photo by Robin Turkington
In 1840 Jeremiah Page, reputed to be the original settler of the Desert Lake area, at 18 years of age, boarded a ship from England and sailed west. Enroute he met his 16 year old wife-to-be and together they headed north from Kingston (stopping temporarily to work on a farm at Railton) ultimately building their log cabin two miles off the Bedford Road on Crown Land.
In 1985 we purchased a few acres from Leslie Page, the great, great grandson of Jeremiah Page, and commenced to build our log cabin on Desert Lake .
We had seen an advertisement for an island for sale on the north end of the lake so we contacted the real estate agent for directions and confidently set off to find it. Three quarters of an hour later on foot along a primitive cottage road the only sign of water we’d seen was a small beaver lake which we assumed even an optimistic real estate agent would not claim as waterfront. The next day he drove us up to the property, and after stumbling through the bush we finally glimpsed Desert Lake. Lengthy discussions with the Township and the adjacent farmers over right of way and even longer discussions with MNR regarding culverts ensued and we finally signed the deed eighteen months later.
The next challenge was to encourage the building inspector to struggle through bush and to wade across the opening between the island and the mainland and approve our site. A young adventurous female Dept. of Health, inspector would only consent to visit the property in a canoe.
Robin felled 30 tall pines and we hired Wilbert Rose , the King of cottage road construction to build the road and put in the septic system.
Selection of the cottage type was the next step.
About this time we heard about a professor from Renfrew, Dick Trainor, who was dismantling abandoned pine log houses and reconstructing them on other sites. We visited an available house in Quebec before it was taken down, took pictures and learned the history of the original family who had built it.
The price was settled upon including delivery of the entire house to our site (in pieces) and for an extra fee he would “build” the cabin by stacking the logs up on our foundation, This turned out to be a smart move since each log weighed over 200 lbs. and doing it ourselves would have been a daunting task..
A local, Joe Bowes, constructed the forms and Robin and a friend borrowed a cement mixer and poured the footings. The cement block truck negotiated our mile narrow long winding hilly road and delivered the blocks. It was a great relief to see him exit safely.
The I-beam was installed and the underlay floor and pine floors laid. Dick Trainor then arrived with his 15 year old son and a young friend and with the help of Roy Abrams from Verona spent a week stacking up the logs.
A local carpenter put up the second floor. We spent an hour or more deciding on the colour of the shingles for the roof . An activity which was a bit fruitless as after a week neither of us could remember the exact shade.
A sand blaster came from Oshawa to clean up the inside walls after which Robin reconfigured the openings for the windows and installed them, and laid the pine floor upstairs.
Jeremiah’s original cabin naturally had only outdoor plumbing as was usual in those days but we decided to depart from tradition and installed a bathroom. This meant that the upstairs design had to be changed which meant an alteration in the stair’s location. Mark Callaghan, a carpenter on Canoe Lake Road suggested a location for the stairs and put them in.
The pink insulation was stuffed between the log spaces (Jeremiah’s was mud and moss) and we contacted the Sydenham High School shop teacher to suggest a student to help us with the mixing cement and external chinking.
Because the insulating properties of these 1 foot logs is so good, we have never got around to doing the inside chinking of the cabin .In addition, electric baseboard heating was installed but has never been turned on after the initial test as the cabin is warm in winter with the heat supplied by a catalytic type airtight stove.
There have been many additions over the years; the latest being a well put in to make winter camping a more comfortable experience.
Would Jeremiah or any of his six children identify with the old style homestead? At least probably from the outside. Maybe.
Would we do it again? Well there was a tremendous amount of work involved since we either did the work or contracted it out. Perhaps just as well we did not examine our birth certificates too closely back in 1985.
Submitted by Robin and Nancy Turkington