UNDERGROUND WARFARE ON THE HOLIDAY WATERFRONT SUMMER PEOPLE LOCAL PEOPLE
are driving north in winter to put city men on country councils. They leant to keep down local taxes and keep out commercial tourism. say the land and all the tourists it attracts are their livelihood and that the cottage owners are both ignorant of local problems and patronizing
Now, IN THE YEAR'S green season, begins the joyous exodus of the city people to the summer country, like refugees bound for the promised land. As they drive with a song on their lips, they fondly imagine that they are leaving behind all workaday friction and stress. Instead, they are destined to clash with a group of people whose working cycle is completely out of phase with their own, the year-round residents who hit their peak earning period while the cottagers are on holiday.
Within the last few years the relationship between winter and summer people, which has simmered comfortably along for half a century, has suddenly boiled over. As the cities fill up, more people want to get out of town in summer and new highways have made it easier for them to escape by speeding traffic and opening up land once inaccessible. An expedition to the cottage used to take all day, even after motorcars replaced the rail-and-steamboat trek, and families went north on the first of July and came home on Labor Day. Now' a cottager can leave his office at five and admire the sunset over Mud Lake by seven.
As the constellation of resort country round the cities extends farther into the wilderness, property values and taxes in the older holiday districts have increased so much that people are at last aware of their stake in the land. Cottagers are hunting out deeds they never bothered to unfold and paying more for new surveys than they, or their parents, paid for the land in the first place. Often, they're shocked to find that the back corner of the sleeping cabin is actually on someone else’s property. As their assessments rise, they resent paying taxes to-
ward schools, snowplowing and other services that don't do them any good. One cottager says, “We're just a milch cow for the township. Our taxes have tripled in three years, and all we get for them is a bad road. Those old farmers are trying to impose taxation without representation.”
What hits the cottagers even harder is the discovery that a neighbor plans to put up something that will attract transients. The presence of these casual tourists exacerbates the friction between cottagers (who accuse them of strewing garbage, starting fires and polluting the lakes with noisy, dangerous boats) and local people who welcome what trade they bring. A woman in a resort town says, “The tourists with money don’t want the tourists without money. But if they don't want motels and marinas, what arc we going to do for a living?”
ONE MAN’S MEAT; ANOTHER’S PARADISE
To an outsider the most striking thing about the holiday war is the intensity of emotion it arouses in everyone even slightly involved. Property, combining the loaded subjects of money and land, seems to stir deep feelings in the most phlegmatic. For a city man, the cottage is a sanctuary against the pressures of civilization, a substitute for the farm he’ll never retire to, the nostalgic shrine of his boyhood. His investment is as much sentimental as financial and he wants to go up in the spring to find everything exactly the same. He rushes down to the shore where the islands spread their familiar pattern before him, and even the loose board on the dock is an affectionate reminder of the continuity and slow pace of the summer world. Then an outboard roars by like a jukebox in a church, and he explodes.
The country people feel just as strongly because the land is their livelihood, often inherited from grandparents or great-grandparents who settled there on government grants. As their original sources of income — farming, boat-making, lumbering, sawmills—have dwindled, many of their children have gone to the cities. Those who are left build cottages and mend boats, sell gasoline and groceries, run ski lodges and summer hotels, and all these depend on the patronage of tourists.
The local man’s feelings toward the cottager are as ambivalent as those of a European toward the postwar American tourist. One puts it, “We like to see new faces and hear new stories, and of course we welcome their business. But at the same time we can’t help feeling invaded and patronized, especially when they tell us how lucky we are to be up here in God’s country all year round.”
Most of the time this mock war doesn’t amount to much more than a little good-natured growling on both sides. Cottagers tell tall stories about what characters local workmen are, and country people slap their thighs with delight at the memory of the dude who came north loaded with expensive skin-diving equipment and got his flippers caught in Ed Hawker’s wharf.
But in a few spots the guerrillas have come out of the hills to fight pitched battles like a recent one in Medora and Wood in the Ontario district of Muskoka. More than five hundred cottagers drove 140 miles north on Grey Cup day to vote three Toronto men into a majority on the township council. Medora and Wood are two adjoining townships that share a single municipal government at Glen Orchard: they take in the heartland
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oí the Muskoka Lakes — the south shore of Lake Joseph, the west shore of Lake Muskoka and the southwest corner of Lake Rosscau. They have a winter population of 1,380 and a summer population of over 15.000. The total assessment of property is about $6,000,000 (less than a fifth of the real market value) and three quarters of this belongs to summer residents. Ot over 4,000 electors, 1,786 live in Metropolitan Toronto and fewer than 720 live in Medora and Wood.
