The “topographical features that distinguishes our Canadian Northland is that rugged shield of Precambrian rock, “the Canadian Shield” in shape something like a baby’s bib, extending from Labrador in the north-east, then curving. Around the lower perimeters of James and Hudson’s Bays, through the uplands of our mid-western provinces then due north through the Territories, the Barren Lands, to the Arctic.
Almost at the opposite end of the geological spectrum from the Precambrian era is the Pleistocene epoch, which is of more than passing interest to us as it embraces both the Great Ice Age and the appearance on our planet of human life. In the western hemisphere, the Ice Age of the Pleistocene covered the whole of Canada, substantial areas of north central and eastern United States, and Greenland, where the Ice Cap remains to this day as a grim reminder of the glacial shroud that covered our own land until about six thousand years ago. As the ice fronts melted northward, they left Canada with lakes and rivers containing half of the world’s supply of fresh water and it was from the deep freeze of this Age of Ice that our beloved Lake Huron came into being.
Originally our lake was part ·of a much larger body of water, which extended well beyond the present perimeters of Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron and St. Clair. Geologists christened this earlier reservoir of fresh water Lake Algonquin and what we now know as Lakes Erie and Ontario was called Lake Iroquois.
It is interesting to observe from reconstruction of the geological features of our area of Canada in the post-glacial period that, at one stage, the continental glacier had retreated north-easterly only as far as a line which would lie west of and roughly parallel to the present Ottawa River. Thus the St. Lawrence valley was deeply buried under the ice and Lakes Algonquin and Iroquois drained to the sea by way of the Hudson River. Only after the passage of several thousand years did the level of the upper lake drop, and its perimeter shrink, thus permitting the three major lakes to assume the profiles with which we are now familiar. At the same time, the glacier continued its northerly retreat, the St. Lawrence was freed of its icy mantle and our Great Lakes discovered a new route to the sea through the valley of that majestic river.
As there have been no significant discoveries of human fossil remains in Canada and the United States, and since the Pleistocene epoch would have been hostile to the development of human life, we have to assume that our native people, both Inuit and Indian, are of Asiatic origin whose forebears must have migrated from Asia via the Aleutians.
We know that the first Europeans to see Lake Huron were French missioner explorers who ventured westward from the Indian villages of Stadacona and Hochelaga, which would later bear the names Quebec City and Montreal.
History tells us that de Casson and Galinee of the Sulpician Order visited our area during the closing quarter of the seventeenth century and mapped the winding course of the river, which they named Aux Sables. Grand Bend was known to early settlers from French Canada as Eaux Corches meaning crooked waters, because of the great loop in the Aux Sables which went within a half mile of Lake Huron, altered its course by almost 180 degrees and flowed southward for six additional miles before finding it’s confluence with the lake, at a point which we know as Port Franks.
Certainly the splash of paddles and the boat-songs of courrierde-bois were not uncommon on our lake as the explorers from New France pressed westward into Lake Michigan and on down the valley of the Mississippi.
In the year 1824, shortly after the end of the Napoleonic War, and in the sixth year of the reign of George IV, an Act of Parliament of Great Britain and Ireland incorporated The Canada Company. This corporation negotiated the purchase of one million acres of Crown land in Upper Canada at a price of 2 shillings, 19Y, pence per acre (the equivalent of .68 cents). The land purchased included vast acreages in what are now the counties of Huron, Perth and Middlesex and a section of Lambton County now known as the Township of Bosanquet.
The objects of the company were to encourage emigration to Canada, which would alleviate unemployment in the United Kingdom caused by mechanization of industry during the war with Napoleon and economic depression following the cessation of hostilities. The Canada Company proceeded to offer the land to prospective emigrants either under lease or by outright sale with the prices in the latter circumstance, ranging from 10 to 18 shillings an acre ($2.43 to $4.38). The scheme appears to have been successful, and in the ensuing years homesteaders settled The Huron Tract in the thousands and before long, virtually all of the arable land was taken up. There was one relatively small acreage however which was unsuited to farming and was therefore rejected by the emigrant homesteaders.
