OTTER LAKE COTTAGERS ASSOCIATION
HISTORY OF OTTER LAKE
To read any of the posts in this section, click on the title of the post.
Listed below are stories about the history of Otter Lake. Included are memories from former campers at Camp Otter as well as those who were present during the early days of cottages on the lake. Please feel free to submit your own narrative recollections of cottage life from days gone by. Historical photos would also be most welcomed and could be be added to the photos section. Please send you submissions to email@example.com.
A HISTORY OF “MINISTERS’ BAY” – A LUCK FAMILY PERSPECTIVE: BY RON & WILMA CRAGO
Published by Otter Lake | Written June 2021
Reverend Albert and Mrs. Jean Luck were among the original cottagers at Otter Lake, “Ministers’ Bay”.
Albert (1908-1990) and Jean (1914-2014) bought “Luck Haven” in 1947 – 1948 from Allan McEachern. Mr. McEachern, a Dorseter, had purchased the crown land adjacent to the landing and, as was required, had built a rudimentary cottage on the lot.
Albert had just returned from a tour of duty as Chaplain in the Canadian Army in England 1945-1946. He was a graduate of the McMaster University Divinity College and had returned to his pastorate in Canada as Minister at Belfountain Baptist Church. His colleague, Reverend Cliff (and Gladys) Gosnell advised Albert and Jean that “every minister should have a cottage”. Following that good advice, Albert and Jean acquired “Luck Haven”, located east along the one lane dirt logging road (Haliburton Rd 12) from the Gosnell’s “Gladcliff” cottage.
This was the beginning of Ministers’ Bay at Otter Lake. Subsequent ministerial additions were: Reverend John (and Vivian) Waltho (John served with Albert at the same time in England); Reverend Doctor Nathanial (and Lois) Parker who was Principal of McMaster Divinity College and a mentor and friend to Albert; then Reverend Jim (and Florence) Simpson who was also a Baptist minister and had married Albert and Jean. Each summer, a great deal of collaboration occurred, helping each other build and maintain their cottages, while preparing sermons for the next church year.
Albert and Jean Luck were much loved and respected ministers (in those days, the unpaid wife of a minister was very much part of the ministerial team) at five pastorates in Ontario: Selkirk, Cheltenham, Barrie, Dundas and Claremont. Each summer, Otter Lake provided Albert and Jean and their daughter Wilma with a retreat to the peace and tranquility of Haliburton. Their legacy lives vibrantly on at Otter Lake for Wilma and her husband Ron and their two sons and their wives and three grandchildren.
Published by Otter Lake | Written August 2018
In the summer of 2018, Larry Cassie and his grandson Liam Barker completed a roughly 450 kilometre canoe trip that took them all the way from Ottawa to Dorset.
Read the article Ottawa to Dorset Canoe Trip by Roland Cilliers published August 12, 2018 in The Muskokan.
Published by Otter Lake | Written June 2018
Before a network of highways and roads guided us across this country, a network of trails and paths were used by native people. To mark these paths, indigenous tribes used trail-marker trees to guide them… please click the link below for the complete article: Indian Trees by Sarah Thorne
Published by Otter Lake | Written May 2015
Kribs, Sousa, Thorne 60th Otter Lake Anniversary Celebration 1954 – 2014 A Tribute & Blessing from Reverend Stan Wootton “ROAD TO ADVENTURE” Bless the Kribs, Thornes and Sousas, O God, we pray, Keep us safe, strong and secure, night and day; Bless us all who hold this place so dear, With our hopes and dreams […]
Published by Otter Lake | Written May 2015
Kribs, Sousa, Thorne 60th Otter Lake Anniversary Celebration 1954 – 2014
A Tribute & Blessing from Reverend Stan Wootton
“ROAD TO ADVENTURE”
Bless the Kribs, Thornes and Sousas, O God, we pray,
Keep us safe, strong and secure, night and day;
Bless us all who hold this place so dear,
With our hopes and dreams and visions born here;
Bless all our plans that shaped the past,
And those many changes that were meant to last;
Bless our primitive beginnings at nature’s level,
And those negative times when we ‘felt like the devil’;
Bless our example to others, for a little while,
When real cottage camping was still in style;
Bless those times when we had to make do
With things sorely needed, that weren’t quite new;
Bless our many struggles with growing pains,
And those changes made for needed gains;
Bless all family members with our changing needs,
Met with love and caring and our troubles freed;
Bless us all, with our different thinking,
And differences settled, without the boat sinking;
Bless our cherished times shared together
With family and friends – in all kinds of weather;
Bless the things we’ve done, whether serious or silly,
Be they well planned, or merely ‘willy nilly’;
Bless the varied ways we enjoy life at the Lake,
And our gracious willingness for give and take;
Bless 60 years of amazing stories to be told,
Whether factual or fanciful, for our hearts to enfold;
Bless all these years of momentous living;
Adventurous, challenging and so life fulfilling;
Bless the future that awaits us, with surprises anew,
And the challenge to know, “What’s the best thing to do?”
