Pat Montgomery 1905-1994
Editor’s note: Readers will appreciate this profile of Pat Montgomery, one of Minnicock’s founders. The portrait is written by his son, George Montgomery.
Many of those who will see this article remember Pat only after his retirement from teaching. So, here’s a little of his history before the Minnicock years. He was born on St. Patrick’s day, 1905, the youngest of six, in a rural area about 15 miles north of Cobourg, Ontario. His parents were children of Irish immigrants. He was christened Ralph, but, because of his birthday, everyone, except his mother, took to calling him Pat. (He later made it official by going through the legally prescribed steps to have his name changed to Ralph Pat.)
His grandfather and father were farmers, but, when his father died, an older brother took over the “family business”. So he followed in the footsteps of his three sisters and became a schoolteacher. He attended the Toronto Normal School in 1923-24 and started teaching in Mimico at the age of 19.
He was a better than average athlete and a good sprinter - good enough to get an athletic scholarship to Marquette University where he studied law during 1929. He had attended the 1928 Olympics as a spectator to cheer on some of his friends who were running for Canada and who went on to Marquette with him. He supplemented the meagre stipend from the scholarship by working in the evenings as a streetcar conductor in Milwaukee. At the end of the term in 1930 he decided that law was not for him and returned to teaching in Toronto. He met Madalyn Maud Holmes about that time and they were married in April of 1933. For the next eighteen years, he taught grade eight at Oriole Park School.
I have to think that he was a very good teacher. Over the years, many of his former students have gone out of their way to tell me so. He was certainly not a conventional one. His students learned to play chess, to carve tiny vases to hold miniature flower arrangements, and produce books as class projects. (It is interesting that one of the students involved with the creation of a book about the trees of Toronto became the Managing Editor of the University of Toronto Press.)
He had a prodigious capacity for memorization, which once won him a bet that he could memorize and recite Twelfth Night from beginning to end. Well into his eighties, he could, and often did recite long poems such as The Cremation of Sam McGee and The Outhouse and knew long passages from many of the classics of English literature. He knew the Bible well, which is perhaps surprising, since he rarely darkened a church doorway. The explanation is that his parents and grandparents were staunch Methodists and Bible reading was a family activity in the community where he was raised.
Pat was always a “cottage person”. He and Madge had a cottage before they owned a house. About the time they were married, they bought, for $25, a log cabin that was about to be torn down. They marked the position of each piece and had it reconstructed on a lot on Clear Lake in the Kawarthas. That was where my sister Patricia and I spent our summers until the late 40s. Since Pat was a schoolteacher, we spent all of July and August at the cottage. We ate a lot of fish (mostly bass, perch and sunfish) and fungus (puffballs and morels were favourites). It was where Pat developed his creativity and skills as a stone mason and furniture builder. And, it was where he and Madge first practiced the arts of hospitality and good fellowship that they were to hone to such a degree over the subsequent 50+ years. They seemed always to have visitors. Testimony to this is a scroll which they kept (the holder built by Pat) and had all their visitors inscribe. It still exists and makes interesting reading.
In 1947, we children started into other summer activities and Pat and Madge sold the Kawartha property. So for the next decade or so, they were without a cottage although they were never without something interesting to do during the summertime. They spent two or three summers in Halifax where Pat, because of the reputation he had earned in the field of miniature flower arranging, taught a course in art. They spent the summer of 1954 in Moose Factory where Pat taught the children of Indian trappers and Madge worked as a Public Health nurse among the Inuit for the Canadian government.
In 1956, Pat and Madge travelled to Germany, where, for the next two years, Pat was the principal of the Department of National Defence school for children of Canadian occupation forces at Soest in the Rheinland.
When they returned from Germany (my sister and I having moved out to take on adventures of our own), the cottage bug bit once again, and in 1959 or ’60, they bought a property in Haliburton, just north of the Ox-Narrows on Lake Kushog. It was an austere plot of land, rising steeply out of the lake and offering little opportunity to put up a building. Access was by water only. The early going was not auspicious. The whole family gathered on the May long weekend in ’61 to clear an area for the first building. Weatherwise, it was a miserable weekend - bitterly cold and it never stopped raining. From then on, fortunately, there was nowhere to go but up. A small cabin, which became a sleeping cabin, went up that summer. This was followed by the first stage of the cottage a year later. It was this first extension to the cottage which gave it its uniqueness. Close to the south end of the cottage were two gigantic rocks, probably left behind when the glaciers retreated at the end of the last Ice Age. Pat estimated their weight to be eight and five tons. His plan, which became an obsession, was to jockey these two boulders into position so that they would form the sides of a mightly fireplace. The creation of that fireplace has been recounted in Madge’s true story He Did It Himself, so I will not repeat it here. (If anyone is interested, it is part of her coffee table reading material at her apartment in Lawton Park.) The project took on the aspects of the labours of Hercules, but was successfully completed and inaugurated with pomp and circumstance.
In addition to teaching and encouraging his students to play chess, Pat was himself an enthusiastic player. His library was replete with magazines and books on chess and he had a cadre of chessplaying friends. One in particular, F.W. Minkler, who was the director of education for North York, was a frequent visitor. When the weather was fine, he and Pat would play for hours as they floated around Kushop on the “hayrack”. Many of the readers of this piece will be familiar with the hayrack, the deck which floated on two wingtips from dismantled CF-IOOs, and which was a real workhorse around Lake Minnicock in the days when the first cottages were being constructed. The materials for several cottages including my own), which were built before roads were in place, were carried aboard the hayrack. It was not, however, intended for that purpose, but rather as a recreational barge. Many a party was held aboard the hayrack in the years that it was located on Lake Kushog. And it was the site of innumerable chess games.
Pat was a great lover of nature with a special interest in mushrooms. Under the auspices of a New Horizons grant, he got a group of interested seniors together along with the Toronto Mycological Society and produced a set of filmstrips on Canadian mushrooms to be used in schools. Pat wrote the accompanying script and produced the spore-print pictures that were used. He entertained his grandchildren with bedtime stories, many of which were based on the wildlife around Haliburton. At the urging of his family, he wrote them down, so they are now entertaining his great-grandchildren.
As retirement approached, he started thinking about new challenges. He had always dreamed of a cottage on a lake which, as much as possible, preserved its natural surroundings. Why not, he said to himself, find a lake with that potential and attempt to create such an ambience. That was the seed that led to the formation of Northern Vacations, the enterprise which developed Lake Minnicock.
About that time, one of the local handymen who had worked around the cottage on Lake Kushog alerted Pat to the existence of Minnicock. Northern Vacations set out to purchase the property around the lake and Pat tirelessly attended meetings of the Glamorgan Council and lobbied for the improvement of the Minnicock Boundary Road, parts of which were impassable during certain times of the year.
Pat and Madge were not the first cottagers on the lake (that honour goes to Bob and Mary Davis) but they sold the cottage on Lake Kushog and moved to Minnicock in the late seventies and it became their principal residence until Pat's death in 1994.
When Pat died his friends were asked to contribute some memories, thoughts or pictures to a memorial book. I would like to close with a few lines written by Arlie and Gordon Freer from that book. “We are reminded of all we owe Pat - his foresight and determination that Minnicock would be a special place in which family traditions could take root, where a sense of community could be developed and where the environment would be respected. His memory will be honoured as we strive to maintain his ideals."