Getting to the Cottage in the 1930s

The old Pointe-au-Baril train Nick Ketchum photo

From time to time friends and family ask me how we got to the cottage before a decent road went all the way to Pointe-au-Baril. Remember Highway 69 was not completed until the late 1930s and Highway 400 was not started until early in 1950. Highway 529 was the old 69 and 529A did not go into Bayfield until the early 1950s. 

The Springhaven Road to Nares Inlet was a few years after that. In the early days getting to a cottage in Nares was a challenge. My family certainly never considered weekending it. We came for a month and we took the train.

Take the day train

The day train was a great way to go. The CPR ran two trains a day from Toronto to Vancouver. One left about 10 am and one at 10 pm. The trains stopped at Barrie, McTier, Parry Sound, Pointe-au-Baril, Sudbury and then went west. 

The morning train would get into P-au-B at about 3 pm and the night train about 3 am. In the early ’30s you had no other way to get from the station to Nares except by boat. In the slow boats of those days it was at least a two-hour trip. With loading and unloading at both ends you would be lucky if you made the island by 6 pm, if the train was on time and the weather perfect. And if there was any wind you got stuck overnight at the Bellevue Hotel across from the Pointe au Baril lighthouse!

Living it up

Although Bayfield and Nares cottagers, because of the extra distance and the possibility of rough weather, rarely if ever came for a weekend, a good number of P-au-B islanders used the train. For a businessman, working in downtown Toronto with a cottage in Pointe-au-Baril, it was really living it up.

After staying downtown for dinner Friday night and walking to Union Station at your leisure, you could board two hours before departure — and many did — and started bridge or poker in the Club Car. You had a reserved berth in a sleeper designated for Pointe-au-Baril ONLY. 

The sleeper was dropped off at the siding in P-au-B at 3 am and you got off, again at your leisure, whenever you woke up. As the sleeper stayed on the siding all weekend and you had the same berth going home, you could leave your city clothes lying on the bed. Someone from the cottage would nip down in the boat and have you at the dock in time for your morning dip and breakfast.

Back to work on Sunday

On Sunday night you wandered down to the station whenever you felt like it. The intercontinental picked up the sleeper at about 2 in the morning so you had to be on board by then. Dress in your business clothes, grab a bite of breakfast in the cafeteria in Union Station, walk to the office and be there at 8:30, half an hour before anyone else! 

There were only three complaints that I ever heard about this arrangement: 

  1. If you didn’t make up your own berth on Saturday morning it was rather messy when you got back Sunday night.
  2. Nobody pressed your city clothes while you were having fun at the cottage.
  3. They didn’t serve Monday morning breakfast in the Club car before you left the train.

What a great way to live. Don’t let anyone tell you that the old days were tough! People really loved the CPR back before the highway came along.

by Ian Stewart (first published in the 2009 Directory and Yearbook)