So bless our whole family, O God, we pray,
Keep us safe, strong and secure, along life’s way,
Bless what we do to meet every new test,
Giving us the assurance that we are Truly Blessed!
So be it God, We’ll say it again, That’s the way it is – Amen, and Amen
Memories of Cottaging Alongside Camp Otter: By Su Penny
Published by Otter Lake | Written February 2013
Our family built a cottage on Otter Lake 55 years ago and we rented a cottage for the year before this from the Shephards who owned a store on the lake. As a hobby, my dad built the rock wall along the beach at the Shephards that is still there today. Or cottage is situated […]
on the large open bay of Otter Lake and our view was the Camp including everything that happened there. I was personally an extremely active child who was outside from sunrise to sunset, living on the lake. I have lots of memories of Camp Otter. Here are some.
The Camp had a large dock with a diving board made from a large thick plank of wood. Kids would line up on the dock, climb up the few steps and dive into the water that was about ten feet deep.
At night, they would sit like silhouettes on the dock. My best friend at the time, Chris Pohran, masked and snorkeled around the dock and Rocky Island where the campers often had overnight camping experiences. We found tubes of toothpaste, oil lamps and pop and beer bottles, left overs from some of the campers who accidentally lost their steps in the night.
The Shephards had a store at the end of the lake that operated every summer while the Camp was open. At our cottage, each of us children were required to either catch a fish or pick a cup of berries before we could go out to play each day and we earned five cents per week for this ‘job’ that really became our passion. The thrill of the week’s efforts was our visit to Shephards store.
The Saturday event was really thrilling. It was always full of campers who were the same ages as my older brother and sister. There was a wall of penny candies, and five cents could fill a small paper bag, which would keep me going for a week. Blackballs, strawberry marshmallows, pixie sticks, licorice cigars. I could go on.
In the 50’s and 60’s, Jack Crewson and his family lived in a farmhouse on the property where the Greenaway’s now lives. Jack worked with the Camp and the Crewson’s were our neighbours. We enjoyed visiting the Crewson’s in the winter when we walked in to our cottage, and Mrs. Crewson would make us hot chocolate to warm us up before our climb through the deep snow and after our dig out when we were going home. There was one winter when it was so cold the Crewson’s built a stall in their living room beside the pot belly wood stove so their horse could stay warm as well. It was a wonderfully warm memory for me and helped me to truly fall in love with Dorset and the people who live there. Many of these ‘locals’ became my best friends although several are not living anymore.
As we became teenagers on the lake, our paddling skills became strong and our curiosity with the campers became stronger.
For fun one night, a large group of us from the lake and Dorset (I won’t implicate anyone other than myself here) paddled quietly over to the Camp point where the Acker’s live today, and camped overnight while the Camp was quite active. It was fun when the canoes started to arrive from the Camp in the morning, and there was a really fun chase on the water with us in our canoes and they in theirs. They just could not paddle fast enough to reach us but it was fun watching them try.
Around the time the song American Woman came out and our Canadian patriotism became strong, there was a July 1st celebration by the campers that night. A few of us, paddled to the bay about 100 yards from the beach and, when they were all standing at attention singing the Star Spangled Banner, we stood up in our canoes and sang Oh Canada as loud as we could. A wall of canoes left their beach toward us, but they couldn’t paddle fast enough. Just fun stuff that teenagers do.