This land area consisted of some six square miles of sand dunes stretching from the great loop of the Aux Sables River on the north, to the confluence of that river with Lake Huron, some six to seven miles to the south. The dunes were largely covered with a light overburden of soil capable of supporting little more than scrub oaks and pines and from the very early days; the area came to be known as “The Pinery”.
Search of the records at the Sarnia Registry Office reveals that the first sale of any consequence of this sanded woody area was made on July 15, 1929 when The Canada Company conveyed to Marenette Realties Corporation Limited of Windsor, Ontario, approximately 5,000 acre as of land at a purchase price of $200,000.00 with the Vendor taking back two mortgages totally $152,000.00. I have been told that Marinette’s interest in the property was the extraction of sand and gravel for their construction operations.
There is a legend concerning the manner m which Frank S. Salter, a Detroit realtor who was to become the developer of Beach 0′ Pines, first discovered this part of the Lake Huron shoreline. According to the story, Mr. Salter was developing a property in the Bruce Peninsula and was using either a large cruiser or sailboat as a means of travelling to and from that site. On one of these trips engine failure or adverse winds forced him to make a landing some miles south of Grand Bend and there, for the first time, he saw an area which immediately set his imagination afire. A subsequent title search of the coveted property disclosed Marenette’s ownership of the large acreage.
There is evidence that Salter, or his company, actually purchased “The Pinery” property from Marenette late in 1931, for while there is no registration of a transfer of title at that time, a mortgage dated December 9, 1931 was registered with Frank S. Salter et ux appearing as mortgagor, and Marenette Realties Corporation Limited as mortgagee. The property pledged under the instrument of Frank Salter included the land purchased by Marenette from The Canada Company in 1929 plus 246 additional acres lying to the south of that land. The amount secured under the mortgage was $244,000.00 whereas the consideration in 1929 title transfer was $200,000.00. It may be assumed that the reason for non-registration of this new change in ownership was the saving of land transfer tax, which, in the light of the next step in this unusual legal drama, would have been an unnecessary expenditure.
On January 10, 1933, a quit Claim Deed was drawn under which Marenette Realties, Frank S. Salter and Frank S. Salter Company Limited transferred title of the property previously deeded to them, back to The Canada Company and on the day after the registration of this Quit Claim Deed, The Canada Company sold the property to Frank S. Salter Company Limited for a price of $188,500.00 and took back a mortgage for the same amount.
We can only guess at the reason for this rather unusual sequence of transactions. The preamble to the Quit Claim Deed mentions proceedings previously commenced by The Canada Company with respect to the mortgage given by Marenette in 1929 and we must assume that a default had been allowed to occur. Salter wanted the property for development and it would appear that he was prepared to guarantee Marenette a profit on the sale if he could acquire title without delay. The Joint Quit Claim Deed, with Marenette participating, represented a means of transferring title back to The Canada Company quickly, and without payment of land transfer taxes.
The fact that The Canada Company sold the land to Frank S. Salter Company Limited immediately after it regained title, and in so doing took back a mortgage for the full purchase price suggests that a dialogue may have taken place between the three interested parties and if this did in fact, occur, it would rationalize the sale to Salter’s corporate nominee without any down payment being required.
While the reconstruction may not be completely accurate as to the reasons for the legalistic labyrinth that was followed, the fact remains that the stage was now set for the development, “dans la grande maniere”, of the Beach 0′ Pines resort area.
If I were to say that Salter possessed rare imagination with respect to the planning of a refined recreational retreat, I would be guilty of under statement. Beach 0′ Pines was intended by its developer as the perfect complex, complete with its own aircraft landing strip, golf course, yacht basin, riding stables, tennis courts and club house – all to serve myriads of Canadian and American families which would be attracted according to the advertising releases, by:
Its situation on beautiful Lake Huron Its 5,200 acres of residential and recreational facilities Its six miles of safe, clean, sandy beach Its forty miles of interesting bridle paths to mention only a few of the score of advantages set out in the brochures.
The same brochure that I have quoted above also provided the plans and specifications of a two-bedroom summer cottage with living room, kitchen, bathroom and screened porch, complete with plumbing fixtures, well and septic tank – all for the price of $1,000.00. As for the lot upon which this charming summer home would be built, well, how about a beach front location at $25.00 a linear foot or a much lower price if you would be content with a site in an off-beach, beautifully wooded setting?
