Memories of Little Hawk from the Barbers

By Janie Barber

child sitting on beach
Janie Barber on McLaughlin’s Beach, 1954

It’s funny how, when we are young, we take our family, possessions and lifestyles for granted but, as we age, we come to realize how those people and experiences shaped our lives and left us with amazing memories.

My brother, Mike, passed away in 2015 but, before he died, we talked about how lucky we had been as kids… vacationing on weekends and for three week holidays up at the cottage that our dad, Bill Barber, had built from scratch on Little Hawk Lake.

group photo of white people
L to R, Bill, Mike, Janie and Audrey Barber, circa 1972

We recalled the homemade skis, surf boards and skitterboards on which we were towed around the lake by our three uncles (Doug Carscallen, Ted Barber and Cec Wretham), who also had cottages within a few hundred yards of our own. Occasionally, two of our uncles pulled our mother and two aunts, on skis, behind their 40hp boats in tandem. These water sports, along with swimming, were often followed by extended family barbeques.

cottage exterior
Barber cottage in the late 1960s

I remember my dad and my brother diving off the front porch of the A-frame in early summer when the water was still deep enough to ensure that they didn’t break their necks!

Not only did our aunts, uncles and six cousins have cottages nearby, but so did both sets of grandparents…the Barbers (Dick), right across the bay from us and beside the Hewitts’ Little Hawk Lodge, and the Cains (next door to the McLaughlins). We socialized with them all summer long for our entire childhoods.

lady and dog on boat
Gladys Cain (Janie’s maternal grandmother) and dog Bootsie in early 1940s

Mike and I recalled so many random things: our dad taking us to the dump to see the bears at sunset, fishing with our dad, smelling Ev Hewitt’s homemade bread across the bay and driving the boat over, 75 cents in hand, to bring a loaf home for lunch or supper, and driving the 3hp boat through The Narrows and shearing pins and changing them on the spot.

We remembered Pete and Mabel Sawyer, the totem pole and other various carved wooden creatures, playing the player piano in their guest living room, and buying licorice, black balls and orange pop from the ice-filled Coke cooler in their store. Ice cream in the pointed cones was seven cents while the square-bottomed cones were 10 cents. Blackballs were three for a penny and mini-peppermint patties were two cents each. We remembered Pete Sawyer taking sawdust-covered blocks of ice up the lake to people for their ice boxes.

We chuckled remembering the “privy” and it’s odour, mosquitos and the occasional spider. Thank goodness for the indoor “pee pot” that we were allowed to use at night!

In the 1960s, teenage boys would sometimes gather at the end of the Government Dock, fill up empty glass pop bottles, and toss them into the lake. That infuriated our father. Decades later, we saw divers in wet suits bringing up those old bottles, among other things, and setting them on the end of the dock before submerging once again.

white men with fish
L to R Doug Carscallen and Bill Barber in the 1960s

During the decades spent at Little Hawk, we also saw our share of snapping turtles. Fishing was not my thing but eating fresh fried, filleted bass was! Nor did I care for the mosquitoes, “no-seeums”, or horseflies. A couple of times, we were surprised and disappointed to wake up to the entire bay being covered in pollen. If my dad ever found out where it had come from, he did not mention it to me.

I have always had a fear of bears. I woke up one night to see my parents peering out the cottage bedroom window, watching a bear dig out fish bones that had not yet burned off in our homemade incinerator (steel drum). He burned his paw, let out a loud snuffle, and went barreling back into the woods.

Canoe on rocks
Carscallen’s big rock for Labour Day bonfires in the 1990s

A favourite memory was the annual weenie roast. I remember swimming on my aunt and uncle’s beach. Uncle Doug (Carscallen) piled cut brush out on the big rock beside the beach, all summer. Then, every Labour Day weekend, all of our relatives would gather on that rock in the evening, and the men would set fire to the dried-out brush. This was followed by everyone roasting hot dogs and marshmallows. The smell of the burning brush and the sound of the crackling fire, roaring at first and later sizzling embers, are fresh in my mind to this day.

Little girl in bathingsuit
Janie Barber at Little Hawk cottage, 1958

Anyone with a lakeside cottage will remember the ‘yucky’ feeling of putting on a cold bathing suit that hadn’t quite dried out from the last swim!

