The workshop, the sugar bush and the garden
Improvements to the Frostpocket Settlement
During 1972 and for the next six years improvements were made to the Frostpocket with the expectation that the community would eventually live there on a permanent basis. In August 1973 the foundations of a house for Randy were in place. By the following October the walls and the roof of an addition to the community house were roughed in. In December 1973 a small portable sawmill was purchased and by January 1974 George and Skip had it assembled and running. In the spring of 1974 construction was begun on a workshop. The workshop was roofed and weather tight by September. Also in the summer of 1974 a small area of the beaver meadow east of the workshop was cleared and prepared for planting. The next spring George planted a crop of Jerusalem artichokes in the cleared ground and for the next three years he sold the tubers through the Baldwin Street Natural Food Store in Toronto.
In the fall of 1975 a shed was built on the flats south of the log cabin to house George’s maple sugaring equipment. Also that fall George’s house and the workshop were wired for electricity. In the summer of 1976 Ontario Hydro agreed to extend their electrical distribution system to the Frostpocket and the Mullins brothers were contracted to clear the right of way for a pole-line along the lane leading to the Frostpocket from the Muskoka Road. In October 1976 the community house (by then called “Mary’s house”), George’s house and the workshop were all connected to the new pole-line and the electricity turned on. In August 1977 both George and Philip received Home Renewal Loans from the township to finish their homes and by November Mary’s house had a septic system and both homes had new metal roofs. (insert link to “Letters from Frostpocket”, file 6.18)
In 1972 Chris found a local woman who could witch for underground streams. She located two well sites in the clearing and one at Chris’ house site. Subsequently a well was dug near Mary’s house and another in the garden area. Philip installed a bathtub next to the well in the garden and, in pleasant weather; he and Mary bathed in the outdoors. In 1975 a well was dug next to George’s house and in 1976 electric pumps and pressurized holding tanks were installed in both houses. The next year a flush toilet and an electric water heater were installed inside Mary’s house. George tore down his old outhouse and built a new concrete two-hole compost type toilet. In September 1973 Wilfred McClaren converted his heating system from wood to fuel oil and sold the old wood-burning furnace to George. George in turn gave his older, smaller furnace to Philip who installed it in the basement of Mary’s house. Until then Mary’s house had been heated by a space heater installed in the kitchen. Over the next five years Philip experimented with a variety of chimneys, one of which burned to the ground. It was not until August 1979 that he finally built a proper masonry chimney with two flues, one for the kitchen stove and the other for the furnace in the basement.
Improvements to the settlement: The 1973 Christmas Meeting
In the fall of 1973 there were four couples living on Frostpocket including George, Colleen and their four-year old son Seth; Skip O’Dell, his wife Judy and their baby of nine months; Chris Risk and his girlfriend Caroline Spring and Philip and Mary. Skip and Judy rarely left the property and, after the fall of 1972, withdrew from the Ragnarokr co-operative. They lived in their one-room cabin where Skip made musical instruments and leather goods that he consigned to Ragnarokr. In April 1973 their first child was born at the Red Cross Hospital in Burk’s Falls. George and Colleen spent the summer of 1973 alternately working at the leather shop in Toronto and improving their house at the Frostpocket. In March Philip and Mary left for Heron Bay and did not return until August. Upon their return, Mary went to Toronto to manage the leather shop while Philip stayed at the Frostpocket to work on an addition to the community house. Chris and Caroline left in June and spent the summer running a craft shop in Ganonoque, Ontario. They arrived back at the Frostpocket in September. On Labor Day 1973 Ish Tahlheimer and his dog (from Killahoe) joined Madelyn Averitte and the residents of Frostpocket at a picnic to welcome Chris and Caroline and Philip and Mary back home.
In December Ragnarokr held its annual meeting in George and Colleen’s house. All of the residents of Frostpocket and Madelyn Averitte were in attendance. On Christmas Day the group enjoyed a potluck dinner together followed the next day by the annual business meeting. At that meeting the group decided to try to revive the declining wholesale business and to make a new wholesale catalog. The schedule for manning the leather shop in Toronto was agreed upon and Chris Risk merged his company, Crow Goods, into the wholesale arm of the Ragnarokr co-operative. Everyone but Skip agreed to build a workshop at Frostpocket the following spring and to construct a pole-line to bring electricity to the property.
Improvements to the settlement: The sawmill
George and Skip had already located a small portable sawmill that could be purchased for $100. After the Christmas meeting, they purchased the sawmill and carried it to Frostpocket in Skip’s old panel truck. The sawmill consisted of a carriage and about twenty feet of track, a circular head saw measuring about three feet in diameter and an assortment of pulleys and shafts including a sawdust dragline. George and Skip installed the sawmill in a small clearing near the garden and George had it running by the end of January 1974. In May 1974 Philip rented a hitch and towed an old pickup truck belonging to Chris Risk from Toronto to the site of the sawmill. The truck’s left rear wheel was replaced with a pulley that drove the head saw by means of a 5” wide flat belt that was twenty feet long. For the first year or so the sawmill operator pulled on a cable to control the engine throttle but George subsequently fitted a governor to the engine to regulate its speed.
