I delayed this post for a couple of reasons. I wanted to wait for a particular event and I needed some more time to finish a painting! The reason the painting was not done was because I decided to abandon the studio in favour of a ‘spur of the moment’ road trip on Thursday. Another Church in Muskoka is threatened with demolition. The tiny log church in Southwood is targeted by the Gravenhurst Council and since I had not yet been to visit, I thought I had better in case I might miss the chance.
Southwood Road is a very long rural road running from Severn Bridge to Torrance near Bala passing Sparrow and Morrison Lakes in southernmost Muskoka. I was discussing old buildings, the Southwood Church and resorts with Teresa at the Auburn Gallery (the owner of the actual door in the painting!) in Gravenhurst, when I picked up a copy of the Muskokan to find Bev McMullen‘s article on Sparrow Lake resorts. I glanced quickly at an intriguing picture of an old three story wood building that was once the Sparrow Beach Lodge. The article mentioned that it was privately owned and no longer open to the public. I lingered on the photo for no more than 10 seconds. I made the decision to make the drive to Southwood and get a little more familiar with the long rural road to it.
There are several rocky farms along Southwood Road, picturesque barns and the road follows the rails. Apparently, the reason the church does not face the road and faces away in the photograph is because it was attended by train. The railway, which is still in use, runs just about 40 feet on the other side of the trees. People would catch the train to attend because in the 1910 to 1930’s era, there was no Southwood road. I drove from the southern end at highway #11 for quite some time and was beginning to think I had missed the church.
One more corner… then one more… Still no sign of the church! Finally, I decided that I must have missed it and pulled into a driveway to turn around. As I was reversing to pull out, I saw a very old gentleman sitting in a chair at the other end of the driveway. I hesitated and then decided to ask him where the church might be. I shut off the engine and began to make my way up to the garage and there I met Stanley Socha.
Stanley told me that I had not gone far enough and that it was a few miles further yet. Somehow, we began talking and I learned that Stanley was 92 years old and was a Spitfire pilot in World War II. He was Polish by birth and had escaped Poland just ahead of Hitler and ended up flying in the Polish Squadrons of the RAF.
Mr. Socha also began to tell me about his house and the lady and her 50 cats who lived there before him. He used to commute to work to Cleveland, Ohio while his wife ran – you guessed it – the Sparrow Beach Lodge – for a few years in the 1970’s. He talked about the old building with its ancient furniture and three stories.
I didn’t like the top floor… If there was a fire there would be no way out! So I never stayed up there.
We spoke for a little longer and Stanley walked me back to my car. Before I left he gave me a little domed photograph – a souvenir from the Lodge. Inside the glass (yes glass!) dome was a photo of the Sparrow Beach Lodge in its heyday. The porch, the the docks and the two story house in behind the hotel were recorded in black and white with a flag flying.
Stanley told me that he took the second story off the house and made it into a guest cottage. He spoke of how beautiful the lights down to the water were. He and his wife, who passed away a few years ago, had stayed there many times before purchasing the hotel. I am not certain, but I was under the impression that they purchased the Lodge from the original family. The souvenir dated from before his time at the hotel, he said.
They came with the place!
I hope to speak with Mr. Socha again soon. I think that spur of the moment trip was one of those coincidences that prove that some things are much more than coincidence!
The October 2009 issue of Muskoka Magazine has hit the stands and ‘yours truly’ is featured. Thanks to Dale Peacock for writing such a wonderful article and Kelly Holinshead for her fabulous photographs – she can even make me look good! You can see her phenomenal work here. Finally, thanks to Melissa Kosowan (editor), your wonderful support means the world to this artist.
And… I have delayed the Livingstone story once again! I am hoping to snag a new tidbit of info before I release it. I will be sharing the story and some other news in my newsletter coming out in a week. If you want to receive my newsletter (about 6 times a year) please sign up here.