Gilead Lodge & Uncle Walter's Pelican
The family cottages at Turkey Point
Go up into Gilead, and take balm... Jeremiah 46:11
Uncle Walter’s Pelican
On April 16, 1874, my 2x great-uncle Walter McInnes shot a white pelican at Turkey Point on the Lake Erie shore. White pelicans are large soaring birds, with the second longest wingspan of any North American bird. They are not rare, but to see one as far east as Turkey Point was unusual. Walter took the bird to a taxidermist and had it stuffed, keeping it in his house in Vittoria until he died. Then his daughter Myra got the bird, and I had the pleasure of seeing it one day in the 1960s when my mother took me for a visit. I can still remember the tall, dignified shape in the living room corner, amid the Victorian clutter.
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Walter’s pelican was locally famous and something of a joke. In the mid-1980s, my grandmother dryly observed, “It seems it was just last year there was another white pelican at Turkey Point, and they mentioned that this one didn't get shot.”
To be fair, killing and stuffing birds was the usual thing in those days. In the family farmhouse, we have a large glass case full of songbirds stuffed and arranged by Walter’s St. Williams nephews, Walter and Bruce McCall.
Snapshots of Uncle Walter
Walter McInnes was born in Vittoria in 1842 and died there in 1919. His parents were well-to-do Scottish immigrants who came to Canada in 1836. His three eldest sisters were born in Scotland.
The first image I have of Walter is of a little boy sitting on a fence, dangling his legs, watching his eldest sister Henrietta (Hetty), newly married, leaving home for the long ocean trip to Gold Rush California in 1856. He was thirteen. By this time the family had moved one mile west of Vittoria to a frame house called Aberfoyle, with dormers on the roof, a wide central hallway, and a grand piano. They had a governess to educate the children.
He went to high school at the Simcoe Academy. The first year he walked back and forth to Simcoe (seven miles each way), after which his father bought him a pony. Once, returning home, he mistook a bear for one of his dogs. This was according to my grandmother, who couldn’t provide any more detail.
After graduating from the Academy, Walter went on to the University of Toronto Medical School. Walter was religious (his father was Old Kirk, as they were called in Scotland) and perhaps a bit of a prig (or simply just unused to the ways of a big city), but he decided that one of his professors was “dissipated” and that the situation was not good for him. He transferred to McGill University.
On February 22, 1864, he wrote a letter to his sister Ann (McInnes) McCall who was living in St. Williams, married to the storekeeper and lumber entrepreneur Daniel Abiel McCall. He says that lectures will soon be over, that studying medicine is not as much fun as you might think, and would Abiel save three mink skins, “prime and of the same colour,” for a hat for next winter.
In 1865, he graduated from McGill and went to Saginaw, Michigan, to live with another married sister and practice medicine. Two years later, the sister died. Walter returned to Vittoria with her body, and stayed on.
In 1874, he shot the pelican.
Walter practiced out of his home in Vittoria, and at night people would come banging on his door to rouse him, and off he would go on horseback or by buggy or sleigh. He kept dogs that would range ahead driving stray cattle off the road, a necessity as he was apt to fall asleep during long night-time rides. One night he was ambushed by robbers. A man leapt out of the dark, grasping the horse’s bridle. Another held a lantern up to the doctor’s face. “This is not the man,” he growled. And they let him go.
Later in life he bought a farm three miles west of Vittoria where he grew medicinal plants such as garlic and goldenseal, which, the story goes, he had learned about from the First Nations people living in the neighborhood.
Gilead Lodge & Bella Vista
My grandmother boasted that Walter was a crack shot. Learning to hunt and shoot was a natural outcome for people who grew up on Lake Erie’s north shore. The spits, bays, and marshes were natural habitats for migrating ducks, geese, and swans. Hunting clubs were organized to protect certain shooting grounds for hunters with money. Even today much of Long Point is still owned by the Long Point Company, a combine of very wealthy (mostly) Americans who fly in to shoot, spending their nights in the rustic “Cottages” on the Point, only accessible by water. Hunters slaughtered vast numbers of birds in the 19th and 20th centuries. Decoy carving became a local art form. Men made seasonal livings as hunting guides, punters, and market hunters. More birds were killed than ever could be consumed, most were packed and shipped by rail car to Toronto where they were served at the city’s restaurants.
