Al Ingram Remembers Growing Up Near Bobcaygeon
April 29, 2023
Al Ingram in the Office at Kawartha Settlers Village
Though he was born at midwife Mrs. Johnson’s house in 1943, while his family lived beside Bobcaygeon Public School, at the age of 4 Al Ingram’s family moved to a farm on the Bobcaygeon Road (Road 49) north of the village, formerly owned by Wayne Kimble. The Ingrams had a long history in the area. Back in 1837, Matthew Ingram became one of Verulam Townships first settlers when he took up the east half of Lot 21 Concession 8 (also purchasing the adjacent lots 19 and 20—the homestead was later Meadowbrook Greenhouse). The family’s original home burned, and when they built a replacement it was on the opposite side of the road, called “the Patterson side” after another longstanding local family. In the next generation, one of the sons moved over to the Bobcaygeon Road, where Al would grow up.
When Al’s parents moved north of town, it was to take up a small farm, with a small log barn. Having just three stalls in the barn, Elwin (Al’s dad) had 6 cattle, keeping 2 in each stall. Like many farmers, he did a lot of things to get by. He was a stone mason and carpenter. But he really seemed to enjoy working in the woods, as he and his team of horses hauled out saw logs that he would sell to either Fenelon Falls’ Joe Handley or the Kinmount’s Harry Austin. Elwin was also a butcher.
As a boy, Al would walk about a mile to S.S. # 1 Harvey each day. Back then, there was no Kindergarten, so he started school on Easter to get ready for the first grade in September. There were about 15 children attending the school, but Al had three classmates in his grade—“the four of us when through the grades together.” He had the same teacher throughout his public school experience, Elsie MacEachern from Woodville. She was single and never married. In those days, teachers were expected to retire if they married. “When she was dealing with the other grades, we could do what we wanted at our desks.”
Though the school yard was not large to the eyes of an adult, there were three bases set up to play baseball. “Just over the hill there was a big pond, where as soon as there was ice we would go to skate and play hockey. Sometimes we would forget about 1 o’clock, and the teacher would have to come and ring the bell, and then we would suffer the consequences of not having come back… we would miss recess.”
Miss MacEachern “was eager to keep the school looking nice, to her this meant planting flower beds. So we would be busy with shovels in the garden, and then she would send us over to the Ingram farm to get manure in pails for fertilizer. The fact that we had to take care of the yard and work at it was a good lesson, though we probably didn’t feel that way at the time.”
The Christmas concert was one of the annual highlights. “Some of the neighbourhood men would volunteer to come in and drape a curtain across the school to create a stage, with a wood platform to stand on. We would recite poems, sing songs, including duets. The school had a piano, but Miss MacEachern was not a pianist, so one of the neighbourhood ladies who played the piano accompanied us. There was typically a play. The highlight was knowing that we were going to get an apple or an orange, and probably a little bag of candies too. It was a reward that we were otherwise not going to get.”
When he graduated from S.S. # 1,he moved on to Fenelon Falls High School. “I was picked up by a car at the end of my laneway, which drove me into DJs (Bobcaygeon Convenience and Gas). Then we got on the big yellow bus to go to Fenelon Falls for school. The bus drivers at that time had the authority to kick you off the bus. There were lots of days that someone got kicked off the bus for misbehaving and it would be reported to the principal. They would just stop and say get off.”
As a high school student, Jim Taggart was memorable for his mischievous ways. “I don’t remember what he did, but at Aunt Molly’s (Corner of Road 8 and 121) we were turning to go to Bobcaygeon and the bus driver stopped and said ‘Get Off Taggart!’ But before bus could pull away, he crawled up on the back where the luggage was stowed. Then when he got off at home he waved at the driver, so Taggart got home and everyone was happy. Usually either going or coming he would do something and get kicked off the bus.” Jim Taggart would go on to become a teacher and school board trustee, but to the end of his life maintained his mischievous ways.
“One day, we were in class on the second story of the high school and thought it was a good idea to throw books out the window. The principal said after school you are going to join me in the room. Then as soon as the bus left, he said you can go, so I started to walk home. I got about as far as Mitchell’s Road, then was mercifully given a ride to Bobcaygeon. That is a very different discipline than there is today.”
Though the bus driver had been an adult when he started school, as he was going into Grade 13, the bus company called to ask if Al would like to drive the bus. Then he would get paid for his daily trip to school. “I agreed and they brought the bus out for me to do a trial run. It was the first large vehicle that I drove, but I passed the test. Then they asked how old I was, and I replied 17. They said they couldn’t hire me until I was 18. I already had plans of how I was going to spend the money, so it was a disappointment. There were other student drivers at the time, but they were all older than me.”
