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Old-fashioned fun focus of 19th-century picnic at Lakeshore Lodge

The potato sack race was one of the many activities at Lakeshore Lodge Day.

Story and photos by Sharon Harrison
Keeping history alive and experiencing what an 1890s-style picnic was like back in the day was what Friends of Sandbanks delivered at the former Lakeshore Lodge site at West Point in the last of four such events held this summer.

The early 19th-century picnic is geared to all ages, but is a favourite with families and young children. With free admission, with park entry fee, the day included a traditional corn roast and old-fashioned lemonade. There were horse-drawn wagon rides too, dressing-up in period garb, face painting and a whole host of old-fashioned games, all meant to depict a simpler time.

Originally built in 1870, extended and turned into a hotel and cottages by 1893, what began as a simple summer retreat for local tourists became a first-class hotel by the early 20th-century. The structure burned to the ground on Halloween 1983.

Yvette Bree, naturalist at Sandbanks Provincial Park, has worked at the park for more than 30 years and said Lakeshore Lodge Day was developed about 30 years ago. It used to be an annual event, until last year when there were two Lakeshore Lodge Days, and this year it ran four times, every two weeks through July and August.

“It’s just an opportunity to recreate and remember the Lakeshore Lodge that used to be here from about 1870 to 1971,” said Bree. She noted how it operated for more than 100 years and had a million visitors.

“It was fondly remembered by people who travelled long distances to come here, but it was also well remembered by a lot of local people who wouldn’t necessarily stay here,” she said.

“Even though it burned down in 1983, we try to remember it and have this Lakeshore Day with all these different activities going on.”

One of the favourite and much-anticipated activities is the tug-o-war, where it was difficult to see the end of the long rope and the very long line of participants. There were several versions: one with campers versus park staff, another with boys and girls and also a mixed tug.

For those who preferred less physical games, there were many old-fashioned wooden games and toys available, including spinners, dominoes, tiddly winks and more.

Many of the park staff and Park Discovery students dressed in period costume, and visitors were encouraged to try on items of clothing from the large assortment on offer. Posing in front of a board painted with an image of the lodge made for memorable photo opportunities as visitors made memories of the day.

Boiling corn the old-fashioned way.

Friends of Sandbanks participate in a number of the park’s activities, including hosting events, as well as providing an educational component, partnering with Ontario Parks on providing upgrades to trails and boardwalks, and much more. They have been operating since 1993 and also play a role each year in Lakeshore Day.

“We support as many things in what used to be called NHE (Natural Heritage Education) and is now Discovery,” said Penny Sipkes, past president of Friends of Sandbanks.

“This is one of their events and we like to show up to let people know we exist, and see if they want to play with some of the toys we brought.”

The Friends have a couple more events to go with the fun run in September, then the music festival.

“We are also just about to send a cheque off for an extension of the pathway that was almost under water over at the Dunes,” said Sipkes. “Also at this time of year, we have the naturalists make decisions about what we want in the way of trees for planting in the spring, so we order them in the fall, and then they come through in the spring for planting.”

The afternoon’s large turnout meant many of the picnic games saw good participation. Games included potato and spoon races, the shoe scramble, the over and under game, and potato sack races. The nail driving contest went through several rounds where competition was fierce and friendly among the adult finalists.

One fun game featured putting two biscuits in your mouth while trying to whistle. It proved difficult for most, bringing varying degrees of success. The upside was participants were able to consume the biscuits.

The wagon rides that ran through the afternoon took people on a short tour of the area where park naturalist Yvette Bree provided a brief history lesson on Lakeshore Lodge, as well as the park area.

She explained how the day is meant to, “commemorate and make sure we don’t forget the Lakeshore Lodge that stood here for a long time, operating for 100 years. It was a first-class lodge and a fancy place for people to come and it’s important to remember it even though it’s not here anymore.”

She indicated an area when nine cottages once stood and were popular with families. They were built as the lodge became more popular and couldn’t fit all the guests in the lodge anymore. “They would still take their main meals up at the lodge with everybody else.”

“When these cottages went in they had no electricity and no plumbing, and eventually they did get electricity, but they never did get plumbing. At the time that wasn’t a big deal and it was the normal thing when you went vacationing.”

Bree talked about “promenading”, which is a fancy way to say walking, and something vacationers did on the nearby boardwalks, a pastime usually conducted after dinner.

There were 11 or 12 different owners that operated the lodge at one time or another over its 100 year history.

Bree talked about some of the later additions to the property which included a tennis court, swimming pool, baseball diamond, shuffleboard court, as well as a three-hole golf course, which was a pretty exciting thing to have in the 1890s.

“It is a great example of how first-class in the 1890s is not what we would consider first-class now,” she said. Bree further noted that in the 1890s, there wasn’t a class system as such as it was just working class people and rich people.

The short tour highlighted where the first dance hall once stood, which had a bowling alley and an ice cream parlour. It, as well as a second dance hall built to replace it, burned down, until they built a third dance hall, which also burned. The floor of the most recent dance hall can still easily be seen with its LSL insignia, all made of Italian terrazzo, an expensive choice at the time.

Bree pointed out how the foundation to the main lodge doesn’t look very big, but it was a very large building with a dining room accommodating 120 people.

She also noted that most of the Lakeshore Lodge history came prior to the park existing.

“In 1859, the original Outlet Provincial Park was created and was the first park in the area. The original Sandbanks Provincial Park was created in 1962, and included all the sand dunes stretching all the way to Wellington.”

In the 1970s, the government starting buying up all the land in between the two parks and in 1984, they combined it into one park and called it Sandbanks Provincial Park.

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