Edith Bruckland (1920-2014)

     In 2005, Doug Hall, Bill Rhodes and Nancy Lang met with ‘Edie’ at her apartment in Hamilton. She was 85, utterly gracious, with no pretense, brimming with humour and wonderful stories. And she made a damn fine soup.

     Edie spoke of her life long connection to Pointe au Baril. Her father Bert was born in London, England, into a family of sea captains. He attended private school and left for Canada at the age of 22. He came to Parry Sound and became lighthouse keeper on Red Rock for summer of 1903. His boat had to be stored inside the lighthouse as there was no safe harbour on this exposed, bald rock, on which his carved initials can be spotted today.

     In 1906 Bert sailed from Parry Sound with the lumber ordered for construction of the new Ojibway Hotel. Bert so impressed owner Hamilton Davis that he stayed on and worked at the hotel for over 50 years. Edie spend her childhood summers at the Ojibway where she recalled life saving rescues on the doc and the desperate search for the run-a-way cow. During the 1930’s she worked at the hotel, and later for the Campbell family whose cottage was nearby.

     Edie cherished her memories of Point au Baril, of those she had known and loved, and those who had loved her. And she deeply appreciated the beauty of the area.

Here are some excerpts from that interview:

Edie: “There were three saw mills in Parry Sound. It was a beehive of activity and that is why my father settled there. He sailed with the load of lumber for the Ojibway in spring of 1906 and stayed to help with the construction. He was very good at carpentry work. Father never wrote anything down. He kept a very personal life. But I learned little bits that I gleaned from listening to his conversations with other people.

N: Did he winter at the hotel?

Edie: “He didn’t winter on the island. He lived with Tom Smith. It’s an old, old name, he lived down near Shawanaga. Tom was a guide and he did carpentry work. A general, shall we say a go-for? Like little Jimmy Longlad.  My father stayed with him for about three years.  They would fish in the winter. They used to take the fish and ship it south.  It was a hard place to make a living. In actuality, they were pioneers. Everything was all hand done.  There was no machinery except a saw and an axe, and a lot of broad axes too, as well as the plain straight axes; they used to level the logs.

N: How was the hotel built so quickly?

Edie: “My dear, Mr. Hamilton was not a waster of time from anybody, including himself.  Don’t you think that was nicely put?  Do you think they can sue me for that?”

N: Did Davis help in the building?

Edie: “Oh heavens no…He was too fragile for goodness sake.  He was nothing but skin and bones.

D: How did Bert and Hamilton got along?

Edie: “Dad gave respect. He and Mr. Davis understood one another. They were the exact opposites. Father had the, shall we say, the drawing magnetic personality to people. Davis was very businesslike.  A lot of people thought he was reserved and shall we say a little cold. Father was this warm outgoing personality. He was a drawing card. One of the stories I remember was when Hamilton Davis had to go back to Rochester with his first wife because she was very very ill. And he was away from the hotel for 2 weeks. So he left Dad in charge. When he came back everything was working away beautifully and they were having all kinds of people who were writing and inquiring about accommodation and Dad was getting everything copasetic for them…Bessie Wells said to Mr. Davis ‘well you know you should leave Bert in charge of the office, because he was pulling in the guests’. Hamilton replied, ‘You can’t do that, we need his personality on the dock’. So try that one for size. That tells you how they worked together”

N: Can you describe Irene Davis, Hamilton’s second wife?

Edie: “Oh, yes. Irene was very pleasant.  Irene could pick up a spot of dust a mile away.  She made sure the food was right…the housekeeping too. She would say, “You give a guest a good mattress and good food and they’ll come back.”

Both of them were very business like.  They were both cordial, really very nice people, but Mr. Davis ran a tight ship. He got every ounce of strength from his employees.  Once an employee asked him the time, he replied ”What are you worried about, you’re not going anywhere.” But he had a sense of humour.  When I told you about this business about everyone calling him Hammy, that wasn’t meant in disrespect. Please understand that.  Everyone called him that, all around the whole bay. Or sometimes Hambone. He was skinny as a bean pole.

D: There was Hammy Hall.