There is some indication that Salter’s development of the property actually got under way as early as 1930, probably while he was still negotiating with Marenette for the purchase which resulted in the registration of the December 9, 1931 mortgage previously referred to. A road of some description had been roughed out which provided access over Lot 6, from the Bluewater Highway to a point just short of the lake and it was here that the first building was erected, to provide office accommodation for the land surveyor and draftsman, Vern Smith and his assistant, George Renshaw. Later, this field office would be enlarged to become the first summer home in Beach 0′ Pines. Its original occupants were Salter’s mother, Mrs. Thomas Esperon and her husband. Several additions have been made since those early days and this residence, now designated Cottage 55, has for many years been the summer home of Frank and Anne McCaffrey.
It should be pointed out that Frank S. Salter Company Ltd., Beach 0′ Pines Estates Ltd. and Beach 0′ Pines Club Ltd. had opened sales and executive offices in the Richmond Building, London, Ontario, the last two companies having been formed by Salter to establish corporate identities appropriate to the name which had been chosen for the property under development. Salter maintained his personal offices in London as Did Mrs. Beatrice Kelly, secretary of the Salter enterprises and Philip Trager, the staff architect. Actively working in the Pinery development in addition to Smith and Renshaw, were William Trites, the field engineer, Jake Sweitzer, supervisor of construction, Pat Page, the master stone mason and a staff of some twenty carpenters and laborers.
With such a crew at work, construction pressed steadily forward. A road was broken to parallel the contour of the lake, from the western extremity of the highway access road to the southern boundary of Lot 6. The survey team staked out lots, the building crews moved in and by the autumn of 1936, thirty summer homes, some modest and some magnificent, had been completed. But as the pace of construction had quickened, so had the problems of finance. The worst years of the Great Depression were over but the economy had been weakened by six years of fiscal hardship, staggering unemployment and eroding confidence. Banks and other lending institutions were disinclined to advance credit unless the collateral was impeccable and the security of the developers of Beach 0′ Pines was anything but impeccable.
To begin with, at the date of Salter’s purchase of the Pinery property from The Canada Company, a mortgage had been assumed of $188,500.00, equal to the full purchase price and this instrument carried an interest rate of 6% per annum, payable half-yearly. Annual payments on principal escalated from $5,500.00 payable in the first year, to $15,000.00 payable in the first month of 1937 and remained at that figure in each of the following years until 1946 with the balance of the liability falling due on January 15, 1947.
In addition to the above schedule of interest and principal payments, Salter’s company had engaged itself to pay The Canada Company $10.00 per frontage foot on all sales of lake-front lots and $10.00 per acre on the sale of other parcels of land, these payments being required to secure the release of the properties from the burden of the mortgage covenant.
Overhead costs were on the increase, substantial liabilities for rented office premises in Detroit and London were accruing and sales were insufficient to provide the necessary cash flow to cover operating costs and payments required under the mortgage. Such a situation could not continue indefinitely, and finally the collapse of the Salter dream was rendered complete when on November 4, 1937, The Supreme Court of Ontario ordered foreclosure against the lands not previously released from the mortgage covenant.
The defendants in the action included not only Salter’s three companies but also fifteen persons who had purchased and paid for building lots in the Beach 0′ Pines subdivision and who now found themselves denied title because the necessary payments required to obtain release from the mortgage covenant had not been made by the developer. These people subsequently found themselves paying for the release of their own property nor could they obtain redress from a developer rendered judgment-proof as a result of the foreclosure.
And so, like Cervantes’ hero, Frank S. Salter had jousted unsuccessfully with the windmills of a depression-wracked economy and had been forced to retire from the lists. In truth, he deserved a better fate and we owe his memory a debt of gratitude, for he preserved for us a wilderness paradise which might otherwise have become a sandy waste, denuded of trees and pock-marked from the mining of its limited natural resources. There are indications that an association of cottage owners was formed late in 1937, although the earliest minutes of such a group are dated July 17, 1938. It is perhaps a commentary on human nature to observe that then, even as now, a small number of cottagers remained aloof from group sponsored projects and enjoyed the benefits of road maintenance and watchman’s services without contributing in any way, to their financing.