I remember Sam Armstrong, the Barfoots, the Pinches, the Stevensons, the Deuels and the Philips. My parents knew most of the cottagers on Little Hawk from the late 1930s to the late 1990s. My dad told me about the time, in the 60s, that a child was swimming near the dock by Oakview Lodge, I believe, and was injured by a motorboat blade. Dr. Deuel stitched him up in Oakview Lodge without the benefit of any freezing.

Little Hawk-opoly game
Board game designed by Elsie Jean Pinch Nelson in the 1990s. Notice the names of the cottages match this story.

On rainy days, we passed the time playing an assortments of games including Monopoly, Checkers, Snakes and Ladders and Crokinole. We also read a lot of Archie comic books and played cards. There was no tv, telephone or technology.

We marvelled that our poor mother must not have enjoyed vacationing nearly as much as we did. At the cottage, she had to do the same chores as she did at home plus sweep up sand and, at the beginning, carry water from the lake to the cottage while our dad was building it.

snowy cottage exterior
Dick and Marjorie Barber’s cottage, 1959

The area was beautiful in every season. Being drenched in the summer sun, watching sheets of rain coming at us from across the lake with welcome relief from the humidity, gorgeous autumn colours surrounding the lake in September, and whiter-than-white snow for at least 3 months every winter. A photographer’s paradise.

I remember my dad excitedly calling all of us to the front windows of the cottage to watch the Northern Lights dancing across the sky on a couple of occasions. Definitely not a sight to be seen back in the city.

How I miss those days. I am, however, very grateful for having been able to take my own two sons up to Little Hawk to visit their grandparents many times prior to the cottage being sold in 1999. They have fond memories of the area and one son has hopes of one day owning a cottage on Little Hawk.

Two men walking towards dock
Bill Barber and Grandson Jamie circa 1995.

Memories and longing for Little Hawk run deep in the Barber family. I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that my father, Bill Barber, loved cottage country and Little Hawk Lake in particular, more than any other cottager. He even ran for Reeve in 1978.

Bill Barber ran for Reeve, not because he wanted to be a politician, but because he was a conservationist at heart and because he felt strongly that council was not addressing cottagers’ concerns. Napier Simpson and John Tomlinson had both passed away so there was not any cottager representation on council. Stanhope needed a candidate who would fight for the environment and use taxpayers’ money more effectively, so he decided to be that person. We were all surprised at the time that he was about to run for office but, in retrospect, his love of the area, and of the Haliburton Highlands in general, certainly explained his decision. 

For years, we had heard Dad complain about cottagers bathing and washing their hair in the lakes, of fishermen urinating from their boats into the lakes, of garbage being sunk in the water, and of oil drums being punctured and sunk in the lake that we swam and fished in, with no consequences. He had had enough! Unfortunately, despite the fact that cottagers represented 86% of Stanhope taxpayers at the time, elections were held in the month of November, after cottages had been closed up for the year, so many cottagers did not vote. My dad lost the election by only 49 votes but was not deterred and we were all proud of him. He was pleased that he had done what he set out to do: he had publicly told council members, as well as hundreds of residents, about the problems concerning the shoreline reserve, water pollution, the Restricted Area By-Law, the fire department conflict, and his ideas regarding the airport expansion so he knew that at least some of his concerns would be addressed despite the fact that he had not won the election. He continued to attend public meetings to voice his concerns and to support whomever was representing Stanhope cottagers and the environment in general.

newspaper cutout of campaign ad

In the earlier years

When he wasn’t helping to build his father’s cottage, his own A-frame cottage, two extensions, a boathouse, a garage, a boat, and a privy, he was fishing or helping one of our relatives work on their nearby cottages. We all had cottages in close proximity of Oakview Lodge, in the bay.

Three people outside log cabin
Dick, Ted and Marjorie Barber, late 1930s or early 1940s

In the early days, it was Oakview Lodge, Pinches, Sam Armstrong, Wretham (my aunt/uncle/three cousins), us (Bill, Audrey, Mike and Janie Barber), Jennings/Coopers, Ted Barber (my uncle, aunt, two cousins), Carscallens (my aunt, uncle, one cousin), Barfoots. Further up on the same side were the McLaughlins and then the Cains (my maternal grandparents). The Cain cottage sat on bedrock which was strewn with wild blueberry bushes which all the kids had fun picking (but mostly eating) during blueberry season.