The Camp was eventually sold and divided into lots where many cottages are today. There are times when I miss watching the Camp regatta that took place on a large beach, that is still there today, and the annual canoe race that started at the beach and went around the Blueberry to Teachers Island chain, back to the beach, paddles splashing everywhere.
The lake was active then when there were no roads to two thirds of the cottages and boats travelled back and forth from cottage to store with people yelling “Hello the Penny’s” when they drove by.
Great memories from Otter Lake.
Memories Of Camp Otter Life: By Doug Webster
Published by Otter Lake | Written July 2010
Went back to an old photo album and actually the year of that reunion at the farm was 1985 and not the mid 70s, so this this year marks 25 years since I was last at the lake. Way too long. I think back to the years I was at camp…..55 to 60 or thereabouts […]
and we’re talking 50 years since I was last at camp. I am attending my 50th high school reunion in Buffalo this summer so it was during the summer after my graduation from there and before I went away to college that was my final year at the camp as a counselor. One of the photos in that album I pulled out is one of those ledger books the camp had at the end of each summer and campers would all sign their names and a few notes in them. As I recall, the books tended to cover several years, so you could open them up and go back over the time period. The one in the picture I took showed dates of 1957 and my entry in the book.
Several of us at the reunion that summer came around the lake and, at the invitation of various property owners, walked around the old camp property. It was at that point that one of the cottage owners came out with that particular ledger. Apparently it had been left in the main lodge or one of the owner’s cabins and retrieved by the new owners when they bought their portion of the camp property. Have you talked with other Association members to see if any of them have any of those ledgers? Would love to look through them again some day if possible and as I said, I would hope that whoever has them might consider donating them to the Dorset Museum for the long term if they have not already done so.
In the days I was there there were hardly any cabins on the lake and those that were tended to be down toward the far end of the lake from the camp….generally where I gather your cottage is located. How long have you had your place and has it always been in your family? The only road ran up from Dorset to the top of the hill at the Crewson Farm and then wound around the end of the lake at the junction with Little Otter and then on around where the entrance road to the camp was located. The main road continued on north to what we called Hardwood Lake in those days. There were no structures on Rocky Point and as I say only a couple of cottages at the far end of the lake.
A big day for us was when we were able to walk into town, usually after paddling across the lake to Crewson’s to cut the distance. We’d go in to Clayton’s Store and there was a second store across the bridge on the inlet. An often told tale in our family was the time my younger brother walked into town, bought a melon at one of the two stores and then walked across the bridge and sold it to the other one for a five cent profit (he later went into crisis communication for the oil industry and somehow that story seems to fit with that path.)
We’d often set out for Algonquin directly from camp, going over portages via Little Otter over to Kawagama, or up the road to Hardwood and the via Fletcher or Wolf Lake and into the Park via Smoke Lake, Canoe, the Otterslides and up into Burnt Root, Big Trout and Cedar…long trips and pretty primitive too. Food mostly in cans, packs were Duluth canvas sacks with tumpline straps to help ease the weight, sleeping bags were an older breed…bulky and not synthetic fabrics…..no tents…generally tarps which we slept out on, or in bad weather, stretched over two canoes lying on the ground and crawled underneath. We prided ourselves on covering portages non-stop and in some cases that could be an endurance contest, particularly with some of the monster carries or over really muddy stretches. And if you were on an earlier season trip before the first cold snap night, the mosquitoes could be awful. I remember one night joining a camp mate in taking one of our canoes from the campsite, paddling out into the middle of the lake we were camped on and then lying down in the bottom of the canoe to sleep away from the bugs. We bumped into the shore a couple of times during the night and had to paddle back out to the middle, but it did provide some relief. On rainy days when you were portaging the bugs loved to come under the canoes to keep dry while they gnawed on you and with the canoe on your shoulders you were restricted in your ability to do much. We lathered on bug dope but that often ran into your eyes with the sweat.
