By Chad Ingram
Published Aug. 11 2016
This is the third in a series of feature stories on the pioneering families of Minden.
Bob Stinson’s grandfather once traded his livery business for the Dominion Hotel.
The deal didn’t last long however due to the religious convictions of Stinson’s grandmother.
“She wanted no part of that kind of money” says Bob who will turn 83 in September. “She was a strict Methodist.”
For more than 140 years the Stinson family has been part of the story of Minden. Like many of the area’s pioneering families the family’s story begins in Europe.
Samuel Stinson – Bob’s great great grandfather – was born in Cavan County Ireland in 1802. A farmer in about 1825 – before the potato famine hit – he sold his property and immigrated to Canada. Perhaps naturally he was attracted to a township called Cavan near Peterborough where he and his wife Jane Brodie would have eight children the fourth of whom was a boy named Thomas born in 1833.
In 1856 Thomas – Bob’s great grandfather – married Victoria Henderson whose family owned a farm in nearby Emily township.
According to a family history compiled by Bob Thomas who was having an unsuccessful time farming and drinking too much eventually moved to Beaverton where backed by his father he started a boot and shoe shop.
In the fall of 1871 Thomas travelled to Haliburton County on a hunting and prospecting trip with Hugh Workman who’d been a close friend since the two were young. Workman was doing well in real estate in Lindsay.
After passing through the settlement of Minden they continued to follow the Gull River where they came upon a waterfall they decided would make a fine location for a mill. It was agreed that Workman would provide the cash to purchase the property and start the operation while Thomas would move to Minden to manage it.
So in 1872 Thomas and Victoria moved to Minden with their five children the youngest of whom was a baby named Arthur – Bob’s grandfather.
The family worked hard during the next decade building what would become known as the Stinson mills compound. It included a sawmill a grist mill and a flour mill all powered by water turbines a collection of houses and some agricultural operations including the keeping of livestock.
Thomas eventually bought out partner Workman renaming the operation Thomas Stinson & Sons.
By age 13 Arthur was driving a team of horses making deliveries of lumber to the train station at Gelert.
In 1897 Arthur married Grace Rogers the daughter of George and Alida Rogers who owned a farm along the Gull River not far from the mills.
The Rogers family were strict Methodists. The Stinsons were Methodists too but in Bob’s words “didn’t work very hard at it” dancing and playing cards and carrying on.
In order to marry Grace Arthur had to sign a pledge to refrain from sinful activities as would the couple’s children.
“All the kids signed pledges that they wouldn’t drink” Bob says. However it sounds like his grandmother was the only one to stick very strictly to her temperance pledge.
In 1901 with the help of his father Arthur purchased Mounsey Livery a livery and stage coach business in downtown Minden. He changed the name to E.A. (Elias Arthur) Stinson Livery. It was around his time that Arthur and Grace gave birth to a son named Tom – Bob’s father.
The livery barn stood at what is now the corner of Bobcaygeon Road and Invergordon Avenue. The law office of Carol Jamieson currently occupies the site. The business had 25 horses in its stable the mail contract for Minden Kinmount and Gelert and also provided daily stage coaching to and from the Gelert train station.
Grace kept the books and the family lived in the house next door. It’s the house that today contains Gambell’s Antiques and Suwan’s Thai Cuisine.
Meanwhile the Stinson mills had been left to Arthur’s older brother Frederick. The property that housed the Stinson compound was eventually sold to the Orillia Light and Power Company in 1918 the company building the dam and power generation station that still operate along the Gull River today. The area where the mills and wooden houses once stood is now occupied by Minden Lake.
“It’s all underwater now” Bob says seated in his dining room overlooking Grass Lake in Haliburton. “They all left.”
Frederick moved his family to Toronto. However a successor to the Stinson’s Minden mills operation – S.F. Stinson & Son Lumber Company – would continue to operate in the city for a number of years and on its letterhead the company proudly proclaimed “lumbermen since 1872.”
In 1914 Arthur who was in poor health moved to Peterborough on the advice of his doctor.
While Arthur purchased another smaller livery business in Peterborough he continued to own the Minden operation.
In 1921 Tom had gone out west with some friends to work on the harvest. It was during his time there that he received a frantic letter from his mother informing him his father had traded his Minden livery business for the Dominion Hotel and pleading that he talk some sense into Arthur.
Indeed there is a photo from that period showing the very distinct Stinson livery building but with the words “J.J. Mortimer Livery Barn” on the sign.
By the time Tom returned home Arthur had traded the business back.
Tom worked in Lindsay for a brief period and then Peterborough. In 1923 his cousin Arnold – son of Frederick who sold the Minden mills – wrote him about an opportunity to work as a lumber wholesaler in Toronto and he was off to the city. There Tom stayed in a rooming house on Palmerston Avenue run by a Mrs. Hacking. Mrs. Hacking had a 22-year-old daughter named Stella.
Tom and Stella were married in Toronto on Oct. 1 1927. Tom worked in the lumber industry and while there were some years of instability during the Great Depression he and Stella ended up settling in Willowdale where Bob and his sister Ruth grew up. Tom operated a lumber yard called Stinson Lumber.
The family returned to Minden for the summers.