This is old summer country, where some cottages built in the last quarter of the nineteenth century are now owned by the fourth generation of the same family. In Muskoka at large, according to a market survey made for Andrew MacLean, publisher of the Muskoka Daily News of Gravenhurst, seventy-two percent of the cottages are valued at more than $5,000 and half of these at more than $10,000. Along the gold coast of Rosseau's south shore, where land sold for $10 a foot after the war, prices now run from $30 to $60 a foot and cottages worth $50,000 and more are common.
In the last few years these calm and prosperous waters have been stirred by the winds of change. Cottagers began grumbling about a water-skiing school run by one summer hotel and a midget car track operated by another, and fretting over rumors of a marina and a trailer camp. Talk of a new provincial park on Lake Muskoka filled them with fresh alarm. They wanted a zoning bylaw to keep enterprises like these at arm’s length.
R. C. Dobson of Toronto, president of Teleflex Ltd. and the Radio College of Canada, whose cottage is within earshot of the car track ("It’s halfway between a race course and a fun-fair Dodgem, and it makes a noise like a crosscut saw"), campaigned for a seat on the 1961 township council and ran second in the
polls, strongly supported by year-round residents. At his first meeting he pressed the issues of land-use control and summer elections but was outvoted by the reeve and the other three councilors. They did approve his proposal for a planning board, which has since been set up to screen subdivision plans and advise on the development of the townships.
Before the 1962 election, Dobson and a group of cottagers formed the Medora and Wood Association and launched a campaign to control the council. They lined up a list of influential honorary officers: the chairman of the board of the Steel Company of Canada, the bishop of Huron, the president of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and the vice-president of Imperial Oil Limited. To the voters, winter and summer, they circulated a statement of their immediate goals: a zoning bylaw and a polling booth in Toronto. They had the voters’ list carded and organized telephone teams to urge cottagers to drive up to Glen Orchard on Saturday, December 2, to cast their ballots for Dobson, William J. Bushnell, a chartered accountant, and John G. Housser, an investment dealer.
With from 500 to 600 cottagers, plus about as many year-round residents, the vote was almost twice as heavy as the previous year’s and the election was close. To the cottagers’ disadvantage, the Grey Cup game provided a rival attraction that kept some in Toronto. This was pure luck for the Medora residents, who had set the election date before Grey Cup day was announced and had in fact changed it from Monday to Saturday at Dobson’s suggestion.
On the other hand, fine weather gave the cottagers a break. As a local man put it, "If they’d got a real dirty day they’d have been stymied. As it was, we just didn’t have the numbers.” The cottagers also scored by running
only three candidates, plumping their ballots. The local slate was split by a surplus of candidates and a long-standing schism between Wood and its richer partner, Medora.
All three Toronto men were elected, with Dobson leading the polls. The fourth councilor, Harold S. White of Acton Island, anti the reeve. Joseph E. Pratt of Walker's Point, were local men w ith years of council experience. The highest losing candidate, Leo Gonneau of Minett, who lost to Housser by only thirty votes, contested the election on the grounds that the Toronto men were not "residents” of the township and as such were not eligible to hold office. The case, which came before the district court judge at Bracebridge on March 12, turned on the interpretation of a clause in the Municipal Act that reads, “Every person is qualified to be elected a member of the council of a local municipality who is a householder residing in the municipality . . .” Judge Douglas Thomas reserved judgment. Whatever he decides will be appealed and the case will probably force the Ontario Government to clarify the Act.
“THE LOCALS MAY JUST GIVE UP"
Right after the election, feelings ran high in Medora and Wood. People said they'd let cottage roofs fall in before they’d shovel off the snow if this was how the city folk were going to behave. They didn’t object to Dobson, who visits his cottage all year round, but they felt that they had been railroaded into the hands of outsiders who couldn’t be expected to share their concern for schools, roads, the delicate relationship between Medora and Wood, and other local matters.
Harold White, the building contractor who is now odd man out on council, is a bulky, vigorous man with the wise face of a patriarch. He says, “I feel that we natives know' conditions better than people whose playground is here in July and August. We’ve had a very orderly growth, with subdivision control and a health unit set up to deal with problems of water pollution. I’m proud of our record and I feel we can do a pretty fair job.”