In the 1890s, Walter had two dogs Gypsy and Phanto (my grandmother, born in 1896, remembered the dogs). She passed down a lovely photo of him taken in his hunting clothes with his shotgun and dogs, sitting in front of his house in Vittoria.
His favourite hunting spot was the marshes at the back of Turkey Point on the Lake Erie shore. In 1891, he built the first cottage—unpainted board and batten walls, gable roof, a relatively narrow verandah, the structure built on timber piles—on the beach at the point and called it Gilead Lodge, a beloved summer refuge and playground for his six children through the years.
I don’t really know why Uncle Walter called his cottage Gilead Lodge. Gilead is, of course, a Biblical reference. (In Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the Republic of Gilead is a grotesquely puritanical Christian offshoot, but this doesn’t have anything to do with Walter’s cottage in 1891.) In the Bible, Gilead is a geographical designation, hill country in what is now Jordan. Gilead is a combination of two Hebrew words that mean something like a hill of testimony or a heap of stones of testimony. There is also phrase “balm in Gilead” that comes down from Tyndale’s translation of the Bible, denoting a healing potion that may have been an export from those hills of Gilead. I like this reference as a source for the name, a healing potion, a healing place, a refuge from his professional cares.
Walter’s older sister Ann, as I mentioned, had married a store clerk-turned-lumber-entrepreneur, Daniel Abiel McCall (I wrote about their courtship in an earlier post). They lived in nearby St. Williams just west of Turkey Point. Abiel died at 61 of diabetes in 1893, leaving Annie disconsolate. In 1895, to cheer her up, Walter built a second cottage, Bella Vista, just down the beach from Gilead Lodge.
Both cottages were built with lumber from Daniel McCall’s planing mill and furniture factory in St. Williams brought by boat across the Inner Bay. The cottages were at the western end of the habitable beach frontage, to make the trip shorter (the western end, my grandmother said, instead of the “popular end” where the village grew up).
On August 14, 1895, the family held a celebratory open air concert at Bella Vista to inaugurate the new cottage. I have a partial program, scribbled in pencil “for Maggie.” It began with a rousing performance of “Take Back the Engagement Ring” sung by someone known only as A.G. Followed by
a recitation by M. A.
a reading by R. McInnes (Uncle Walter’s son Robert, born 1885)
a reading by F. Mabee (not sure who this is, but the Mabee family were the first white settlers at Turkey Point and built the first cabin under the bluff where the village is now)
a speech “on cats” by W. F. McCall (born 1864, son of Ann McInnes McCall, Uncle Walter’s sister for whom Bella Vista was built)
a recitation by Jessie McCall (born 1883, another niece, daughter of Uncle Walter’s sister Sarah McInnes McCall and her husband Senator Alexander McCall)
a recitation by M. Dawson (May Agnes Dawson, born 1881, daughter of Uncle Walter’s sister Georgina McInnes Dawson)
a recitation by A. Griffian
a recitation by Katie Jolly (Kate and Ed Jolly, below, I think, were the children of Nathaniel Jolly, a cabinetmaker in the McCall Furniture Factory in St. Williams)
speech by J. Brock (my great-grandfather John Brock who married Ann McInnes McCall’s daughter Sarah)
Irish Song by Grandma (not sure who this is)
speech by Ed Jolly
That’s all that remains of a lengthier list, a charming little thing, with all the nieces and nephews performing.
Turkey Point & Walter, the Naturalist
Turkey Point is a triangle of marsh beneath a high bluff, forming the eastern cusp of Inner Bay. A spine of sand, a much smaller version of Long Point to the west, guards the marsh from the Lake Erie waves. The Turkey Point beach with hot dog stands and motels along the street at the back was one of my favourite haunts as a kid, smaller, sleepier, and friendlier than nearby Port Dover. I used to camp in the Provincial Park on the bluff and spend my days on the beach.
Here is my go-to map of Norfolk County with Long Point at the bottom. You can see Turkey Point inside the orange outline that delineates the area where my McCall and McInnes ancestors settled.
And here are satellite maps courtesy of Google, so you can get a better sense of the unique geology and environment. Inner Bay is a shallow (gradually filling in) annex of the much larger Long Point Bay.