Coming out of the Second World War, there was an expectation that young men would receive some basic training through cadets. “We met at the armouries in Lindsay. During one of the parades we were supposed to stand at attention, but I got light headed and was going to fall over. The cadet standing beside me grabbed me and shook me.” They also practiced at the firing range, “I remember them showing us how to do it. We did get to try the rifles indoors at the armouries with live ammunition. They showed us how to put the ammunition in, how to aim and then pull the trigger.” As with the military, the cadets had ranks, where some of the students would serve as junior officers.
One of the teachers, Bud McCartle had served in the military, and “he did not think that there should be kids in the cadets associated with the school, so he gave us the option to work with him in the flower gardens instead. I think he got called up on the carpet for it. It was the principal’s obligation to obey the law, but having been in the military, Bud did not think it was appropriate for kids to be pushed into it. That took a lot of nerve on his part, they likely threatened to fire him for it.”
When Al was 12 years old and just starting high school, his father bought a butcher business (but not the building) on the main street of Bobcaygeon. “Then every minute that I could be there, I was there supposedly helping. I got a balloon tire bicycle, with a carrier on the front of it. I would pedal around town delivering groceries to whoever had bought them. It was a great experience. I got to go all over town, got to know where everyone lived and got to know the village quite thoroughly. I felt I was doing something worthwhile. It was free delivery, but I often got a tip because the customers felt sorry for me—a quarter or a dime. If I didn’t do it, my dad took the groceries in his car. Some people would buy three boxes of groceries, so I would have to make three trips, because the carrier on the bicycle was not that big.”
The Boyd House was located near the centre of the village, on the canal. The massive building with its stone walls was a conspicuous symbol of the family’s prominence in the village. “I always thought it was important when I was delivering to Miss Sheila. I would have to go in a gate, which not many people did. I would pull in, open the door and put the groceries in. She would always yell down and say ‘Thanks, Sonny.’ Her apartment was one floor up, and full-time maintenance person, Lenny Cross lived in a house on a corner of the property.”
“Dr. Henderson lived in the other Boyd house, which later became Case Manor. He was from Florida, and had a big yacht. When he came to Bobcaygeon it would tie up on the river in front of his place. It was an impressive vessel, that barely fit through the locks—there was just a couple of feet on each end, so they had to be careful with it. Whenever it appeared in town, many people were excited to go see it.”
Back then, many people just swam in the canal, while swimming lessons were offered at the west end of the canal, where Regency Point is today. “We would jump off the swing bridge… that was a big part of our day. When they opened the locks there was quite a swirl of water going through, and kids would dive down through the swirl of water and then come back to the surface alive. The lockmaster operated the locks manually—Howard Arscott was one of them—and they would be yelling and swearing at us to get out of the locks. We were a pain to them.” Families could also swim down by the railway, where the beach park is located today.
“In winter time, we would hang on the back bumper of cars at the arena and slide along to get a ride up town. The parents were not impressed, but no one ever got run over or backed over. We were trying to see who could get the longest ride. If you were real good, you might get right up to the main street, but more likely you would fall off on the way.” There was also hockey on what they called Little Bob Lake, which was down past the post office, where Bolton Street ran in the water. “There were no girls playing hockey on the lake at that time.” As a youngster, the arena was natural ice, located where the Beer Store is now. A new arena was built in 1954, and had one of the walls blown down by Hurricane Hazel. They also tobogganed at Kennedy’s Hill (behind the barn on Reid Street).
Back in the 1950s and 1960s, wrestling matches were a big attraction on summer Saturday evenings at the Bobcaygeon Arena. With spectacles like little people grappling or famous wrestlers like Whipper Billy Watson or Gene Coniskey “they would have no trouble getting a big crowd. Whipper Billy was a big name at the time. They were really pleased when they got him to come, as he was travelling worldwide. There were always the good guys and the bad guys, and Whipper Billy was a good guy. Some of the others would be seen to be devils. It was all pretend—one guy would throw the other one out and you would think they were dead, never going to make another move, but then they would be back up wrestling again. …. They had to be careful that there would not be fights breaking out in the crowd.”