The largest single expenditure was that related to maintenance of roads and it is a shocking reminder of the moribund economic conditions of the late thirties to examine road maintenance invoices from the late Peter Eisenbach of Grand Bend, in which costs were extended at .2 5 cents an hour for a workman’s labour while a man and a team of horses commanded an hourly rate of .45 cents.
The roads were gravel covered in the early years and required frequent scraping and grading. It can be recalled that this operation always produced a pall of dust that filled the air and settled over the landscape where it remained until the next rain brought back some degree of freshness to the environment. It was not until 1942 that this problem was eliminated when a blacktop surface was laid over the gravel roads, the capital cost of which was financed by interest-free loans from the Association’s members. A maximum of $100.00 was prescribed for any individual loan and the total capital cost was quickly and spontaneously under-written.
These loans were later repaid from the proceeds of members’ fees levied in the several years following the completion of the project and during the period of repayment, these annual fees were never permitted to exceed $15.00. The successful completion of this experiment in community improvement infused a spirit of friendly confidence among Association’s members the importance of which cannot be exaggerated.
No history of Beach 0′ Pines could be considered complete unless it made some reference to the late James Burgess Book Jr., who played an important part in preserving a viable resort community after the shock of the 1937 foreclosure by The Canada Company, with his acquisition of the remaining unsold property.
The records indicate that Mr. Book first acquired property in Beach 0′ Pines when he purchased the summer home of Mrs. Claire Fairbank Ranney of Petrolia, Ontario, on November 10, 1937. This home, subsequently known as Bookwood, was an impressive example of pioneer architecture witl1 massive log walls and magnificent native stone fireplaces and chimneys. The spacious grounds were probably unimproved at the time of the purchase but when I first saw them, following our purchase of the small neighbouring property in 1940, the grounds, gardens and fencing had been laid out and Bookwood was beginning to take on the character of a country estate.
I well remember my first encounter with the Laird of Book wood. We had just purchased our cottage, and in laying out the driveway, the developer had left a solitary jack pine standing in an inconvenient spot which made it necessary to make a wide, sweeping turn in order to drive into or out of the parking area. I was unfamiliar with any rules or regulations which might have forbidden the felling of the offending tree and so I timidly approached Mr. Book, (whom I found in dungarees, work boots, and wearing an ancient felt hat), directing several workmen who were engaged in some phase of the improvement of his property. He listened politely as I introduced myself, told him my problem and asked his advice. Then glaring at me like a school master admonishing a wayward pupil, he quietly asked “Is your convenience so very important that you would destroy a tree that has been struggling for life since before you were born”? The lesson was well and truly learned and the inconvenient tree still stands as a continuing reminder of a dedicated conservationist who, until his death in 1963, was, along with his gracious wife, our neighbour and friend.
Burgess Book had a respect for nature that was akin to reverence. When he was in residence at Bookwood, he loved to labor in the bush or his gardens with his principal retainer Chris. Abel or with other casual employees, always striving to add beauty and charm to his surroundings. Whatever other attributes he may have possessed, he was a man who would pluck a weed and plant a flower wherever he thought a flower would grow.
This country needs more men and women who value our national heritage and who are prepared to stand up and object to its willful destruction.
In our own Lake Huron, heavy concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls have recently been found in our game fish and for several years, we at Beach 0′ Pines have been appalled by the increase in the evidences of pollution that befouls the old Aux Sables river bed, where our causeway crossed that once beautiful stream. What can be done to restore responsibility to the order of things, before it is too late?
Well for one thing, the silent majority could become much more articulate and could remind elected legislators, that negligence in the conduct of the state’s business, is an offense under their oaths of office, that the line of demarcation between gross negligence and criminal negligence in the prosecution of public affairs, is very, very narrow and this in the voice of an aroused public opinion, the hitherto silent majority holds the ultimate weapons.
Democracy has been described as “A delicate lamp whose flame must be kept trimmed – if it is to remain alight”.
How do YOU rate as a lamp trimmer?
The assistance and support of Mr. Harry N. Ubelacker and Mr. A.J. Sweitzer in providing material used in the preparation of this history of Beach 0′ Pines, is gratefully acknowledged. G.S. Todd