Island of Stone

By Willa Wick in Arts & Music, Community, People

He was just an ordinary guy who wanted to do something different.
Paddy Rundle of Palmerston was not trained in the trades of masonry, carpentry, or painting, yet the varied retirement projects just keep adding up.
The first major undertaking was when he enlarged their house on Main Street.  He decided he wanted a large fireplace – on the second floor.  All the stones, which came from a local barn foundation, plus the pails of mortar, had to be carried up the flight of stairs.  It was all trial and error and his tradesman skills were done on a “wing and a prayer”.  A barn beam was cut to size with a very ‘dull saw’ to become the mantle.
As one traces the history of Rundle’s mixture of projects it seems like a case of “he does everything the hard way”.
Back in 1988 the family wanted a summer property and jumped at the chance when half an island became available.  But this paradise didn’t come ready-made.  The island was mostly tree covered, and what wasn’t, was solid bedrock.  First they had to pioneer and clear trees making room for the cottage – which turned out to be a 2-storey, four bedroom, winterized living quarters.
Rundle had acquired a penchant for stone, so after he did the foundation his friend Barry Colman spent weekends and summer holidays “stoning” the bottom storey of the building.
Although the island and shore is all rock, it’s not the kind and shape for this type of stone work.  To get “dressed” stone for projects, the Wiarton Quarry is the closest supplier.
Now remember – this is an island, situated off the Bruce Peninsula, north of Oliphant and Red Bay on the Lake Huron side.  Access to the island is from the government dock at Howdenvale.
First they had to build a barge, for everything had to be transported across the water.  All building materials had to be handled many times – supply truck to gov’t dock, dock to barge, barge to shore tractor, and then once again for the fifth time, hand-bombed off at the work site.
When Rundle was remodeling his main street home, a passer-by commented that round steps would really showcase his work.  Since then Paddy always envisions round steps, and that’s what graces the front entrance to the island haven.
After the cottage was completed there were tons of leftover stone.  Two pillars were designed and constructed, and inside was placed a time capsule.  All the children and grand children wrote something which was placed in the container along with a July 1995 issue of the Palmerston Observer.
The next task was to have a 20 foot wall on each side of the pillars ….now there’s 300 feet!
The ideas just kept popping into his head as this man endeavored to do something entirely different from what others would or could do.   Another fantasy was a lighthouse …and now there is a 2-storey octagon structure.  Rundle poured the foundation himself but had to get the workers at the quarry to cut the ends of the stone for the proper angles to match the eight sided configuration.  It’s only about 12 feet in diameter so the staircase is a metal spiral on the outside which goes up to the 2nd level wrap around deck.  A local contractor was building a cottage on the other half of the island so timing of the lighthouse was perfect as he was willing to take on the challenge of the octagon wooden upper storey.
While building his wall, two large pillars were constructed beside the lighthouse.  Wife Dorothy made the idle comment that they should be joined with an arch …and another plan began.
The pillars were a fair distance apart and the arch had to be high enough for the loaded work tractor to go under.  Rundle soaked boards so they would bend into an arc, and then fashioned a wooden support over which he mortared the voussoirs.  With the addition of the mortar these become wedge shaped so that the downward gravity pull cannot flatten the arc.  The arch is a double course of cut stone.
Again, after this task there was much stone left over …and up went a 15 foot stone man.
Later the kids were walking the beach and found a huge flat stone.  It was about 6 feet long and was the length of grandson Matt’s outstretched arms.  That spawned the idea for an Inukshuk.
Meanwhile, at their winter retreat home down south, there was a calendar with a picture of the totem poles in Stanley Park, British Columbia.  When the month was over the picture stayed.  After walking past it several times a day for three years Rundle told himself he could carve one of those.
A 25 foot log of B.C. Fir was obtained from Welbeck’s Saw Mill and barged across to the island.
If you want something bad enough you’ll find a way to get it.  Again Paddy had to teach himself a craft, this time wood carving.  Dorothy laughs as she recalls the day he came in for a coffee break and announced he had just finished his first eye transplant.  (Because of a knot in the wood his first eye had popped out and he had to do another).
Working as the mood struck, the totem pole took about two years to complete.  Then it was “planted” near the shore (15 feet above sea level, 5 feet of the pole buried in the ground so that it appears to be standing on a cement pad).  Guy wires stabilize the 18 foot wing span from the off-shore winds.
Back home, in front of his apartment complex “The Parsonage”, was a dying Maple tree.  It had to come down so Rundle asked the arborist to leave the stump about 20 feet tall – and from that trunk evolved another totem pole.  The work on this one was more difficult.  First the bark had to be stripped.  Then he was working on hardwood, and in an upright position from scaffolding.
Having already made patterns and stencils mimicking the Stanley Park totem for his island pole, the one gracing Palmerston’s main street is of the same design.
Son Mark inherited some timbers from a work site and had the idea of building a pavilion at the cottage.  This 26 foot square picnic area was erected but it soon became evident it had to be closed in against the wind.
Next came a huge stone oven complete with electric rotisserie.   The Rundle’s love to entertain and several local families have been invited to share chicken or pig roasts.
The stone scheming seems to never end, and dear knows what Palmerston’s 2012 Citizen of the Year, or his wife, will dream up next.

Totem pole carved from the trunk of a dying Maple on Palmerston's main street

Totem pole carved from the trunk of a dying Maple on Palmerston’s main street