Our Supply Boats
“Which do I like the best, the Constance or the Mink?
I’m afraid I don’t quite know, I’ll have to stop and fink:
I heard my mamma say last week to Auntie Nan.
‘I get some things off each,’ so just you try that plan.
I know the candy squares on board the Mink are grand,
And Constance man, he gives me apples in my hand;
So guess I love ’em both, they bring us every fink
To eat and drink and wear, the Constance and the Mink.”
—“The Immortal William
WHEN strangers have rented a summer cottage and are coming up to the Muskoka Lakes for the first time, the question they invariably ask is, Where shall we obtain our supplies? Where shall we buy our meat, our butter, our groceries? Are there any stores near we can go to? And we reply with a laugh, No! there are no stores near, but the stores come to you instead of you going to the stores; they float up to your very doors, bringing you “everything under the sun,” or, as that may be going too far, we will say, “everything we mortals can possibly need in Muskoka.”
These supply boats are stores indeed! veritably so. As closely packed from stem to stern as a bundle of pressed hay, they contain a little of everything— Eaton’s in miniature—butcher, baker, and candle-stick-maker combined.
The Constance and the Mink are the boats which run exclusively on lakes Joseph and Rosseau, the Constance owned by Homer, of Rosseau, and the Mink by Hanna, of Port Carling. I believe there are others run on Muskoka Lake, but I don’t know their names. The fresh meat department on both the Constance and the Mink is under separate management. The butcher’s shop in both cases is situated in the bow of the boat, the grocery counter in the centre, and the dry goods and fancy department more to the stern.
These boats commence their trips as soon as the ice breaks up in the spring, and continue running till the ice forms thickly enough to stop them in the fall. Their harvest time is in July and August, when Muskoka is crowded with its summer visitors. At that time they are busy indeed. No sooner is their whistle heard in the distance than the people begin to gather at the wharf, expectant. First there are the children, clutching fast their five-cent pieces and coppers, in a perfect fever of anxiety to exchange them for the coveted candy; then the anxious housekeepers, scanning the bits of paper with their lists of wants, to see if anything had been omitted; the boys stand waiting with their coal-oil cans and syrup or vinegar jars to be replenished. Look out! here comes an active young fellow trundling a big wheelbarrow laden with garden stuff, monster cabbages, bunches of onions and lettuces, baskets of peas and beans, for all is grist that comes to the supply boat’s mill.
Here is a young girl coming in a boat with two or three pails of summer apples, red and rosy; there are the little berry pickers, waiting to dispose of their spoils. Now, picking their way daintily along, come some of the fair tourist blossoms, with their attendant butterflies, anxious to join the throng and see the fun. It happens to be the Constance this time.
No sooner is the boat made fast than there is a general rush for the interior, and this is the kind of thing you hear from the white-aproned individual behind the counter: “Well, Johnny, how much do you want for those cabbages a dozen? Don’t say too much, now. Here’s three left over from those I bought last week,” kicking out from a corner three withered old heads. “No! not lettuce this time, it’s a drug in the market. You can give ’em to your cow.” Then suddenly turning to an enquiring butterfly in immaculate white ducks, “Any chocolate creams? You bet,” thumping a box down on the counter. “Best in Canada, fit for the Queen.” “Seventy-five cents.” “Thank you” “Good morning, Mrs. Tidy, what for you?” “Corset laces?” “Warranted to stand any strain you can put on ’em without breaking?” “Butter?” “Yes, just out of the churn. Ten pounds, did you say, Mrs. Screw?” looking over with a wink at a hatchet-faced woman who was gingerly tasting every roll in the refrigerator. “What, only one pound. Why, you could put that in your old mans eye. Better say two. You’ll be sorry if you don’t. Here, you boys, don’t be fingering those plums. You’re fetching all the bloom off, and then who do you think’ll buy em?” “Sam,” to one of the other hands, “Put off those three bags of flour and that bag of potatoes. Shoes don’t fit?” snatching a pair from a boy, who was dangling them by the strings. “two sizes larger? Will bring ’em Saturday. Want your bill, Mrs. Centless? Here it is, made up to date. Sharp cheese, did you say, Mrs. Roberts— try that, it would cut your tongue off.” So it goes on, the butcher, sawing and chopping away for very life, handing out the beefsteak and joints. “No,” he says to one lady, “I can’t give you a hind-quarter of lamb to-day, you’ll have to take the fore-quarter. You had the hind-quarter last week. Everybody has to take their turn, for we can’t grow lambs with four hind-quarters even in Muskoka.”
At last everybody is served, and the laughing, joking crowd step off the boat, the whistle gives a toot, the engine starts and they are off to their next stopping place, where the same scene, with sundry variations, will be played over and over again till late at night, for the hours these men on the supply boats have to put in are very long. J ust in the rush of the season they scarcely get any rest at all. and it is a wonder to me they keep so good-tempered and jolly with all they have to encounter. They must be thankful when Sunday comes round.
As regards the quality of the goods sold on these boats and the prices charged, I believe they compare favorably with any good general store in a country town. They endeavor to carry on the boats the articles most in demand and for which there is the readiest sale, and if they do not happen to have what you require they will procure it for you and bring it on the next trip. They are also very willing to accommodate their customers by bringing boots or articles of clothing on approbation, which is a source of great convenience to both settler and tourist.
