Lake Manitouwabing Cottage History
By Barbara Collier Cook with a few asides by Jim
In 1948 Bruce and Amy (Hilliker) Collier and their two children, Barbara and Barry, spent a week at the Lake Manitouwabing cottage of Bill Lacy, Sr. and his wife. The families had become friends through church work. Bill was the director of the Methodist Children's Home and Bruce was President of the Methodist Men of Detroit.
Bill Lacy, Sr., had four sons. The eldest, Ladd, surveyed the McKellar area for his Ph.D. geology dissertation at Harvard.
He thought Lake Manitouwabing was beautiful and encouraged his father to buy the property now owned by Laura Ferguson on the west side of Lacy's Narrows. Prior to being known as Lacy's Narrows they were called "Elliott's Narrows" for the family that bought the land from the Crown. Although Lake Manitouwabing was, even in that era, in the midst of cottage country, The Torontonians considered it undesirable because, as the power supply for Parry Sound the waters of the lake rose and fell by about six feet as logs were removed or restored at the Hurdville dam. That dam in fact, had increased the size of the lake that in essence is a series of glacial potholes connected by shallow ponds and rivers. Thus when Ladd came in the 1940s no private cottages had been built on the lake though a hunting camp, Lona Lodge, occupied the site now owned by Camp Manitou.
Robert Harvey subsequently bought the land around the lake for timber to use in his McKellar lumber yard. He valued the beauty of the tall white pines and never cut them, preserving their majesty. The Lacys built the first cottage on the lake, an ice house, and three sleeping cabins. Ladd had a shack on the hill where the Paul Ferguson cottage is located. The Lacy family was originally from Cleveland and two of their friends bought land and built cottages - the Dawsons (Bob Grant and Lan Smyth) and the Boltons (Chris Walker and Leslie Chester). After Bill Sr.'s death Bill Jr., his wife Abby and their three children spent summers at the cottage until it burned to the ground when lightning, striking a tall pine tree, traveled across a metal clothesline to the propane tanks which exploded. All these properties were accessible only by flat-bottomed punts built by Robert Harvey, powered by a small motor. It usually took about 30 minutes from McKellar to the cottage.
Initially only Coleman lanterns that had to be pumped up every night provided light, though we did have propane gas for the refrigerator and stove. Eventually we all got propane lights. The Zoners installed electricity in 1999. A former president of Roosevelt University in Chicago, Dr. Sparling, also had a cottage located where one turns from the big lake to go Fosberry's Marina. It was locally famous as the glass house. It also burned down when workmen were using a torch to remove old tiles. This peculiar history produces an anomaly in the midst of Canadian cottage country since the lake was initially occupied mostly by Americans. Tait's Island still belonged to Mr. Tait, -- a Parry Sound resident - and only the McKellar General Store owner, George Angst, had a cottage on the island - it was shocking pink, built directly across the narrows from the Lacys! We called it the chicken coop.
In those days, if you heard a boat, you ran down to the dock because it was certainly a visitor to your place. Enchanted by this wilderness area, in 1949 Bruce and Amy Collier bought the land until recently occupied by Jim and Barbara Cook, and now the property of Morley and Pat Sniderman. During that winter the old McKellar Dance Hall was brought across the ice to be pressed into service as the main room of the new Collier cottage, with 3 new bedrooms and kitchen added on. Mr. Kirkham, a stone mason, built the fireplaces in the Dawson, Bolton, and Collier cottages. The granite mantle piece in Colliers' was found on the shore of St. Mary's Lake and cost $10.00!
In July 1952 cousins Gerald and Martha Mason visited and helped build a stone crib dock. On August 1 of that year Bruce Collier had a massive stroke and died in the Parry Sound Hospital at age 48.
Amy decided to keep the cottage and various relatives came to visit, including her sisters, Ruby Hilliker and Grace Mason with her husband, Cleveland. Ruby taught Greek and Latin at Toronto's North Collegiate High School. Ruby also loved the lake and contracted with Robert Harvey to build a cottage (now owned by Charlotte Zoner and her son Eric). Mr. Harvey had previously built his own family a cottage -now the Rapsey cottage - and lived in it while building Ruby's, who supervised every detail of the construction! Of special interest is the unique banister, a single cedar tree with a naturally occurring curve. According to Evalyn Lindsey, Mr. Harvey found the special tree, but took Ruby in the boat to search for just the right cedar along the shore; thus she had the thrill of "finding it".
Ruby's cottage was built around 1956 as it was there when the Lindseys bought the Harvey place in 1957. Mr. Harvey sold his cottage because, we are told, his children were squabbling over its use. Soon thereafter, Ruby's colleague from the high school, Betty Bealey, bought the island at the entrance to the swamp and palisades, and built another lovely cottage (now owned by the senior Fergusons).
As Ruby neared retirement she decided McKellar was a desirable small community, so Bernard Harvey (Robert's son) built her a substantial home on Lakeshore Drive, now owned by the United Church and used as the manse. Ruby lived there until 1970 when she entered the Belvedere Retirement Home in Parry Sound. The timing was such that her brother, Clinton Hilliker, was retiring from GIL in Montreal so he and his wife Grace rented (and at Ruby's death bought) the house from Ruby and moved to McKellar. Their two children, Ruth and Wayne, often came to visit with the grandchildren. At the same time Grace and Cleveland Mason bought Ruby's cottage, so the lake became a gathering place for the clan as Charlotte, Carey and their children cam frequently.
In 1966 Amy married Everett Cook (no relation) and moved to California, so ownership of that cottage was transferred to Barbara and Jim Cook, who bought out Barry's interest. Jim and Barbara had bought the adjacent property to the northwest, between Colliers and Harveys, after their wedding in 1954). Amy and Everett came back to the cottage every summer until May 1972, when Amy, the youngest Hilliker sister, died of a heart attack while on a camping trip in Nevada. Ruby, the eldest, died two weeks later in Parry Sound.
Enormously bright and thoughtful and knowing she was dying, she shaped her will to ensure the continued enjoyment of the properties by future generation of her relations. Thus, as a complete surprise, she left the McKellar town lot used for parking to Barbara. She left the bush lot that runs to the lake behind Chris Walker's (a lot she had designated the Robert Harvey Nature Trail) to Charlotte, In 2007-8 thirteen cottagers joined together to form the Fox Farm Road Extension Association and the road was finished in summer 2008. Previously the cottages beyond Lacy's Narrows on the northwest side of the lake were exclusively boat access.
In the 1920s foxes were actually raised on the farm by Robert Harvey who lived on the land now occupied by Reginald Moore. The depression dried up demand for fox furs so the business failed and Mr. Harvey began his new lumber business in McKellar.
In 2008, Barbara's health mandated the sale of the Collier-Cook property. Fortuitously, Morley and Pat Sniderman were simultaneously seeking a family compound. The couples got together and struck a bargain. After almost 60 years on Lake Manitouwabing, the Cooks retreated to Interlochen, Michigan, where their western view across one of Michigan's six Duck Lakes reminds them of the view from their dock on beloved Lake Manitouwabing. The town lot that Ruby left them now belongs to their good friend, Dan Ball.
Barbara and Jim expect to return from time to time and hope to continue their long association with the Festival of the Sound.
By Barbara Cook (revised 2008)