What Have You Watched Lately?

While you may already be a fan of our enormous collection of photos and documents from Innisfil’s history, you may not be aware that we also regularly conduct interviews with long-time residents and talk about their memories of Innisfil. This is a wonderful way to get a personal touch that we miss out on when reading as well as the best way to hear some of the stories that you won’t find in any history textbooks!

We currently have 128 clips from numerous interviews, and that number grows by the month! From former Innisfil Reeve Bill Gibbins, to the founder of Sandy Cove Marine Ted Dallimore to the students of Nantyr Shores, to former army singer and entertainer Shirlie Toro-Fralick, we have videos covering a huge span of topics. Today we are featuring the newest additions from lifelong Cookstown resident Geoff Dawney. Mr. Dawney has spent his life in Cookstown and cars are the name of his game as a former mechanic and car dealership owner. He also grew up on a farm and has a number of great insights into local agriculture, and many fond memories of the community spirit in Cookstown. This was probably best characterized in the video below wherein he describes some of the local stores, their owners, and how folks were known for helping each other out whenever it was needed.

Mr. Dawney also offers some great perspective on wages and the cost of living, as well as a great story about how he came to work his first job ever (and the size of his first cheque!)


Barn Dances, Square Dances, and Dance Halls

It wasn't too long ago that prime entertainment on a Saturday evening was taking a twirl around the dance floor. Stories of square dances, dance halls and the antics that followed are always popular. Do these stories bring out some memories for you?
My mother (former Innisfil girl Gladys Spring Fralick Hepburn) just turned 96 on Saturday Feb 13th. She still enjoys playing bid euchre and scrabble, as well as solving jigsaw puzzles. During a recent visit with Ross Wallace at Lakeside Retirement, he shared with me the fact that he credits my mother with teaching him how to barn dance at a Valentine's Day party at SS#11, Craigvale School in the 1930's. Now 86 himself, Ross dancing with my mother presents quite a vivid mental picture for me!


-Donna Fralick Wice
black and white photo of couples dancing
Square dancing in the 1950s
You can find more stories of dancing, frolicking and fun-having in Innisfil if you look hard enough. Does anyone remember Peggy's Dance Hall (Parson's Dance Hall)? What about dancing at Tent City? Or in Cookstown? Some of the videos here talk about these great dancing landmarks of Innisfil, and there are some fabulous stories highlighted in the Innisfil Historical Society's publication of Skunks and Scholars. Here's a great passage that can be found on page 62.


"I remember getting up on my first square dance at the age of fourteen. Two or three of we young bucks that chummed together asked our favourite girl friends to dance and we formed a set. Well, it didn't take is long to find out that the good looking girls we skated with, and played games with at church young people's, were fine for that but when Mullholland's orchestra started sawing off the Old Irish Washer Woman and Charlie Sproule started to call the square dance, they didn't know beans about how to dance and we knew less. So after going in circles and getting in the way of other sets, we sneaked off the floor to watch how it was done.


My chum and I didn't take too long to figure it out. The next dance we excused ourselves from the cute young girls and went and asked a couple of married ladies if they cared to dance. They were a little surprised, but as their husbands were at the back of the hall talking, they said sure and we went into a set with people old enough to be my parents. But by gosh they sure knew how to square dance and although we weren't quite sure what was going on most of the time, we weren't long in learning how to doo-see-doo, dip and dive, grand change, and swing. Most of these ladies were a mite large to get your arms around to swing. We sure enjoyed the fun and it didn't take long to learn how to square dance, schottische, waltz and two-step."