Lady next to sign
Gladys Cain at Cain Cottage, undated.
Family on rocks with dog
The Cain family, left to right: Gladys, Audrey, Molson, Patricia, Evelyn, circa 1939.

Almost directly across from our cottage was Dick Barber’s cottage (my paternal grandparents).

My dad left extensive historical information about Little Hawk Lake, from the 1930s until 1998 – in his journals and diary, hundreds of pages. The following are excerpts from his writings:  

The 1930s… Richard (Dick) Barber & Bill Barber

Two men outside log cabin
Dick and Bill Barber in the late 1930s

Bill’s father, Dick Barber (my grandfather), became aware of the Haliburton area in the early 1930s from friends who either fished or hunted there. One of those acquaintances was Sam Armstrong who lived in Stouffville during the year and on Little Hawk in the summer.

Car in snow
Richard (Dick) Barber’s company vehicle.

Dick Barber was a wholesale tobacconist and confectioner, which makes one wonder if he met Sam Armstrong on his sales travels to Stouffville.

Bill Barber even remembers his first trip to the “North Country” when he was just 10 years old in 1929. The family had headed up Highway 11 to the Dorset Lookout Tower in their new 1929 Essex car, ‘which propelled them at a breck-neck speed of 35 mph’. Bill remembers the most popular stores at the time in Dorset included Robinson’s General Store and Clayton’s store. He also remembers the road south was ‘cluttered with rocks of all shapes and sizes’ and of course you guessed it, they hit one of those rocks in the centre of the road.

Men preparing to fish
Fishing trip with typical cars of the day, undated.

Once the Barber family started travelling to Little Hawk, there were lots of other obstacles. Bill writes that they often had to walk from the single lane bridge by Sam Davies house because the Little Hawk Road was ‘soggy and unfit for driving’. In 1934 he recalls that the roads were paved as far as Lindsay but gravel after that. ‘The road off the highway, which is now County Road 13, and leading to Little Hawk Lake was merely two gravel tracks, and followed the shore of Halls Lake part of the way. As we reached the bridge on Big Hawk River [known now as the Kennisis River], we passed Sam Davies log home, located on the west side of the bridge and close to the river. The river was crossed on an old single lane bridge, with many loose planks, which had to be repositioned when they came loose after being crossed by a car. About 200 yards further on there was a fairly steep hill, and at the top of the hill, smack dab in the middle of the road was a huge maple tree. The road went around both sides of the tree, which made it easy to pass in the unlikely chance that you met another vehicle.’

In the 1930s there was also an enormous amount of driftwood along the shore of Little Hake Lake and out about 50’, which made launching a boat difficult. Beside what is now Oakview Lodge was Warren Pinch’s cottage, with a sign hanging outside, reading “Fisherman’s Paradise”, built in 1931. Next was Sam Armstrong’s cabin, then a cabin belonging to the Boyds (later sold to Fullerton, then to Bill’s brother-in-law, Cec Wretham). Continuing to the East was Willie McLaughlin’s cottage. Farther up the lake, and about opposite The Narrows was John McLaughlin’s place, built in the 1930s. Campbell Moore and his wife Audrey and their children Jim and Rosemary were also on Little Hawk and a handful of other cottagers, at the time.

Exterior of cabin
Dick Barber’s Cottage in the 1960s.

To the best of Bill Barber’s recollection, his father, Dick Barber purchased his property, beside what is now Little Hawk Resort, in 1935 from the government for $500 with the stipulation that a building must be erected within 18 months of purchase. The next year, Dick had a log cottage built by locals recommended by Sam Armstrong. They procured the logs locally and did the exterior construction of the cottage.

Dick and sons, Bill and Ted, chinked between the logs with cedar strips and plaster. Once the cottage was finished in 1936, a wood-burning cook stove and a wood burning heating stove were added. Electricity was installed a year or two later which meant no more coal oil lanterns or carrying water.

In 1936, Bill also recalls buying with his brother Ted, an old “T” Model Ford, a 1926 convertible for nine dollars from a used car lot. They drove it to their parent’s cottage, stopping many times on the way up, to fill the leaky radiator with water from a ditch and allow the exhaust pipe, which was red hot and easily discernable through the missing floor boards, to cool down a bit. […] On the way home with the old Ford, they blew a tire. Bill describes how they made it home:  ‘We had no repair supplies, so we wound a heavy rope between the wooden spokes and around the tire to hold it on the rim. Believe it or not we drove home all the way, and it held up![…] We had to repair a main bearing in the engine at a later date, so we drained the crankcase of oil, and just tipped the car over on its back on the lawn, and went to work scraping and re-shimming the bearing to perfection.’

