Houseboats of old

Nowadays the term “houseboat” conjures an image of a set of pontoons with some sort of accommodation on them and pushed by an outboard motor. Over a century ago houseboats were what the name implies: places in which to live on the water.

In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries on Georgian Bay, houses literally were built on scows, then towed by tugboats up the shore for a variety of purposes: holidaying families, fishing and hunting parties, logging camps, and, when cottaging caught on, builders’ accommodations.

Readers of Juanita Rourke’s book “Up The Shore” may remember that her family shared their houseboat with a horse when Frank Rourke towed them south from Moon River to take up his new job at Camp Princess Alice on Minnecog Island.

Today, divers sometimes find evidence of houseboat moorings from bygone days by spotting on the lake bottom old bottles or broken crockery. Mr. Cummings of Midland, when building the cottages at Wahnuhke moored his houseboat near where he also built the Blackduck‘s boathouse. We used to dive down and retrieve the peculiar round-bottom beverage bottles scattered below, being carful not to grab sharp shards buried in the mud.

In the early 1900s my maternal grandmother spent time as a young woman with her family on a rented houseboat among the islands. Her husband-to-be did the same with his business cronies. We don’t know if they ever met there back then, but something about the Bay captured Granny Ritchie’s affection for the place, which she passed down to their descendants.

One big two-storey houseboat, owned by members of the Breithaupt family, was pulled ashore on the Freddy Channel at Cognashene. Apparently as an infant I spent a night there in the mid-1930s. Is it still there, I wonder?

The houseboat Vancrofter owned by an American family of that name, was originally towed out of Parry Sound. Breithaupts bought it in 1908 and it became shorbound years later on the Freddy Channel. (Photo from “Wind, Water, Rock and Sky” by Cognashene Book Corp., 1997)

The concept of a house on a scow, or barge, made sense for some uses back then. Maybe because of today’s rising water levels, and utilizing eco-friendly off-grid technologies, they might someday return as floating cottages with built-in docks, moored for the summer at a building-free island.

2 thoughts on “Houseboats of old

  1. You were born with Bay blood in your veins, Dick! And now I know the origin of Ritchie, a name that suits you well. Merry Christmas to all in your household and may 2021 bring more blog memories!


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