Rideau Ferry Inn – Those Hot Summer Nights!

Rideau Ferry Inn blog post image

Oh, those hot summer nights at the Rideau Ferry Inn!  The dancing, the laughter, stolen kisses, sneaking drinks in the parking lot, and the best live rock and roll around!

Its official name back then, was the Poonamalie Pavilion, but nobody called it that.  To my friends and me, it was simply the Rideau Ferry Inn; and you could find us there most weekend nights in the summer, socializing, laughing, and dancing the night away.

Situated along the clear, blue waters of the Rideau, the Rideau Ferry Inn has hosted many generations of tourists and boaters, providing sumptuous meals, comfortable accommodation, and lively entertainment.  Arguably, the highlight of the small settlement of Rideau Ferry, our former teenage haunt, wasn’t the original structure at this location.  The original building was actually a home.

The original structure was a house built in 1853 by Archibald Campbell.  Archibald married Elizabeth Buchanan, a preacher’s daughter.  Her father was the Reverend George Buchanan, and was one of the early Presbyterian ministers of Beckwith Township, serving the congregation at Franktown.

Their daughter, Helen Buchanan Campbell, married John Coutts.  As her parents were aging, and needed assistance, the couple moved in with them in 1870.  During that time, John made some additions to the home, and when he was finished, they not only had ample room for themselves, but had more than enough room to accommodate guests.  They began to rent rooms in the house to summer tourists, who were traveling by boat ,along the mighty Rideau waterways.

Coutts_House

As the years went by, their home became known as ‘Coutts House’, and eventually, had the reputation of being a very fine hotel.  In 1893 a three-storey addition was built at the back of the house.  A large dining room was added to the first floor. The second and third floors had fifteen hotel rooms each, and an indoor bathroom.

Rideau Ferry Coutts House 1889

After 1905, the building was rented to a series of business men. During the 1920s and 30s, regattas became popular, and Coutts House held canoe races, and rowboats races. The Coutts family also sponsored competitions for sailboats, and it was the site of many grand daytime celebrations, and intimate evening affairs, for the wealthy travelers, visiting in the summer.

In 1947, Doug Wallace, native of Osgoode bought Coutts House, tore it down, and built a new structure with wood framing, and grey granite blocks.  It was a two-storey building, and the second floor featured a large dance area, with seating on three sides.

By the 1960s, the building had become known as the Rideau Ferry Inn, and during this time, became licensed for liquor sales.  Up until that time people would smuggle in their own booze, particularly in the roaring twenties when rum-running along the Rideau had its hey-day.

Rideau Ferry Bridge

It was in the 1970s, that I first heard the tales about the popular night spot, and all the good times that were had at the Rideau Ferry Inn.  There were stories told up and down the halls of the Perth High School – stories of summer romances with cottagers staying at seasonal properties nearby, or the ultra-cool teens that traveled by boat along the Rideau, with their parents.  There was also talk of the teenage kids from the States, and their hip clothing and accessories; styles that would take years to reach our little communities near Perth.  There were lots of accounts at our high school of the talented rock bands that performed, and of the nights spent dancing to the top hits played by edgy disc jockeys.  I couldn’t wait to go and see it for myself.

Paul Tarle Band

photo: L.  Steve Francis, Mike McPherson, Brian Jones, and seated – Paul Tarle.

The main house-band at ‘The Inn’ in the early 1970s was the Paul Tarle Band – and we showed off our cool dance moves, as we listened to their popular rock classics.

Dance 1970s

One of the best parties of our steamy Lanark County  summers was the annual Rideau Ferry Regatta. Beautiful, sleek, boats from all over, competing for the sought-after prizes, and the prestige of being ‘Number 1’ on the big lakes.

Boat Show Rideau Ferry

Regattas were all about hot sun, cold beers, the cool, clear waters of the Rideau Lakes, and beautiful boats all around us.

Rideau Ferry Inn 1982

We’ll never forget the annual regattas, or the great music at the Rideau Ferry Inn. Bands like ‘Sammy Seaman’ and his group kept us up until the wee hours.  Some nights it was ‘Woody Herman and the Young Thundering Herd’, and other evenings we were entertained by the ‘Paul Chabot Band’.   Occasionally, instead of live bands at the ‘Inn’, there was a ‘Disco’ dance provided by a local disc jockey, by the name of  ‘Sounds Great’.

