Memories of Little Hawk Lake

by Elsie Adelaide Pinch Gilson, July 2007

As I write this I must start back a few years from my birth to give my story some background.   My parents, Warren and Ethel Pinch, were married in Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada in 1908 and took up residence on a small farm on the east side of Bowmanville.  Dad’s parents, Alpha Warren. and Sarah Adelaide (Feren) Pinch  were also living in Bowmanville.  They had moved there from Cleveland, Ohio when my dad was five years old.  This town was where my three older brothers, Edward (Ted),  Horrell (Ose), and Gerald (Chub), were born.  Shortly after Chub was born my dad started building a home on farm land he bought from his father in Newcastle, Ontario. This is where I was born in 1919, four years after Chub. Sometime after the family moved to the farm my dad met a man from Orono, a Mr. Gambsy, who introduced him to the North Country where Little Hawk Lake was located.

Left to Right – Back Row- William, Alpha Warren, Alpha Warren Sr. and Norman; Front row, the two oldest sons of Alpha Warren, Elsie’s brothers, Ted (left) and Horrell (right). Photo taken in 1919, confirmed by Elsie Pinch Gilson

There were great fish to catch there! My father, his two brothers, Norman and Will, and their father, (Alpha Warren Pinch Sr.) would make many trips to this area beginning in 1919, over the next few years. They also had men friends from the Cleveland, Ohio area that would visit our family and travel north to camp and fish in the area. There they met and became friends with some of the original settlers from this area. My two older brothers, Ted and Horrell, were often included in these trips.  Some of the locals were the Sawyer brothers, the Davis brothers, and also Walter Johnson. These local men made their living by having small farms and also acting as guides during hunting and fishing seasons.

My first experience going to Little Hawk Lake came about when I was five years old in 1924. Dad brought the whole family for their first outing there.  By then Warren and Ethel had six children.  My Granddad had built a cabin affair on the back of a pick-up truck and outfitted it as a camper for the other trips to the North Country and Little Hawk Lake.  We started out in our Model T Ford and Grampa’s camper from the farm in Newcastle.  It was quite an undertaking with six children and three adults.  My youngest brother, Alan, was only nine months old. The next youngest, Bill, was three.  There were many stops along the way where we all had to get out and help push our loaded vehicles up the hills.  The first night out we camped at Fenelon Falls.  We also had a tent as well as Grandpa’s camper for sleeping quarters.  The next day we arrived at the Hawk River where we were introduced to the Alf Davis Family.  The distance from Newcastle to the Hawk River was about one hundred and twenty miles but with the poor road conditions and the twisted roads, it took us most of two days to travel the distance.

The bridge over the Kennisis River with Rose and Sam Davies (Davis) cabin on the far left and Alf Davies (Davis) farm in the middle. Photo courtesy of Beth Carey

There was a one lane bridge over the Hawk River.  After the bridge, there were two homes on the north side of the road where the Davis families lived. Alf and his wife had four children who were mostly adults by then.  Sam Davis and his family lived next door about three hundred yards away.  After meeting them, Grandpa and Pa continued on in the truck and the Model T.  Mom and we kids walked the last mile as the road was but two ruts in the sand. 

Ethel Frederica (Cooper) Pinch holding a fish in the “Rat Hole” (Davis boathouse), 1932. Photo courtesy of Oakview Lodge.

When we arrived at Little Hawk Lake there were no cottages, just two small boat houses on the lake shore.  One was at the site of  the present day Government dock, and the other a few rods down the shore to the west. As long as we stayed, we camped out in the one boat house (nicknamed the “rat hole”) with the additional use of Grandpa’s tent and his cabana truck.  These two boat houses belonged to the Davis brothers. 

Dad and his brothers continued to make the trip north as long as we lived in Canada.  In 1928, Dad became seriously ill and was forced to give up the farm. We moved to a house in Oshawa and lived there for one year while Dad recovered from his illness.  Then in 1929, Dad took the family to Cleveland, Ohio in the USA. I was ten years old.  Dad found work in his brother Will’s quilt block company. My three older brothers also worked there. I did a few times too, when I was older. The first summer after our move to Cleveland we traveled back to Newcastle for a visit with our relatives. While there, Dad and his brother Norman made a trip north and bought a lot on the south shore of Little Hawk Lake. At that time the frontage was about 130 feet right on the lake shore at the end of the Hawk Lake Road. 