- Bill Wright, Stroud


dance hall dancing with fiddler



Heritage Week: Experience Historic Destinations

Not only is February 15 Family Day here in Ontario, But it is also Heritage Day, this year the National Trust for Canada is encouraging everyone to celebrate Distinctive Destinations: Experience Historic Places. What does that mean for us here in Innisfil? Well you can learn about more about the Heritage places that may be right around the corner from you!
What historic places in Innisfil can you visit in your neighbourhood? Take a stroll or a drive to discover some of our favourite heritage buildings and locations in our community. What other historic locations would you visit in Innisfil?
Heritage Tour 1: Visit the 4 Heirtage Designated Buildings in Innisfil
Four buildings in Innisfil have received heritage designations. Some of these are private residences, remember to respect property owners while viewing the spectacular architectural character of these buildings.
1.  1629 3rd Line Innisfil - "Chimney Copse" built in 1864
2.  1350 6th Line, Innisfil - "Sawyer House" built in 1867
3.  7756 10th Sideroad, Innisfil - "Knock School" built in 1902
4.  1770 20th Sideroad, Innisfil - "The Cross House" built in the 1850s
You can learn more about these properties and the Heritage Designation process by visiting the Innsifil Heritage Committee.
one room school house with close posed outsidestone house from 1868 with family posed on verandah
Knock School House (1904) and The Cross House (1868)
Heritage Tour 2: Historic Lake Simcoe
Take a drive to a few interesting spots around our historic Lake Simcoe Shoreline. The Lake was once prized for the purity of its waters and was a prime destination for vacationers adn cottagers taking the train from Toronto and further.
1.  Visit Belle Ewart Park to learn about the Steam Ship the Emily May (1861), and see where the Belle Ewart Ice Company harvested ice for ice boxes as far south as New York, and by some reports, Florida!
2.  Stop by Innisfil Town Hall to view the beautiful replcia of the EmilyMay. 
3.  Take a stroll through Innisfil Beach Park.
black and white steam ship 1861ice loadercrowds of people at beach circa 1950
The Emily May (1862), Belle Ewart Ice Co. Loader (1895), Postcard from Innsifil Beach Park (1950)
Heritage Tour 3: Explore Historic Cookstown
Downtown Cookstown is a beautiful corner of Innisfil. Admire the heritage facades that line the city streets. Cookstown sports a number of historic landmarks, can you find these few?
1.  Cookstown Cenotaph: built in 1917 as a memorial to the Cookstown area men who served in the first World War, and one maple tree was planted in the lot behind the memorial for each man who served for a total of 65 trees. (Church Street)
2.  Plaque to Emily Murphy "Janey Canuck": born and raised in Cookstown, Murphy was a pioneer feminist, figting for women's rights (Queen Street)
3.  Plaque to Kenneth Earl Kidd: one of the founders of Canadian anthropology, this plaque marks the homestead settled by James and Judith Kidd in 1825 where Kenneth grew up. (Kidd Lane)
4.  Plaque to Cookstown Postmasters: honouring three generations of the Coleman family who served as Postmasters in Cookstown from 1873 to 1973. (Queen Street)
5.  Old Town Hall (now South Simcoe Theatre) 
Emily Murphy portraitstone cairn cenotaphportrait of white haired man


Family Day Fun

No iPads. No tablets. No worries!
Spend this Family Day unplugged and offline at Innisfil Historical Society's 9th Annual Games Day. 
Challenge your family to a day of games for all ages! Who thinks they are most adept at crokinoleWho can defeat the reigning ring toss champ? This Family Day the competitive spirit is alive and well for young and young at heart.
For a couple of hours, get your mind active and involved in jigsaw puzzles, chess, or Chinese checkers. Spread the word about this unique event and join Innisfil Historical Society members, family and friends to sample homemade cookies, hot chocolate and FUN!
Family Day at Knock School  
7756 10th Sideroad, Innisfil
Monday, February 15, 2016  1-4 pm
Grandmother and granddaughter play monopolyFather and son play crokinoleFather and daughter play checkers

Skates, Spears, and Sails

When temperatures dip below the freezing mark as they have recently, outdoor recreation might be the farthest thing from your mind! But of course these sometimes unpleasant winter conditions can offer up a plethora of opportunities for fun on and near the lake!

In the winter, where there is water there is ice, and this always means there’ll be at least a few intrepid souls who find time for a skate. Whether you have a modern pair of ice skates or the more traditional version that involved strapping a leather-and-blade contraption on your feet, there’s fun to be found on ponds, your local arena, or even Lake Simcoe!

Here are a few of my favourite skating photos from the collection:

Anne Holcroft skating on the outdoor rink behind the Stroud School in 1964. The rink was located where a parking lot now exists north of the Stroud Arena.

Clarence Sloan in front of R.W. Sloan Carriage Works and Paint Shop with a pair of skates.

Skaters on Lake Simcoe at the foot of Arnold Street in Belle Ewart, with the Belle Ewart Ice Company’s conveyor belt structure visible in the background.

Naturally, when you put slippery surfaces and sharp blades together, the memories aren’t always sunny. In the book Skunks and Scholars, Leighton Slesser recalls the following:

“Early in the fall or winter after a real cold spell when Lake Simcoe froze over like glass, we went skating at the end of the Fourth Line. I also skated in the old skating rink next door to the curling rink and fell on my face, making my nose bleed badly.” (p. 155)

Another great winter tradition on Lake Simcoe is ice fishing. Most of us are no stranger to looking out across the frozen lake and seeing the tiny huts dotting the ice as far as the eye can see. Whether your haul is big or small often doesn’t matter – it’s the tradition and experience that counts! 