Lunches were often peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Kool Aid….we’d mix the PB and J together for compactness and sandwiches could vary widely in terms of how much you got of either ingredient. The first guy out of the canoe at lunchtime had the task of making a big pot of Kool Aid….with sugar and lake water, but one lunchtime, he mistakenly grabbed the salt instead, and in a raging thirst, got about half a cup of it down before he realized what he had done.
It is beautiful country up there and we saw a lot of it in pretty pristine conditions. Some how we survived summers on our own in the woods at a relatively young age and came out the better for it all. Great memories of a wonderful time in our lives. It is now a long time ago and a lot has changed, but in our memories, we haven’t been gone that long. Those of us who have gotten together for reunions in the years since recall sessions when two people who hadn’t seen each other in 40 years began talking as if they were just resuming a conversation halted yesterday.
Do you collections of camp memorabilia include a brochure the Rogers put together to help promote the place to prospective families. It included a photo of a young boy standing on the shore playing a trumpet. The museum might have a copy, but there were lots of photos of camp and camp activities and I am in one or two of them. Those would be fun to scan and put up on your site if you have them or the brochure can be located.
Memories of Camp Otter: By Larry Rublee
Published by Otter Lake | Written July 2010
My name is Larry Rublee and I was a camper, then a counselor at Camp Otter from the summer of 1957 through the summer of 1967…. Doug Webster encouraged former campers to contact you with memories and pictures for the 100th anniversary of the camp’s founding. It is difficult to convey in words what Camp […]
Otter meant to me, but I’ll give it a shot. With no electricity, no running water and few amenities, nature was the great teacher in our lives at Camp. We all learned at some essential level how nature is so complex and interdependent. We learned on many long, hard canoe trips to rely on each other and that we could do things not thought possible…to stretch our limits. These and many more invaluable life lessons are Camp Otter’s legacy and it truly touched and influenced many young lives.
A couple of specific memories:
Someone challenged one of the counselors to portage a canoe across the lake, in the water, from Sandy Beach, past Rocky Point, to Bill Crewson’s farm. I can’t remember whether he made it or not, but I remember that he tried. Picture a canoe, apparently floating upside down, moving slowly across Otter Lake!
Bill Crewson, the camp caretaker, was my mentor in many ways. He’d be repairing a cabin or fixing a pump, and I’d sit down with him and he’d explain in detail what he was doing. It was the attention he paid to me as a 12 year old kid that made a life-long difference in my life. Bill Crewson cared.
100th Anniversary of Camp Otter: By Doug Webster
Published by Otter Lake | Written June 2010
We did have an Otter website at one point, but it has expired. However, Otter alumni do keep in touch with each other and have held a series of reunions over the years at about five year intervals and mostly in the Buffalo area since so many campers were from that area and many still […]
You might want to check with the Dorset Historical group because I believe the alumni group, using a surplus of funds we had compiled over the years, made a modest monetary donation to them along with some camp memorabilia.
I also believe that at least one homeowner with property on what once was the camp’s location, “inherited” one or more of the annual camp “journals” which were traditionally signed at the end of each summer season by that year’s campers.
I had been contacted to ask if I wanted to buy it or them, but was no in a position to do so, and frankly, if the option arose, I would encourage whoever has such documents to give them to the Dorset historical folks for their collection and to add to whatever other Otter items may already be there.
Rachel Rogers Clarke passed away early this year. She and her husband Charlie and then her second husband Berner Clarke were directors of the camp from the mid-50s until it closed and for a time summered at the Crewson farm site across the lake from the camp, having inherited that property as part of their agreement with the original owners, the Ortners. Howie, a one-time Cornell basketball coach, owned and ran the camp from the 20s until the 50s when his age and advancing medical problems required some outside help and that is when Rachel and Charlie, both Buffalo school teachers, came aboard.
I attended camp from 56 to 60 and it was truly a magical place…no electricity, wood stoves (later gas) for the kitchen, an ice house for refrigeration needs (kept stocked by Bill Crewson, the caretaker who lived with his wife on the Crewson farm for several decades and took care of buildings, cut firewood and ice in the winter and shoveled snow off the building roofs to keep them from collapsing. There were a few cottages on the lake at that time, but it was the construction of major roads north from Toronto during that period and into the 60s which opened the area up to summer cottages and it swept over Otter as it did so many other places.