Fishing was also a major summer attraction, with its own memorable personalities. “The guides always got organized in the morning.” The cabin was perhaps 100 yards east of where the bypass bridge now stands on the north shore of Big Bob Channel. “Many of the guides were from the Nicholls family and lived close by on Helen Street. They were all good hockey players in winter. Some of the local lads used to be jealous of them, because it seemed like a good existence. In winter they trapped, sold the fur and ate beaver and muskrat—they didn’t spend a lot of money on steak and groceries. They were maybe lower income than a lot of people, and worked a trapping area assigned by the Department of Lands and Forests. One used to trap on Emily Creek, another on Nogies Creek up to Bass Lake. They would process their own furs and sell them at an annual fur auction near North Bay in the spring.”
“When I turned 16, I drove down to Knocky Thurston’s garage to get my driver’s licence, and I said I was here to get my licence. He asked how I got there, I replied that I drove, and he said, ‘but you don’t have a licence?’” Knoxon Thurston operated one of the many garages in town: An Esso on Mill Line Road, built by Ray Dawe’s father; Clarence Poole’s on the corner of Bolton and King Streets (CIBC); Pogue’s Garage BA (now entrance to Foodland); Harold (later Ken) Devitt’s BA across the road; another across the bridge where the Lions Hall is today; Roy Kennedy’s Shell Garage was next door; Bill Bellbeck’s White Rose was across the Street; Thibadeau’s (now Home Hardware); and Anderson’s Supertest (DJ’s, now Bobcaygeon Convenience and Gas). The last two stations were not garages, they just offered snacks and fuel. Harold Devitt also operated a taxi service, as did Len Mills on Front Street.
“When we came into town on Saturday night, we would stop at Bob Kennedy’s Egg grading station. (His son Roy had the Shell station, and Bruce operated a grocery store). Everyone sold their eggs there, they would sort them and pay according to the size. If they found any blood in the eggs you got zero. Once inspected, they would sell the eggs to the grocery stores. The women used to say that was their money, because they looked after the hens. Cream was picked up at the farm, maybe twice a week. Every farm had a cistern or tub to keep the cream in to prevent it from souring.”
“Saturday night was the big night for us country folks. My mother (Jean) would go and do the groceries while a lot of men would go to the pool room (now Chinese Restaurant) on the east side of Bolton Street, where they would play pool and smoke. My dad didn’t smoke, so I’m not sure why he went in there because you could cut the air. We kids would be left to run around and do what we wanted on the main street. We would see the friends we hadn’t seen all week and played hide & go seek, running around behind the stores. The men were in no hurry to get out of the pool room, though their wives were waiting after doing the groceries. They would just go to the car and wait for the husbands to return. Most of the stores stayed open until 9 pm, and there were two Devitt stores that sold clothing and material that the women would buy to make pants or knit. Saturday night was their chance to get what they needed. Mother’s feelings about the weekly trip to town depended on how long the time over run was. I remember her saying ‘Why didn’t you stay a little later?’”
“I remember visiting Bigley’s shoes and shoe repair. If our soles got wore through, we took them to Bigleys and they put on a new sole. Charlie and his son Walter were the cobblers there. It was a very special occasion to get a new pair of leather boots. The cobbler would say, make sure you get them a bit bigger, because you are going to have an insole and big winter socks.” Right beside Bigleys was Wollard’s Drug Store. “Now, when you go to Foodland, you can pick up aspirin, but back then none of that stuff would be in a grocery store, you had to go to the drug store.”
Back then the train still came to Bobcaygeon, and the tracks ended at Sherwood Street. As Al was delivering groceries on his bicycle, “when the engineer pulled the whistle, it scared me. I tried to make sure I wasn’t too close to the train when they set that whistle off. I wonder if the engineer did it as a joke to scare us kids. I never took that train—but I did once go from Lindsay to Campbellford when I was working.”
“For many years, Bobcaygeon was a dry town. Guys would get beer sent down on the bus from Lindsay, and they would be waiting at the bus stop to get their beer. There was n o LCBO and it had to be consumed at home. Every few years, there would be a vote to see if alcohol would be permitted in Bobcaygeon, and a lot of times it got turned down. But there was alcohol at the Legion. I presume it was a privilege they gave the veterans for serving their country. There were lots of people making their own. Dad often talked about so and so making moonshine and I think there was always moonshine available at the cabin for the fishing guides. Everyone knew about moonshine, and the laws were rarely enforced. Once I remember someone being charged.”
Nesbitt’s funeral home and ambulance was right beside Devitt’s garage. “It was the only ambulance service in town at the time. One time he got a call to go to an accident, but he couldn’t get the ambulance to start—cars were not so reliable back then. There was a joke around town not to count on them. If you took the ambulance, you had to pay a fee. Nesbitt’s also sold furniture.