For the first few years of the mill’s operation saw logs were rolled up a ramp and onto the carriage. This meant that two men were needed to operate the mill. At some later date a platform was built and the logs were rolled directly from the wagon onto the platform. The logs were stacked on the platform to wait their turn on the carriage. With this improvement one man could operate the mill. The sawdust fell into a shallow pit below the head saw and was carried away by a dragline driven from the main shaft by what appeared to be the differential from an old car. The sawdust was heaped into a pile and later used to mulch the garden and flowerbeds.
Logging was almost always a two-man operation. Trees were usually cut and pulled to a skid way or the roadway by the Ford tractor. There the logs were hoisted or rolled onto an antique wagon by means of a ramp and cant hooks. The wagon was then hitched to the tractor and hauled to the sawmill platform where the logs were unloaded and left on the platform. At Frostpocket almost all logging was done during the summer when the tractor could get into the woods. Logs were always selectively cut to cull older trees and often to clear windfalls and trees that had fallen across the road. In difficult terrain the logs were either carried to the skid way or drug there using the tractor and a log chain. The chain was attached to the tractor’s hitch mounted on the tractor housing slightly below the rear axle. In the summer of 1976 Jeff and Philip were taking logs from the flats south of the sugarhouse. To maneuver the tractor through the thick woods it was often necessary to shorten or lengthen the log chain. The safe way to do this was to disconnect the chain from the hitch and reposition it. The fast way was to wrap the excess chain around a bracket that was located on the rear axle housing above the axle. On this occasion Jeff was driving the tractor and Philip was operating the chain. About midday the log that Jeff was pulling hung up on a stump. With the rear drive wheels of the tractor unable to move and the chain hooked above the rear axle, the front of the tractor began to lift off the ground. As the front of the tractor rose higher and higher in the air, Jeff vainly tried to depress the clutch. The tractor flipped over and landed on its back. At the last minute, Jeff jumped from his seat on the tractor. His leg was penned under the hood of the tractor but the ground was covered in peat moss and he suffered no injuries. The two men built a lifting frame and used a chain fall to turn the tractor back over. The tractor was only slightly damaged but the men learned an important lesson about tractor safety that day.
Improvements to the settlement: The workshop
Philip designed the workshop to make maximum use of the building materials available on the property. The final design was modeled after George’s house. The frame was constructed of peeled fir logs cut from the surrounding forest. Rough-cut dimensional lumber from the sawmill was used to frame in the spaces between the logs and to build workbenches and stairs. The exterior and interior walls were built in a style called “board and batten”. This wall finish made full use of planking with some rough edges. Since the sawmill had no trim saw about half of the planks had some rough edges that were covered in bark. These planks, the “boards”, were nailed to the wall studs and other, better quality planks, called “battens”, were nailed over the boards in such a way as to fill the gap between the boards. This resulted in an inexpensive yet durable wall covering. Building paper placed behind the board and batten exterior wall kept the wind from blowing through the cracks. The floors of the workshop were made of rough-cut fir planking from the sawmill. A corrugated metal roof was laid on one-inch purlins that were in turn nailed to pole rafters. Only the concrete block knee walls of the garage, the metal corrugated roofing and sheetrock for the ceilings were purchased. The windows and doors were all salvaged from demolition sites in Toronto.
The workshop had no basement. The western half, facing the entrance road, had a dirt floor with two bays for servicing vehicles. The eastern half, the leather shop, faced the beaver meadow. It was raised on poles set in the ground. The crawl space under the leather workshop was used for storage. The two halves of the building measured about four hundred square feet each and each room had ample south and east facing windows and florescent lighting. Built-in worktables had shelving underneath. In the attic was a small five hundred square foot two-room apartment. The apartment was reached by a set of enclosed stairs hanging from the ceiling of the garage. (insert link to “Floor plan, workshop”, file 6.20)
Work started on the workshop in June of 1974 and continued until the fall whenever someone was available to do the work. In April Skip and Judy sold their cabin to Bie Engelen (and the panel truck to Greg Sperry) and in May left for British Columbia. Chris and Caroline spent the spring of 1974 at the leather shop in Toronto and then returned to the Frostpocket where Chris helped build the frame for the workshop. In April Frank Tettemer visited and proposed to rejoin the Ragnarokr co-operative. He had been doing work on consignment for several years and occasionally spent two or three weeks working at the leather shop. He agreed to watch the shop in September and October. In July Jeff and Debbie Mullins arrived from Florida. They too joined the co-operative and began working in the leather shop. This allowed Randy to leave Toronto for an extended stay at the Frostpocket. Randy spent most of his time in Toronto. His constant presence in the shop allowed the other members of the co-operative the freedom to move between Toronto and the Frostpocket as their financial needs dictated. In October Philip and Randy working together cut 3,000 board feet of lumber in 14 days. Most of the lumber was used in the workshop. The lumber was cut and stacked on racks or in piles to air dry and was then nailed in place before it had a chance to warp.
