Stokes Bay of The Siren Call
by Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Feguson

     When the Fergusons, early in the “summer complaint” invasion at Stokes Bay, made a landfall there it was a yacht that we ties up at the Government Dock, then high with limber from the local mill. But, based on the natural beauty of this land-locked by we were quick to say; “This is it!!” The feelings and exprssions were vindicated by a subsequent over 40 years of attachment for the village by Big River. The year of out invasion was 1915.

     In a later year we wrote back for a cottage and received a reply: “What is a cottage?” To which we agreed to settle for anything with a roof, table, bed, stoves and lamp. We came up with an abandoned net shed, worked over with building paper flour-pasted to the walls. As rats ate off the dried paste on the back of the paper we had music at night, but we loved it, caught lots of bass, and the love of Stokes Bay sunk deeply. There’s something of the Siren about the old girl it seems.

     We were thrilled by the rugged beauty of the place, returned and stayed and built many places over the years. But, mostly we were enthralled by the character and characters of the community, for here conformity had not submerged individuality. We were certain... still are... that no similar area on earth provided such sparkling examples of individuality.

     Where could one duplicate the effervescent, lovable, gentlemanly, Jim Cowan, who like Brewster of “Brewster’s Millions” seemed bent on destroying money by every generosity or wild extravagance only to have his exchecquer replenished faster than he could reduce it and, in the end, only destroying his health in the attempt. Who but Jim could conceive the housewarming he planned for his new summer place on Greenock Point, which event would duplicate the Hunt Breakfasts of Old England, so colourfully depicted on many famous canvasses, though it meant importing ample red-coats, buff pants, bowlers, for the guests who were to be the fishermen and local workers who had built his log and masonary structure. Too bad that film could not have recorded the discomforture or discomfitures of the hunt-dressed fishermen, how that uneasiness was somewhat washed away in the best of Scotch, how the hunt finally developed with one unit taking the powerboat around the point to attack the game in the rear, one unit taking to the horses and bridle paths, and the third unit taking the motor cars. The hunt ended with the powerboat on a reef, the horses returning minus the riders who had fallen off, the cars impaled on various rocks and stumps in the bush.

     Also Jim Cowan was responsible for bringing Major Edward Mills to ocupy his place here for years... the Major with a Boer War discharge signed by Queen Victoria, a World War I discharge signed by King George, a personal friemds of Rudyard Kipling and a trunkful of letters from the Duke of Kent, Lord Roberts and almost and famous Britisher of the day.

     We were particularly intrigued by one character who gave most of is years to the Stokes Bay area until his dimise here... one Adam Youngston. We marvelled that one of obviously limited schooling could be so extremely intelligent and expressive. We often said here is a man who had the natural talent of a “Thoreau of Walden’s Pond” and he sought and understood the works of that great naturalist. One lasting regret is that we did not put down the pearls of wisdom and sage remarks of that man, one of which we recall... “The world will someday give thought to who should be educated and to what extent. One man, uneducated, may steal a ride on your railroad but, educate him and he may steal your railroad.” A deep reader, one day he dropped dead on a wood’s trail, books and papers tightly held under his arm. Too bad he didn’t have a bent for recording his observations.

     >our son, Ken, was in short pants when first we saw Stokes Bay and had not been long in trousers before he was writing for hunting and fishing magazines... naturally about Stokes Bay. Seated one night on the cement steps of the local grocery and general store a car drove up with the general inquery to the group; “Where will I find that author, Ken Ferguson?” Rather than disappoint the enquirer, E.D. Armitage of Willougby, Ohio, by his youth, he slipped away around the corner. However fiend Armitage stayed to adopt Stokes Bay... buy and build a beautiful Garden Island in the Bay and still comes each summer after thirty years. And Ken Ferguson has still continues to sing the praises of the Peninsula in his magazine stories “The Phenomenal Bruce”, “Blue Water Country”, “The Island of the Gods”, and others.

     We recall a sweet little jersey cow owned by George Kirk that came to its barn enclosure at milking time, would face down the river to her master’s house 1/4 of a mile away on the other side, would call him loudly to come and milk. Seeing him leave his door she’d meet him halfway at the bridge, get behind him and nudge him smartly all the way to the barn, while he chuckled.

     Early in our summer adoption of Stokes Bay we marvelled at one family with ten children, where a call that happened to be a mealtime was embarrassing to us but was met with a whole hearted: “Move over children and make room for the folks”, while a meal appeared by magic it seemed. It was the home of Eber and Effie Burley. As the children’s grandfather, Big John McIvor and blind, would sit out in front of the house, Effie would commission a couple of the children who would sit, uncomplainingly to entertain grandfather with running account of the activities in the road and around the general store. This closely knit family intrigued us and still does.

     Soon we enlisted among Michigan friends others who were to fall in love with this rock-ribbed and water-lapped piece of Canada. In 1923 came George and Olive Peck with their daughter Lillian, soon to build “Timberhut” down on the bayshore. They never missed a summer while George lived, about 25 years, and how they loved it.

     In the late 1920’s came the Harters of Cleveland to adopt Stokes Bay permanently, buying and building, returning every summer up to the present, with their children, now their children’s children. There’s a hex that just seems to await those who spend just one summer holiday here.

     An interesting story surrounds the adoption of Stokes Bay by Jacob Hahn, his wife and son Harold. Mary Burley, about 1929, had returned to detroit area with us for a visit. Jacob Hahn was building a brick house for us and we introduces him to Mary Burley as being from Stokes Bay, in Canada. Jack Hahn said: “I set the boilers and built the powerhouse for the sawmill on Tamarack Island there. It was a nice place. I must return and see Stokes Bay again.” He did, fell in love with it again, built an elaborate cutstone residence on a hill overlooking Tamarack Island, lived the rest of his days there. Son Harold retired, occupies the fine place at present, now deceased.

     In the 30’s a lot of activity took place down by Mrs. McKinney’s Beach, acually the town plot of Hardwicke that never jelled. We built a stone place on a point, log places were built by the Dr. Sudworths and the Stonemans, Miss. Sarah Medley, the Pat Rileys, the Townsends, the McDonalds, the Bunsteads and others... all a credit to the growing summer colony.

     The Fergusons were among our first bonafide tourists, and we are much indebted to them for this fine article on their Stokes Bay Days. Now living in retirement in Delray Beach, Florida, they still make visits to Stokes Bay every other year or so, where they are always warmly welcomed by old friends. Some of the people they mention, for the benefit of those who don’t know... Jim Cowan was from London, the Cowan Hardware heir, the store is still in business, but Mr. Cowan died some years ago... Major Mills was also from London, husband of a Wiarton girl, Margaret Kastner... Major Mills also deceased... Adam Youngston worked on the railroad in his younger days and was present when the last spike was driven when the railway reached the Pacific... He was a famous axeman in the timbering days on the Peninsula. A bachelor, he lived on the Peninsula until he passed away, a native of Fergus where he was buried. Relatives, the Fords still live there. Mary Burley was daughter of the Eber Burley’s and was the first Mrs. Water Gedde. Mr. J. Hahn built the stone posts of the schoolhouse, as well as his fine home near Tamarack, and did numerous other jobs connected with masonry after he retired here. The Hahns were originally from Hanover, but spent many years in Detroit before coming to Stokes Bay.
April 1st, 1960.

Pages 47 - 50 of Old Timers’ Tales
A History of Stokes Bay and Area
(Bruce Peninsula)
By Helene Scott