Dr. Mott.
During most summers Dr. Mott conducted two of the services, one to give us a report of his world travels, and at the other to deliver an evangelical message, which was most impressive and inspiring to all us teenagers Indeed these Sunday Services are among the most memorable religious experiences of my life and in later years when it came my turn to conduct one of the services each summer', I always felt deep gratitude at the pioneer speakers and to the Ross family, who for three generations disrupted their lovely home every Sunday during July and August and ripened it to the whole lakeside. Besides being periods of religious inspiration, these Sunday Services were true community gatherings which helped us to get to know each other and kept us all together.
In 1906, the summer I was twelve years old, my father thought we should have some regular occupation. Since there was no store closer that St. Emile, he suggested we might go around to the various cottages and boarding houses, peddling candy bars, peanuts and pins and needles and thread. This led to setting up the firm of Griffith Bros. and Co. The books of the firm record that it was started in 1906 – the first four being Donald A. Budge, President, James J. Griffith, Vice President, Harold R. Griffith, Secretary- Treasurer and Hugh B. Griffith, General Manager. Each member deposited $3.00 constituting a capital of $12.00. The season was a very successful one finishing up the year with $61.39. In 1907 two new members, Kenneth Ross and Arthur Griffith were added as Assistant Manager and Director (tge 6 years). Each put in $6.00, making the capital $36.00. The sales that year totaled 182.38, leaving a balance of $97.17.
In 1908 there was a re-organization. Donald Budge and Kenneth Ross had retired in September 1907, leaving James Griffith, President, Arthur Griffith, Vice-President, Harold Griffith, Secretary-Treasurer and Hough Griffith General Manager, leaving these four gentlemen constituting the firm of Griffith Bros. & Co. The firm continued with this personnel until 1911, which was the last whole summer I spent at the Lake. In 1912 Hugh and I retired, leaving the business to Jim and Arthur. By 1915 it gradually petered out. However, throughout our high school years, the firm was a major interest, and was undoubtedly very educational.
As in any successful business we worked hard and consistently, but we also had lots of fun. We made trips by canoe, regularly, twice a week to the boarding houses on Lac Charlebois and Lac des Iles, and once a week to the private cottages. We soon dropped dry goods from our inventory and concentrated on candy, peanuts and postcards.
Picture postcards became our best and mot profitable stock in trade. A young friend of ours, Kirk Hodges, a part-time photographer, came to the Lake with his camera and took pictures of various scenes and of the boarding houses and private cottages. He then printed these pictures on photographic postcards which he sold to us for about 40 cents a dozen and which we then sold for 5 cents each. This part of the business grew to such an extent, that by 1911 we had over sixty different views and sold a total of 250 dozen. The most popular card was a view of Lac des Iles from Trempe's Hill, of which we sold over 300. It is too bad our sample album showing all the pictures has disappeared. I can find only a few of the cards.
The accounting book of the firm, however, is still preserved and records all our purchases and sales. It was a good education for us boys, but would not be possible for the present generation. In our day there was no competition from stores, no license or sales tax and no motorboats on the lake to run us down.
This ends Dr. Harold's formally written account of the early history at Lac des Iles.
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ASSOCIATION DU LAC DES ÎLES D'ENTRELACS
671, rue Deguise
Entrelacs (Québec) J0T 2E0
HISTOIRE DE L'ADLIE
SPORTS ET PASSE TEMPS
NAVIGATION DE PLAISANCE
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