In September George and Hazel Mullins came for their last annual visit. That month the roof of the workshop was nailed in place. In October the walls and windows were installed and by November the workshop was weather-tight but still not finished. By early November everyone’s attention was focused on producing merchandise for the Christmas retail season and on finishing the work on the buildings before the beginning of December. In October Ragnarokr stopped accepting wholesale orders until the spring of 1975. Colleen and Mary were doing much of the wholesale work at their homes in the Frostpocket. In early December the majority of the craftsmen moved to the leather shop in Toronto for the Christmas rush.
Bie was pregnant when she moved into the log cabin in May. Her son Sam was born at the Red Cross Hospital in Burk’s Falls in October. Greg, Bie and baby Sam wintered over in their cabin at the Frostpocket. By then Colleen was pregnant with her second child. She and George worked in Toronto during the Christmas season but returned to their home in the Frostpocket in February. They left Jeff and Debbie to run the leather shop while Randy, Philip and Mary went on a three-month trip to Mexico. Chris also spent the winter at the Frostpocket. Caroline Spring returned to Florida before Christmas leaving Chris a bachelor yet again.
Improvements to the settlement: The sugar bush
The eroded granite hills of the Eagle Lake Uplands are an ideal environment for the rock or sugar maple and the sugar maple is the dominant tree on the stony hilltops of Machar Township. The first generation of pioneers placed a high value on maple sugar and brought sugaring off equipment with them when they settled the township in the 1880s. By the 1970s there were half dozen maple syrup producers in the Uplands community. Ed Sohm’s bush on Lot 19, Conc. 4 on Bunker Hill, with a potential of 1,000 taps, was the closest sugar bush to the Frostpocket. Its sugaring-off house was located just off Eagle Lake Road near the intersection with the Muskoka Road. In 1970 the Sohm bush as well as those originally developed by Wilmer Bow (on Lots 24 and 25, Concession 6) and the Thomas Quirt bush (on Lot 21, Concession 7) were being worked by the third generation of operators. These men were descendants of the township’s pioneering families.
Two of the local families who befriended the Frostpocket hippies, the Scarletts and the McLarens, were also maple syrup producers. Don Scarlett had a sugar bush behind his hay fields just west of the Eagle Lake Narrows. Like Wilfred McLaren, Don Scarlett was a dairyman and, like Wilfred, he had several sideline businesses. In addition to making maple syrup, Don sold Christmas trees from his acreage. Wilfred McLaren operated a hunt camp during the fall deer season. Wilfred had grown up working in his father’s sugar bush near Rye in Lount Township and in the 1960s, after he had married and moved to South River, he managed a large sugar bush on the old Henry Minor farm on Lots 31 and 32, Concession 3. His brother-in-law, Jack Minor, owned the property but Jack lived in Sudbury and made no use of the old farm. Wilfred operated this bush until 1977 when he moved his operation to a bush behind his farm on Bunker Hill. Within a few years he was setting 1,400 taps. He built a little building in front of his farmhouse to house the evaporator and to display the finished product. By then Wilfred had a long list of steady customers who purchased syrup from him every year. Sometimes he could not produce enough syrup to satisfy his steady customers and he was forced to find syrup elsewhere for them.
Improvements to the settlement: The beginnings of the Frostpocket sugar bush
In the fall of 1972 George and Colleen moved into their new home at the Frostpocket. By the next spring George was employed by Wilfred McLaren to help him set up at the Jack Minor sugar bush. Wilfred taught George how to set up the bush using the latest technology and how to make maple syrup. He also gave George a few buckets and spigots that George needed to get started with his own bush. With Wilfred’s encouragement George found the time to tap a few maple trees around his home and made a gallon or so of maple syrup in a washtub set in an old oil drum. This was the beginning of the Frostpocket sugar bush. During the summer George and Philip helped Wilfred with his hay crop and in October 1973 Wilfred hired George to do some carpentry work at his hunt camp in Lount Township. In the spring of 1974 George once again was hired to work at the Jack Minor sugar bush.
In the spring of 1974 George tapped a few maple trees around his house and made five gallons of maple syrup. His evaporator was an old-fashioned flat steel pan that had been given to him by Wilfred. The next year George surveyed the hillside between Randy’s house site and south of the log cabin and found places for 288 taps. That spring he had the help of Greg Sperry and Bie Engelen, who had wintered over in the cabin, and of Colleen, who was pregnant with Katie. George placed the old flat pan outdoors near his house and carried the sap to the pan in the old fashioned way, in buckets. The first run of sap was on April 7 followed by runs on April 15 and 16, April 20 and 21 and on April 22 and 23. Colleen pulled a muscle while carrying buckets of sap through the deep snow and her doctor ordered her to stop. She devoted her time to curing and smoking last year’s hams and starting tomato plants for the garden while George and Bie continued working in the bush until the weather turned warm and the sap stopped running. George made 25 gallons of syrup that year, much of which was amber or dark. George sold some of the syrup and used the rest at home as a sweetener. In the fall of 1975 a shed was built in the flats below the log cabin and the evaporator pan moved there. A large quantity of standing dead balsam fir trees were cut from the edges of the clearing and stacked near the shed for use as firewood the following spring.
