Coboconk, founded in 1851, with a current population of 701, is in The City of Kawartha Lakes in south-central Ontario, Canada. There is continuing debate about the derivation of the name Coboconk. Some believe it is derived from the Ojibway term gakaabikaang, meaning “waterfalls” while others claim that it means “where gulls nest”. Whichever is correct, the only way to access Indian Point by road is through Coboconk.
The Gull River flows through Coboconk into Balsam Lake, which is the highest point in the Trent-Severn Waterway System. Water flows from Balsam both east to Lake Ontario and west to Georgian Bay. It has been claimed that Balsam Lake is the highest point on Earth to which a vessel can be navigated from sea level; however navigable portions of the Mississippi River are higher.
Indian Point’s unique geography has also given it an interesting history. The first inhabitants of the Point were Ojibway and Mississauga First Nations peoples. They are thought to have arrived in the area around the early 1600’s and been attracted to the Point because of its strategic defensive location.
‘According to the government survey of 1832-3, Indian Point was set aside as a reserve for a mixed band of Mississauga and Ojibway Indians, who were then in occupation. In 1836 Samuel Cottingham of Omemee received a government contract to build twelve houses for those Indians who were Christians. Their ‘pagan’ kinsfolk lived in wigwams on the island nearby. In 1847 the Indians put in a claim to the government for all islands points, and broken points of land, but met with no success. At last, about 1860, a Peterborough lumberman named Colonel Denniston secured control of the forest on Indian Point and along the north shore of the lake and the Indians were moved away – the Ojibways to the Rama reserve, north of Orillia, and the Mississaugas to Seagog Island. After all timber had been removed from the Point, small narrow lots were platted running from a central road survey to the water on each side. This road was never opened: only a winding lumber trail wandered up the point towards Coboconk.’
(Excerpt from Watson Kirkconnell’s book History of Victoria County. Chapter, Romantic Settlement of Bexley—-Details of early Village life.)
A few notable historical figures are said to have made Indian Point their temporary home. In the course of exploring Canada, Champlain and his Coureurs de Bois canoed across Balsam Lake and are thought to have camped on Indian Point. Legend has it that Champlain’s sextant was discovered in Balsam Lake. Jesuit priests traveled the area and are rumoured to have buried gold and other valuables on Ball Island when threatened by the natives.
The first non-native permanent resident of the Point appears to be Colonel Denniston. In 1864 Denniston, a lumber baron from Peterborough, was granted lumbering rights on Indian Point which then comprised about 2,800 acres extending to about the northerly boundary of George Shepherd’s property on Grandy Road. Denniston built a two storey log building for his workers and he lived upstairs. Over his 20 years of operation he reportedly made a relative fortune from the lumber he produced harvesting the Point’s forests.
In 1884 he sold Indian Point to Mr. John Hilliard Carnegie. Born in 1862 to John and Eleanor Carnegie, he was raised and educated in Peterborough. He later went to school at Guelph Agricultural College and in Edinburgh, Scotland. Carnegie went on to become a farmer and political figure. He served as auditor for Bexley Township, and was also a member of the township council. He represented Victoria East in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as a Conservative member from 1894 until April 30, 1909, when he was appointed to the Stamp Office.
Carnegie was married and had two children with his first wife. She fell ill from drinking contaminated well water. During her illness she was attended to by a nurse from Peterborough, Edith Green.
Following the death of his first wife, Carnegie’s children convinced him to marry Edith Green, which he did on August 27, 1907. Edith was not interested in moving into the old matrimonial home, and Carnegie built a new two storey home for her and his family. That house was located around the Lawlor and Morris properties at lots 1 and 3 on Shields’ Lane. John and Edith went on to have four more children, one of whom was named Charlotte. Charlotte married Bruce Patterson and they had three children; sons John and Ken, and daughter Mary. Mary is now Mary Preston and resides in Edmonton but continues to summer on Indian Point #486 with her husband, children and grandchildren.
Carnegie was a very strong robust individual who used to row or paddle miles around the lake, and was known to sometimes walk twenty miles and think nothing of it. Although very stooped he thrived on brute force, and enjoyed displaying his great strength…including being able to fell a steer with a single punch! He once competed in, and won, a Canadian Canoeing championship in Quebec in a canoe he had christened ‘Coboconk’.
Carnegie ran a mixed farming operation along with three tenant farmers and was renowned for his good vegetable crops. Much of the Point was used for cattle grazing. He worked extremely hard and insisted that his children do the same. Bill Shields recalls Carnegie’s son Jim hating Indian Point because of how hard he had to work. Jim had a disappearing propeller boat that he used to sneak away. He’d often turn off the engine and drift while he read, sometimes falling asleep and waking half way across the lake.
