After this summer there will only be a few traces remaining of one of Muskoka’s oldest and most vibrant towns.
Uffington is losing the St. Paul’s Anglican church, built in 1889. (See the painting) The demolition is more than half way complete.
The house in the painting “Twilight” and in the pictures in this post is likely to be removed before the end of the year for the safety of the neighborhood children. The ground floor is pretty much rotted out. Considering that the house was built directly on the ground and the earth is only inches below the wood floor beams, this was unavoidable.
I had the privilege of meeting the son-in-law of the last owner of the “Twilight” house, Mr. Tom Iddisson. He took me through this beautiful old family home and shared stories and his experiences on the farm.
As was often the case in early Ontario farming communities, many of the houses in town were built on an identical floor plan. “You could walk into the neighbour’s houses and they were exactly the same”. The house was built in 1900 as a manse, likely for the Methodist church that was torn down many years ago. The Flegers moved into the manse when their original farm house burned down. The purchased it for $350 dollars!
The house eventually got power, but never indoor plumbing. There was a pipe that Mr. Iddisson said he put in for “Mom”, but it never went past the kitchen. Hot water came from the reservoir on the woodstove. The water came from a well that is on the highest point on the property. Mr. Iddisson dug it out after the town well was condemned. An oil tank leaked and contaminated it. The township has yet to come and fill it in.
If you look down the well, you can see all the pipes that went to the different houses near the four corners. The ‘new’ well was actually an old one that was dug for the original farm and abandoned.
When a local cottage put in a real toilet in the 90’s, they gave their old ‘envirotoilet’ to the Flegers. It had a base of moss and as long as it was heated, everything worked. With no insulation and heating only through stove pipes in winter, electricity was needed to keep it working.
In the room that had been converted to the ‘wc’, there was just the envirolet and a beautiful handmade water jug & basin. It was so intricately made with beautiful lines and subtle colours. I was surprised by the rough signature that marked it as made by Mrs. Fleger’s own daughter.
The Flegers kept Holsteins. Milking the cows was a daily experience that everyone in the family participated in. They had a milk separator which was almost more trouble than it was worth when milk could be put aside and separated on its own with no messy and complicated clean-up. Back in the sixties, Mr. Iddisson helped a cow give birth. Mr. Fleger’s wrist could not bend due to an accident and he needed him to help. His instructions to Mr. Iddisson were clear;
Cut the sack when you see it, he said, and then pull the calf in rhythm with the cows contractions only until the head and shoulders are out and then just pull!” Then Mr. Fleger warned, “Show her the calf and get out of there!”
Sure enough, everything went as it was supposed to except that Mr. Iddisson didn’t get out of the stall quickly enough and the cow pinned him to the sidewall.
I was pinned to the side of the stall. Doug (Mr. Fleger) told me to push her out of the way, but she wouldn’t budge!
As I wandered through the house, I noticed many personal objects, shoes, coats, sweaters and linens. There was an old ship trunk filled with family pictures.There were several of a beautiful wedding that looked like it had taken place in the sixties – one of the Fleger’s daughters. The church must have been in Bracebridge, but the reception was in the Orange Hall. This is the last of the old comunity buildings standing still in Uffington.
The front window on the east side was Mrs. Flegers room. The base of the window is still packed with rags to block out the draft. When we lifted the rags, there was clearly a gap at the base of the window. I cannot imagine living in a house during the cold Muskoka Winters without central heat, indoor plumbing and hot water. Mrs. Fleger lived there into her 90’s. When Mr. Fleger was too ill, she carried the wood as well.
One of the features that was evident from the outside was the sidelight. Back in the days before electric lighting, this little window lit the dark stairwell. Inside the house, on the little sill, is a small bear with a thin strip of tarnished brass and on it was engraved “Agawa Canyon”. When we lifted the object, a void remained in the dust and cobwebs where the animal kept vigil over the quiet passage of time. The house has been empty since 1999.
Thank you so much to Tom Iddisson for so generously providing the tour, his time and the great stories.
I am always looking for new ways to inspire my work. At this time of year and in the early Fall, I am most motivated to leave the comfort of the studio in search of visions and stories. I have been doing a lot of this over the last year, but this year it was on my list of goals in January to take it all a step further.
Painting for me is a means to an ends. I love to paint, but, not for its own sake. I have learned over the last year that I love to tell a story, therefore, most of my paintings since the beginning of 2008 have been accompanied by histories. I have tried to tell a story, or inspire the imagination of a viewer about what life might have been like in these abandoned or derelict places. I plan to go beyond the actual history and paint a picture with both words and image – an illustrated short story. My newsletter will have more in June.
This year, I have had the privilege of sharing the story to a wider audience (see the Muskokan) and through invitations into the ancestral homes of local people I am getting a very personal view of life in turn of the century to mid-century Muskoka. (See today’s images)
Over the next days and weeks I hope to take my wanderings a little further afield. My posts will be a little erratic again and dependent on when I can get a connection. Trust me – it will be worth keeping an eye out! You can subscribe to make sure you don’t miss a single post:
To all of you who come and read… Thank You. It is not enough to have a story to tell. One must have an audience. Without you, there is only echo…