Every November our family, like many others, gathers together at the hunting camp. We come from near and far and it becomes for all intents and purposes a family reunion. The ritual of hunting goes way back. It is an ancient activity in preparation for the oncoming winter. This tradition is continued in our community today. The student population is decimated at the local schools for the first week of hunting season and the grocery stores are filled with blaze orange hunters picking up last minute items for their camps’ meals throughout the 2 weeks. The population in the area swells as Hunters from all over return to their particular camps. Barry’s Bay does a brisk business. During hunting season pray your furnace and appliances don’t quit, your car doesn’t need a mechanic and your water pipes don’t burst because most of the service men are in their camps and beyond the reaches of technology.
The O’Briens, Dwyers, Ryans, Sullivans, and the Madigans have hunted near the Addington road since before the turn of the century, in 1900. Many settlers travelled to this area from Kingston by way of the Addington road. The road can still be seen today if you know the woods and have a sharp eye. Wooden slats that prevented the wagon wheels from getting stuck in the swampy soil mark out the path. Although the Addington road has blended into the forest like a footprint in the grass, its trail still stands as a relic of our past.
During the mid to late 1940’s John T Drohan acquired the timber rights to the region. A lumber camp was built that included a wood shed, blacksmith shop, horse stables, cookery and sleep cabin with an office. Lumber camp life in the winter months was close quarters and bunk beds. The head cook was an esteemed position because good food was essential fuel for these men working so hard in the bush. Every day a truck with a closed- in box, called the caboose, was used to transport them to and from the work sites. Among those men were many of the ancestors of local communities, including my great grandfather James P. Madigan.
John T Drohan’s lumber camp in the 1940’s early 1950’s
In the early 1950’s times were changing. Improved roads into the bush and better vehicles made lumber camps obsolete. The ministry of natural resources was poised to dismantle all of the buildings on the site of the old lumber camp. James P and two other men made a trip to the local MNR office and convinced them to leave the lumber office standing for use as a hunting camp. In 1956 James P was issued the first license to lease the land for the purpose of the hunt camp. As the family grew and grandchildren (now great-grandchildren) wanted to join the hunt the addition of the sleeper was added to the main office with the ministry’s approval.
James P in the hunting camp with his sons and grandchildren
The nature of the Hunting Camp is difficult to put into words. It’s Family, Friendship, Music, Dancing, stories, and jokes. In my mind the hunting camp will always be a warm, safe place filled with support and kindness. Whether as a sanctuary during a cold day of ice fishing or a gathering place during the warmer months the hunting camp is always there.
On a typical November evening in the hunting camp fiddle music and laughter fills the air. Conversation about the day occurs over the crackling warmth of the campfire. Smoke drifts from the woodstove’s chimney into an inky sky filled with stars. Inside there are people everywhere catching up or singing along to familiar tunes. A stepdancer taps out a reel played by guitars, fiddles, keyboards and harmonicas alike. A smile is on everyone’s face. They are home.
Fiddling at the Camp