Edie: Hammy Hall was behind the club, for the male staff.  Kids hung out there. They had to have some place to hang out because they weren’t any islanders on staff. Everyone was brought in. So they had to have accommodation. When you stop to think, when the hotel was operating fully from the 1st of July to the third week of August, then it would fall off a bit, but there were 125 registered guests, also there was 40 staff.  They had to have accommodation.  The girls slept on the third floor.

N: How did your parents meet?

Edie: My mother was from Nobel, where CIL made dynamite in World War I.  He was working on the railroad.  They lived for 3 years in Shawanaga, and then they bought a farm in Nobel.  I was born in my grandmother’s house in Nobel.

N: Did the family spend the summer out at the hotel?

Edie: “No, we were left on the farm and father was up at the hotel by himself 24/7 for the two years after I was born. When we did come, we stayed in this tent on the flat rock right behind the gas docks.  They had three tents for the guests. And that’s the only picture I have of Father here. That’s shows his personality. He’s tying a knot. He used to do all the splicing for the sailboats. It was father who finally got all the sailing races started. Let me dish out the soup. There’s no formality here.  I can’t stand the stuff.  Think of it as a picnic lunch. Enjoy. 

‘Thank-you Lord for this day. Thank-you for the new friends that are here with me, hopefully enjoying a tiny little bit of food. Please let them have a safe trip home.  Lead and guide us in thy way and give them courage in the future. Ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.’ 

Edie shared a photo of her father standing by the old pump for the hotel water tank.

Edie: “There was just a hand pump. There was no automatic machine believe me. Dad would hang his watch on a nail and pump for 15 minutes and that would fill the tank. 

D: Your Dad wouldn’t have been happy with guests leaving the taps on.

Edie: “I’ll tell you the only thing that bothered father really and truly, was people that would not adhere to safety on the dock.  If there was anything really going on, believe me, father knew about it. As a matter of fact he saved 2 children who had fallen off the dock.

D: He saved Aunt Ruth (MacCuaig).  Ruth said she fell off the dock and before anybody else saw what had happened, Bert was there pulling her out of the water between two boats.

Edie: Yup that was father. The other one was Old Bill Southham’s son.  He was way up by the store and fell in the lake. Dad pulled him out. Umpteen dozen people standing around. He would not tolerate any Tom Foolery when he knew that it would result in an accident. And believe me; he knew how your boat was loaded.  And if there wasn’t enough freeboard, you didn’t get away from the dock. And he was always there to make sure you were landed safely.  If he was busy, he would tend someone else to do it.

He was the spitting image of Churchill. And he could be just as stubborn as Churchill. But underneath it all he was a kind person.  

N: Can you tell us how the first tennis court was built? (circa 1912)

Edie:  Mrs. Davis was terrified of storms and Dad rowed over to make sure that she was OK. I remember watching him go from our cottage across from Empress Island, with the lightening flashing all about him, thinking I might never see him again. He found Mrs. Davis crouching in the fireplace in Oakwood where they lived. There were many trees down after the storm.  Dad and Mr. Davis decided to build tennis court so guests had something to do other than fish. They got some horses and skid all those trees together to make a base for a tennis court. It was built where the tennis court are now. It seems to me that they had a garden behind the hotel as well that provided vegetables for the kitchen. To this day there is mint growing behind the hotel.

B: Why has the Ojibway never burned down?

Edie:  They would not allow a cigarette or liquor to be sold on the island because of the fire. The guests brought it but they didn’t buy it there, believe me.  This is why there was always someone poking about and being very alert to that. And every room had a sand bucket in the room.  

D:  A lot of those hotels didn’t burn down by accident. They fell on hard times. At the Ojibway, when it fell on hard times, the islanders responded.

Edie: Well every body loves the place.  They really do. There was Peter Campbell, Rogers, Barclay and Stuart Playfair…they were the ones who initiated getting the hotel, so it wouldn’t fall into disrepair. They not only did something important for the Bay. They added to the Bay. They were all great people. Look at Stuart Playfair for heaven’s sake. Sure he was associated with lumber, we know that. But look at what he did for the kids with the tall sailing ships. I mean those kinds of people…they’re pioneers.

D: Who was the first manager when the Islanders bought the hotel?

Edie: There was Mackenzie, or MacInerny. Fairwell. Then there was Sondra McLennan. She was a latter day saint.

D: Can you tell us about the murder of the night watchman?