I have been back to the lake once (one of our camp reunions was held on the Crewson/Clarke farmsite one summer) and it was a bittersweet experience to revisit the camp location, much of it now taken over by cottages or remodelings of original camp buildings. Time passes and things change, but those of us who went to Otter were forever shaped by it and the things it taught us….a love for nature, and a realization that you didn’t need a lot of stuff to have fun in life and that you could do a lot more than you realized.
The camp emphasized canoe trips and everyone went on at least a couple during the summer..most of them 3 days to a week, but some more extensive. I went on one that lasted a couple of weeks, and the year after I was there, six older veteran campers set out at the start of camp on a summer-long journey to Hudson’s Bay.
There was no age or sex discrimination at the camp (which went co-ed the year after I arrived) and everyone did things together. I remember many canoe trips which departed right from camp, heading either through Little Otter and portages over to Kawagama and on up into Algonquin, or alternatively, up the road to Hardwood and then north via Wolf Lake and into the Park. I suspect many of those trails have grown over since the camp closed due to lack of traffic.
I also remember trips into Dorset where you could get fresh fruit and candy and ice cream and many times, hike up to the fire tower for its views of the area. And of course the campers competed in the annual Dorset regatta with canoe races and gunnel bobbing and other events.
My children later had the chance to attend another Canadian camp, run by one of Otter’s graduates and a life-long friend and they and I have been back to Algonquin for canoe trips which are treasured family memories.
I hope to get back again one day soon.
Published by Otter Lake | Written July 2001
In the latter 1940’s there were only a few cottages on “our” lake, then accessible by a rough gravel road as far as the Fletcher Bay corner. Nobody ventured beyond by car though travel was possible by horses and wagon. I recall seeing Nehemiah Clayton (father of D.W. “Wes” Clayton) coming into Dorset from his […]
wee farm at Fletcher Lake to buy provisions.
My earliest recollections of a cottage on the lake include the one just east of the “government dock” which was owned by the Batterenski family, operators of a Shell Garage, the present site of Zachary’s Restaurant. Work kept the Batterenskis from ever occupying their cottage, which was rented out.
Next on the east end was a cottage owned by “Pop” Stewart, a taxi owner from Oakville. And just around the bay, Norman Hale from Toronto had built a cottage of logs he cut from around the “lagoon” and swam with them to his site. Next to him lived the Warners, also from Toronto.
Allen McEachern of Dorset purchased a strip of land extending from next to the government dock to the present Riggs cottage. Allen never lived at the lake, but sold the lot next to the dock to Rev. Albert Luck, the center section to Dr. Nathaniel Parker of McMaster University, and the western lot (now Riggs) to Rev. Gosnell. Later, a lot between Parker’s cottage and Riggs’ cottage was sold to Rev. John Waltho.
Apart from the Camp Otter buildings on the north shore, and the house of William (Bill) Crewson on the Otter Lake road, these were the first cottages on the lake.
A few years later three other cottages were built – the Cassie cottage and the Rev. James Simpson cottage next to it on the north shore across the bay from the government dock, and the Dr. Porhan’s cottage on the point on the south shore opposite Rocky Island. Dr. Porhan came from Niagara Falls. These eleven original cottages have now grown to over eighty, made possible by the closure of Camp Otter and subsequent sale of the lakeshore property by its owners.
In the early years, efforts were made for road improvement and for an extension of hydro to Otter Lake. An Otter Lake Cottage Association was formed. Included in this effort, which finally brought results, were: Dr. Parker, Rev. Luck, Rev. Waltho, Rev. Simpson, Rod Shepherd (who had bought the Stewart property and had begun building a store and an ice house), plus myself and others.
Early lake travel was a necessity for all cottagers before any road was available. This problem was solved by the “water taxi boys” for 25 cents a load. The “taxis” were run by Bruce and Paul Shepherd, George and Bruce Cassie and Wayne Brenn.
The oldest remaining building on the lake is the “ghost house”, once the sleeping quarters for Camp Otter staff. But the oldest reminder of pioneer days is the gravesite on the former Crewson farm property, and said to be the graves of two of that family’s early relatives.