An island in the St. Lawrence

Jun 22nd, 2018 | By | Category: Mary Cook's Memories of the '30s

By Mary Cook

How could anyone possibly own an island? It was simply beyond my comprehension. But we grew up believing Aunt Edith and Uncle George, who lived in Gananoque, owned their very own island in the St. Lawrence River. Father thought they were both a bit odd. They had no children, but they had enough animals in their home in Gananoque to start a small farm.

Aunt Edith kept chickens in the backyard, each had a name, and of course, they would never see the chopping block. They also had a goat, a cat the size of a small pony called Carmel, and a Spaniel dog called Thomas. Whenever they came to visit us in Northcote, the dog and the cat came too. Mercifully, the chickens and the goat were left behind.

And then came the day when our family was invited to Gananoque and a visit to the cottage on what we assumed was their island.  We would stay overnight of course, but Father absolutely refused to go. Farmers simply did not go anywhere to stay overnight!

And so one Saturday, before the sun was up, we five children, with Mother behind the wheel of the Model T, headed for Gananoque. It would take a half day to get there. Longer if we had the usual flat tires on the way.  Mercifully, we drove the entire way without a flat, which Mother believed had everything to do with her rosary which she draped around her neck before we left the farm.

When we got to Aunt Edith’s, Uncle George was already in the big Hupmobile ready to go. Chickens were in their crate, the dog was sitting in the front seat, and Carmel was draped around Aunt Edith’s neck like a huge orange fur collar, and we took off in a cloud of dust to the dock.

Uncle George called his boat a launch, whatever that meant, and what we saw was a sleek mahogany affair, with a big black motor right in the middle, and once Uncle George got it going, it hissed and puffed and didn’t sound like it was long for this world. But we took off, all of us piled in the boat like baggage on a freight train. I was sure we would never make it to the island, and Emerson hissed he’d bet his last dollar if we started to sink, the chickens, dog and cat would get first dibs on the two life jackets.

The island wasn’t as big as our backyard on the farm in Northcote, and Emerson said he heard that small islands had the habit of sinking overnight if too many people were on them, which sent shivers up and down my back.

Inside, we saw there was only one room and it looked like all of us would be bedded down together, including of course, the dog, cat and the chickens. Aunt Edith brought enough food to feed an army, and we were hardly out of the boat when she put out a spread like I saw only when we had to feed thrashing gangs on the farm.

I had no intention of swimming, or even sitting on the dock with my feet in the water, because Emerson said the St. Lawrence was full of black water snakes. How he got this bit of information was beyond me, but I certainly wasn’t taking any chances.

The weekend passed without anyone drowning, but I was very relieved when we piled into the Model T and headed back to Northcote on Sunday. I decided right then and there, owning and island or not, the St. Lawrence couldn’t hold a candle to the Bonnechere River back in Renfrew County.

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