It is full summer, and the County is once again —and, perhaps, as always — heaving with pleasure-seekers of all sizes and stripes. A look back, to the history of this green-pastured island set amidst blue waters and rocky coves, reveals this has always been the case. Over 150 years of Gazette bound volumes show tourism has never not been a part of the fabric of the place.
In 1943, at the height of World War II, while the Gazette was reporting on the heroic actions of the Hasty P’s in Sicily, there appears the following note: “There is a keen demand for cottages and other accommodation in the county. Will those having any available please notify The Gazette. It will also be appreciated if resort owners will advise when accommodation is vacated as there are many applications. The county is enjoying an excellent tourist season.”
The pages of the newspaper tell a story about how the idea of visiting the County developed and shifted over time.
“The pleasure excursion of the season” read this newspaper on Tuesday August 7, 1860, was a “Grand gathering at the Celebrated and Wonderful Lake on the Mountain, which, next to the Falls of Niagara, is the Greatest Natural Curiosity of Canada.”
Lake on the Mountain, “situated on the very summit of the loftiest hill or mountain between Lake Erie and the foot of Lake Ontario,” has formed “a cataract upwards of three times the height of Niagara Falls,” brags the advertisement.
It reminds one of the Smith’s Falls councillor who, sometime in the 1990s, proposed the slogan: “Smith’s Falls—Like Niagara Falls … but without the Falls!” I do not believe it was adopted.
The lake, of unfathomable depths, “is filled with very fine fish” as were, of course the surrounding bays of Lake Ontario.
Bass fishing was a great enterprise in the 1950s. The East Lake bass factory lured plenty of our American cousins. But back to the past.
The following week in August 1860, the Gazette published an account of the “Pic-Nic” excursion:
“Notwithstanding the excessively hot weather, hundreds participated.” The Bay of Quinte, a steam ship, arrived from Belleville alongside the Walter Shanly from Cape Vincent, New York, and Kingston, “both of which were nearly filled with passengers; and add to these those who came in sailboats and carriages, and we have a great number of pleasure-loving people.”
The views were praised, as well as the industry of the mill (driven by the aforementioned cataract). As the visitors laid out their cloths for dining, the Kingston and Belleville brass bands “discoursed sweet music, raising the drooping spirits of the Pic-Nicer’s, and lending a charm to the whole place.”
Before anyone knew it (and before any fishing took place), the steamer was blowing its whistle and it was time to go. “Mr. Gildersleeve of Kingston deserves credit for getting up this picnic excursion — the price of tickets being extremely low — and if the good wishes of the Excursionists will be of any benefit to him, we believe he has them.”
The hotel industry featured prominently in these pages.
In October 1878, two beachside resorts made appeals for guests. The by then well-established Sandbanks Hotel wrote:
“As the people in our towns and cities are prostrated with the past extreme heat, and our farmers’ crops gathered, pic-nic and excursions will be the order of the day. We expect thousands the next month on the Sandbanks as recreation is an essential to health. So come one, come all, we have enjoyment – we have a large saloon for dancing where the sweet breezes from the lake are flowing — and a first-class violin player always on hand. Our tables are furnished with all the luxuries our county affords, as well as other refreshments to be found in our towns and cities. Come.”
A rival hotel, newcomer the Ontario House, near Lakeshore Lodge, offered very low rates, even adding, “horses cared for and fed upon liberal terms”—something like today’s offering of a destination e-charger. “A call is respectfully solicited and satisfaction guaranteed,” concludes the invitation.
In 1973, the re-development of the 1869 Lakeshore Lodge, which had fallen into neglect, was suggested, and the Gazette supported the idea: “With the county located off major transportation routes such as Highway 401 and the main railroad routes, tourism is one of the few county industries with room for expansion.” It noted 88 individual tourist accommodation operations. Former editor Phil Dodds, however, was a dissenter from the prevailing religion, on the grounds of the very high rates: “Imagine, a resort to attract young families, at $80 daily or $550 weekly. Would YOU be interested? As for rebuilding that hotel, let’s be satisfied with a model, like those in Bird House City.”
In 1983, the redevelopment of the Lodge still unaccomplished, yet another study recommended an investment to the tune of six million dollars. The building would burn down that Halloween.
Tourism is a perennial topic in the County. It is now not a side attraction but a key element, integrated with agricultural traditions and an awareness of history. It is a source of recognition for local accomplishments and for forging set of connections to the larger world. We look forward to charting its changing traditions, ways, and means in forthcoming issues.