Illahee Lodge

The following morning, my parents and I waited in front of the Family Services Association on Wellesley Street, along with about twenty to thirty kids and their parents. A bus was coming to take us to Illahee Lodge, a large stately mansion on the shores of Lake Ontario in Cobourg. Dad stood proudly, his arm around my shoulder as if I was boarding a troopship bound for the mid-Atlantic. The mob of children chirped with excitement.

The low chirping became a cheer when the bus arrived. The driver, assisted by eager parents, tossed suitcases and gear into the belly of the coach. Dad shook my hand and, not looking into my eye, ordered, “Now, you behave yourself. Do what you’re told!” Mom knelt and gave me a quick hug. “Have a good time,” she whispered. Linda, who had been waiting stoically the whole time, clinging to Mom’s skirts, waved as I climbed the steps onto the bus.

I went to a window seat and searched for Mom and Dad in the crowd. I waved, and our eyes met. Mom raised her hand as if to wipe a tear and instead waved and blew me a kiss. Linda was in Dad’s arms, her face buried in his neck. Dad looked up and saluted. Someone said,” Everyone in their seats!” The children gave one more wave and scrambled into their assigned places.

Staring out the window, I was mesmerized by the city sights in the early morning. I watched as we passed through Parliament and Bloor Streets through the downtown core. I gazed into the shop windows seeing the reflection of the bus as we rolled by. The city was slow in waking on the weekend morning, storekeepers just now unlocking their doors. We waved at the vehicles we passed, and the occupants waved back.

As the bus edged its way onto the Bloor Street ramp of the Don Valley Parkway, the viaduct loomed into view above us. That summer was the first time I had seen the impossible steel structure that spanned the Don River valley. The impression the sight left on my eight-and-a-half-year-old brain was indelible. “Wow, did you see that?” I said as I craned my neck to get a better view from the other side of the bus.

The viaduct behind us, the bus picked up speed along the parkway and merged with the 401 traffic. On cue, one of the camp staff picked up a ukelele and led us in the singing of a camp song. “You’ll get the idea,” she said. “Repeat the words after me, and in the verse, choose the name of a fellow camper and make up something funny that rhymes with the name.” Some kids knew the routine. Everyone laughed and pointed when a kid was unfortunate enough to end up in the lyrics.

Hey Lawdy Lawdy Lawdy
Hey Lawdy Lawdy Low
Hey Lawdy Lawdy Lawdy
Hey Lawdy Lawdy Low
I know a girl whose name is Cindy
Hey Lawdy Lawdy Low
She is very, very windy
Hey Lawdy Lawdy Low

The singing eventually faded as the bus careened eastward beyond Scarborough and the city limits. We soon passed through open fields, and farmland as kids settled back into their seats, some reading, some playing cards with a seatmate, and others drifting off to sleep. I watched as Lake Ontario faded in and out of view as the bus passed by the towns of Ajax, Oshawa, Bowmanville, Newcastle, and Port Hope.

When the sign for Cobourg came into view, the bus geared down as we entered the exit ramp. The bus reached Ontario Street, and the vast blue water of Lake Ontario stretched into the vanishing horizon. The lake increased in size as we drove along the street. I had seen Lake Ontario before in Toronto, but here it was unfettered and seemed to stretch endlessly on a flat horizon. When I thought we would drive into the lake, the bus turned into a driveway leading to a large white house.

Illahee was to be my home for the next few weeks of the summer, and I would return here for two weeks each summer for the next eight years. It was here that I learned to paddle a canoe, camp in the bush, build a fire, hike along a stream bed, and catch frogs and turtles. Here I learned about plants and animals, the lore of indigenous folk (an indigenous elder would tell us stories around a campfire), to play the guitar and get along with people. Most of all, I learned to love this country that adopted me.1

1Adapted from an unpublished memoir by Barry Cull

2 thoughts on “Illahee Lodge”

  1. Reminded me of camp buses that took me from my parents.
    My favourite phrase… “I had seen Lake Ontario before in Toronto, but here it was unfettered and seemed to stretch endlessly on the flat horizon”

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