For the price of a piano (and some lessons)

Hurontario 1946

Here is a great story about how Hurontario’s founder Birnie Hodgetts, my dad, acquired Hurontario’s main camp island, 150 acres of mainland way back in 1946 and started to build his dream of an outdoors camp for boys!!

My dad, Birnie Hodgetts was apparently an avid fisherman and on a fishing trip in 1946 with his brother Ted, they paddled up the shore of Georgian Bay from their family cottage at Wau Wau Tasi. On a stormy night as the west wind was blowing, they came around into a bay which seemed sheltered from the storm and pitched their tent for the night.

The following day, Birnie and Ted went for a hike and soon discovered that they had indeed landed on a huge and very beautiful island which was totally uninhabited (as was the whole area at this time). Birnie, as the story goes, turned to Ted and said, “this is where I will have my camp.” And so Birnie started to investigate who owned the island. But being a visionary, Birnie also realized that the property which surrounded the island was key to future plans and needed to be part of his purchase in order to prevent cottages which he foresaw – although there were none at this time – from being on the shores across from his (future) camp.

Remember, there were no computers, no faxes, no scans for sending for information about these properties! So through a series of letters, Birnie found that the island was owned by an American lady who was happy to sell to Birnie. The 175 acres across from the island was not so easy.

The 175 acres were owned by a Mr. Kingsmill, a former army man who had fought in the terrible Boer War and for which Queen Victoria had given soldiers of this war “land in the colonies.” Mr. Kingsmill owned the land across from camp and Birnie wrote to Mr. Kingsmill asking if he could purchase this land.

Mr. Kingsmill in a return series of letters offered to send his brother, an Anglican Minister to run the camp with Birnie, but Birnie wanted the camp to be for all, with no religious connotations. In yet another letter, Mr. Kingsmill said he was tired of wet weather in England and he would come and partner with Birnie. Again, Birnie replied he had a vision of camp and wanted to be on his own to build this dream. And then all communication stopped and Dad assumed that his dream was not going to come to fruition.

Well, about a year later, Birnie received a letter from Mr. Kingsmill from Mexico! He had moved there to escape those wet winters in England. And he had fallen in love with a Mexican girl named Carmelita and wanted to marry her. She would agree but only if she could have an English piano and lessons as this was her dream. And that was what the letter said, nothing more.

Birnie being a clever man, saw his opportunity and wrote back letting Mr. Kingsmill know that he would pay to have a piano shipped from England and along with that some money for lessons. And Mr. Kingsmill agreed!

And so for the price of a piano, some piano lessons, Birnie Hodgetts in 1946, purchased our main camp island and the 175 acres which wrap around the camp protecting us from the urbanization he foresaw and providing Hurontario camper’s with the wonderful opportunity to escape the city and come to a truly woodsy, unplugged environment for the summer.