In January 1976 George, Colleen, Philip, Mary, Jeff and Debbie help at the Frostpocket while Randy runs the leather shop in Toronto. George located spots for 382 taps by expanding the sugar bush south and west up the hill. He decided to not tap trees in areas that had been difficult to collect the year before. The sap started to run on March 28 and 29 and continued to run daily until April 19. George made 52 gallons of syrup that was good enough to sell. He burned another 8 gallons, spilled enough sap to make another 3 gallons and throw away enough spoiled sap to make another 6 gallons. George boiled the sap and canned the syrup while his helpers (Philip, Jeff and Debbie) emptied the sap buckets and carried the sap to the evaporator.
During the summer of 1976 Philip relocated the western boundary of Lot 19. The sugar bush was bounded on the uphill or western side by the lot boundary. Some years before an employee of the Ontario Department of Natural Resources had marked the lot boundary at the request of a logging contractor. The men had started at the northwest corner marker at the clearing and followed a compass to the southwest corner, making blazes on trees they encountered as they walked. The ground was very uneven and sometimes quite steep and the men, who were drinking, tended to move gradually downhill as they walked. This left the blazes too far downhill. Philip built a surveyor’s transit using a magnetized iron bar and a riflescope. Using this tool he located the boundary more accurately. In the middle part of Lot 19, where the sugar bush was, the lot boundary moved about 150 feet up the hill. In January 1976 George was able to locate spaces for 536 taps in this enlarged sugar bush.
For the 1977 sugar season, George designed a system of dump stations to reduce the effort needed to collect the sap. Gathering the sap from the sap buckets and hauling it to the evaporator is the most laborious part of making maple syrup. At least once a day when the sap is running, every bucket has to be emptied and the sap delivered to the evaporator and boiled to syrup as quickly as possible. On a warm day any delay might result in a finished product that is “dark”. If the sap is left in the buckets overnight and the temperature stays warm throughout the night the sap may begin to ferment and will spoil. The spoiled sap can still be boiled into syrup but is will be very dark, have an after taste and be difficult or impossible to sell. Furthermore the spoiled sap will contaminate the buckets, tubing and storage tanks making any syrup produced thereafter more likely to be dark. Most modern sugar bushes use a system of tubes that moves the sap directly from each tap to the evaporator house without the use of buckets. In January or February 1977 George and Philip set up 22 dump stations connected by black plastic PVC tubing to one of two storage tanks. One storage tank was mounted next to the evaporator in the sugarhouse. The other was a transfer tank located in a low spot between the log cabin and George’s house. The men used a gas-driven gear pump to move the sap from the transfer tank to the storage tank in the sugarhouse. The sap was collected from the buckets hanging from each tap in the usual way but instead of carrying the sap to the evaporator, it was carried to the nearest dump station. From the dump station the sap flowed by gravity through the tubing to one of the storage tanks. Whenever the storage tank was partially full, George would build a fire under the evaporator and began to boil the sap into syrup. As the level in the evaporator dropped he would open a valve to move sap from the storage tank into the evaporator. The old flat evaporator made syrup in batches. When all of the syrup in the pan was ready, George poured the finished syrup into retail containers and then sealed the cans. In 1977 he purchased a more modern evaporator that had partitions built into it. The sap continuously entered at one end of the pan and moved slowly to the other end where it was taken off as syrup. George always made the syrup while Philip and Debbie emptied the sap buckets and carried the sap to the dump stations. When the storage tank was near empty the sap in the transfer tank was pumped over to the storage tank and George continued to make syrup until both tanks were empty. After a good run the evaporator was kept boiling until late into the night.
After the end of the 1976 Christmas selling season at the Ragnarokr leather shop, Philip and Mary remained in Toronto while George and Colleen returned to the Frostpocket. During January George made the preparations for the coming sugar season. In mid-February the two couples changed places and George and Colleen moved to the leather shop. On March 12 Colleen’s youngest child, Andrew, was born in Toronto. The first run of sap occurred on March 15 but no syrup was made then. The sap began to run again on March 28 through 30. The second run was followed by another April 3 through 6 and another April 11 through 13. George made about 25 gallons of good syrup each time for a total of 75 galloons of saleable maple syrup. He made another ten gallons of black syrup from a final run on April 16 and 17.
George purchased a rubber candy mould and in May 1977 began to sell maple sugar candies to natural food stores in downtown Toronto. He was already selling his maple syrup in pints, quarts and half-gallon cans through the same stores. In August he entered samples of his syrup to be judged at the South River Fall Fair and he was awarded fourth place out of six entries.
The next year, 1978, George drilled and set 685 taps, some on Lot 20, and made 77 gallons of clear syrup and another 17 gallons of dark syrup. He reconfigured the system of dump stations, added few more dump buckets and extended the tubing to the south. The first run of sap started April 11, lasted until April 17 and yielded 33 gallons of syrup. A second run on April 20 yielded 7½ gallons and a third run on April 23 through 28 yielded 36 gallons. The last run on May 3-5 yielded 17 gallons of dark syrup. Philip and Colleen assisted in the sugar bush. Once again George entered samples of syrup to the South River Fall Fair. This time he won second place. The new fluted pan and better hygiene resulted in lighter and better quality syrup.