The Rockland House was one of the most striking buildings in town, being located on the corner of Bolton and Canal Streets. “In the summer it was always busy with tourists. When I was a young lad out on the bicycle, we kept track of how many American licence plates you could see over the course of the summer. I was walking along Bolton Street the night it burned (November 18, 1966) and was commandeered to join the fire department.” Many of the new recruits were kept busy keeping the roofs of other buildings wet so that the flames would not engulf the whole town. Other accommodations included the Whyte House (Regency Point), Stonyhurst and Locust Lodge (Bobcaygeon Inn).
Kawartha Dairy operated “quite a few years without an ice cream department. We would go to get a cone there, or a brick of ice cream. The single brick was about the size of a pound of butter. The next size up was the carton. They did not distribute the ice cream—it was only available at the one location. They delivered milk, and you could also buy it at the grocery store. I remember my mother was not enthused about us drinking fresh milk, so we would buy pasteurized milk. Many others like my grandparents (Bruce and Mabel), still drank raw milk—they certainly wouldn’t be buying any milk.”
The two big events in town were the Bobcaygeon Fair, which was the last weekend in September and a street carnival in July. “The main street was all blocked off, with different attractions—ring toss, throwing darts at a balloon, bingo, and a fish pond (coloured water in a tub, with a stick and a hook on the end to get the fish out). We would pay for these activities—it was a fundraiser of the arena board in cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce and the money helped keep the arena operating. It was always a big event, with a good sized crowd.” There were also rides at the fair—horse racing was the big attraction, but there was no demolition derby.
Bobcaygeon was also home to a Junior D hockey team that had many avid followers. “One series there were 2000 people packed into the arena to watch. It seemed like some of them were hanging from the rafters. There was a platform at the south end with chairs set up to create more seating. We played against Haliburton, Minden and Little Britain. I played one year of Bantam, and my brother was on some of those junior teams, but it was hard for us to take part in sports, because we were three miles north of town. I remember hitchhiking to go to one hockey practice. Dad was not going to take time off work to drive to hockey. I always felt I had to focus more on education than sports. But for the community, as long as Bobcaygeon had junior teams, they had good support.”
Many families tuned in to Hockey Night in Canada. “I made sure I was always available to listen to Foster Hewitt on our battery operated radio. At 10 am Gordon Sinclair’s 10 minute newscast was broadcast, and many people stopped what they were doing to hear what was new in the world. Practically everyone tuned in to CKLY at 10 to noon to listen to the death notices—even when people were back deer hunting. Otherwise, CKLY mostly just played music.
There were many travelling sales. The milk man would go door to door with horse and waggon, carrying up class bottles. “Each had a different ticket. If you wanted homo it was red, blue for pasteurized. If you wanted milk you would put out a glass bottle with a ticket. Salesmen would come by with Rawleighs or Watkins salve ointment—some women liked each one. There was also a door to door bread man, from Lindsay’s Trent Valley Bakery.
“I don’t remember us having a tooth brush, but we always had Life Boy soap. Each farmhouse would have at least one bar of Life Boy soap, it was the heavy duty soap. I don’t remember there being any shampoo either. Maybe some parents could afford it, but most could not. If you wanted to wash your hair, you just ran the bar of soap through it, in the bathtub that the whole family shared—filled manually. Everyone used sunlight powder in a box to wash their dishes, and for laundry it was powdered laundry detergent with a washboard, then a cycle in the (manual) washing machine. Mother was very pleased to get her first electric washing machine.”
“The only warm water that we had was what we made on the stove, pumped from the well. It was a lot of work to fill up the bathtub or washing machine. We did not have any lights. I remember being at Grandpa Ingram’s when they put the lights on for the first time. It was like magic, and I remember standing out in the yard, when the switch was pulled to provide electricity. It was amazing to see the farm buildings and home light up for the first time. Though we had a fridge, we did not have an ice house. So when we went into town to go to church, Dad would say we have to go pick up a block of ice. After church we would go to Kimble’s Ice House on Head Street, then bring it home to put in our fridge. In summer, you would have to buy ice pretty much every time you were in town.” One of the first electric appliances his family bought was an electric stove.
When Al completed high school, he went on to become a chartered accountant. Later on, he served as Senior Business Official with the Victoria County Board of Education before becoming president of Settlers Village in his retirement. In a sense, life has come full circle for Al, as today he enjoys helping to share many of his childhood memories with his community at Settlers Village through their exhibitions, one-room schoolhouse and popular community events. Settlers Village is a place where the community spirit that made his childhood special lives on.