The next spring Dad, brother Ted, and Uncle Will traveled back to the lake and built “Fisherman’s Paradise” cottage.  It was the first cottage on the lake although farther down along the shore to the west by then was the Johnson home and small general store.  Within a few years, the Johnsons would build another cottage next to their home.  Then Sam Davis built another cottage just to the east of the Johnson’s cottage.  More people were arriving every year.  To the east of our cottage the Armstrong and Barefoot cottages sprang up, and others would soon appear across the lake.  Big Hawk Lake began to have inhabitants as well.  During this time our “Paradise” cottage got so much use that Uncle Will had to move farther along the shore.  My dad built him a small place on the west shore going into Big Hawk Lake.  Dad also built a cabin for his friend Don Phinney on the west shore where it remains today as “Francis’ Folly.”

Elsie at age 17 with her mother Ethel Pinch

When World War II came about it brought many changes:  gasoline was rationed and men went into war work, so there was less traveling back and forth.  Three of my brothers were in the service: Chub in the US Army, Bill in the US Coast Guard, and Alan in the US Navy. Dad took work at the Tank Plant in Cleveland to help in the War Effort. At one point, Dad built a spare gas tank and saved up gas so he could make the trip up to Little Hawk.  Another time he and Mom took a ferry across the great lake (Erie?) to save gas.  I missed six years of visiting Little Hawk Lake.  I had cared for my widowed brother Ted’s two children and their home for four years, then I got married.  My husband served in the US Army too. When I got back there to the lake my husband and I had a small son. 

The loggers were on the lakes that first summer and they would bring the cut trees down from Big Hawk in large chain booms. Occasionally, logs would escape from the booms and float out on the lake.  Pa got permission to collect these escaped logs and had them hauled out and sawed into lumber.  Then the lumber was brought back to Little Hawk Lake.  The first summer after my return to Little Hawk there was a lumber pile about 20 x 20 x 20 feet high beside the “Paradise” cottage.  Over the next several years Dad bought lots and built cottages.  There were lots of eager buyers.  All in all he built eight or nine cottages on the lake.  One of these he built on the lot next to “Fisherman’s Paradise.”   At some time I had two uncles, three nephews, three brothers, and their offspring with cottages on Little Hawk Lake! 

During the time that I was absent from the lake Walter Johnson had died and the family sold out to the Hewitts: Dick and Evelyn. Pete Sawyer had built on the Public Camp Ground and called his place “Oakview Lodge.”  Both had built large structures with rooms to rent out to summer guests.  The Hewitt’s would later build several rental cottages in front of their main building.  By then they had several children and a store so they didn’t take guests into their “home.”  Pete also had a store at his lodge so we were able to get some groceries right at the lake.  When we first cottaged we had to bring all food from home or make the trip to Minden which was 17 miles away.  And at that time the roads were bad so we didn’t get out often.  One of our chores as children was to walk the mile to the Hawk River Bridge and buy milk from Sam Davis. We enjoyed so many meals of delicious lake trout.  We also had blueberry pie–Dad would take my brothers, the two younger ones, on an excursion every summer in season to pick blueberries.  We would get several baskets which made a lot of pies.  In later years there would be a lot of raspberries growing along the road–more pies!  

Horrell’s log cabin, where Ted and Jean Pinch honeymooned. Photo by Joan Hamilton

In the summers of 1937 and 1938 my brother Horrell took part of the lot that the ‘Paradise” cottage was on and built a log cabin.  Horrell and Sam Davis’ son Bobby felled large trees, cut them into logs, and hauled them back to Little Hawk Lake.  Then they built the log cabin.  It was used for many years during the summer.  In the fall, quite a few family members and friends camped in it for deer hunting.  Later on it was sold to Pete Sawyer.  Pete added on two bedrooms at the rear and a small enclosed porch on the west side. 