The 1979 sugar season found Philip attending school in Toronto and unable to assist in the sugar bush. Jeff and Debbie returned from Florida in February and Jeff and George drilled and set 522 taps, all on Lot 19. They set up the collection dump stations in the same configuration as the previous year. 1979 was an exceptional good year for maple syrup producers in the Almaguin Highlands. The sap started to run on March 18 and ran until April 20 with four breaks of about five days each. George made 92 gallons of medium and light colored syrup. A final run on April 25 yielded 6 gallons of darker syrup. The 1979 sugar season was the last and most successful year for the Frostpocket sugar bush. Not only had George made a record 98 gallons of syrup but he was also making syrup of consistently good quality. 90% of the syrup made in 1979 was classified in the highest category of “light” maple syrup.
Improvements to the settlement: The end of the Frostpocket sugar bush
Between 1975 and 1979 George had demonstrated that the sugar bush could provide an attractive supplementary income. In 1979 the 92 gallons of light grade syrup George made had a value of about $1,600. In comparison, in the year of 1978 the Ragnarokr leather shop made payments totaling $6,185 to the five or six members of the co-operative and another $1,246 to the two or three craftsmen who had consigned leather goods to the shop. The payments to members of co-operative averaged just a little over one thousand dollars. In fact, during the previous eight years Philip’s annual earnings from the leather shop had averaged $1,154. During those years he probably worked an average of six months a year at the leather shop. Based upon the experience of the sugar bush between 1976 and 1979 the Frostpocket sugar bush could handle 500 taps and produce an average of 75 gallons of syrup annually. In 1980 the retail value of 75 gallons of good quality maple syrup was $1,350 (at $18 per gallon). In 2003 maple syrup retails for $75 per gallon and the retail value of 75 gallons is over five thousand dollars.
In 1980 no trees were tapped and no maple syrup was made. George and Philip were both enrolled at the George Brown College of Applied Arts and Technology in Toronto during the sugar season and Jeff and Debbie had returned to Florida. George drew up plans for a new sugarhouse to be located on the north slope of the middle moraine across from his house. This building would have a concrete floor and be wired for electricity. It would be connected to two collection tanks that would drain a number of dump stations. George began to talk to the owner of Lot 20 who had already agreed to allow him to tap maple trees on his property and uphill of the existing Frostpocket sugar bush. The existing bush could support 500 taps and George hoped to get permission to tap another 500 taps on Lot 20 or to purchase Lot 20 outright. With 1,000 taps he hoped to earn more in three months in the sugar bush than he had been making in six months at the leather shop.
Improvements to the settlement: The Community Garden
In 1971 the only part of Lot 19 that wasn’t covered in forest was a small clearing in the northwest corner of the lot. The clearing was the remnant of a much larger field that extended up the hill into Lot 20. The entrance road to the property cut through the middle of this clearing. The community house was built on the western half of the clearing and the eastern half was set aside for a community garden. The old horse shed was located approximately in the middle of the community garden.
George, Skip, Judy and Chris planted the first garden in the spring of 1972. They tilled the thin topsoil under and planted a small selection of garden vegetables. On June 11 and again on July 4 a heavy frost killed or damaged many of their plants and the gardeners realized that in Frostpocket a killing frost was possible any month of the year. They learned to plant frost tolerant vegetables and to be prepared for freezing weather whenever the moon was full and the night sky was free of clouds. (insert a link to “Frostpocket Garden”, file 6.12)
The following summer the weather was both warmer and wetter with the temperature reaching a record of 30 degrees Celsius at the end of September. George, Colleen, Chris, Skip and Judy expanded the garden and started smaller herb gardens near their houses. Chris purchased a pair of pigs that were placed in a large pen on the edge of the garden. The pigs were expected to root up the underbrush and to fertilize the soil with their manure. They were supposed to be “pioneering pigs”. Their pen was moved whenever they had finished rooting up the small patch of brush inside their corral. In the fall the pigs grew fat and occasionally drunk from eating large quantities of overripe wild apples gathered from abandoned orchards in the Uplands community and in Strong Township. The two pigs were pampered and petted and became quite friendly. However they were not permanent inhabitants and in late November they were taken to a slaughterhouse in Powasson.
Also that fall George purchased a flat of chicks from a mail order house and kept them in the basement of the leather shop in Toronto. When his tour of duty at the leather shop was over in April, he carried the chickens to his home at Frostpocket where he built a chicken coop for them behind his house. The chicken house walls were made from cedar boards and had a number of south facing windows and, eventually, an enclosed run. The chicken house was more or less varmint proof but occasionally a mink or a raccoon killed some of the chickens during the night. The chickens also quickly learned to be watchful of hawks during the day and they ran for cover whenever a dark shape appeared in the sky. By April 1974 George’s chickens were laying nearly a dozen eggs a day.
