REMEMBERING Algonquin Park: A Place Like No Others

By Barry Penhale

The provincial treasure that is Algonquin Park since becoming Ontario’s and Canada’s first provincial park in 1893, has deservedly attracted artists, photographers, filmmakers, naturalists and a wide-range of camping and recreational enthusiasts alike. It seems as if most everyone has had a memorable “Algonquin” experience. For some it may be where were they learned to paddle or heard for the very first time the spine-tingling howl of a wolf. Ask others and memories spill out involving the jaw-dropping sight of a massive bull-moose standing in its reedy environment. Perhaps most of all park visitors’ treasure those magical occasions when on an already perfect evening it is suddenly “show time” and the maniacal, reverberating cry of the loon pierces the stillness.

My reading has been enhanced by the quite extraordinary book, Algonquin Park: A Place like No Other published by The Friends of Algonquin Park and authored by Roderick MacKay.

A former cottage leaseholder at Lake of Two Rivers, he was introduced to his beloved park by his parents when he was just five months old. Sixty-seven years later the retired teacher completed the research and the writing of what arguably is the most comprehensive book ever concerning Algonquin Park. Though I take a pride in my own connections to Algonquin, I am but a neophyte alongside Rory MacKay. His generously illustrated and meticulously crafted book is a volume worthy of placement on any bookshelf. It also prompted this article. Throughout readers will discover quoted comments received from the author in response to questions concerning his relationship with the park, augmented by Algonquin Park insights of my own.

All sawlogs taken within the Algonquin limits of Ottawa timber baron, John Rudolphus Booth, were indelibly stamped with the large letter B. Cees Van, photogapher. Ontario Dept. of Lands & Forests. Penhale collection.

All sawlogs taken within the Algonquin limits of Ottawa timber baron, John Rudolphus Booth, were indelibly stamped with the large letter B. Cees Van, photogapher. Ontario Dept. of Lands & Forests. Penhale collection.

With logging a key element of any history of the park, MacKay, in “Shanty Days,” notes: “The place where I first heard about logging days in Algonquin Park and the Ottawa Valley was in the reproduction of the log structure known as a camboose shanty that was central to the former Pioneer Logging Exhibit. There, in the 1960s, while sitting on a wooden bench in front of a fire under a large central chimney of logs open to the sky, Emmett Chartrand would tell stories of old-time logging and of the men before his time who lived in similar structures throughout Algonquin Park. By then all that remained of the shanties was little more than their outlines in overgrown foundation mounds. Today some of those same tales are still told in the more true-to-size shanty at the Algonquin Logging Museum.”

Many men were more than just familiar with shanty life. Often brothers, Jim, Robert, and Henry Taylor among them, would leave North Hastings for winter employment in camps located within or adjacent to the park. In Robert’s case, he became a camp cook while a young man and his recollections of that period were astonishingly accurate for one so well up in years when I first located him in Arnprior. As it turned out “Old Bob” was a storehouse of information — a rare find for someone accustomed back then to taking the roads-less-travelled in an attempt to orally document our provincial history. The book’s index confirmed that “Bob” Taylor, a product of a pioneering Madawaska Valley family, had indeed made an appearance on MacKay’s pages.

Image of book cover by Roderick MacKay.

Image of book cover by Roderick MacKay.

His chapter on “Like-Minded Men” though not lengthy has great importance as it introduces the reader to key individuals behind the creation of the park, known from 1893 to 1913 as Algonquin National Park of Ontario: “As one approaches the front door of the Algonquin Visitor Centre, to the left stands a rock on which a plaque mentions the involvement of Alexander Kirkwood in the formation of the park. Elsewhere in the park, at the Algonquin Art Centre there is a plaque recognizing the involvement of land surveyor James Dickson. Lacking is a plaque commemorating the work of Robert Phipps, although there is mention of him in the park’s Centennial Ridges Trail Guide.

Interestingly, although Kirkwood gets much name recognition, possibly because he chaired the Royal Commission that established it and wrote extensively on the influence of forests on climate (as we would today), it turns out he never visited the park area, either before or after it was established. Dickson, on the other hand, personally had surveyed many of the townships that were included in the new park, and had supervised others who had surveyed the rest. Phipps was familiar with much of the lands and had inspected the timber limits and logging activities of many companies working in the area. Had it not been for the efforts of Kirkwood, Phipps and Dickson, all three of whom were career civil servants and all three of whom served on the Royal Commission that established it, it is very possible that Algonquin Park never would have existed.”

