By Barry Penhale
It was a fortuitous meeting some time ago when, in my role as publisher of The Outdoorsman magazine, I first became acquainted with the quite exceptional James Russell Scott.
When leaving Highway 620 after a stop in Coe Hill, I ventured onto the Lower Faraday Road. Anyone familiar with this rugged part of Hastings County will appreciate the delight I took in my scenic surroundings. The countryside was, I suspect, little changed from those times when Anna Leveridge wrote of pioneering in the bush in numerous letters sent home to family in the United Kingdom. These letters, long after their date of origin, became a popular book entitled Your Loving Anna.
The Lower Faraday Road led me to the entranceway of Lavallée tent park, a 5,000-acre site containing no less than three lakes. It was here upon checking in that I met Dr. Scott and his first wife, Marion, a Belleville native and at the time the park proprietor.
Stating my business, I produced a copy of The Outdoorsman for their inspection and suggested they might wish to advertise Lavalée. Needless to say I was elated when Dr. Scott remarked, “I like what he’s doing and we obviously should encourage him.” To which he immediately added, “He offers a frequency discount so we should go into all issues.” Heart-warming words for this fledgling publisher at the time. But it didn’t end there. An invitation to be their overnight guest including dinner proved a generous offer I was overjoyed to accept. Little could I imagine then the times ahead when I would return to further savour their warm hospitality and the beginnings of what became a very special friendship.
Lavallée tent park was a magnet in the wilderness for the many campers who came in droves. Unlike any other private establishment of its kind, its popularity soon piqued the curiosity of the Ontario government of the day, so much so that word was out that provincial park personnel in “civies” had snooped around hoping to determine what all the Lavalée buzz was about! They would have found, among other amenities, washrooms outfitted with toilet fixtures and sinks that Russell had acquired when they came up for replacement in Hastings County schools. There was also an official post office complete with a Lavalée postmark.
The park brochure listed an impressive array of facilities and services ranging from trailer hydro, a diving tower, nature trails, archery, golf, beach house, museum and square dancing. National Film Board movies were screened in a rebuilt outbuilding that also was home to music provided by local musicians know as “The Rose Island Players,” so named by Dr. Scott.
The Scotts’ seasonal home was situated a distance away from the main park operation. Here, Russell, Marion and their young family could escape the hub-bub in secluded comfort. An eye-opening feature in one separate room was a wall lined with several adjoining urinals, the convenience of which must have been greatly appreciated by Russell and his four young sons. Nearby was a cozy sleeping cabin that soon became familiar to me and a sizeable construction company trailer that could accommodate a goodly number. Not one to miss an opportunity, Dr. Scott had acquired the trailer when it was no longer needed on a major road widening site.
As I was to discover, Dr. Scott was an exceptional individual — a true visionary who was the principal reason why Lavalée was ahead of its time. Little wonder that the attractions and facilities found on the extensive Scott property that straddled Faraday and Wollaston Townships surpassed the competition.
Over the years Scott was to dabble successfully in assorted business ventures, including an invention that produced an innovative way of applying rubber to the wheels of toy pedal carts — just one of the many profitable experiences that added to his prosperity. He often would remark that he was blessed!
On more than one occasion I marvelled at yet another dimension to Dr. Scott. On hikes within densely wooded areas the man so identified with the City of Belleville proved to be a highly informed naturalist completely comfortable in an environment that was anything but city-like! With a practised eye he recognized the signs of wildlife and their whereabouts that a neophyte would almost certainly miss. He had a particular regard for trees and as a major land owner he planted thousands, largely pine. Some 60 years later when these were logged, he immediately planted 8,000 trees and then 6,000 more the following year.
We have all known individuals with more than an average appetite for living. In Dr. Scott’s case the most accurate description would be voracious! His resume is far too lengthy to present in its entirety, but his accomplishments included preserving the Belleville Armouries, for which he was named “honorary major” of the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment.
A family physician for well over 60 years he was greatly involved with Belleville’s hospital, including six years as chief of staff. He also served as Hastings County coroner and inspector of anatomy for upwards of 40 years.
During almost 20 years in elected office he functioned as school board and library board chair and from 1968 to 1972 was the mayor of Belleville. The first president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, Dr. Scott was also founding director of Extendicare nursing homes.
In 1961 he headed the International Ploughing Match when it was held in Hastings County. During his lifetime Dr. Scott was to receive many honours, perhaps none more prestigious than when he was appointed a director of the Royal Winter Fair. Immensely proud to be of United Empire Loyalist stock, Scott never forgot his Eastern Ontario family ties. As he aged, a “heart project” found him immersed in genealogical research that turned up family connections across Hastings County in such places as Corbyville, Deloro, Flinton, Stirling, Tweed, and, of course, Belleville.
Our friendship was to continue as a result of meetings in Toronto that brought Russell together with other Ontario community leaders. It was then I discovered that he thrived on big-city nightlife and as a “Beau Brummel” stood out in any gathering with his imposing homburg hat and stylish cane — well-known Scott trademarks!
He was indeed quite a man who lived life fully and on his own terms. An old friend of mine, Paul Skelding of Trenton, recently recalled the familiar sight of Dr. Scott in attendance at Belleville Bulls hockey games. Paul remembers the man’s enthusiasm for the local team and how impressed he was by his down-to-earth approachable demeanor.
A man of seemingly endless accomplishments, his name lives on at the Russell Scott Park on Cannifton Road in Belleville, across from the Quinte Sports Centre. Russell and his second wife Lorraine were known to share a passion for the flowers of springtime. He would be delighted to know that thousands of Canada 150 tulips have been planted across Hastings County and beyond.