In the summer of 1973 Chris purchased a small New Zealand White rabbit at the South River Stock Yard and placed it in Mary’s care. The rabbit slept and manured in a small wicker pet-carrying case placed under the kitchen table. During the day the rabbit roamed the house, chewing holes in the sheetrock walls and eating the bindings of Philip’s extensive collection of books. In November the rabbit moved to the leather shop in Toronto with Philip and Mary. The rabbit lived in their bedroom and was given bales of hay to chew and nest on. The rabbit roamed the house as she had done at the Frostpocket and occasionally wandered out the back door and into the yard. On more than one occasion she was found wandering the alley and was returned to the leather shop by David Zimmerman or another of the alley’s denizens.
In January Chris realized that the rabbit was a female. She was christened “Mrs. Mullins” and mated to a rabbit belonging to a neighbor of Steve and Simone Spring. Before Philip and Mary left for Mexico in February 1974, Mrs. Mullins was moved to a large enclosure in the basement of 33 Baldwin where, in March, she kindled her first litter. When the baby rabbits were a few weeks old the entire family was moved outside to the old greenhouse where they proceeded to dig a network of tunnels and burrows. During the summer Chris moved Mrs. Mullins and her litter to some large rabbit pens that he built at his house in the Frostpocket. He purchased a buck rabbit and Mrs. Mullins settled into her life as a breeder. Sometime after the fall of 1976 Chris became a vegetarian and gave Mrs. Mullins to another rabbit breeder living near the Eagle Lake Narrows.
At the Christmas meeting of December 1973 Chris and Caroline committed to working with Ragnarokr. Accordingly when Philip and Mary left for Mexico in January 1974 Chris and Caroline moved to the leather shop. This left George, Colleen, Seth, Skip and Judy at the Frostpocket. Seth enrolled in kindergarten in South River and every morning George carried him in their Volkswagen beetle to the Muskoka Road where Seth met the school bus. Every afternoon Seth walked the three-quarters of a mile home by himself. Seth knew that he lived in bear country and he often sang loudly as he walked home from school. This alerted the bears to his presence and ensured that he would not surprise a bear, and perhaps her cub, along the way.
Philip and Mary returned to Toronto from Mexico in March 1974 and worked there with Chris and Caroline through the spring months (known at the leather shop as the “sandal season”). In the meantime George and Colleen planted the garden and purchased two more piglets. The little pigs were kept in a pen near George’s house. In May, Skip and Judy left for British Columbia and Greg and Bie prepared to move into the log cabin. In July George and Colleen and Philip and Mary changed places and Chris and Caroline returned to the Frostpocket.
The two pigs were left in the pen near George’s house for a few days until the old corral in the garden area could be reassembled. One morning, after a heavy rain, Philip went to George’s house to feed the pigs and found the fence broken and the piglets missing. After a search he found the body of one of the two pigs in a dense stand of balsam fir some distance from George’s house. A bear had broken into the pig’s pen and killed them. Philip swore to exact revenge and decided to shot the bear. He stood a ladder against a small tree near the pig’s body and returned at dusk with an old Lee Enfield rifle and a flashlight. He intended to shot the bear when it returned for its kill. He sat on the ladder some four feet from the ground and waited for the sun to set.
The sky darkened and the stars appeared. The forest became totally black and silent. After an hour or so the bear approached the stand, the sound of his coming magnified by the utter blackness and total silence of the forest at night. When it seemed that the bear was leaping and dancing at the foot of the ladder Philip turned on the flashlight. The bear noisily ran off through the brush. Realizing the futility of the hunt, Philip descended the ladder and walked home leaving the pig’s body in the forest. The next morning the pig was gone.
Chris returned to the pig farmer and purchased another pair of pigs. The pigs grew fat in the pen near the garden just like their predecessors of the year before. A November appointment was made to deliver the pigs to the slaughterhouse in Powasson. However, the winter’s first snow fell unexpectedly a few nights before the appointment. The van was parked at the top of the lane on the Muskoka Road. It could be brought down the lane but there was no assurance that it could make it back up the hill. Philip put one of the pigs in a wooden box mounted on a toboggan and attempted to drag the pig up the hill behind the snowmobile. The box tipped over and rolled off the toboggan about halfway up the hill, confusing and stunning the poor pig. Philip put the box back on the toboggan and returned the slightly battered pig to the pigpen to wait until the snow melted. A few days later the decision was made to slaughter the pigs at the Frostpocket. The pet pigs were hoisted up and hung by their hind legs while Chris cut their throats. Everyone pitched in to butcher the animals and the meat was subsequently stored in a freezer locker in the town of Sundridge.
The community garden was planted and improved every year by whoever was living at the Frostpocket in the spring. Usually this was George, Colleen and Chris. Colleen often started plants in little cups and grew them under glass until they were large enough to plant in the garden. George purchased a load of lime to spread on the gardens to improve the acidity of the soil. Horse and cow manure was occasionally brought from neighboring farms or from the riding ranch at Robertson’s Flats. The contents of the latrines were spread on fallow areas of the garden in the fall of the year and sawdust from the sawmill was used to mulch the garden rows. In the fall a winter cover crop was planted and plowed under in the spring. In the middle 1970s George bought several beehives, placed them on the roof of the old horse shed and purchased a package of starter bees. The bees thrived. They helped pollinate the garden plants and made honey that George harvested in the fall. He tried to keep the colony alive over the winter for several years but was never successful. The extreme Frostpocket winters always killed the bees.