We have two visits a week from each boat at our wharf during the summer months. After the tourists have departed they come only once a week. Little Willie is much interested in their visits. His mother has forbidden him going on the w’harf, as she is afraid of him falling into the water ; but he comes down to the shore as near as he can get, and there perches K.nself up on a rock, where he watches the proceedings and patiently awaits our return. I generally bring him a banana, if there are any on the boat, for he dotes on “nanas,” as he calls them. But I must tell you here that the ‘‘Immortal William” scorns baby talk. He speaks distinctly and unusually well for a child of his age, only he has a habit of leaving out the first syllable of long words, and says “randah” for verandah, “frigerator” for refrigerator, “boggan” for toboggan, and so on. Only last week he was talking about his “boggan,” which he left outside on the “randah,” and I, mildly correcting, said, “to-boggan, Willie.” “Toe-boggan!” he cried indignantly, his blue eyes flashing with scorn, “mire is no toe-boggan, but a real big-boggan. You can ride on it with all your body, every bit of it. Toe-boggan, indeed!” and he rushed off to the “randah” in a rage. So, you see, we old aunties have to mind out p’s and q’s or we shall get into trouble.
The Constance and the Mink will also carry a limited number of passengers on their daily trips around the lakes. They have nice comfortable chairs on the upper deck, and if the day is not too hot, there can be nothing pleasanter than these excursions. They call at a great many more places than the large steamers, and they stay just long enough at each place for the passengers to have a good look round or to go ashore for a few minutes if they please. I think in no other way can one gel such a good view of the pretty homes and private residences on the islands and shores. About three years ago I went with a party of friends on the Mink for the trip around Lake Joseph. We had a lovely day. We made a regular picnic of it, taking our provisions with us, the men on the boat kindly giving us boiling water for our tea.
We had with us Winnie and her family and my brother Ben’s wife and children.
Winnie, who has learned a few wrinkles in ihe years of her married life, brought her baby (the “Immortal William”) enthroned in a large wicker clothes-basket furnished with a couple of pillows and various small articles to amuse the young gentleman on the way. The boys bore it up on the deck and he sat or slept in it the whole day, not being a mite of trouble to his mother nor anyone else. I recommend this basket business to some of you weary mothers, lugging round your heavy babies whenever you go out for a day’s pleasure. Just try it and see if it does not relieve your aching arms and prove a great success. Going up the lake we called at Stanley House, and they gave us half an hour there, so we climbed the steps to see the hotel. I thought the situation most lovely, the view on every side grand, but I think I should be rather afraid to stay there if I had children, for the rocks are so steep and it stands at such a height above the water I should never be easy if they were out of my sight.
We had an hour’s grace at Port Cockburn, so we had a nice time wandering round. I thought it rather a pity that the front of the hotel should be so much hidden from the lake by the trees. I think if the house could be more plainly seen as the boat approaches, it would be far prettier . bat, of course, tastes differ in this world.
There is an American now building his house on Lake Joseph In the midst of a dense bush, mostly evergreens—hemlocks and pines. He is determined, I hear, that not one shall be cut down; he will hardly let daylight in. His only outlook is to be a kind of small arbor at the top of a large tree, to which you climb by a ladder if you want to see the lake. I am afraid if his wife is anything like our friend Mrs. Carrington she won’t see it very often; but we will hope she is nimble and thin.
At one place we called at on our return, a private residence, there was a row of fair damsels standing on the edge of the wharf in bathing costume chanting one, two, three, before taking a dive all together into the water. The arrival of our boat stopped the pretty play, but we saw them resuming their fun before we were out of sight.
The summer cottages were, many of them, very pretty, and nearly all of them with gardens in front, bright with blossoms, flowers evidently being cultivated in preference to vegetables by their fair owners.
A settler who is the happy possessor of a greenhouse told me that he is fairly besieged in the early summer by ladies wanting geraniums and other plants for their gardens. It is difficult to carry plants a long distance, and there are generally so many necessary things to be brought that flowers stand a poor chance of being remembered.
But to return to the supply boat. We were all fairly astonished at the quantity and variety of the stuff they sold on this trip. You see, this trade has gradually grown to meet the demand, which is increasing every year, and in consequence they seem nearly always able to supply just what is needed. Of course, the stock they’ carry’ varies considerably, according to the season I was amused to see on board, when they made their last trip in the fall, snow-shovels, shoe-packs, moccasins, ice tongs, skates —in fact, all we required for the cold winter, to last until they visited us once more in the spring.
As we were nearing home on the day of our excursion I was talking with my brother’s wife (who is the daughter of an old Muskoka settler) and we were contrasting the present with the past. She said how little the young ones growing up around us cat; realize the hardships their fathers and grandfathers endured in the bygone flays. She told me that, when almost a child, she used to walk once a week, all through the winter, across the lake to Port Carling and carry the family groceries back with her Then I thought of my own dear father (who had all his life, previous to coming to this country, been accustomed to something so different), how’ he toiled in clearing the farm, how he worked year alter year, living on the barest necessaries, enduring cold and heat, for the sake of making himself a home, Should we not cry shame on ourselves if we dare to grumble when we are enjoying in comfort the fruit of their labors.
I will now close this chapter and with it these rambling reminiscences, which I hope have not been wholly without interest for my readers. The winter is nearly over; it is the first of March. A few more weeks and the ice and snow will disappear, the reign of old King Frost will be past, and we shall once more hear with thankful hearts the whistle of the Constance and the Mink.