Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Survival Instinct

 We just spent a week at Bon Echo Provincial Park, camped in a cathedral of white pines, on a hill overlooking Mazinaw Lake, watching the sun in its travels change the face of Bon Echo rock. That rocky presence emanates energy, geological time made manifest, aboriginal passages recorded in enduring ochre on the flat planes of the cliff.  All around, traces of the Dennison's early c20 literary coterie in the outdoors.

We visited an outstanding small museum in nearby Cloyne, "town" for the duration of our stay. There the enthusiastic  summer staff helped me with research on summer lodges like the Dennison's Bon Echo Lodge - more on that later.

 What struck us both were the displays on the logging era (1850 to late 1890s.) I'll check that in The Mazinaw Experience by John Campbell (Natural Heritage Books, 2000)  - there's always a book, yes?

Someone said the pines above our heads were 150 years old. That makes sense. The logging era in the Mazinaw area peaked between 1870 and 1890. What the mind cannot quite grasp is that all the land around us was once entirely denuded of trees, stripped by loggers making profits for people who viewed the vast forests as a limitless resource to plunder. The hills above the lake were called the Bald Hills.

The majestic pines were thought to have been about 400 years old, according to Campbell, stood 38 metres high with a diameter of about a metre (imagine that?), growing 250 to 400 per acre.

The men in the logging camps lived and worked in appalling conditions,  doing dangerous often deadly work. What they did to the countryside around them, in the interests of economic growth and trade, and in the firm conviction that nature was there for the taking, was equally appalling.

The majestic pines were converted to square timbers of enormous length (up to 100 feet in length) and size (nothing kept smaller than 12" square.) Imagine what was left behind. Slash it was called, littering the landscape, and tinder-dry, putting any community in the area at enormous risk of fire. Lots and lots of fires.

That's what happened in 1903, in Vennachar, just north of Mazinaw Lake. Fire destroyed the complete village, leaving just this little church. It was an immediate eyecatcher for its location on a wooded hill, its home-made steeple and Gothic windows, and its humble insulbrick siding - and the artificial flower bed out front.

But it was the message on the sign which brought such powerful images - of people struggling to establish communities in a hostile land, then seeing everything disappear in minutes in an inferno. The sign explains that  Vennachar Community Memorial Church (1875) was the only survivor of the 1903 fire.

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