Fishing Adventures too

man and woman in boat
Bill Barber and Audrey Cain, 1938.

A 14’ punt was built by Dick Barber with 1.5 hp Johnson outboard motor and the fishing began! Besides fishing in the Hawk lakes, friends and family tried their luck in Cat Lake, Paint Lake and Kennisis Lake. Punts were also built and left at Cat and Kennisis, for portaging.

About the Big Hawk Dam, my father writes: “This dam had a wooden chute or flume that caught the overflow from the dam, and was constructed out of squared timbers, and carried the water down a long decline to the Big Hawk River. Its purpose was to float the logs down the incline and into the Hawk River and eventually into Halls Lake. The logs were taken from the surrounding forest in the winter, pulled by horses one at a time, to the lake and left on the ice until spring. In 1956, I saw logs being towed by horses across Hawk Lake in the winter on the ice, and the horses were so frightened, they leaned together to calm their nerves, and their backs actually touched one another. When the ice melted, the logs were gathered into booms. The booms consisted of making a long enclosure by joining logs end to end and corralling them to be towed to the dam. I saw the remains of the paddle wheel boat that towed the booms across the lakes. It was beached in front of the Government House, the front half well out of water. On each side of the boat was a large paddle wheel. They were connected to each other, then to a one cylinder gasoline engine. The paddle wheel boat was used to tow the log booms to their destination.” The building called the Government House was about 200-300’ from the old dam.

three people sitting on logs
Gladys Cain, Bill Barber, Audrey Cain, late 1930s or early 1940s

In the summer of 1937, Bill met his future wife, Audrey, swimming at Pinch’s Fishermen’s Paradise. The Cains had rented a cottage from Queenie and Walter Johnson. Her parents were Dr. and Mrs. Cain who, in 1939, bought land adjoining Willie McLaughlin and had a cottage and a one bedroom guest cabin erected. It had 300’ footage and was set high above the high water line.

lady standing in boat
Audrey Cain on Little Hawk 1937.

Again, Sam Armstrong was hired and oversaw workers (one was Harold Upton). Interestingly, there were no blueprints…just word of mouth. It was constructed of 8” pine siding 1.5” thick, varnished inside and the exterior was painted brown. There was a living room with a vaulted ceiling and floor to ceiling stone fireplace, a full kitchen, a bedroom, and a full length veranda across the front of the cottage with two day beds.

cottage as seen from lake
The Cain cottage in 1960 or early 1970s

It wasn’t until 1963 that septic was installed and the outhouse became a thing of the past.

three men with many fish
L to R Bill Barber, Doug Carscallen and Don Cole, undated.

In 1941, Bill caught small-mouthed bass off the rocks in front of Cain’s cottage, and lake trout in a bay off the East side of Big Hawk, and enjoyed countless fish fries with family members.

In those days, they used a two-man 6’ long crosscut saw to cut wood for the pot-bellied wood burning cook stove and the heating stove. It was around this time that Larry and Mary Reeves built their cottage, which was later bought by Kay and Bill Kimber.

In 1952, Dell and Vera Jennings built a cottage between Carscallen’s and Wretham’s.

In 1954, Bill’s sister and brother-in-law (Carscallens) purchased a cottage on Little Hawk Bay from a woman named Irwin. Around the same time, Bill built a small Vee bottom boat 12’ long, called a Banta. He purchased a 12 hp Viking outboard motor and the family spent many years enjoying that boat.

motor boat on shore
McLaughlin’s Bay, circa 1950

To the best of Bill Barber’s recollection it was 1959, when Ev Hewitt, owner of Little Hawk Resort, built a floating dock to be used by her patrons for parking their boats. It was about 100’ long and was kept afloat by 40-50 barrels. When they needed replacing, they were sunk in the lake. Bill wrote that it was some 30 years later, when divers appeared and pulled up to 200 barrels out of the lake.

stone cottage exterior
Ivy Cottage, Blagdon Hill built by John Henry Billing and named after his birthplace, near Taunton England. Construction completed in 1885.

