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Childhood in Burnt River

March 12, 2022

Beulah (Hanthorn) Robson, 1941

By Beulah (Hanthorn) Robson

Having lived in the village for sixteen years of my life, I can happily tell you that the shore of the River was a playground in the warm summer months for the children residing there.

Along the eastern border of the village this picturesque river wends its way. The dark brown colour of the water, no doubt, lent the river its name.

The Burnt River cuts its way through golden sand as it curves and bends along southward. Steep banks for the most part afford little access to the water, except for places like ‘The Flats’ where children of the village spent summer days. The first ‘dip’ was the 24th of May. Though too cold to enjoy, you at least made an attempt to get wet or be chided by others if you were a coward. It was a dangerous risk for the young folk who raced down to touch a toe in the water. The water line was high on the banks and the current very strong. Even though it was no place for children during high water, we all seemed to respect its authority as it churned and swirled over branches and deadheads and around bends on its spring course. No drownings occurred at ‘The Flats’ where we swam.

One spring, when the high water forced the Kinmount Dam to give way, the river overflowed in many low places inundating farmers’ fields. Debris and water built up against the wooden bridge on the East line until the bridge gave away and the long timbers floated southward with the rushing water. Older boys caught several long timbers and secured them to the bank. After the flood waters subsided to a normal level these timbers were properly fastened to the shoreline and stretched out on the water. Those who could not swim well were then able to walk most of the way over, jump as far as possible, then successfully make the shorter distance to the shore. The chokecherries and the field peas on the opposite shore were delicious and gave us energy to get back across. You learned to swim at an early age and soon were able to dive for white door knobs or stand on a submerged deadheads or sandbars.

Now most of the shoreline is private property lined with cottages where once many tall butternut trees dropped fall treats of nuts. These were gathered and dried and later broken open with a hammer to reveal the sweet meat.

The only boats I remember seeing in that vicinity were canoes and rowboats. Several punts and rowboats were tied to the shore above and below the Flats. Some were used for convenience in crossing over, others for fishing. A canoe hidden in the bushes on the East Line Bridge was regularly used by an elderly gentleman in his eighties, Mr. Joe Brisbin. He and a ten-year-old boy, Blair Hanthorn, went on many fishing trips together.

Though not a wide river along most of its travel the water is deep and the current is strong for the swimmer. In the wintertime, even though the temperature dropped below zero Fahrenheit, open water might often be in evidence where the River rounded a bend. Parents warned their children about skating on the frozen surfaces since what might appear safe could, in fact be very thin ice. However, we did have a safe a popular place on ‘The Pond’ which was a low place where the Burnt’s waters backed up on the east side of one of Chas. Hodgson’s fields. Fantasy conjured up visions as we imagined that Indian people once camped beneath the cedars and other trees that lined the banks of the Pond. It was a secluded spot, sheltered from the cold west winds. We had to make a path through the deep snow of the field and then shovel off a square of ice surface on which to skate or play hockey. Big boys made a cozy fire which not only provided warmth but made a festive time of it all. When a benevolent gentleman of the village, Mr. Jos. Handley, built an open-air rink beside his garage for the young people and supplied lighting for it from his Delco system—we thought it was the Ultimate! All was free, no charge at all. I wonder if any of us ever thanked him or did he read it on our faces? Naturally, after all this the pond was forsaken in favour of the more accessible new rink where we were able to skate under the lights. I am sure all children cherish the memories of the activities and fun experienced during that growing up period in their lives.

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