Many years after our frequent teenage visits to the Rideau Ferry Inn, the building was purchased by Elmer and Eva Purdon.  It was still ‘the’ place at that time to host fancy wedding receptions, or 50th wedding anniversary celebrations.

Because we’d had so many good times at the Rideau Ferry Inn, it was a terrible shock for my friends and I when we heard about the fire in February of 1986, that destroyed our former dance hall.  The fire started on the top floor, where the dances had been held for so many years.  The ground floor was also destroyed in the fire, and that is where the kitchen, the large dining room, and bar were located.

My friends and I drove down to Rideau Ferry a few days after the fire.  I don’t think it was so much out of curiosity, but more out of disbelief.  Could it be true, that the place where we’d passed so many of our happy youthful hours was really gone? There were so many memories of friendships, dancing, and all of the special evenings we spent at the Rideau Ferry Inn.

We drove up to where the Inn had stood, and looked around. No one said a word.  I think that as we stared at the charred foundation of the building, each of us was recalling our own versions of the times spent there, in our youth.  They were such innocent, awkward, magical, teenage times. We sat there for a few more moments, still silent, and then drove away, back up the Ferry Road toward Perth.

The building may be gone, but our fond memories of the Rideau Ferry Inn will remain with us forever.  We will always remember the music, the friends, and the good times. Those long summer nights, when the stars seemed to shine a little brighter, the sunsets glowed a little softer.  The peaceful, pristine, waters of the Rideau Lakes made a perfect backdrop for those innocent days of our youth, when life stretched out ahead of us…..so full of promise, and our dreams for the future.

Lake Life sunset

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An excerpt from – ‘Revelry and Rogues on the Rideau’  – ‘Lanark County Chronicle’ available in local book stores, or online. ISBN 978-0-9877026-23

LC Chronicle from web

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Local Names:

Although there were lots of tourists and visitors in the summer, they were only there for a few short weeks at most. We became acquainted with many of the folks who lived year-round at Rideau Ferry, and some of the local names at that time were: McLean, Donaldson, Buchanan, Gemmill, Frost, Sewell, Coutts, Gallagher, Beveridge, McKay, Wills, McVeety, Millar, Tully, Oliver, Dettrick, Bethune, Purdon, Hitchcock, Fitzgerald, Hall, Gould, Irving, Joynt, King, McCue, Wallace, McKay and Campbell.

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photos:  Perth Historical Society, Carol-Ann McDougall, Perth Remembered, Vintage Smiths Falls and Perth, The Perth Courier, Georgia McNally, Vintage Race Boat Shop, and from private collections.

 

For boating on the big lakes  – Rideau Ferry Marina

Rideau Ferry Regatta

 

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http://www.staffordwilson.com

Finding the Spirit of Christmas in Lanark County

girl-at-the-window

The glass felt cold as I pressed my face against the kitchen window, and watched the snowflakes falling softly on the spruce tree beside the old house. The Christmas lights were wrapped ‘round and ‘round the tree, and the soft colours shone on the snow-covered branches below.

spruce-tree

It was Christmas Eve, the most magical night of the year, and I was bursting with anticipation. Santa was coming tonight, and would surely be leaving some wonderful gifts under the tree in the living room. I had been very good all year, and had written a letter asking for a lovely new doll with long red hair and big blue eyes. I stared up at the night sky, white with snow and wondered where Santa was? Was he in Lanark County yet, or was he delivering his toys to children in other parts of the world, along his route? Hal Botham, on CJET radio, said that Santa’s sleigh was spotted up north, so I was sure that he must be on his way to the Third Line!

Santa flying  Hal Botham

Supper was finished, and Mother was tidying up the kitchen. Soon, we’d be heading over to Calvin Church for their candlelight service. Every year we were allowed to open one present after returning from church, and then we had to head straight to bed, and go right to sleep, so that Santa could deliver our gifts.