During his ownership, the Point was known as Carnegie’s Point. To make it more enjoyable for his children Carnegie built some other cottages and rented them to friends and their families. Those original cottagers included the Parkers, Greaves, Cranstons, and Sheppards. Dr. Parker came from Scotland to be the minister in the old St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Toronto where Carnegie had a home and was a parishioner. Parker was the Chaplin for the 48th Highlanders Regiment. Molly Sheppard and Lois Greaves (#774 Indian Point), children of the original cottagers, were young girls when they started coming up in 1930, and ’31 respectively.
In 1935 Carnegie sold the Point to Charlie Shields for about $25,000, or less than $10.00 per acre.
Charlie’s family had a long-standing history in the Coboconk area. Thomas Shields, Charlie’s grandfather, was originally from around York, England. Having first settled in Victoria Road, he then moved to Coboconk and opened Shields Store in 1889, selling groceries, dry goods and hardware. He fathered W.L. (William Louis) Shields who married Henrietta Keyes. Henrietta was the daughter of John Keyes and Margaret McCullough. John built the Keyes Hotel in 1873. John Keyes died and Margaret married the hotel manager, Mr. Pattie, and from then on was forever known as Grandmother Pattie. This is where the name ‘Pattie House’ originates.
W.L. and Henrietta had three sons, Roy, Charlie, and Lorne.
After buying Carnegie’s Point in 1935, Charlie remained a bachelor. He lived with his mother, worked at the store and rented out the land on the Point to the Websters for cattle grazing. The existing buildings he continued to rent to the families who had rented from Carnegie. Those families included the Carnegies, Sheppards and Greaves, Parkers, Cranstons, Secords, and Reids. Everyone had to be constantly vigilant about closing the cattle gates and watching out for Mr. McGregor, the bull. It was Roy Shields who convinced Charlie to change the name from ‘Carnegie’s Point’ back to ‘Indian Point’. Roy liked the connection with the Indians and named his launch ‘Indian Princess’. He had a pendant made up for the boat featuring the head of an Indian.
The old cottages were located in the area that is now Shields’ Lane. It then included a central dock, boat house, communal swimming area, and pebble tennis court. The ‘new’ cottages that Charlie built in 1936, ‘37, and ’38 were rented to friends he had met while attending Woodstock College. They included a Mr. Wickett, who rented what is now the ‘old cottage’ of the Harrison’s at #846-848, and Carey Warren, whose lot is now the Rasmussen’s at #812. In addition Charlie built the cottage which belongs to Dr. William Shields (aka Rochester Bill or Dr. Bill) at #800, which he and his mother lived in as long as the weather permitted before they would move to the Pattie House for the winter. Those original buildings were numbered from 1 to 7, with the oldest being the Carnegie house and 7 being the one Charlie built for himself and his mother. The number ‘7’ is still visible on Bill’s cottage. Access to these cottages was by the ‘old road’ that ran down the centre of the Point. In 1939 Charlie built the Glengarry Road that went west from the old road past today’s tennis courts. The road turned sharply to run parallel to the water at what is now the Esch’s property, #544.
Charlie was never greedy and didn’t want Indian Point overly developed. When he did begin to sell lots they had to have a minimum100 feet of water frontage. He would only sell to people he knew and they had to agree in writing to build a building of at least 1,500 square feet within a specified period of time and at a minimum set back from the water. His initial lots sales were at $10.00 per waterfront foot.
In 1952 Charlie married Jean Laidlaw. Jean was niece of George Laidlaw, a railroad man from Scotland whose great grandfather Willie was the secretary to Sir Walter Scott. George was a major influence in the area and had considerable land holdings at the west end of Balsam Lake. Jean was the daughter of James Laidlaw who had a ranch near the mouth of the Trent Canal on route to
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Kirkfield. There is an historic plaque on Highway 48 recognizing his brother George’s accomplishments.
Jean and Charlie built a home on Grandy Road next to their nephew Bill Shields (sometimes know as Hardware Bill to distinguish between Rochester Bill). Jean became very involved in the development of Indian Point. She participated in the interviews and sales of property and actually designed and oversaw the construction of many of the early cottages. Jean and Charlie continued to own several of the properties and rented them to friends and acquaintances. They summered at the cottage they built which is now the Smith’s at #8 Shields’ Lane.
The Franklin property at #806 was rented to the Vinings, another classmate of Charlie’s. A frequent visitor at the Vinings was Sir William Stephenson, best known by his wartime intelligence codename Intrepid. Some consider him to be one of the real-life inspirations for James Bond. Another was Donald Fleming, the Minister of Finance in the Deifenbaker government.