Improvements to the settlement: The beaver meadow
In the summer of 1973 a small area of the beaver meadow was cleared of tag alder and an old beaver dam was leveled and the remaining “beaver-chew” (sticks) removed. This was the beginning of an effort to convert the beaver meadow into a tilled field or a pasture. The small area cleared in 1973 was no more than a quarter of an acre in size. In September or October 1974 a much larger area of the beaver meadow was cleared. The work involved Randy, Chris, Caroline, Philip, Mary, George and Colleen. The alder and fir trees were cut and thrown into huge bonfires. After a couple of days the fires had burned out and the ground around each fire pit was soaked with water carried from barrels filled with water from the stream. George and Philip left for a brief trip to Toronto. The next day someone noticed that the meadow was burning. All hands converged on the meadow to extinguish the fire. Since there were no pumps on the site, the inexperienced firefighters used blankets and shovels to beat the fires out. Greg was on his way to Toronto in Skip’s old panel truck when he stopped to lend a hand. He was attacked by a swarm of bees and badly bitten. Without explanation he raced to his panel truck and took off up the hill, headed for Toronto. The remaining firefighters were becoming discouraged as the fire appeared first here and then there. No sooner did they extinguish one fire than another clump of trees some distance away would burst into flame. After some time they heard the sound of an engine and saw a trunk with the logo of the Ontario Department of Lands and Forests drive up. The crew of men in the truck had a portable pump and hoses. They dropped the pump into the stream and began to hose down the fires. Greg had called them from a pay phone in South River. The Lands and Forests crew stayed for several hours searching out and hosing down hot spots. The bonfires had ignited old roots buried in the peat moss that had smoldered for several days before burning through to more combustible material. (insert a link to “Greg’s Dance”, file 6.6)
The forest fire forced a change in our land clearing methods. In the following years the clumps of tag alder were pulled from the ground using a chain and a tractor or simply cut, stacked and left to rot. In the summer of 1976 Philip diverted the stream that normally ran through the beaver meadow. The old township road was a height of land and with a little shovel work the stream was made to flow north instead of crossing the road and flowing south. He and George purchased a quantity of dynamite from the hardware store in Sundridge and, following the old watercourse, planted a stick every foot from the large beaver pond at the foot of the meadow almost to the township road. The resulting explosion made a large ditch that effectively drained the entire meadow. The next summer Wilfred McLaren loaned George and Philip one of his tractors and they were able to clear a larger field bordering on the township road. George continued to cut and pile the trees growing in the beaver meadow and in 1977 he budgeted $200 to hire a bulldozer to clear the spill banks left when the ditch was blasted the summer before.
Lacking pasture and a barn, the settlers at the Frostpocket looked for other ways to raise animals. Chris purchased two steers that he kept in a shed attached to his house. He fed them hay and grain that he purchased. George purchased 100 chicks and kept them in his chicken house until they were grown. In the fall of the year George, Colleen, Philip and Mary working together slaughtered the whole lot of chickens in a single day. In the summer of 1975 the three Mullins families purchased a two-year old dairy cow from Wilfred. The cow, having failed to “freshen” two years in a row, was selected for slaughter. She grazed with the non-milking herd at the old Roger Robertson’s farm that Wilfred had purchased in 1972. Wilfred gave her an extra portion of grain during the summer months to fatten her up and then carried her to the slaughter house in Powasson where she was butchered and wrapped in butcher paper. The three families shared to expense and divided the meat equally. By the fall of 1975 the group had five lockers in the Sundridge freezer full of vegetables and meat.
Improvements to the settlement: Working for Wilfred McLaren Beginning in the summer of 1972 and continuing until 1978, the Frostpocket pioneers worked for Wilfred McLaren on a seasonal basis. In the summer of 1972 Wilfred’s two sons were still too young to help their father operate farm equipment and every year Wilfred was forced to put together a crew of men to help him get his crop of hay into the barn. The work was inherently dangerous and often hair-raising. The hay was stored in the lofts of huge barns often some distance away from the hay field. After the hay was cut and field dried it was rolled into windrows. A binding machine picked up the windrows and packed the hay into square bales. The bales were ejected out the back of the machine and left in the field. Wilfred used hay wagons pulled by tractors to collect the bales and to haul them to the barn. The workers on the hay wagons were typically young boys, usually friends of Wilfred’s sons Ronnie and Gary. He hired the men from the Frostpocket to drive the tractors. The boys piled the hay onto the wagons and then rode on top of the hay to the barn. The bales were not lashed down in any way and swayed side-to-side and back and forth. Great care was required when stopping and turning so as to not overturn the load and send the boys flying. The most dangerous place was the ramp at the barn at Roberson’s Flats. The ramp was steep and narrow. The barn was fairly narrow and the tractor and the wagon just barely fit into the maw. The trick was to get up enough speed to ascend the ramp and then to stop the tractor before it ran into the far wall of the barn. On the other side of the wall was a drop of about fifteen feet to the ground below. Several times the load failed to make it up the ramp and the tractor and wagon had to be backed down the narrow ramp and pulled around for a second try. When it was obvious that the load was going to make it up the ramp the driver had to quickly disengaged the clutch and stand on the brakes. Usually the tractor would slide for several feet on the smooth floor and come to rest within inches of the wall. Once safely in the barn the boys would unload the bales and stack them in the maw.
