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Donna Logan Remembers Cedar Villa Lodge

April 13, 2024

Donna Logan, Waitress at Cedar Villa Lodge, 1951

“When I was 16 years old I was hired to run the snack bar at Cedar Villa Lodge in 1948.” In the years immediately after the Second World War, many families had the time and money to rent a cottage or stay at a lodge for a few weeks in the summer. In the Kawarthas, it seemed like practically every lake was home to many different accommodations. At that time, the lakes were not yet as densely ringed with cottages. Instead of going to their own cottage, many families stayed at a resort or lodge, year after year, making friends in the process. For many teenagers in the 1940s and 1950s, going to work for a lodge or resort was a first job away from home, and also a chance to have a memorable summer with peers who were their own age.

“C.O. (Cleveland Osborne) and Alma (Flynn) Phillips started Cedar Villa Lodge around 1935, and they always joked that at the time they had just $25. C.O. had been a travelling salesman and on one of his trips, he brought back a doctor’s daughter, who was from Truro, Nova Scotia.” As they worked together, the young couple and C.O.’s family had a lot of skills that combined to make a lot of happy memories for their guests.

“Everything that Alma did was in beautiful taste. She made sure that there were always flowers on the tables in the dining room.” C.O.’s brother, Roy operated the Royal Resort, which was just north of Rosedale on Balsam Lake—though he had just one arm and worked with a prosthetic hook. “Roy and Maxinehad a really good business. She baked the best pies. Another brother, Cecil and his wife Alice lived just up the lane from Cedar Villa Lodge, and were often there to lend a helping hand.

“Cecil and C.O. did all the stonework that was at Cedar Villa Lodge, including the gates at the entrance. Their work was lovely, including seats that were beautifully shaped. When they decided to build a stone wall, nearby farmers had piles of stones in their field. Once fit together, you could see all the beautiful stones that went into it.”

By the time that Donna came on the scene in 1948, Cedar Villa had become a happening place. “I think there were about 10 separate cabins plus the main lodge. The dining room was busy, and there were always lots of children there. The waitresses wore blue and white chequered uniforms, white socks, saddle shoes and white aprons. It was always beautifully set, with white table cloths.”

The snack bar was located on the second storey of the huge boat house, which was also home to the big dance floor. In the 1940s and 1950s, before the advent of television, many teenagers and couples frequently went dancing and there were many popular dance halls in the area. Cedar Villa often had its dances on Friday, while Wonderland, just up the road in Coboconk, was open on Saturday. Other popular local dance halls included the Golden Slipper near Minden, Greenhurst near Dunsford, the Cameo in Fenelon Falls and Edgewater in Bobcaygeon. At Cedar Villa the music was often fiddle and step dance, whereas at the Cameo, it was Jack Marshall playing the organ. “He had one of those mirror balls on the ceiling of the Cameo, that the light shined on. It was magical to us teenagers. At that time, the jitterbug was in for us kids. I don’t remember having that kind of music at Cedar Villa, but it was played at the Cameo. My brother Blake taught us how to Jitterbug, which he learned from his girlfriend who was from the United States.”

While Donna was working at Cedar Villa she was dating the owner’s son, Bob Phillips. “A whole bunch of us from the lodge would pile into Bob’s truck and go up to Wonderland on Saturday night. It kind of reminded me of a corral, with a railing built all the way around. The Cameo had a very smooth dance floor, but at Wonderland there were a few ripples in it. Afterwards we would often go to Club Balsam for Sodas and Hamburgers. Mr. Beall was open until midnight on Saturdays.”

“At Cedar Villa the dances were above the boat house, and attracted really big crowds, with live music. There was a one-armed bandit (slot machine) there, that was a fascination. Bob had it rigged up so that every Friday it gave a jackpot which was $5. Often I was lucky enough to win the jackpot, putting in a nickel—to get $5! I thought it was so much fun.”

After her first summer working at the Snack Bar, Donna became a waitress, a job that also entailed cleaning the cabins. At its peak, there were 150 guests, so there was a lot of cleaning work to be done. Near the kitchen, there was a staff house, where the waitresses boarded, then the wash house—Cecil’s wife Alice was the laundry lady. The kitchen itself was an impressive commercial operation. “It was huge, with 2 big stoves and a dishwasher.” Next to the kitchen, was a salad room, where Joanne Phillips (C.O. and Alva’s only daughter), worked. “They had a salad chef who made all kinds of beautiful salads—cabbage, lettuce, tomato, jellied salads and so on. Cedar Villa had really good chefs. I remember one who had a rotten temper, he would curse us up and down, and when he had a turkey he would chase us around the kitchen with it. I don’t remember the other chefs the same way, so they must have been nice. A baker worked in another room, baking fresh bread, tea biscuits and buns.”

Donna soon found herself as the head waitress. “I had 150 guests to look after in the dining room. I remember when Ted Rogers came to visit the lodge. People would just come to the lodge for dinner, you could make a reservation—typically meat—roast beef or legs of lamb—potatoes and all kinds of vegetables. I lot of the groceries came from LaMantia’s, and I’m not sure if they bought from the neighbouring farmers.”