Like many hunters, Walter McInnes was a great observer of nature and the land over which he hunted. He was also a notable public speaker and used to get invited to give talks. I don’t know the dates (not preserved on the newspaper tearsheet I have copied), but at some point he delivered a paper to the Historical Society entitled, simply, “Turkey Point,” in which he spoke at great length about the formation and ongoing development of the marshes, about the Attawanderons (used to be called the Neutral) who used to hunt there and the settlers who came after. My copy of this paper is unfortunately incomplete, but here is a taste.
At the extreme southeasterly limit of lot number thirteen, in the Township of Charlotteville, the high bank of Lake Erie makes a bend almost east and west for a few hundred yards and then follows a course of a few degrees south of west. This bend forms a bold bluff of about one hundred and fifty feet in height. Its base is traversed by a small stream of pure water, fed by springs from the side of the high bank, near the angle farthest from the lake shore.
The base of the bluff is the apex of a triangular piece of land, comprised of marsh, swamp and a narrow strip of upland, bounded on the east and south by water and on the west and north by the high bank.
From the base of the bluff to the extreme southerly point of this parcel or tract of land is about three miles, and from this point to its northwest angle is about two miles, and from there along the base of the high bank to the bluff is about three and a half miles.
This strip of land is known as Turkey Point. The marsh on the west is called the Back Marsh and the marsh on the east and south is called the Front Marsh.
It received its name from the early settlers on account of the great number of wild turkeys that used to roost in the hemlock and cedar trees along the bank, on the ridges and in the swamp adjacent _______. Here the wild turkey had every environment suited to its wants, abundance of shelter and protections from its natural foes, and abundance of food from the seeds of the black oak, beech and maple trees near by. During the summer season, they fed on the seeds of the June grass and on the grasshoppers; in the autumn on crickets, so numerous in the open glades of the plains to the north. The Indians were accustomed to burn off in the spring the dead grass and leaves over these plains, so that the grass would grow the thicker and afford better grazing for the deer.
In the early days of the pioneers, the settler, with his wife and family, used to drive in their wagons along the bay shore to the end of Turkey Point, and fish by driving their wagons out into the water a short distance. With a long cedar pole they could cast their lines into the channel, known among them as the Deep Hole, and in this way the extreme end of Turkey Point was called Deep Hole Point. The northwest angle of this parcel of land, at the coast line, in front of lot number four, was called Goose Roost, because wild geese used to roost there. A line drawn from Deep Hole Point to the most northerly point of Ryerson's Island, called Mohawk Point, is the division between the Outer and Inner Bays of Long Point.
In the geological formation and structure of Turkey Point, we find lake sand and shells of fresh water bi-valves and gastropods, proving clearly that it has been formed by lake sand, by the waves of the adjacent waters and by the winds. When an east wind prevails, the waters are driven up the lake, and the water level is lowered in the bay. The waves washing and breaking on the shore, form sand bars a short distance from the shore, and the first west or southwest wind that follows, returns the waters and carries the sand some distance towards, often upon it, adding several feet, in places, to the shore, and which, in some instances in my own recollection, have formed a sand bar across a smaller inlet or outlet, and which sand bar afterwards became the shore proper, to usurp, gradually, in the same manner, more of the water's domain. The space of shallow water so separated from the bay, afterwards filled up, and is now marsh, gradually becoming dry land.
The ridge that forms the western boundary of the upland of Turkey Point is the widest and highest, and at one time was covered with valuable walnut, elm, bass wood and maple trees. At the present time, one of the most productive sugar bushes in the county is on this ridge. It has never been deprived of its natural conditions by drainage or by cultivation. This same ridge, forming as it does the back bone of the upland of Turkey Point, was the barrier that led to the formation of the marsh in the rear. It was formed at a time when the water level of the lake was much higher than at present. That part of the bay on the west of this ridge, extending to the base of the high bank, was thus sheltered and protected from the motions of the waves, and no doubt, at one time, was a bed of wild rice, but it had emptying into it the debris and soil brought down by the small streams and springs of the adjacent upland, and this formed a suitable bed for the growth of bull rushes, which displaced the wild rice; then among the rushes, the wire grass (marsh grass) grew in tufts, and those tufts of marsh grass grew large enough to afford a suitable soil for other water grasses and plants.
