The Magical History Tour

A SELF-GUIDED TOUR or BNIA Outing, July 13, 2024

The Day Cottage, Island A801-1, Bayfield Inlet

The origins of Bayfields oldest cottages

Welcome to the Magical History Tour. This summer the BNIA is offering a kayak tour past 13 of Bayfield Inlet’s original cottages. Here’s some background to that era.

by Emily Worts

At the turn of the last century, Bayfield and Nares Inlets attracted adventurers and cottagers who wanted to experience back to the land living and give their families a true outdoor education. In 1904 Bayfield (then Alexander) Inlet saw the building of its first cottage, the Day cottage, on Choctaw Island (photo above).

Before the Canadian Pacific Railroad came through Pointe au Baril, cottagers began their journeys in small commercial boats from ports in lower Georgian Bay or came by private cruiser from other locales, including Owen Sound.

In 1908 the rail line reached Pointe au Baril, and cottagers could train north on one of two trains heading to Vancouver from Toronto. Trains left at 10 a.m. and 10 p.m., arriving at 3 p.m. or 3 a.m. respectively.

A waiting water taxi carried travelers to the lighthouse and, if weather permitted, a local boat, likely captained by Tom Smith, was hired to carry them north — or they could wait out the winds in the Bellevue Hotel.

The voyage was also made by canoe, from time to time. Because of the lengthy and often arduous journey, Bayfield Inlet was never for weekenders and families settled in for a month or two.

Building materials also had to travel long distances at great expense so the most was made from items found around islands. Because of active logging in the area, with booms floating down the French river to mills along the Eastern shore of Georgian Bay, large logs which had broken away from booms were treasured finds.

Cooking in most of Bayfield’s first camps was over an open fire with the idea of a stove considered very modern. Refrigeration was a tin trunk, lined with sawdust, and filled with ice that had been collected over the winter and stored in local ice houses. Mail was originally retrieved in Pointe au Baril at the Bellevue hotel, and was later delivered by boat, along with other supplies, two or three times a week.

In 1934, Highway 69 was extended to Pointe au Baril, giving an alternative to the train. In the winter of 1941–42, Highway 69 (what we now call 529) was connected to Bayfield Inlet by 529A, along with a wharf at its terminus.

By that time 20 or so cottages had been built in the area by those who saw the possibility of becoming stranded by windstorms for several days, part of the appeal. Those cottages were built along the outer edges of the inlet, as that was the main thoroughfare from the south and north, and this is where our journey takes us.


Download the Tour Map and Cottage Listings ~ for printing

by Susan Day and Emily Worts

1. Choctaw Island • A801-1

Choctaw, along with six other surrounding islands, was sold to Dr. Day in 1904. Dr. Day was part of a club of young professionals from Pittsburgh who spent the summers exploring and fishing in the Great Lakes on a steamboat named Una.

In 1903 Dr. Day convinced his wife and five children to spend the summers with him and the following year they built their cottage, the first in Bayfield Inlet. Many buildings were constructed over the years and five remain on Choctaw.

The property is now owned by Dr. Day’s great granddaughter, Susan Day.

Point of interest: The 10 original fishing club members inscribed their names and date on the rocks at their campsite, on what they called Una Island, now known as Cow Island (A799-1). Those names are still visible today.

2. Gunn Island • A757-1

Built in 1909 by Dr. Gunn, a minister from Toronto, this was the second cottage built in Bayfield. Dr. Gunn asked his friend Harold Frost to find and buy him an island with a view and this is where he landed. Sadly, two Gunn boys, sons to Betty, drowned while canoeing out towards the open. Daughter Elizabeth is the current owner.

3. Strathy Island • A846-1

4. Sheldon Island • A852-1

In the late 1890s Harold Frost, with his father and uncle, sailed up Georgian Bay to the Bayfield area. Harold liked the area so much that when he married in 1906, he and his wife, Ethel decided to buy an island. Harold and his family camped in the area before building a cottage in 1910.

Building materials, coming from Parry Sound, were delayed so Harold and his 14-year-old son (along with some help) built the entire cottage in only five weeks before returning to Toronto for the winter. This was the third cottage built in the area.

The Island was named Sheldon Island after family property in Owen Sound, which in turn was named for the ancestral family home in Devon, England. The property was transferred to Harold’s son Irving and then to Irving’s three children.

5. Hindmarsh Cottage • A902-1

In the early 1900s Harry C. Hindmarsh and his best friend Art Lepan would camp on this island and fish. In 1912 they bought three islands grouped together and tossed a coin to see who would get what. Harry drew 902, Art drew 906 and they bought 904 in partnership.

Harry later told his wife Ruth that the island he drew was really his first choice. He’d caught a large bass off 902 just before they made the draw. Small cottages were built with lumber that came down from Byng Inlet by tug.

