If you have read “About this blog” and gone on to “Who is this Ancient Islander“, you may understand how I came by my affection for Georgian Bay. But these legacies are not unique to me or my extended family. Numerous permanent and seasonal residents have felt the pull of this region for centuries and probably longer.
As you read of these people in Sweetwaters,– the Beatties, Corbieres, Drummonds, Meyers, Rourkes and O’Rourkes, MacCallums, Frances, Wrights, McLeods, Desmasdons, and many others — their affinity with the Bay becomes obvious: They just could not get enough of it.
My grandmother, Amy V. Ritchie, became familiar with Georgian Bay in the late 19th Century when her family, the Pattersons of Toronto, rented a houseboat and had it towed to favourite moorings among the islands for summer holidays. Around the same time, Amy’s future husband Frederick A. Ritchie was enjoyng the Bay in similar fashion with fellow bachelors on another houseboat. We wonder if that is how and where they first met, (although Fred Ritchie and Amy’s father Robert Patterson may also have had business connections).
By the 1920s Granny Ritchie must have had a serious longing to be among the rocks, pines and waterways again. Her three daughters were nearing adulthood and the family was spending holidays at Algonquin Park where they learned appreciation for the wild country, and skills like swimming and paddling to enjoy it.
In the 1930s for a couple of summers she rented an old frame cottage, with gingerbread filagree across its gables, just up the main channel north of Honey Harbour (see Who Is.. and Wasa Waba). From there her daughters and their husbands/fiancees explored the southeast shore of the Bay by way of canoe trips up the Musquash/Muskoka and down the Moon Rivers. Those experiences convinced Granny to put down semi-permanent roots at Georgian Bay.
She bought the 11-acre island that she named Wahnuhke (a place of peace), had a cottage built for herself in the middle, and two of her daughters’ families built theirs at either end. That was in 1936. From then until she died over a decade later, Granny spent from May to October each year on her island.
Her daughters’ families, the Withs and Hegnauers, kept their love affair with Wahnuhke and Georgian Bay flourishing for nearly 50 more years, and several offspring continue at other locations to this day.
Finding words to describe how they felt about the place didn’t come easily for some people. It was, and is, very personal. Back in World War 2, one young couple — he fighting overseas and she whenever possible escaping to the Bay — tried to describe their feelings in letters to each other:
While only in their early 30s, they had been still learning about the Bay, and would go on expeditions such as a day-long trout fishing trip when they cooked lunch on a kerosene stove aboard the boat.
Remembering that event, he wrote from overseas, “God I love that country.” The cottage “…is so much the child of our own brains and hands…” and he urged her to continue going to the island as often as possible even though wartime restrictions like fuel rationing were in place.
Later, she replied, “I seem to miss you more up there…I suppose it’s because we’ve put so much of ourselves into that place, and given it so much thought, and had so much happiness there together.”
That couple was Kenneth and Isabel With.
Fortunately, he was able to leave the horrors of naval war in the English Channel and return to Canada in 1943 to work on naval tasks here. And they both made sure the Bay and Wahnuhke from then on would be an important part of the family’s life.