The seeds of the quill reeds or corn grass, carried by the wind or the currents of the water, lodged here and grew to as large rhizomes as their parents, and formed the foundation of the marsh, to be again, in turn, displaced by other water grasses and sphagnum moss, and from time to time received, during high water, and coating of fine sand and mud, held in suspension by the waves, and carried outward over the marsh, and also deposited in the open water and rice beds. In this way then our marshes form and extend. Wild rice will grow only in inundated pounds. It must receive this coating of wind_____ _____ will not grow in shut up in the stagnant water ponds. The water courses of our marshes gradually become more narrow and sluggish, encroached upon by the marsh grass and other water plants, filled up by the sediment deposited from the waves and high water, during wind storms, until they disappear, leaving an open pond here and there, drainage basins, so to speak, for the water of melted snows and rains. As the water level became lower, these ponds gradually disappeared, till only a few of the larger and deeper ones are left.
In his speech, Walter admits to his fair share in the cataclysmic hunting practices of his day. Later, he became more and more conscious of the damage that was being done. In the end, he begins to sound like a modern-day eco-conservationist, mourning the losses.
Man is acknowledged to be the most destructive of all animals and his powers of destruction increase in proportion to his knowledge and civilization.
In our own time and generation we have seen the American bison, the buffalo of the plains, disappear, and their place taken by domestic cattle, sheep and horses, and many of us have hunted and killed, and, for the last time, have seen the passenger pigeon. Turkey Point was ___ of their roosting places. White fish are not unknown in the waters of the Inner Bay, though the early settlers called the bar, a short distance from Deep Hole Point, White Fish Bar, on account of the numbers of white fish they caught there. So much, then, for the filling up of the beautiful bay. In place of the white fish, we have the carp, properly styled the water hog, fit to be used as food only when partly boiled in vinegar, and then roasted.
Many varieties of birds and water fowl, at one time plentiful on Turkey Point, are now no more, other of them are rapidly decreasing in numbers, but on account of their natural habits are now difficult to exterminate because they lay their eggs and hatch their young in those regions near the confines of the midnight sun, where only the hardiest of the mammals can live during the whole of the year and where these water fowl, many of them rivalling in plumage the choicest specimens of the tropics, find a home of rest for the pleasures and benefits of connubial love and maternity, and where the black snake, the wamper and turtle are not.
But even there the canvas back, red head, widgeon and mallard ducks though their hiding places are so remote and so secure, on their southern flight, as they come to their feeding grounds on our bays and marshes, are met by the market hunter, with his pump gun, in his skeg boat, and with a string of one hundred wooden decoys, are slaughtered in vast numbers and sold. Yes, sold, and then place in cold storage of the most modern design to be served in our fashionable hotels and cafes to appease the insatiable appetites of their patrons and visitors, who in many instances are the [missing line] proper companions in the process of extinction, but from opposite causes.
The End of Things
Walter’s eldest son Norman, also a hunter and lover of nature, studied medicine at the University of Toronto, graduating in 1897. He tried to branch out on his own, but was sickly with tuberculosis and finally returned to Vittoria to practice with his father until his death in 1906 at the age of 31. My grandmother (born 1896) told me an amusing story about seeing Walter and Norman together.
I remember Norman in the early 1900s. Jean [her sister] had an abscess on her neck and Norman came with Uncle Walter. They were going to lance it, and Aunt Emily took me across the road to her place. But I wanted to go home, I wanted to see what they were going to do, and she promised me that she'd take me. But she slipped out, and by the time I got there, Uncle Walter and Norman were just driving out. So I missed it.
The good doctor himself died at the tail end of the 1919 flu pandemic. He worked his heart out through that disastrous time, saving every one of his patients except for the last, a young man with a wife and children. This broke Walter, and he succumbed a few days later. I have a copy of his death record; he and his patient appear on the same page.
In later times, the village ran Ordnance Drive along the beach, separating Gilead Lodge from the lake. Gilead Lodge became 55 Ordnance Drive. Google Maps did a drive-by in August, 2016, by which time the cottage had been modernized and renovated, losing much of its charm, the front veranda replaced by a walled-in porch, the plank walls covered with siding. What once had looked like a substantial frame building was now dwarfed by much larger two and even three-storey beach-front houses in a contemporary mode. Last November, my cousin Michael Hunter, who lives in Turkey Point, reported seeing dump trucks hauling construction detritus away from the site. (Later in an email, Michael mentioned he had an electrician friend who had worked on the place some years before. “He said the bottom supporting timbers were original and hell to drill through because they were so thick.”) Having stood for 131 years, Walter’s hunting camp on the Lake Erie beach was no more.