The Billing’s House – (Blagdon Hill)

“One day we walked up to Billing’s stone house (known as Ivy Cottage, Blagdon Hill). This was a two- storey house built entirely of local stone, by John Henry Billing. He was deceased long before I saw his home. This was a remarkable work of art all done by hand. The window frames and sash were handmade with a broad axe, and made from local oak trees. Many years later, I was to see the complete house, inside and out, after it was bought by Napier Simpson and his wife….close to the house was a grave yard in which Billing and his wife were buried. It was fairly obvious that Billing had the site prepared long before his demise and that of his wife. The plot was about 25’ square with an enormously heavy chain enclosing the plot. The chain was held up off the ground about 3’ by concrete pillars every ten to twelve feet. It was in perfect state of repair when I saw it but, as expected, overgrown with weeds and grass. I think there was a gravestone of some sort but can’t remember the details. Access to the property at that time was by trail from [Little] Hawk Lake, which you had to know or you would get lost, and another trail which was used by the owners, was accessible from Maple Lake.”

Corduroy Roads

“In some areas, and usually where there had been logging in the late 1800s and early 1900s, there was still evidence of Corduroy roads…logs laid transversely as a road across a swampy area…In my many walks through the woods, I saw several of the remnants of these roads which were well rotted but still recognizable.”

Other interesting observations from Bill Barber

‘Another interesting observation was the occasional huge log laying in the bush, covered with moss, about six to eight inches thick. The logs were roughly twelve feet long and about three to four feet in diameter, and looked as though they had been there for 75-100 years. I scraped part of the moss away and found the underlying wood to be in quite good condition, although not good enough for building material. I mentioned these logs to Pete Sawyer, and asked whether he might know why they were left to rot in the woods. Having worked as a lumberjack for many years, he promptly gave me a possible answer. He said that, when he was cutting down trees, he was told to cut all trees over a given diameter, and the boss would then decide whether or not they were useable. Pete suggested that the trees I mentioned were the ones that were left as not useable. What a waste but I guess they thought that there was an unending supply of trees back then.’

‘Next to Sam Armstrong’s cottage was a cottage owned by Barfoots…I remember that when they built their cottage, there was a big tree in the area where they wanted to build the living room so, rather than cut down the tree, they just built around it and allowed it to go right through the roof. They had a family – two of the boys built cottages on Hawk Lake, at a later date. The access by road served the following cottages: Pinch, Armstrong, Barfoot, Fullerton, Brown, Jennings, Irwin and Barfoot Jr.’

These excerpts come from the diaries and journals of Bill Barber, written in the 1930s until 1998.

Janie continues:

My dad was interested in wildlife although not partial to most of it. Raccoons, hives full of bees, bears and chipmunks interfered with his building and with his prized garden. His most memorable encounter with an animal on his property was, however, with a moose. He was working on the outhouse and did not hear it approach. He felt someone, or something, looking at him so he glanced behind his shoulder and there it stood….just feet away, eyeing him. He said his eyes must have popped out of his head and that, luckily, there was a clear path down to the cottage so he sprinted to the cottage. Once safely inside, he watched it meander away, just checking things out. He said the size of the moose was unbelievable—especially when he was not expecting company! Encounters with other animals such as bears, pheasants, raccoons, and the odd wild turkey were not uncommon.

Since the sale of the cottage in 1999, my parents, brother, aunts and uncles have all passed. There are no longer any Barbers on the lake. The emptiness that I felt upon visiting Little Hawk a few years ago surprised me. No more family BBQs, skiing with cousins, or playing board games with my brother in the evenings. As so often happens over the years, the cousins have drifted apart without their parents to keep them together.

It was then that I realised that it was Little Hawk Lake that we all had in common. My friends at the lake were also my family members. Little Hawk had been the glue that had kept us so close for six decades. My father’s realized-dream, the A-frame, was now the springboard for another family to make Little Hawk memories. Perhaps keeping the family close had been, at least partially, his reason for building it. I wish I could thank my parents for the amazing comforting memoires that resulted from that wise decision they made in 1960, when my father poured the first footings. I’m proud that his on-going hard work is promoting wonderful memories for yet another family. Below is a photo of Bill and Audrey Barber’s cottage in 1997 as they enjoyed their last summer there.

present day cottage exterior

Enjoy Little Hawk everyone! I’ll be thinking of you.

-Janie Barber