By Jan Hudson Krueger
"Hold on, ladies! This stretch is a real strap-snapper!" That was the usual shouted warning from Mom as she and her pals turned onto McGillivray Road, heading to the cottage from Mississauga. She would slow down a bit, but, like a horse getting close to the barn, she was too eager to get to the lake so the speed reduction was minimal.
Which came first, the road or the farm for which it is named? It will remain unknown to me as the records for this area are vague and sparse. The farm was established by the senior Malcolm McGillivray in 1875, according to the rustic sign at the end of the driveway. Last Fall, I had the opportunity to talk with his granddaughter, a sprightly eighty-plus year old with the amazing name of Libby Holler ("How do you spell your name, Ma'am?" "Holler...like you're trying to get somebody's attention!" She laughed.)
She filled me in on her part of the family tree...her parents were Malcolm "Mac" McGillivray Jr., the man that we old-timers remember seeing on his tractor, and her mother, Lillian. Her brother's name was Karl. She's quite pleased that the side roads bordering the homestead are named after her father and brother. Her father was also responsible for erecting the bridge at the narrows when the water levels were raised to facilitate the local logging industry. As a side note, Mac and his son actually made a short documentary for the National Film Board, entitled "Heavy Horse Pull" in 1977 (click here to see the video). The synopsis states:"In rural Ontario, Karl and Malcolm McGillivray still work their heavy horses as their grandfather did one hundred years ago. They also enjoy competing with other teams in the region." It remains a delight to see huge draft horses out grazing still; apparently the current generation wants to continue the family tradition.
McGillivray Road has been spelled a variety of ways over the years, and is also known as Haliburton County Road #9. In my childhood of the 1950's, it was narrow and gravelly, dusty and uneven, rough around the edges and the low parts were still a "corduroy" road under the annual layers of crushed stone and dirt. A corduroy road is a section of the travel way where logs were laid close together so that vehicles could travel over the marshy bits without getting mired. There were several of these sections and going over them in a car, slow or fast, would rattle the very teeth in your head!
In the hot dry months, a truck would come along spraying oil on the road to settle the dust. The curves were tight and treacherous, made more so by the encroachment of forest coming right up to the edges. No drainage ditches, no stop signs, no visibility...it was great! Of course, I was too young at the time to be the one trying navigate along its six-kilometer length, but the rapid rise and fall of the contours were great for squeals and butterfly stomachs for us in the back seat, unencumbered by any restrictions such as seat belts.
The trees were close enough to interlock branches over the road, making a welcome canopy of shade. Bugs and butterflies, birds and bees were constant companions, and wild raspberries could be picked along the way to quench one’s thirst. Great patches of daisies and other wildflowers graced the sunny side of split rail fences. Traffic was light and when anyone did actually drive past, they always gave a nod or a wave. A lovely custom that happens only rarely now. Now the road is widened and flattened, paved and safe, but it seems to lack some of the homespun quality that a few of us are lucky enough to remember.
And yet, the raggedy road retains its essence in the patchwork style of pavement, pothole filling and broken-off chunks along the edges. Animals still venture forth, deer gambolling in leaps and bounds, chipmunks gambling with passing cars, mother snapping turtles finding nesting sites in the loose material on the sides, wild turkeys on parade and the three raucous crows that patrol the southern end. Commercial interests such as the Paudash Lake Marina, the Anchorage and Camp Can-Aqua still provide the friendly helpful services, as they have for many years. Determined joggers and cyclists populate the road in the nicer months; families still come out for a Thanksgiving stroll while the beast is cooking in the oven. And some of us still slow down, somewhat dangerously, on the bridge that Mac built, to gaze at the two aspects of our enchanting lake.