This photo of ice fisherman Gordon Spring in the 1930s demonstrates just how small the fishing huts could be. They were typically brought to the bottom of the ninth concession by a team of horses on a sleigh, and then moved out onto the lake.

Ice fishers can be found on the lake from all of its surrounding areas, but not everyone can boast as much fame for their ice fishing prowess as Bill Lamb, lovingly referred to as “The Ice Man.” Below are two clips of Herb Dietrich recalling his memories of Bill that are definitely worth a watch.


Bill Wright of Stroud recounts his chance first meeting with Bill Lamb out on the lake near Fox Island. Mr Lamb invited Bill and his brother Tom into his hut. “Between spits of tobaccy juice he showed us his equipment and told us all about trout sparing. He even pulled up his big twelve-tined spear he had filed out of a circular saw. With the weighted furl wooden handle, he had it all balanced and could throw it like a dart, often hitting trout that were chasing the decoy down fifteen or twenty feet. He would then retrieve it by hauling it up with a rope on the handle. When we were leaving a little while later he came out and kicked away a snow drift and showed us a nice trout he had got earlier in the day. After a few more spits of tobaccy he took us over to the other shanty and we met his fishing pal, Mr. Bill Fullerton, who used to come up and spend the winter fishing on the ice. We had just been shown the finer parts of ice fishing by Mr. Bill Lamb, a real well-known fisherman in the 1930s.

We learned how to get rid of the spear when the old game warden paid us a visit early in the winter before we had caught any fish to sell so that we could pay for our spearing license. And we learned how to retrieve our spear from the bottom of the lake after his visit.

Bill Lamb taught us how to take a bearing on the wind and come a couple of miles in off the lake in a blizzard that had come up when we were busy fishing in a little shanty that had no windows. We sure appreciated the friendly knock on the fish shanty door when a bad snowstorm came up and old Bill Lamb would say, “Reckon it’s time to head for shore.” We were ready to follow him in, with just a bearing on the wind plus a big splat of tobaccy juice here and there on the trail, placed there by Bill on the way out, as a guide.” (p. 182-3)


Perhaps one of the most interesting, or speediest at the very least, lake activities was ice boating. This was a construction that acted on the same principles of a sailboat, but had three blades attached to allow a smooth glide across an icy surface. Below is a photo of Mr. and Mrs. Ross Sheldon on their homemade ice boat in 1937.

Exhilarating though it may be, ice boating had its own risks, like any activity on a frozen surface. Kay Weber (née Houston) of Lefroy remembers an experience with her brother, Bill. “The following winter the lake froze as usual and then had quite a covering of snow. Then there was a thaw and a great windstorm. The ice all broke up and drifted out. Soon it froze over again – just like a sheet of glass – beautiful. Bill had recently learned to run the iceboat, so again he got a wonderful idea. It would be a perfect day to sail over to Snake Island. This must have been a Saturday and I guess dad had gone to Lefroy. So we took the iceboat over to Snake Island on that beautiful glare ice with not one snowflake on it. The speed was so exciting with the west wind at our backs. We hardly felt the cold. Coming back wasn’t quite so speedy as the wind was more against us than with us, but Bill knew how to tack. When we were more than half way home we noticed a person coming toward us on the slippery ice. As we got closer we recognized our dad and as we were even closer we noticed his face grim and ashen with fear. He had no idea we would take the iceboat out on that flimsy ice. I guess it was about two inches thick. We never did that again.” (p. 171-3)

As long as you remember to take precautions and stay safe, the frozen ice of Lake Simcoe today still offers us a myriad of ways we can keep ourselves entertained in these long winter months!


Alcona Glen's Remembrance Project

Near the end of November we learned about a truly interesting project by Mr. Miles' Grade 8 class at Alcona Glen Public School. Combining inquiry with Remembrance, local history with mapping, this class room project demonstrates the importance of connecting today's youth with the history of their communities! We asked Mr. Miles if he could share a selection of his class project with us, and to tell us more about what inspired the project.