One of the boat houses that were on the shore ( the “Rat’s Hole”) was bought by our family and moved down in front of the small cottage to the east of the “Paradise” cottage.  My oldest brother, Ted, converted it to living quarters and spent many summers in it with his family before buying land and building his own cottage on what is called “The Island”.  My two cousins, Russell and Bruce Pinch also had cottages on the west side of the lake near my brother Gerry’s cottage.  Bruce and Gerry’s cottages were built by Dad, I think.    Several years later my Uncle Norman (Dad’s youngest brother) would build a cottage next to Ted’s on the “Island.”  He later sold this cottage, but decided to come back again and built a new cottage between his two sons’ cottages (Russell and Bruce).

There have been numerous owners in both lodges; some good and some bad.  After Dick Hewitt died his wife remained at Little Hawk Resort for several years. She had built the marina docks and some of the cabins herself. She was a hard worker.  Mrs. Hewitt kept a small store in her lodge which was a help and saved running to Minden “for a loaf of bread.”  There was also a butcher, vegetable, and bakery wagon that came occasionally to supplement our fish diet.  She later sold out to new people. They stayed for several years and sold to new owners.  Since the original owners there have been eight owners of Little Hawk Resort.    The latest owners have built a new building after a fire destroyed the former main building.  They now have a thriving business with a marina and large parking lot. They still maintain all the small cottages along the shore of their property.  The best two lodge-keepers to my mind were the Audits and the Hewsons.  Hewsons had a pretty up-to-date store. They enclosed a front porch and had a restaurant. You could get a good meal served there! Roger and Sharon Hewson did me several helpful favors after I became a widow.  I was very sorry to have them go, as the new owners were out for “anything they could get” and we had a few run-ins with them.  They built a huge marina which usually would float over in front of my property and also block the lake view.  It also brought in larger boats. These new owners also sold gas which would be poured at the dock and often get spilled into the lake.  

I spent every summer at the cottage between ages twelve and twenty-two –usually 1 month each year. Then the war came and I stayed in Cleveland…and missed going to Little Hawk Lake for six years.  After this, I continued to go back each year until 2013.  Mom and Dad continued staying in the “Paradise” cottage for several years when in their 70s.   Finally, the noises of vacationers coming and going got to Pa and he decided to sell the cottage.  But before doing that, he extended the small cottage closer to the lake by cutting it in half and building a 12-foot floor between the two halves, as well a roof over the new section.  Many family members came to help that day!  He made several other improvements and he and Mom moved in and spent late spring, summer, and early fall there for two or three more years until he became ill and died in 1965.  This cottage had been turned over to me in 1954 with the provision that Mom would use it as long as she lived. She was able to go back and forth between their trailer in Sarasota, Florida and Little Hawk Lake quite a few years until she needed to be cared for in a nursing home in Oshawa at age 84. She lived there until she passed away at age 94.  After that my husband Doug and I started a remodeling job on the cottage –our first project was a new out house.  When finished, we called it “Winchester Cathedral.” –real fancy!   We bought a floating dock, put on a new roof, re-sided the outside with wood, moved some walls, paneled the entire inside.  Doug changed all the windows so they matched, stained the inside ceiling beams and covered the ceiling.  He also built a 9 x 9 ft bathroom off the kitchen.  He put in new flooring in the kitchen and built cabinets.  He even built a small utility room with a portable washing machine! We added a small wood-burning fireburner in the living room and built a small deck out front. Doug also made some improvements to the boat house. I did most of the painting inside and out.  We named the cottage “Holiday Harbour,” After Doug retired, we got to spend and enjoy 16 more long summers together at Little Hawk Lake. 

I was 93 or 94 when I sold the cottage after spending at least 75, maybe even 81or 82 years during summers on the lake. My son and daughter spent their summer vacations there since they were babies and came up for a summer vacation whenever they could once they were grown up.  My three grandchildren liked coming up to the cottage too. I hated to sell it but time takes its toll and the drive alone (with my son) was getting too much for me. We were needing more and more repairs on the building.  I had to spend $4,000 to have a hydro pole (electric power) replaced and the roof had some leaks after a tornado brought a tree down on the roof.  Several more dollars were spent to have some old trees removed.  Plus, it also was getting harder each year to walk up the hill to the outhouse!  Most of my relatives had either sold out or had died so it was time to leave.  But it is missed.  

This story was written by Elsie Adelaide Pinch Gilson at the age of 87, with a few minor edits suggested by her daughter Linda Gilson Jones.  Photos have been added by Joan Hamilton.