I drive north out of Owen Sound along the bay, past Balmy Beach and on to East Linton. I turn left there, up over The Gun Range Hill to the Centre Road, so named before Sarawak was splintered off to form a Reservation and made relevant again in recent times with amalgamation and the formation of The Municipality of Georgian Bluffs. I turn right through Ben Allen, past the road to Linwood, past Bass Lake and on through Wolsley. I forget the wide, smooth roadway I am on and think of a time when undergrowth brushed both sides of cutter or buggy. I am following the route my grandfather took, six days a week for eight years, from 1906 to 1914, servicing the above named rural post offices.
I don’t stop at Wolsley but carry on past the agricultural clearings, past the Blind Line (now Kinch’s Sideroad) to where forest is still king and when I have almost given up hope of seeing farm buildings again, the bush opens up and rock scabbed fields indicate the human struggle over nature has not yet been abandoned in Stony Keppel. A handsome sign proclaims a name; “Lake Charles, A Proud Part of Grey County”. I have arrived at the site of the last post office on Grandpa’s route.
I slow down in this, the land of shattered dreams, for once there was more here than meets the eye. Huge fading letters, on a once proud barn, spell out LAKE VIEW and through the trees Lake Charles is there, a blue sapphire, perhaps two kilometres long and one kilometre wide, shimmering in the sun.
Though Merchant’s Saw Mill is gone, I close my eyes and listen. Is it my imagination or do I really hear the whine of the saw and the chug-chug-chug of the long gone, huge, black stationary steam engine? And, if it were winter, would I not hear the shouts of the Sunday shinny game, just off shore?
That gray shingled building to the right is the library —the Carneigie Library— unused for decades but still standing. Imagine, this place once had a library! The retirement cottage, built by the pioneering Fergusons, sits just behind, its yard waist high with weeds.
A paved road runs off to the right. Locals used to call it the 24th Concession Road for it separates the twenty third and the twenty fourth rows of lots in the original Keppel Township survey. Across this unbelievable strip of asphalt still sits the locked, white, clapboarded Lake Charles Presbyterian Church. It door doesn’t open now, except for one, annual memorial service attended by tourists. My great grandfather, it is said, refused to help build or attend this holy building because there were other churches less than five miles down the road in three directions. If I peek in the window I may yet see one of the long dead Davidsons pumping up the Aladdin lanterns.
Directly across the Centre Road is where Tupper’s store and post office stood. It disappeared in a fire in 1916 only a few months after Grandpa Neil delivered the last mail bag. For years, families picked up their letters, their catalogues and supplies there before they cut across the road to look over the new books in the library. Mail boxes and rural delivery to the end of lanes killed the post office function and cars the rural general stores. Although no sightings of the Tuppers have ever been reported since their deaths some say on a nice day you may see Ab Cole, a more recent occupier of that space, polishing his steam engine in preparation for the threshing season. He and his pride and joy are long gone, too.
Half a mile down the road, in the lea of an outcropping of limestone the 24th concession road renews to the left, threading between the rock and the lake. On this corner they built S. S. 11 Keppel in 1889, a white brick structure replacing the log school on the 26th concession which, it was thought, had missed the centre of population. The new school opened with forty pupils and closed in 1969 with ten but always was identified as the Lake Charles School.
Before I get to the school, however, I have to go past the haunted Davidson Castle, built with cement blocks by a homesick Scot with dreams of the highlands. All outbuildings are gone, now, but a descendant, still in tune with his ancestors, it is said, still lives behind the wild , overgrown hedges.
Someone from the city bought the schoolhouse and shocked the entire community by painting a twenty foot long reclining nude on the back wall. I won’t look but if I listen I may hear the shouts of the young sleigh riders on the hill where dynamite gentled the slope enough for the Centre Road to reach into the Irish Porter Settlement. I may hear the arguments associated with every game of scrub or the bang, bang, bang of the youthful cowboys and Indians fighting it out along the rocky ridge. I may even hear teacher Bill Brown or teacher Pauline Johnson, or all those in between, instilling dreams.
West a kilometre or more on the 24th rests one more monument to over optimistic dreams. It is now identified as the Grey Sauble Conservation Area and boasts little more than access for the public to Lake Charles. But there was a time when a sign proclaimed, “The Lake Charles Women’s Institute Recreation Area”. It boasted a dozen or more picnic tables, a stone barbeque, toilets, a boat ramp and a softball field. Not only the dreams but the very organization behind those dreams has succumbed to time.
Lake Charles was always a nebulous community. Perhaps, its boundaries were defined by those picking up mail at Tupper’s Store; perhaps by those loyally attending the church; perhaps by those whose children walked to S.S. 11 Keppel or even by those picking up reading material from the library. Maybe it was defined by the aforementioned Women’s Institute. It might have even been those twenty-two families with partnership in the Lake Charles Telephone Company.
My childhood home, still a half mile further west, stands yet, almost hidden by huge trees I helped plant. The mail box, now painted black bears no name, only a fire number. The barn is empty. The house needs more than paint. There are no clipped lawns, no gardens, no cultivated fields. I hear no sounds.
Strangers live here now. Do they have dreams or anything resembling community identity?