In the summer of 1972 Wilfred hired Chris, George and Philip to help with the haying. The next summer he hired George and Philip. This arrangement continued until 1977 when Philip and Billy Rauton were hired. By then Wilfred’s son Ronnie was 14 and Gary was 11. In 1978 Billy, the Schmidt boys and the McLaren brothers made up the haying crew. The work was intermittent and often involved only one or two days of work every other month. Usually whoever was at the Frostpocket at the time did the work. In 1973 George also worked at Jack Minor’s sugar bush and, in the fall, at Wilfred’s hunt camp in Lount Township. The next spring George and Philip both worked at the Jack Minor bush. Beginning in the summer of 1975 all three Mullins families began to take turns milking Wilfred’s herd of cows.
Milking had to be done twice a day, usually before dawn and again at dusk. Wilfred had a vacuum machine that stripped the milk and drained it into a container that hung from the cow’s back. The milk then had to be carried in buckets to a refrigerated storage tank. The actual work of milking consisted of strapping the sealed container to each cow, one at a time, and then attaching the suction cups to each of the udders. The vacuum machine removed the milk from the udders. When the udder was empty of milk it collapsed and the vacuum cup began to suck air. This was the signal for the operator to remove the suction cup. When all of the suction cups were removed the sealed container was removed and emptied into a bucket. In addition to milking, the cows, chickens, pigs, dogs and other livestock had to be feed and the manure removed from the stalls. In the milking barn, Wilfred had installed an overhead mono-rail that carried a large bucket. The bucket was filled with manure and shoved outside where it was emptied onto a mountain of cow manure. The second barn at Robertson’s Flats housed beef cattle and dairy cows that were dry (i.e.not giving milk). There the manure was pushed in a wheel barrow up a similar but smaller heap using a string of 2x6 boards as a path.
By the summer of 1975 the Mullins brothers had been helping Wilfred for four years and understood his farming operation well enough to be left in charge of the farm for short periods of time. The McLaren’s decided to take advantage of this and take a vacation on the occasion of their daughter’s graduation from high school. This was to be Wilfred’s first vacation since he purchased the farm in 1962. On those rare occasions when he had to be absent overnight, usually on Township business, he relied on Don Scarlett, a neighboring dairymen, to milk his cows. Now, having trained the Mullins families how to run the farm, he felt comfortable enough to leave for an entire week. During the McLaren’s absence the caretakers stayed in the McLaren farm house which, in contrast to the Frostpocket, had both electricity and hot and cold running water. In the winter of 1975 Wilfred once again took his family on a trip and once again the Mullins families milked the cows and lived in the fully-appointed farm house on Bunker Hill. The following summer the township’s other dairyman, Don Scarlett, also took advantage of this rare opportunity and he too left George and Philip in charge of his dairy operation while he was out of the area and on vacation.
Improvements to the settlement: Christmas trees and firewood
Beginning in 1976 George and Philip began to cut and sell Christmas trees. Several men in the area, including Don Scarlett and Marvin Mays, were already wholesaling Christmas trees. George and Philip wanted to retail the trees in Toronto and looked for an empty lot in downtown Toronto to rent for the Christmas season. Ultimately they decided to cut their own trees and to sell them on Baldwin Street. The storefront at 33 Baldwin was set back from the building line and about twenty trees could be displayed in front of the leather shop without entirely blocking the sidewalk or the entrance to the store. Madelyn made a poster advertising the trees and it was stapled to Hydro poles all over the neighborhood. For the next four years about 100 trees were sold every Christmas season from the small Christmas tree lot in front of the leather shop. The trees were the tops of larger fir and spruce trees growing in and around the beaver meadow. The trees were cut in late November and carried to the leather shop in Toronto in a trailer or a truck. They were stored in the backyard and carried around the block or through the house to the front of the leather shop as space was available in front.
In August 1977 George made a trailer from the bed of Chris’ old pick-up truck and in November carried a load of firewood to Toronto where it was sold in small lots. In October 1978 Ragnarokr purchased a 1963 Ford stake truck for $275 from Woodland Park and in November George drove another load of firewood to Toronto. He placed an ad in a Toronto newspaper and had already sold half of the truckload. One of the customers lived in the Beaches area of Toronto and George made a sign advertising the firewood and placed it on the truck when he went to deliver the customer’s order. A motorist flagged him down and purchased the removing firewood. George realized that the market for firewood in the City of Toronto was huge and that firewood was growing on trees all over the Almaguin Highlands. He and Philip began to investigate the business of selling firewood.
The narrative continues at The settlement is abandoned, 1980