When Mother was finished sweeping the floor, we put on our coats and boots, and headed outside. The old car was chilly, and the heater was blowing cold air. I shivered as we headed down the lane, and up the Third Line, toward DeWitt’s Corners.

snowy road

Everyone’s Christmas lights glowed,on that night, so long ago. The pine tree in front of Chris and Leanore Perkins’ house was decked out in blue lights, and Korrys had red and green lights framing their front door. Mitchells, Conboys and Scotts all had lovely bright lights, and we passed by house after house, all aglow in their Christmas finest.  Then we slowed down, and turned up Cameron side road.

farmhouse-christmas-lights-1     farmhouse-christmas-lights-2

farmhouse-christmas-lights-3   farmhouse-lights-4

When we finally arrived at the church, there were only a few cars parked, and some people had already gone inside. The light coming from the little country church glowed softly against the cool white snow, and the delicate flakes continued to swirl around as we parked, and Mother shut off the engine. When I opened the car door the church yard was silent. The snow continued to drift down softly, and as I stood there I listened, but couldn’t hear a thing. We didn’t speak as we walked up to the church, and I’ll never forget how calm and peaceful it was that night as we walked up those well worn steps.

calvin-united-church-black-and-white

We sat in our usual pew, behind Munros, in front of Johnstons, and in the next little while familiar faces appeared again and again at the doorway of the church, filed in, and took their seats. Many stopped to chat on the way to their pews. They were our neighbours, our classmates from Glen Tay School, and our good friends. As I looked around at all of their faces I realized how special it was to be there that night, and to be a part of this close community.

advent-candles

When everyone was finally seated, and it seemed like the little church couldn’t hold even one more person, the sounds of the organ filled the air, and the old wooden pews creaked as everyone stood up at once. The song was a familiar one; we all knew the words, and our voices swelled in unison as we sang the ancient carol, “Si..lent night……., Ho..ly night………,  All is calm……., All is bright.”

christmas-candlelight-service

Old, familiar carols were sung, and the story of the first Christmas was told once again.

And so that was how Christmas unfolded out in the country. The days and months leading up to that moment were filled with anticipation. Trees were trimmed, and cards were mailed. Letters to Santa were written, and toys were circled in pen, in the Sears Christmas Wishbook. We rehearsed for Christmas concerts, and ran down the lane each day, bringing back handfuls of Christmas cards, adorned with stickers and seals. Cookies were baked, and invitations went out to family members and friends,to come and spend the day.

All of these things played their part leading up to the most special day of the year; but it was not until we sat in the pews of the small country church, and raised our voices, singing our favourite carols, that I knew for sure that the spirit of Christmas was among us.

shepherds

I knew from an early age that the spirit of Christmas didn’t live in the beautifully decorated store windows in Perth, or under the brightly lit tree in our living room. I’m not sure if the Christmas spirit travelled up the Third Line, and down the Cameron side road like us, or if it came up Highway 7, and crossed at Gamble’s side road. I still don’t know how the Christmas spirit found us, in the little church……….all the way out in the country.

mary-and-joseph

All I know is every year it appeared on Christmas Eve without fail. I could see it in the faces around me, I heard it as we sang the carols, and our voices rose high into the old wooden ceiling. It warmed our hearts, filled us with pure joy, and a profound sense of peace.

christmas-spirit

If you ever find yourself searching for the Christmas spirit, I’ll tell you where it is. Just drive out the Third Line on Christmas Eve, to the little country church on Cameron side road. It’s the small red brick church at the top of the hill. Go ahead inside, and then wait. You’ll feel it. It will be there. It’s always there; and even if you live far, far, away, you can take it home with you, keep it in your heart, and it will stay with you forever.

Merry Christmas!

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Christmas banner 2

 

Some of the faces I remember on Christmas Eve at Calvin Church:

 

Calvin 1

 

Calvin 2

Calvin 3

Calvin 4

Calvin 5

Calvin 6

Calvin 7

Some are gone, none are forgotten.

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mangerFor unto you

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Calvin United Church was opened for worship in September of 1896, built on the property of Mr. John Cameron.  The first elected officers in the church were Andrew Gamble, William Scott, Andrew Palmer, George Miller, Andrew B. Miller, Andrew W. Miller, W.J. Palmer, John Jordan, Nichol Stewart, Alex Palmer and Sydney Miller. 

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To learn more of the history of Calvin United Church, Cameron Side road,DeWitt’s Corners, Tay Valley Township, Lanark County:

History of Calvin United Church

 

 

 

 

“Finding the Spirit of Christmas in Lanark County”,
An excerpt from “Lanark County Calendar:  Four Seasons on the Third Line”
ISBN:  978-0-9877026-30
Available at The Book Nook, Perth, The Bookworm, Perth, Mill Street Books, Almonte
and online: http://www.staffordwilson.com

L C Calendar book cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.staffordwilson.com