Ebbs' Farewell, after 97 years on Canoe Lake
"Boathouse Sale", Little Wap South, May 22-23, 2010 9 AM - Noon
How do I announce the departure of the Ebbs' from Little Wap without sounding like an inconsolable lachrymose teenage girl on the last day of camp? Rather, I shall précis our history there. I sincerely hope that our generational love and appreciation for the people, places and events will be evident.
In September 1912 Taylor ("Chief") and Ethel ("Tonakela" - "you first" in Ojibwa) Statten and their 3 year-old daughter Adèle ("Couchie") - names created when Chief, an admirer of North American Indian culture, was directing the Toronto YMCA Camp Couchiching on said lake - used a canoe and camping gear left by friends on a campsite on present day Big Wap, for a 2 week holiday. On this first visit to Canoe Lake, they fell in love with a small island at the northwest end of the lake. That winter Chief and Tonakela snow-shoed from the Cache Lake train station (Tonakela in full-length coat, dress, petticoats and, unabashedly, long-johns.) through to Smoke Lake (where the Grand Trunk Railway Camp Nominigan was under construction) and on up to Canoe to take a second look at that special island. Thus began the adventures of the Statten and Ebbs families on the island they named "Camp Wapomeo" ("blue birds of sunshine and happiness").
Between 1913 and 1915 they, including baby Dr. Tay ('14), slept in an enormous canvas teepee, with outdoor facilities for dining and cooking; refrigeration in the lake in oilskin bags and in a root cellar; oil skin tarps and balsam boughs for shelter; a wooden ringer-washer; firewood, tabletops, shelves aplenty from clearings and huge logs and planks washed onto the wide beach encircling the island, escapees from Gilmour's log booms and mill.
They weren't isolated in "the wilds of Algonquin Park" because the town of Mowat still had resident families, logging operations and, of course, true characters whom you've met through Gaye Clemson's wonderful books. The train regularly dropped off people and goods. Above all, Chief and Tonakela were always accompanied by family and friends, all of whom willingly engaged in Chief's infamous "15 minute work projects". Tonakela acknowledged the absurdity of long dresses on a campsite by the time they began building their cabin (now "Centre Cabin") in 1916, two years before Dr. Page was born. Finally, like the men, Couchie and Tonakela were comfortable in pants with sheathed knives on their belts, knee-high laced leather boots and coarse woolen sweaters .
Chief founded Camp Ahmek for boys in 1921 and Couchie turned 12 that summer. Tonakela wanted a camp for her daughter but not at a distant site on Tea Lake where Chief held a lease (now Camp Tamakwa). Thus the summer of 1924 welcomed paying campers to their island. The Stattens' cabin became the Wap's lodge and rooms for the youngest girls upstairs. Four two-storied fourplex cabins housed the older girls, tents for staff. The island had a water tower, an icehouse, laundry facilities, Rosies, an outdoor dance/theatre pavilion, swimming docks, a fleet of canoes and sailboats, weaving, art and craft cabins. (Two are now Paw-Paw on Senior Island and the Standfield's cabin at Rest Camp.), an infirmary (now the Corrals on Big Wap), a dininghall (now the Arts & Crafts Shop), and a Council Ring. Close to 200 people lived on Little Wap until 1929 when Camp Wapomeo moved in its entirety to Big Wap. What a sight to see those buildings slide across the ice, pulled by horses!
The renamed Little Wapomeo Island was once again home to the Statten family. Couchie and Harry, married in 1935 and immediately moved to England for Harry's medical Residency. As war loomed in Europe the Ebbs' made a hasty return voyage (with baby Bobsie) in 1939. They built their own log cabin at the south end of Little Wap. It had a stone fireplace, partitioned livingroom and four bedrooms to hold the future family (Susan '42 and John '45). A kitchen was unnecessary because in the shoulder seasons the Ebbs' breakfasted with Chief and Tonakela and had lunch and dinner at Ahmek in the Staff Diningroom with the maintenance and kitchen staff. They built a log lean-to bunky in the early 40's. A small kitchen/eating area was added in the late 50's. The Ebbs' also had use of a small guest cabin which Chief originally built for his dear friend Chuck Matthews before the latter bought leases in the south end of the lake.
During Couchie's last few summers when I stayed with her at Little Wap I learned more about her childhood on the island. With age, if fortunate, one's early memories return at the most unexpected times, creating awe, warmth and a smile. Sitting on The Point, at the kitchen table, on the verandah, in front of the fireplace, riding in her boat, or skinny dipping in the lake, Couchie would remember: Hopping from logs to stumps across to the mainland; collecting and savouring mushrooms; catching fish; learning the names and songs of every bird; having to lift a canoe around a small dam in Smoke Creek at the tiny rocky point; listening in on conversations with Ernest Thompson Seton and Ranger Mark Robinson; being horrified to find a loon hooked on her trolling line (freed and mad!); watching huge work horses hauling logs; marveling at the beauty of each wildflower she identified and pressed into a scrapbook; learning to use a knife to carve and an ax to chop.