“I spent almost all my summers here [Haliburton County]” Bob says. “My grandfather owned almost all of Sandy Bay. I almost never forgave my ancestors for moving away.”
Arthur Stinson had purchased a large swath of land on Gull Lake the area all along what is now Sandy Bay Road south of Minden. Today many of the cottages along the road are still owned by members of Stinson family.
One – the Killarney cottage – was constructed from discarded planks from when a concrete bridge was poured in Minden circa 1904. The planks had floated down the Gull River and into the lake.
Another Arthur’s cabin was built from sheds that workers slept in when Highway 35 was being constructed Arthur skidding them down to the lakeside once the government was done with them.
Tom purchased a lot from his father and in 1936 built a small cottage at the lake’s edge. An expanded version of that cottage is today the home of Bob’s sister Ruth Max and her husband Jack.
Bob and Ruth both have fond memories of summers on Sandy Bay on a Gull Lake from another time.
“It was very rural” Bob says. “There was a little store . . . had no hydro. They used to keep their ice cream on blocks of ice. You’d get somebody to row you over in the boat.”
The small white building that was the store still stands on the shore of Gull Lake today near where the river enters Sandy Bay at the lake’s north end.
On the Gull Lake of the siblings’ youth most everyone got around by rowboat motorized watercraft a rare sight.
“If we heard a motorboat come we’d all get up and watch it go by” Bob says.
Bob worked in Toronto for Stinson Lumber but in the early 70s he and wife Joan decided to leave the city and make a go of it in Haliburton County.
“I said ‘We’ve got a cottage up there’” says Bob explaining he figured the family could embark on some entrepreneurial endeavours in order to make a living.
His parents had already retired to Haliburton County.
Like other members of the Stinson family Bob had a cottage on Sandy Bay which he sold purchasing Willow Beach Cottages on Lake Kashagawigamog. He and Joan ran the resort for nearly 20 years.
Today Bob is chairman of the Haliburton County chapter of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons working on numerous projects dedicated to aging well in the community.
“It keeps me off the street” he quips.
Like Bob sister Ruth was eventually drawn back to Haliburton County where she’d spent so many magical summers as a girl.
“This started as one room and half a loft” she says seated on her deck overlooking Sandy Bay and gesturing to the green cabin where she and husband Jack live. The original part of the building is the cottage her father constructed in 1936.
“And then we just kept adding” Ruth says.
Jack worked in the stock exchange Ruth as an editor of magazines. They moved to Sandy Bay in 1990.
How does the Gull Lake of today differ from the one of her youth?
“There were less people on the lake . . . it wasn’t like this” Ruth says.
It’s the first week of August and motorboats and jet skis are roaring across the lake’s surface a far cry from the days when Ruth Bob and their cousins travelled its waters by rowboat.
They used to row all the way up the river into Minden.
“We had no way of getting there other than rowing” Ruth says. “It took forever . . . especially against the current.”
Once in Minden the children would visit a store owned by family members from the Rogers branch. Ruth remembers combing through the antiques kept in the building’s upper floor and the dusty smell of the space.
“Up there were things stored in there forever” she says. “We were scared of everything but that was half the fun. We’d just be fascinated with what was upstairs.”
Like Bob Ruth recalls with fondness the little store across the bay with the ice cream on blocks of ice and the tiny woman who served it up. She gestures to the small white building still standing across the water.
She recalls the Harrison’s farm at the end of the road and the quiet man John who would come with his wagon to deliver ice.
“He brought us ice that he cut out of the lake in the winter” she says. “He would stop at each place and plunk it in the ice box.”
Sometimes the children would hop on the wagon hitching a ride back to the Harrison farm to play in the barn heeding the quiet man’s warning to stay away from the bull.
“We’d go up in the hay loft and play like crazy” Ruth says a smile of recollection forming on her face. “We could be up there all day if we wanted.”
She also recalls her childhood duties of picking blueberries – “they were everywhere here” – and fetching buckets of water from a nearby spring pails of water balanced with a branch across her back.
Down the shoreline from the little white building that was once the store is the University of Toronto camp located on Gull Lake for more than a century.
“We had our regatta there which was a big deal” Ruth says recalling the wooden diving tower once affixed to the dock at the camp. “I was the one who had to dive off the top.”
Ruth also remembers teenage trips to the legendary long-gone Medley’s dance hall in Carnarvon.
“My dad used to lend me the car” she says. “My two cousins and I would go up and have a great time.”
Memories are everywhere at Sandy Bay seeping out of the woods and bubbling out of the waters of Gull Lake.
“My grandfather’s original cottage is up behind us” Ruth says pointing to a structure visible through the trees across the road the one built by Arthur. “It’s now occupied by cousins of mine.”
Ruth’s children and grandchildren recently came to visit her grandchildren the fifth generation of the family to cottage at Sandy Bay.
She remembers a waterfall across the bay towards Bob Lake near what is now Rackety Trail to which she her mother aunts and cousins would hike.
“We’d go down for picnics” Ruth says a far-away smile beaming from her face once more. “There was all this white churning water . . . and it had this sound. It had this smell that was hot and kind of musty rusty water. It was just magical. It was just beautiful just heaven.”