Now that the winter has cooled hot tempers, both sides are anxious to play down their differences but if it came to a vote again they wouldn’t budge an inch. Ex-councilor Mr, Joyce Schell says, "We think these men are fine people, but if they’re allowed to stay in office we might just as well never vote again.”
Victor Love, owner of the Elgin House hotel, says, “The silly thing is that w'e aren’t so far apart. Nobody wants to see cottages crowded in side by side, fiftv-foot lots on bald rock without proper sewage. But if the summer people take over, the locals may just give up.”
An outsider who
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The eccentrics are dying out, but the year-round people are still a stubborn, conservative breed
has met both factions predicts that the city executives will give up first, worn down by the minutiae of local government. For the Toronto men, serving on council means a trip north at least once a month and prolonged exposure to discussion of garbage dumps and pot-holed stretches of road. But in fact, if they succeeded in putting through their zoning and voting proposals. their mission will be largely accomplished. The new council has already applied to the provincial government to have the Municipal Act amended to provide a polling booth in Toronto (motion introduced by Dobson, seconded by Bushnell, supported by Housser, opposed by White and Pratt, and passed after heated debate).
Since they’re older and richer than most, Medora and Wood aren’t typical resort
country but in this controversy over zoning they serve as a test case for the rest of Canada. Through a kind of bush telegraph the Toronto group has had inquiries from other ratepayers’ associations who want to know how they did it. The clash of arms in Medora and Wood is gentle as badminton compared to the battles that rage in areas where fresh assessments have raised token taxes to sizable sums over a few years. In the Kawartha Lakes, for instance. a party of Torontonians with cottages in Somerville Township attempted a similar but unsuccessful coup d'état last December.
In Humphrey Township north of .Medora the hottest issue is subdivision control, a restriction on property sales much less stringent than zoning, and one already in force in Medora and Wood. Last autumn cottagers, alarmed by a proposed marina (as in Medora). applauded a subdivision control bylaw passed by township council. But the bylaw brought such vociferous protests from local taxpayers, public meetings, letters to the editor, accusations (“This would put the whole township in a deep freeze”) and denials (“Why are these few people so violently opposed to the bylaw' that they broadcast misleading statements . . . and drive a wedge between full-time and part-time residents?”) that council dropped the bylaw by neglecting to file it. Before the election on December 9 the Humphrey Township Ratepayers’ Association, based in Toronto, laid on a
telephone and direct mail campaign to get out the vote for the council, which had shown itself partial to the cottagers. Even though the Toronto voters ran into a blizzard and three feet of snow' north of Barrie, they voted their entire slate back into office.
At Sault Ste. Marie last winter Judge J. H. McDonald unseated three cottagers from a township school board by ruling that ownership of a summer cottage does not constitute residence. A fourth cottager was allowed to stay on the board because his cottage had been made habitable in winter. An appeal by the unseated trustees was dismissed on a technicality. Another school board election near Lake of the Woods brought a delegation of busy, influential, indignant cottagers all the w'ay from Winnipeg to Kenora to put one trustee on a three-man board.
At Shanty Bay on Lake Simcoe the fracas between city and country folk w-as sparked not by taxes but by telephones. Last January six shareholders of the Oro Telephone Company, which serves 600 subscribers between Barrie and Orillkt. cornered 341 out of 400 proxies and turned up at the annual meeting to elect themselves to the board of governors. New president Lee Rosser told me. "We took control for the sole purpose of improving the service, which was terrible. From my office in Barrie I can call across the continent in seconds but it took half a day to call home to Shanty Bay. There were up to twenty parties on a line and the pow'er got fainter and fainter as more people took dowm their receivers. They’ve used the same equipment for fifty years; the instruments are so old that some people want them as keepsakes. We’re having the company analyzed with the idea of putting it up for sale."
Roads built since the war have opened up forest areas where no winter population exists. Though a few storekeepers come from the cities in the summer, the new generation of cottagers in these parts is almost independent of local help. They bring their boats and buildings with them, buy electricity instead of ice and carry their groceries up on w'eck ends.
But in the older resort country the relationship between the winter and summer people is long-established and highly developed. graceful as a minuet. The local people usually come in clans and the cottagers are often interrelated too. partly because relatives buy adjoining property and partly because canoes and warm moonlit nights encourage courtship among the children of neighboring families.