"While driving into school I had noticed a poppy on the street sign of Galloway and Gibson.  I started looking further into why there was a poppy on those street signs and discussed it with my class.  The outcome of that conversation became our basis for our inquiry project. Upon further investigation and the help from Steven Montgomery, a senior planner for the town of Innisfil, it turned out to be amazing.  Within walking distance of the school, there are 25 streets that have been named after a veteran from the Innisfil area and there are many more in the surrounding areas. I had my students research their vitals, summarize their lives and attached it to a map of our community linking the report of the soldier to the street name.  Initially, this was a struggle to find data, however, the classes worked through the project and was able to find lots of information on their veteran. This helped the students and myself make a personal connection and recognize the soldiers who once lived in the area of our school who sacrificed for the greater good of our country.  One of the resources we used was a book called Innisfil Veterans - Their Lives and Memories from the Innisfil Historical Society."

- Chris Miles, Grade 8 Teacher, Alcona Glen

We took the class's physical project into the digital world. Click the links and images to learn more about the soldiers honoured in Innisfil's street names. Discover more about the history of Innisfil. Who was your street named after?

text on the outline of a soldiertext on the outline of a soldiertext on the outline of a soldiertext on the outline of a soldiertext on the outline of a soldier

text on th eoutline of a soldiertext on the outline of a soldiertext on the outline of a soldiertext on the outline of a soldiertext on the outline of a soldier




Stories of War

Every November we don the red poppy as a symbol of remembrance. When we see that splash of red peeking out from the coats and scarves of our fellow Canadians it gives us the opportunity to pause and reflect on the commitment and sacrifices made by Canada's service women and men. Over the years, we have had the great honour to interview some veterans of World War II. Their stories of war time are shared here, so that their stories, become the stories of all Canadians.

You can view more stories of war time remembrances, and view the collections relating to World War I and World War II by visiting the Innisfil Remembers page. Click Here.

  Elwood Webb, 89, WWII veteran

“We went first night out in No Man's land, in a wheat field, and the German's opened up on us we all hit the ground. Major Fisher, he was like a father, he was a school teacher down in St. Catherines he had to make sure that everybody got covered and he got killed, and as I was laying on the ground there, the heads of wheat were falling on my back, so that's pretty close. Then we got word to go back to bergamot that was about a half mile away and we stayed there from then on and trained and went on from there all through France ……. first of all we went to [inaudible].... four of us took almost 1200 prisoners in one day from there we travelled up to the Seine River and as we were going through fields because the roads going to the Seine River was full of dead horses and cattle and everything else the air force.... the Germans couldn't retreat. And from there we crossed the Seine River and went up on hill 88 and that was when I was wounded in my right arm and my right leg.”

- Elwood Webb


Shirlie in uniform


"On our tour we took the boat across to Belgium, Germany and France, mostly in Germany though is where we were finally stationed. It was very sad because there was so much bombing that had been done. We really didn’t feel too comfortable; the war had just recently ended, because there were still Nazis around, we didn’t go out alone and there was still a lot of bitterness. Everyone in Germany were Nazis although they say they weren’t most people were. One of the saddest parts we were touring around the toured as around to one of the camps where people had been killed, I think it was Belsen. And we saw a grave of 5000, if you can imagine, we saw the ovens and that was pretty devastating all way around."

- Shirlie Toro-Fralick

Makers, Builders, Creators

Discover the creative people, projects and spaces that make our community extraordinary with a celebration of the ‘Maker Spirit’! The Innisfil Public Library & ideaLAB will be hosting its first ever MakerFest on Saturday October 17th, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. at the Lakeshore Branch.

In the spirit of making, creating and building, we thought we'd take a look at some of Innisfil's makers of the past. A great reminder that traditional skills and tinkering of all kinds can be traditional or digital, new or old, but are always fascinating!

woman sits at spinning wheel

Jean Saunter at the spinning wheel in 1947.

black and white photo of man welding

James Rainey welding in 1973. Mr. Rainey owned the blacksmith shop in Thornton.

Man filling cupcake pan

Mr. Lemmon of Cookstown baking cupcakes. This photo was from the collection of the Cookstown Women's Institute.

boys gathered around table

Fairs like these have always been popular. Here at the Painswick Community Fair in 1976 leather work is being demonstrated.


First Nations women seated n the ground with baskets in front of them

The Big Sail Family, making woven baskets in the First Nations tradition.

women seated at table with hat making supplies in front of them

The women of the Stroud Women's Institute take a lesson in millinery in 1955. Now that looks like fun!

man repairs antique radioscarpenter fixing drawer

These photos of contemporary Makers were taken in 2013 as a part of the Faces of Innisfil project. John Crome of Cookstown's Antique Audio Repair and James - musician and furniture maker shared their trades and creativity with us.

MakerFest is a great way to explore our community. What big ideas will you come away with?