Remembering When with Jim Curtis
March 6, 2023
Jim Curtis, from North Kawartha Times, April 15, 1986
By Ernest Hills
Originally Published in the North Kawartha Times, April 15, 1986
James Curtis’ contributions to the quality of life enjoyed in Fenelon Falls are as varied as the business, volunteer and public service activities he has been involved in. For Curtis, an early recognition of the tourist potential of the village was tempered with a commitment to the people and services which are an intricate part of Village life.
Being a lifetime resident of Fenelon, Jim Curtis’ recollections are many and varied. Born on a farm in Verulam’s third concession, James was only a youngster when the family moved to Fenelon Falls in 1919. In 1924, his father purchased the building which was to become the Curtis Inn. Today the building still houses a restaurant, just three doors north of the Canadian Tire (Subway), across from the present IGA (Red Apple).
He recalls those early days when they sold ice-cream, sandwiches and candy. Even in those days he recalls there was a strong tourist base to the economy during the summer months. In 1930, the family invested in a 95-acre farm, while maintaining the restaurant in town. As a mixed farm, much of the produce went to supply the restaurant, including the cull chickens. Curtis can recall shipping both eggs and cream off the farm, but help became a growing problem in the 1940s, and it became too much work.
Curtis recalls that George and Barbara Westlake ran the farm for many years, but had decided to go back to Peterborough. During the war, getting help to run the farm continued to be a problem, so in 1943 they had an auction sale of farm implements and livestock. From 1943 to 1945 the farm was rented to Ken Oliver. The expectation had been that after the war there would be lots of help, but ‘it didn’t work out that way.’ In 1945, they sold the farm to Ken Oliver.
Meanwhile, back in the village, Curtis was expanding his tourist operation. In 1944, they built Curtis’ Cabins, comprised of 12 cottages built on the south side of the channel, between the dam and the railroad bridge. In keeping with the ‘very lively tourist industry,’ which Jim Curtis describes, ‘all 12 cabins were rented throughout the summer months. They were housekeeping units, which we’d rent preferably for a 2-week period, or a month at a time. In 1944, they rented for $25 a week.
In 1947, Curtis purchased a 36 foot Habourcraft boat with a 12-foot beam. “I had it converted into an excursion boat for taking cruises. Three days a week, we’d run a day-long round-trip excursion to Chemong Lake, starting at 8 in the morning and arriving back in Fenelon Falls at 6 in the evening. Then 3 days a week we ran short excursion trips to Thurstonia Park and back. It was a popular trip. People from Thurstonia would come in on the boat to shop and then take the cruise back.”
During that time, James Curtis was operating the restaurant, and with the help of his wife managing the cabins. He hired a captain to run the oat. Blair Hanthorne was one of the captains for a couple of years, and Curtis’ daughters would serve as deck hands. “In the evenings I’d run the boat myself,” says Jim, “the hour-long cruises were a nice break from the Kitchen of the restaurant, where I was short-order cook.”
Jim recalls his sister, Edith Hawe, would bake as many as 30 to 35 pies a day, to provide dessert for the restaurant patrons. Unlike the cabins and cruise boat, which were seasonal operations, for the Curtis’ the restaurant was a year-round enterprise. By 1960, Jim Curtis found himself enjoying another type of challenge, selling insurance in his own general insurance business. “I enjoyed the insurance business best,’ notes Curtis. “The restaurant grind of up at 7 a.m. and not getting to bed until 2 a.m., 365 days a year was pretty rough.
During the 1950s, James Curtis served the public in another capacity. For a total of 9 years, including 4 years on Council and 5 years as Reeve, he served the Village of Fenelon Falls as an elected representative. Over the years, Curtis established many enhancements to the business community of Fenelon Falls, drawing people into the Village to enjoy the summer season. Through the years, the businesses were sold, the restaurant, the excursion boat to Foster Hewitt’s son-in-law, the cabins were sold as well and in 1977 the insurance business was sold to Max MacAlister.
One of Jim Curtis’ observations of the tourist industry, which applied then as it does now, was that ‘people, in my estimation, want to be entertained. When I had the cabins Byrnell Manor was the scene of softball games a couple of times a week.” While recreation is acknowledged as a big factor in tourism, by Jim Curtis, and he has played an important role in the development of tourism within the Village, he takes the most pride in his role as a volunteer fireman. “I have been on the Fenelon Falls fire department since the age of 15. When I was 20 in 1930, I was appointed Fire Chief, and remained until 1977, when I was succeeded by Al Graham. I was 67 then.”