As a broadcaster, I was able to frequently draw on my stockpile of field research and taped interviews, some of which involved legendary figures associated with Algonquin Park: Ralph Bice, Omer Stringer, and George Phillips, to name but a few. A wonderful opportunity to use such interviews occurred when hosting a radio series produced by the CBC Schools Department. Titled The Ontario Time Machine, the series was not only aired but teachers across the province received each program on audio cassette for classsroom use. One episode dealing with Ontario’s aviation history featured, among other pilots, George Phillips who, from 1944 to 1958, had served as a flying superintendent in Algonquin Park.

MacKay’s “Just Plane Folk” tells the story of “those who piloted the park’s bright yellow De Haviland Turbo Beaver aircraft and its predecessor aircraft types since 1922, along with the role of aircraft in the management of Algonquin Park, principally the suppression of fire, the protection of wildlife, and the evacuation of injured Park visitors.

It is difficult to adequately convey to those who have never flown over the Park the special perspective of the park had by the pilots. Pilot and park superintendent Frank MacDougall commented that from above he could see on each lake its own flotilla of canoes as they moved from portage to portage.

I was fortunate on a few occasions while working in the Park to have that perspective when being flown in the piston Beaver, the more powerful Turbo Beaver, and the larger piston Otter. On one oral history excursion to do an interview at Cedar Lake in December 1975, I experienced flying through a snowstorm — like driving through snow in a car except that instead of coming at you from 180 degrees to the front the snow comes at you from 360 degrees. Astonishing for me to learn was that although of necessity well-disciplined in their handling of their plane, especially when fighting fire, it seems that those who fly bush planes can exhibit a touch of the unconventional, such as flying with bare feet, doing aerial acrobatics, or having a fear of heights.”

Roderick Iain MacKay is an avid reader of Country Roads and a long-time owner of a Crowe Lake cottage he shares with his wife, Sandy Barr. Author of the book Algonquin Park: A Place like No Other and countless other publications and reports, MacKay was a recipient of The Friends of Algonquin Park Directors’ Award in 2008. Rory Mackay

Roderick Iain MacKay is an avid reader of Country Roads and a long-time owner of a Crowe Lake cottage he shares with his wife, Sandy Barr. Author of the book Algonquin Park: A Place like No Other and countless other publications and reports, MacKay was a recipient of The Friends of Algonquin Park Directors’ Award in 2008. Rory Mackay

I was fortunate on a few occasions while working in the Park to have that perspective when being flown in the piston Beaver, the more powerful Turbo Beaver, and the larger piston Otter. On one oral history excursion to do an interview at Cedar Lake in December 1975, I experienced flying through a snowstorm — like driving through snow in a car except that instead of coming at you from 180 degrees to the front the snow comes at you from 360 degrees. Astonishing for me to learn was that although of necessity well-disciplined in their handling of their plane, especially when fighting fire, it seems that those who fly bush planes can exhibit a touch of the unconventional, such as flying with bare feet, doing aerial acrobatics, or having a fear of heights.”

I was fortunate on a few occasions while working in the Park to have that perspective when being flown in the piston Beaver, the more powerful Turbo Beaver, and the larger piston Otter. On one oral history excursion to do an interview at Cedar Lake in December 1975, I experienced flying through a snowstorm — like driving through snow in a car except that instead of coming at you from 180 degrees to the front the snow comes at you from 360 degrees. Astonishing for me to learn was that although of necessity well-disciplined in their handling of their plane, especially when fighting fire, it seems that those who fly bush planes can exhibit a touch of the unconventional, such as flying with bare feet, doing aerial acrobatics, or having a fear of heights.”

Algonquin Park: A Place like No Other contains 41 chapters and MacKay’s intimate association with the park is evident from cover-to-cover. He has done the work that will save other researchers an enormous amount of time and the fulsome index and literature cited will be welcomed and frequently perused. Personally, it has been a delight to discover the many links to personalities it has been my own good fortune to have known. Among them are the pioneering children’s camping leaders Dr. Mary Northway and Adele “Couchie” Ebbs, canoeist and educator Ron Perry, outfitters Dave Wainman and Bill Swift, artist/carver Jack Eastaugh (considered Algonquin’s artist-in-residence) and photographers Dan Gibson and Don Standfield. A large framed under-glass photograph of a canoe at the Taylor Statten Camps dock, by photographer Standfield, has place of honour in my daughter Nora’s Toronto apartment.

As we take our leave of Algonquin Park we respectfully tip our Tilley hats in the direction of one who is himself often described as a park original, Rory MacKay. Without question he has excelled in producing the most authoritative book yet written on the history of that vast Ontario popular site known world-wide as Algonquin Park. While turning the pages of his all-encompassing book, one can almost hear the voices of young campers singing the familiar words, “Blue Lake & Rocky Shore, I will return once more.”

Acknowledgements to: Roderick MacKay and Lee Pauzé, The Friends of Algonquin Park, www.algonquinpark.on.ca