Edie: You can’t keep anything to yourself.  Good Lord. It was quite true.  My father told me this story. It happened before I was born. All the time that Davis had the hotel, he had a night watchman.  Apparently he really was murdered on the island.  Hamilton came to my Dad at one o’clock in the morning and said. Bert, please make me a rough box because the night watchman has just been murdered. And so Dad did and he was shipped out on the train, and if you don’t believe me, the policeman was named MacNaughton from Parry Sound. He gave out the fishing licenses.

N: Did you ever hear why? 

You know it was a very rustic place up there.

N: Can you tell us about the cow story?

Edie: A cow brought in by steamer from Meaford so they could have milk on the island. She had newly calved, so consequently wanted to get back to her little calf.  They hadn’t tied her up, so she decided she’d swim. And of course they missed the cow and were hunting all over. Dad was one of them.  Two, three boats were out looking for her. One of the fishing guides and Dad found her. She was on the outer shoals heading straight for Meaford.  They lassoed the poor cow and towed her back.  They had a pig there too to eat the garbage. On the back of the island, he was tied to a rope. They had to be self-sufficient. There wasn’t any garbage pick-up in those days.

N: Was the flag raised everyday?

Edie: Years ago that is what we did because it was a form of respect.

D: Sunrise and sunset.

Edie: One of the docks boys did it. You’ve got to know the story of Dad shinning up to put the flag on the tower. They just finished building the tower, and they had the roof on and they put the pole up. So Dad went up to raise the flag and realized that there wasn’t any little pullies on the pole. So he had to shinny up like a little monkey and put that flag up. Realize that he had tremendous strength, balance and furthermore he was the son of a sea captain. His brothers were sea captains too. This was the time before steam practically.  You get those big sailing ships out in the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean.  My grandfather was on the clipper ships.  When you consider that father was born in 1880, he helped sail the damn ship that brought him to Canada. I’ve never seen anyone with stronger hands than my father.  He wasn’t a tall man but he had tremendous strength in his hands.

You know they had that little elevator in the tower. There was one with ropes. Because you know people came in with their big steamer trunks. They used to come, some of them would come for 6 weeks, all the way from Virginia, for instance. The tower rooms always had washrooms.  I know because I had to clean them up.

B: When the steamer came in there was there big excitement at the docks?

Edie: There was great excitement because you never knew what was coming off - whether it was people or all the freight and everything.

D: Where did you and your family stay?

Edie: We had a cottage was on the south side of Empress Channel. It belonged to my mother and father. Dad built it.  There was a boat in the bottom and living quarters on the top. And they took the living quarters off it and put in the island. And that is what is there today. It was a protected beautiful little island.  But everybody was screaming for Bert.  Something happened and there was no Bert.  Hamilton wanted my father on Ojibway Island. He built Pinewood…well, Dad built it with a boy. That’s where my first memories are…on that beautiful flat rock.  It has been torn down. There is just a chimney now.  It looks dark and dirty.  Not a happy making place. But it looked down the channel. There’s early morning mist down that channel.

Now I’m on an island in front of the Ojibway. It’s not palatial you know.  Father wanted a place to get in out of the dirty weather. To be warm and comfortable. I’m very fortunate to have two nephews who take me out in the spring. It’s structurally sound. But Jeez, Heaven’s to Betsy, I get every single wind. The only wind I don’t get is direct south. I get south-west, I get nor-west, nor-east, I get north, I get south east.  Do you remember hurricane Hazel?  It was interesting.  We were on the island because Dad still had the post office at that time. He worked at the Ojibway til ‘56 and then he died Jan. New Year’s Day of ’58. He had a stroke on the island and that wasn’t much fun because it was Thanksgiving, but I managed to get him down to the hospital in Parry Sound. And he was there for about 3 months.  But he came back, God love him, and I had him back for his last year.  I tried to give him a happy time.

Mathew (MacCleod) has written a little song about me… you go to the 30 thousands islands every summer and you feel so whole. And it’s true. If you just ignore the fast pace of everybody who doesn’t even have time to wave. And get yourself to nature in all its glory.  Get up and watch the pre-dawn. Take your boat out on a calm morning.  Go into the sunrise. It strengthens your whole being. To listen to the birds. You know that in your heart.  Every one of you.