On the death of Harry C. the cottage (902) was left to his four children: Ruth, John, Harry and Joyce who shared the cottage for years. It is now owned by Peter Armstrong (a grandson of Harry C).

6. Priest Island • A901-1

In 1928 Hartwell Priest and her new husband, A.J. Priest were guests of her teacher and friend Jessie Greenaway at island A834-1 in Bayfield. In 1929 they purchased their own island (A901-1) and would come every summer. They built several buildings and purchased A1010-1 across from A901-1 as a studio for Hartwell, who was a prolific artist with her work sold in galleries across the U.S. and Canada. Hartwell Priest was profiled in the 2023 BNIA Directory & Yearbook.

7. Wausaukasing • A843-1

The island was sold to Alice Gilray, “spinster of the City of Toronto” for $10 on August 31, 1909. It was named Wausaukasing, which the current owners were told meant “a reflection in the water of either a stand of trees or a large rock face.”

The cottage was built in 1911 at a cost of $572.15 for materials (shipped from Collingwood) and labour. The property was transferred to Alice’s nieces, Roberta and Firenze, in 1940 and a sleeping cabin was built in 1945. The property was sold a couple of times before finally being purchased by Alan and Charlotte Stein in 1992.

8. Conyers Island • A1144-1

Island 1144 was purchased in 1915 by Professor Matthews, who built the original cottage. It was sold to the Bancrofts around 1919. Their son John died In WWII and Flo Bancroft inherited the property and the cottage. Flo came every summer until the mid ’90s. “I only ever saw her in a canoe, I’m not sure she owned a motorboat,” recalls Barb Conyers, current owner of the island.

The island was sold to Barb’s parents in 1998. Don Ord, and subsequently Doug Wagener, have done several additions and renovations over the years. Some of the interior walls remain, with the kids’ height measurements and exciting events recorded on them.

9. Cameron’s Island • A969

A handwritten journal suggests Mr. Cameron came to Bayfield with a Mr. Allan in 1908. They took a train to Parry Sound, a boat to Pointe au Baril and then a canoe to Bayfield, where they camped. While in Bayfield they looked around at various islands and sought permission for the purchase of three islands in 1909.

In July of 1910 they began construction of a building and a wharf, with lumber coming from Byng Inlet. The island was bought by Jim Leach in 1955 and William (Bill) Cox in 1969. The original cottage had servants’ quarters off to the right (south) as you face it from the dock, now connected.

10. Jean Island • A918

The cottage on Jean Island was built in 1911 by descendants of Oliver Mowat, a former premier of Ontario, who also bought four surrounding islands. The original cottage (with a living room and bedrooms and a cabin, with kitchen and maid’s quarters) was initially connected by an open footbridge which is now an enclosed addition. The property was sold around 1938 to Earl Smith and family, then sold again around 1970. The cottage sat unused for most of the 1970s and was sold to Helen McEwan and her husband in 1979.

11. Perry Cottage • A910-1

Malcolm McLeod, Peter Frost’s great grandfather, bought this island in 1911. A cottage was built between 1910 and 1914 and the original structure is very much still intact (although cabins have been added). Sadly, Malcolm’s wife died soon after the cottage was built, Malcolm lost interest, and the cottage was sold. The cottage lay uninhabited for years until the Perrys bought it in the late 1950s. Their oldest daughter Victoria’s husband is the present owner.

12. Hindmarsh Cottage • A906-1

In the early 1900s Harry C. Hindmarsh and his best friend Art Lepan liked to come up to the Bay to fish and they would camp on the original Hidnmarsh island A902, now owned by Peter Armstrong (a grandson of Harry C). When Harry C. died in 1956 he left the island to his four children.

Art LePan and Harry had a “gentleman’s agreement” that if either one ever wanted to sell, the other would have first dibs. In 1963 the LePans decided to sell and Harry A. Hindmarsh, Harry C’s son, talked his mother, Ruth, into buying the Lepan cottage.

Harry and Lynne Hindmarsh shared this cottage with his mother, who sold it to them when she found it too difficult to come up. When the Hindmarsh’s bought the Lepan island there was a large one-room main building with a gorgeous fireplace (kitchen and living room), a bunkie with three bedrooms, and an outhouse. Since then, bedrooms have been added and the outhouse has been upgraded to a bathroom.

13. Wakatuka • A834-1

This island was sold (along with two other islands) for $75 to Jessie Reade Greenaway in 1926. Jessie was a schoolteacher like her friends Roberta and Firenze Gilray from Wausaukasing Island, who first introduced her to the area. The cottage was built by Carl Thorkildsen for $1,200 in 1927. The boathouse was added later. The property is now owned by Jessie’s nephew, Allan Scudamore, and his daughter, Joanna Scudamore Trezek.