An early purchaser on Indian Point was Hiram McCallum, the mayor of Toronto from 1948-1951. ‘Mac’ built the Hamman cottage at #688 that has just been purchased by Jack and Catherine Leitch. Dawn Palin Greer recalls that before the Indian Point Property Owners Association was created, Mac used to have ‘meetings’ for the male residents in his boathouse. Those meetings generally focused on the finer points of good whiskey. After his term as Mayor of Toronto, Hiram became the Manager of the Canadian National Exhibition, which enabled him to provide wonderful fireworks for celebrations on Indian Point. He is also credited with bringing hydro electricity to the Point long before it would normally have been made available to such a small population.
Development continued at a very slow and manageable pace on the west side of Indian Point. Charlie first started building the road from Black Duck Bay at the east end of the Point, but was frustrated with the swampy conditions. He continued to extend the road along the west side of the Point which was higher and dryer, and also provided access to the more appealing western views with magnificent sunsets. The population of cottages grew steadily and the community became more organized. It was in 1957 that the Indian Point Property Owners Association received its charter. It is quite a remarkable document that defines the objects of the not-for-profit Corporation as follows:
- To advance the cultural and social interests of the summer and permanent residents of Indian Point, Balsam Lake;
- To promote the interests of persons owning property in the said Indian Point, and advance any plans for the advantage of Indian Point and vicinity;
- To promote athletic and social activities among the residents of Indian Point and to arrange matches, meetings and competitions of every nature and to offer or grant and contribute toward prizes, awards and distinctions;
- To provide a clubhouse and other conveniences for the members of the Corporation and other, and to equip, furnish and maintain the same;
- For the objects aforesaid, to receive, acquire and hold gifts, donations, legacies and devises.
The charter goes on to prohibit using a place, house, or room as a club which would be a common gaming house within the meaning of the criminal code.
The first President of the Association was Mr. W.L. (Wilfred Laurier) Upton. His daughter-in-law Marg Upton and her family continue to reside at the original Upton property. The General Manager was Hiram Emerson McCallum, and Donald Cameron Warren (son of Carey Warren) was Sales Manager.
Over the past 50 years the Association has wisely managed within the stated corporate objectives, and never been shut down for running a gaming house. An annual picnic better known as the Pow Wow has been established; tennis courts built and maintained; a baseball diamond laid out; tennis and golf tournaments established; a bridge club created; and the road improved and maintained.
The Association executive has represented the interests of Indian Point in dealing with municipal and provincial governments, but like all cottage associations has failed to win the battle regarding excessive taxation of waterfront properties.
1957, 58 W.L. Upton
1958, 61 H.E. McCallum
1961, 63 G.F. Grinyer
1963, 65 K.G.W. Hume
1965, 66 D.C. Morton
1966, 67 A. Cunningham
1967, 69 H. Jackson
1969, 70 A.A. Ennis
1971, 74 W.E. Trevett
1975, 77 R.D. Osborne
1978, 79 George Hamman
1980, 83 T. Barrett
1983, 86 Don Brown
1986, 89 Keith Clement
1989, 91 Gary Atkins
1991, 92 Gary Cotton
1992, 94 Don Warren
1994, 96 George Hume
1996, 97 Greg Moore
1998, 2000 Peter Robinson
2001, 02 Roger Ball
2002, 03 Keith Clement
2004, 06 John Hickey
2006, 07 Michelle Samson-Doel
In 1968 Charlie Shields died, leaving a sizeable estate. That happened to be final year in which succession duties existed in Ontario. Charlie was land rich, and it would have been difficult for Jean and his other heirs to pay the taxes. Bob (Oz) Osborne, husband of Catherine #862 (Charlie’s niece), represented the Estate in negotiating a settlement by way of transfer of all the lands on the east side of Indian Point Road to the Ontario Government. The land then became Crown land and was open to the public.
Over time that proved problematic because of people lighting fires and causing vandalism in the area. In 1976 Oz and Tom Gibson, Deputy Minister of Tourism, husband of Betty, formerly #852 (Charlie’s niece), worked successfully to have the land transferred from Crown land to be designated as an Unopened Provincial Park. That event has been of huge significance and benefit to the residents of Indian Point. It prevents further development of Indian Point and protects a very large and unique natural resource. This feature distinguishes Indian Point as a very attractive cottage area.
Up until Jean’s death in 1994, the Shields Estate had ownership of the Indian Point Road and maintained it. Upon her death the Association took charge of maintaining the road, and worked with Mike Osborne (son of Catherine and Bob) representing the Estate to have title to the road and some irregular parcels transferred to the Indian Point Property Association or individual cottage owners where appropriate. Dealing with the various levels of government proved very bureaucratic, and it took until this year to complete that process.
It has been said that cottages are where one measures growth. It is through those annual summer vacations that we observe the cycle of life. Indian Point has provided a joyous place for generations of families to play and grow. We should all work to sustain the friendliness of Indian Point and to practice good stewardship to preserve such a special environment.