Often a local family provides all the services in one district and considers it unsporting of the cottager to use outside help. As a cottager explains, “Each man blocks out his acreage like the cardinal and the robin. If you went to another handyman you’d never get your own back. If you’re first-generation cottagers you may find yourself stuck without ice and firewood now and then, but once you’re accepted they can’t do enough for you.” On the other hand a man w'ho builds an expensive cottage w'ith imported labor and materials dooms himself to permanent unpopularity. When his outboard dies in mid-channel and he is forced to paddle to shore with his hands, he has only himself to blame.
Occasionally this custom shows an uglier side. A businessman who rented an ice hut on Lake Ontario found his dealings with the townsfolk amicable until he made the
mistake of buying his own hut in the city. He set it up on the ice and returned a few weeks later to find it ransacked. The local policeman told him the thief couldn't be traced and hinted that it was a pity he'd taken his trade away from the town. His fury mounted the following Saturday when the same officer stopped every car on the road to search for a fishing rod stolen from one of the townspeople.
Stories like this are rare. Ordinarily the local families simply ignore someone who stays outside their orbit. At midsummer a cottager who depends on their services may feel that they're ignoring him too. but this is just because they’re so busy trying to cram almost a year’s work into a fivemonth season. A cottager told me, “They’ll never say they can’t do something, but they may take a while to do it. I left my television set and toaster with a local electrician last July and reclaimed the TV. untouched, when we closed the cottage in October. I noticed my toaster in bits on the counter and as far as I know' it’s still there. If you go easy and chat about the weather and various ways of attacking the job they’ll get it done, eventually, but if you push them and treat them like dirt they’ll just say the hell with you. You can’t blame them with so many people hammering away at them.”
Now that more people are putting in furnaces and keeping their cottages open all year round, and resort owners are making summer hotels serve winter duty as ski lodges, the local population isn’t isolated enough to cultivate the eccentrics of two or three generations ago. like old Pegleg, a Stoney Lake farmer who sold his wife for a cord of wood and shot the man who bought her when he found the cord was short. But the year-round people are still a stubborn, conservative breed, fiercely resentful of anything resembling condescension from tourists. In community halls where they still hold old-time dances, a city fellow who makes a parody of square dancing is asking for a fight. A boatload of sight-seers in Georgian Bay once infuriated townspeople by throwing pennies for children to dive for: “Do they think we’re a bunch of south sea islanders?”
They cling like bulldogs to their opinion once they’ve made sure of their facts. When 1 interviewed a man in Medora and Wood I remarked that it seemed to be getting colder. He rose from his chair, walked to the window to consult a thermometer, shook his head and said seriously, “No. it’s holding at twenty above.” Their sense of
propriety is strong and older people are still a little shocked by grown men and women walking down the main street in shorts. In one Muskoka hotel the owner still takes up the croquet hoops on Saturday night so that no one will be tempted to break the Sabbath.
With Yankee independence they prefer to work their own way. Disgruntled at being asked to install a pumping system from Eaton’s, a handyman gently redressed the economic balance by throwing away the plastic pipe that came with the system and charging new pipe to the cottager’s account at the local store. Another summer resident ordered a load of sand from a contractor who assumed he wanted it for a dock and sent gravel instead. The cottager, cowed, set his children to straining the gravel through an old bedspring until it was fine enough to mix cement for a fireplace. One Muskoka boat builder always begins a repair job by ripping out that useless newfangled gadget, the thermostat.
Since they like to be trusted with a free hand, they’re a little hurt by requests for an estimate. A painter told me why he liked working for Americans: “They don’t quibble over prices. Do you know there are some Canadians who’ll ask you for three different prices on a paint job?”
From the customer’s viewpoint their business methods may seem erratic but they make good sense from the other end. A bill that comes straying through a Toronto letterbox in midwinter may list a score of uncheckable items plus a mysterious $19.62 that turns out to be the date added in by mistake, but it’s carefully timed to fall on the side of New Year’s that suits the sender’s income tax. A city fellow who bought a hardware store in a summer town discovered that nine tenths of his paint stock was green and replaced it with a handsome selection of the latest colors. He went broke. “Never asked us,” said an old-timer cheerfully. “Anyone could’ve told him that up here we paint all the cottages green.”
Considering the various stresses brought to bear on it. the relationship between winter and summer people remains remarkably harmonious. A cottager, musing on the mock war from the comfortable noman’s-land of midwinter, told me, “They’re fine people, wonderful to work with. If you’re in a jam and need your boat fixed in a hurry they’ll never let you down. Of course.” he added, “if you’re not in a jam it may take three months . . . ” ★