By Chad Ingram
Published Nov. 24 2016
It’s been a years’ long journey but Jim Mitchell has finally published his book on the history of Canning Lake.
“The history of the lake wasbrought up just in casual conversations at our executive meetings and I finally volunteered to do something about it” says Mitchell notingthat was back in 2002.
“It wasn’t conceived as a bookat the time. I was expecting to write you know maybe a little paper or something maybe five or six pages outlining the history of CanningLake. But as I got involved . . . I just got into this thing. It justbecame a passion for me. It just sort of took on a life of its own.”
Mitchell has self-published A Little Piece of Paradise: The History of Canning Lake a 170-page book that navigates the lake’s history from when it wascarved by glaciers during the last ice age up until the present day.
He estimates he’s put thousands of hours into it during the past 14 years.
Produced by Parker Pad andPrinting the glossy book is replete with historic photographs and mapsand filled with anecdotes from first-person interviews conducted byMitchell.
“You talk to one person or find a book and that leads to two or three others and on and on” he says.He recalls going to see resident Lee Blair whose family homesteaded inthe area in the 1860s.
“He took me on a tour of his sugar bush and all the history” Mitchell says. “That’s the kind of thing that kept happening.”
Among many interesting storiescontained in the book is the one of the unique Finnish village that once existed on the lake in the area where Sunny Rock Bed and Breakfaststands today.
Around the time of the FirstWorld War a number of residents of Toronto’s Finnish community begantaking holidays in Haliburton County.
“At that time in Toronto theFinnish community was a relatively small tight-knit group” Mitchell’sbook reads. “Toronto was growing quite rapidly and many people wereseeking opportunities to get a break from the noise and congestion ofthe ‘big city’ particularly in the summer months.”
At that time farm vacationswere a popular form of getaway and two families – the Jokkinens and theKonnis – began vacationing at the Nichol dairy farm near Gelert.
“On daytime hikes theydiscovered the Drag River (then called the Burnt River) and Scott’s Damand almost immediately fell in love with the area” the book reads.“During the next several years they continued to return to the Nichols’farm and developed a warm friendship with them and their neighbours theHoikkas.”
Eventually the Finnish village would include numerous log houses saunas a blacksmith shop and even a wind-powered cedar shingle mill.
What would become Sunny RockVilla began as the Konni family’s cottage in the 1920s. Two otherresorts in the area were Rest Point Lodge and Silverwood Lodge.
While nary a trace of Rest Point remains what was Silverwood Lodge is today a private residence.
Mitchell’s own long history with Canning Lake – “it’s in my DNA” he says – is deeply intertwined with Silverwood Lodge.
Built in 1938 by the Stark family in 1951 Silverwood was bought by Mitchell’s parents Bud and Dorothy from Toronto.
Mitchell was five at the time and Minden a much longer trip from Toronto than it is today.
“Most people had not been toToronto who lived here” he says. “If they had it was to take theircow to the Royal Winter Fair.”
Mitchell’s parents were fromupper-middle class families in the city so their new rustic lives onthe shores of Canning Lake came with a bit of culture shock.
“It must have been very veryhard for my mom in particular” Mitchells says. “She was used to RoyalDoulton china and sterling silver and all that stuff. They survived.”
The Mitchells would operate Silverwood Lodge for 12 years.
“We moved to Toronto to lookafter my mom’s ailing parents in November of 1963” Mitchell says.Mitchell and his brothers had attended elementary school at the schoolhouses in Gelert and Lochlin and then high school in Haliburton Village. Mitchell was in Grade 13 at the time of the move back to the city.
“We were all very sad thekids to leave up here because as I say in the book it was an idyllicexistence for three boys” Mitchell says. “Hunting fishing and livingon a lake.”
But the move back to Toronto did not sever Mitchell’s relationship with Canning Lake.
“The place that I live in now was built by my grandmother on my parents’ property as a cottage” he explains.
Built in 1954 Mitchell boughtthe cottage upon his grandmother’s death in 1971 and for years it actedas his family’s cottage. He’s lived in an expanded version of that cabin on a year-round basis since 2010.
Other fascinating vignettesfrom the book include the travels of Samuel de Champlain in the area inthe early 17th century the history of Scott’s Dam (the originalwooden structure was constructed by lumber baron Mossom Boyd in 1869 andincluded a log chute) and that prior to 1900 Canning Lake wasconsidered part of Lake Kashawigamog.
It was then referred to asKushog for a number of years before the name Canning Lake was approvedby the Geographic Board of Canada.
The meaning of the name?
No one seems sure. While manygrew up believing the name had something to do with Finnish heritage‘”there’s no word in the the Finnish language there’s no place inFinland . . . so I discounted that theory.”
As with areas such as Graham’sLanding and Scott’s Dam Mitchell then wondered if Canning Lake hadn’tbeen named for an English homesteader.
“I did the title search of all the original lots on the lake . . . no Canning” he says.
Many communities in HaliburtonCounty along with the county itself were named for prestigious British people so Mitchell went searching for a Canning.
While he did find one a LordCanning who was active in British parliament in the 19th century “as Iread his biography he wasn’t really well loved” Mitchell says addingCanning’s political career seemed less than impressive. “That’s probably not going to be somebody who’d they’d name stuff after.”
So what then?
Mitchell has a theory. Hebelieves that members of the Finnish village changed the name of thelake in the 1930s to set it apart from other area lakes of similar names in order to advertise their resorts.
But why Canning?
One of Mitchell’s intervieweestold him that as a girl she remembered being told “that local farmwomen used to come to the lake to do their canning putting out theirpreserves and stuff and she remembers them talking about that” hesays. “There were all sorts of farms around there.”
A Little Piece of Paradise: The History of Canning Lake is available at Sassy Digs and Organic Times in Minden ButternutMercantile and Coffee Shop in Ingoldsby and the Haliburton Highlands and Minden Hills museums.
Books are $30 and any profitswill go towards the environmental stewardship activities of the CanningLake Property Owners’ Association.