Couchie told me that she "had an idyllic childhood" on Canoe Lake, days filled with new discoveries. She lived there mostly with adults. When her cousins visited and her brothers born, she was thrilled. The adults flowing through her life didn't think of her as a little girl who required exclusion and boundaries. She was allowed to be free and open to absorb the knowledge, skills and wisdom they so willingly imparted.
The no-frills Little Wap prevailed for the Ebbs kids. Yet, Chief provided added excitement: cooking new foods he discovered in his travels, and deep-fried donuts!; myriad card and board games, jigsaws; moving pictures, slide shows and View Finders; a bountiful library; elaborate Victoria Day fireworks. Radio brought us Jack Benny, the Lone Ranger, the Metropolitan Opera. Terraced gardens swept from Centre Cabin down to the lake. Windup gramophones filled the air around both cabins with classical, operatic and contemporary music from large collections of "78" albums. Walking on the rolling logs enclosing the swimming area was a fruitless challenge. We, too, had few boundaries. On our own we'd trek to the Canoe Lake Cemetery; paddle up Ghost Walk Creek; sit under the falls at the wooden Joe Lake dam; collect tiny critters; jump from the apartment (Tay's family abode after WW II) over the boathouse; sit hidden on a rock carving miniature totem poles. We were free to romp around both camps. The Ahmek Dininghall, filled with canoes and boats for the winter, was a huge playground after meals. We'd bump through Sim's Pit in the old camp Jeep with Joe Dupuis to meet the train; play horseshoes with Joe, Gibby, Frank Yantha and Kybo Tom before the meal bell was rung by Pete Sauvé. One by one the Ebbs kids, beginning at the age of four, spent July and August at camp. Never really being "summer cottagers" because Couchie & Harry worked at camp every day, the shoulder seasons were the times we spent together at Little Wap.
The Stattens and Ebbs' were blessed with Canoe Lake friends: the permanent residences - the Stringers, the "Gibby" Gibsons, the Postmaster Farleys; the leaseholders - McLennans, Hayhursts, Allins, Turners, Youngs, Mannings, Matthews', Adaskins, Mitfords, Dayments, Frank Braught and the younger generation who bought leases after their camping days at Wap and Ahmek. This was a vibrant community of naturalists, musicians, composers, artisans, photographers, writers, professionals, trippers and fishermen. The Park and Canoe Lake were enhanced by all these remarkable people, true stewards of the Park. The Ebbs kids, to this day, hold dear that knowledge, wisdom and example.
Couchie and Dr. Harry directed Camp Wapomeo from 1935 until their retirement in 1975. During the summers Little Wap was the place to visit to learn about the history of the camps and the Park. The Ebbs invited Wap cabin groups and staff to their cabin for an evening or cookouts where they told stories of the evolution of the camps, displayed photographs, presented slideshows, through all of which Chief's and their philosophy about the importance of children having the camping experience was shared and discussed. Couchie would thrill many campers with her memories of their mothers, aunts and grandmothers. A tour of Chief's and Tonakela's cabin was a highlight. Campers groaned at the thought of wearing uniforms as in days of yore! Other than that, they agreed that camp really hadn't changed. Their cabins were the same, the Rosies still stunk, many traditions remained, old songs were sung complimented with new ones often written for "The Wap Review". Canoe trips were the strongest memories. In their retirement these visits kept Couchie and Dr. Harry tuned into where young people were at, and they loved what they saw and heard.
In her last summers Couchie enjoyed visits from alumni living or visiting on the lake or passing through on canoe trips. To the end she still reminisced about mothers, sisters, cousins, grandfathers, grandmothers, aunts and uncles. Meeting alum camper and staff children was very special for her.
Since Couchie left us I have always been grateful for my years at Little Wap South, especially for the fulfillment of my dream to live there through the three seasons and being visited by camp alum and the fifth generation of Wapomeo campers. Watching Hughie Statten restore Centre Cabin and memorializing the legacy and myths (!) of Chief and Tonakela, has warmed my heart. His frequent grand potluck dinners around the long table and gatherings after rigorous "athletic" events nourish the roots of friendship, in all ages, which are rooted so deeply around the shores of Canoe Lake and within the camp alumni community. "A toast to Chief and Tonakela!" frequently rings out from their old cabin. Janie Statten, our matriarch, is admired and loved by everyone.
I now look forward to spending more time with my seven grandchildren on Smoke Lake and enjoying my new "green" home in rural Bradford.
May memories of Canoe Lake forever bring you smiles and keep the bonds of friendship firm and true.
They will for me - Swebbs