“You couldn’t be on staff in that dining room and not work hard. There were high chairs to bring to the tables, and bibs.” Whether it was cleaning the cabins, washing the linens, setting the tables, serving or doing dishes, a lot of work went on behind the scenes to make things nice for all the guests. “At the end of the day, you’d feel like you were too tired to get dressed up and go out, but then an hour later you’d be ready.” There were a lot of happy memories for the friends who spent summer at Cedar Villa.

“C.O. was a genius at finding things on sale. One time he took me with him, when he had heard about a carload of damaged furniture. He bought 40 dressers that had been damaged in this train crash—he needed dressers for all the cabins that he had built, and every room in the lodge too.” Though he knew how to find a bargain, “C.O. did everything top notch, and Alma loved to decorate. They all had pretty drapes—Alma had one lady there who sewed. The cabins were bright and cheery, with lots of windows. You went up two or three steps to get in, and they had bathrooms, with flush toilets, electric lights and fireplaces.”

“Many of the visitors to Cedar Villa Lodge came from the United States—there were a lot from Cleveland. I can’t remember any guests who were not very nice to serve. No one was hard to suit. Whether they were Canadians or Americans, they were so happy to be in the country and have a lake like Balsam to go hunt, fish or canoe. It was a dream come true for a lot of people. They had to be comfortable to come stay at Cedar Villa—it was not cheap, it was a highly rated resort.”

When guests arrived at Cedar Villa, “you would see the office first, which was at the back of the main building.” The dock located in front the main lodge on Balsam Lake was famous and many visitors enjoyed pleasant summer days there. “I imagine that C.O. and Cecil built the dock. I can’t remember them bringing in other staff members to help. C.O. worked like a dog, and I remember him in his overalls. Whatever they did, they did 150%—there was no messing around. The service road went around to the back, where the wash house was. The staff house was way up in the bush.”

“C.O. really liked people and he was a wheeler dealer. He was never cheap—his employees were not complaining about their wages. I remember one summer I was paid $350 for the summer, and people tipped us generously. He was a really good dancer, with a personality that everyone liked. He was a smart businessman and could see how to make a profit and make something out of nothing. That was what it was like coming out of the depression.”

“C.O. was very generous and he loved his family. He and Alma were married in the early 1920s, and he would give his wife anything. He would make sure she had the car she wanted—whatever she wanted she would get. She had a dresser at Simpsons, so when they went to Toronto, they would have an outfit made just for her. He provided her with beautiful jewelry, the best that money could buy.”

“I adored Alma—she had a wild sense of humour. She taught me how to shoot partridges, and we went hunting together. If she was going on a golfing weekend she would take me—I remember one memorable trip to Haliburton.”

“C.O. was the president of the Ontario Tourist Association. When they went to conventions in the U.S. he took Bob and I with them. Three or four years in a row we went to New York—and that was a big deal at the time. We went to Harlem, and went to see Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. I remember going to the huge ballroom in the Royal York Hotel in Toronto and seeing the bar with the train going around the ceiling.”

Cedar Villa was open from May 24 to Thanksgiving. The young employees “all started for May 24—that was such a big weekend. The teenagers they hired typically stayed there for the summer, going home after Labour Day.” Once it was time to close up the lodge for the season at Thanksgiving, C.O and Alma went to Florida for the winter, while their youngest son, Bob, stayed with the Brandon family.”

In summer, the Phillips’ shared many happy moments on the shore of Balsam Lake. “C.O. had a beautiful launch, with a mahogany bow. He took out guests for rides, which was a much anticipated event. Bob took flying lessons when he was 16 and bought an airplane. We often went flying in the afternoon—we were expected to be back by 4 pm. One time, while we were flying, he told me ‘I’m going to have to land this without any gas.’ At the time there was a group on the dock and they heard the engine cut out. He just landed it straight in. They all cheered and clapped, they thought that we were all done for. We enjoyed a lot of excursions in his Piper Cub.”

The Phillips family also owned land on the northeast arm of Balsam Lake, which they were developing into Driftwood Village. “They started building cottages one at a time at Driftwood, and selling them to private buyers. C.O and Don bought the swampy island that turned into Juniper Island. That’s how all that property got developed, he built each lot as cottages and sold them. C.O. always had a dream that he was pursuing.”

For so many guests, Cedar Villa was a wonderful place to spend the summer. Year after year, they came back to boat on Balsam Lake, sit on the colourful Muskoka chairs on the front lawn, or go fishing—and back then the fishing on Balsam Lake was renowned. “It was a wonderful time of life.” Just like the visitors at the lodge, the staff at Cedar Villa Lodge would never forget the seasons they shared.

This story is a memory and nobody’s memory is perfect. Sometimes details get a little mixed up, things get forgotten or overlooked, and the perspective is inevitably subjective. If you notice something that not right, have something you would like to tell us, or a memory to share the museum would be happy to hear from you: curator@maryboro.ca

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