This weekend, year-round and summer residents of “The Point” will look up on a stage with scenery so familiar they’ll want to step into the picture. They’ll be watching a historical stage show that captures some of the highlights of the last three-quarters of a century in their community. The event is the celebration of 75 years of fellowship and sport at the Big Bay Point Golf and Country Club.
But, it’s much more than that. The celebration cannot be isolated to just the splendid nine holes to the west of the 30th sideroad of Innisfil Township. The Big Bay Point Golf and Country Club is a history that permeates the entire Big Bay Point community… at the turn of the century, this area had been occupied by an aboriginal population, the Hurons of Snake Island. It was Barrie’s Lount family that first recognized its summer retreat potential, and followed shortly by J.F. Craig, who “commuted” across Kempenfelt Bay from the family clothing business on Barrie’s main street to the government wharf at The Point and walked to the family “cottage.” The Soules family, the Warnica family, the Hewson family, the Cooke farm, while the area confounded farmers for its infertile soil, it delighted those seeking recreation for exactly the same reason. These families were joined by Toronto families who found the Big Bay Point area for remarkable cottage experience, and blended by their love of this region, these families have continued to celebrate summer.
While the weekend’s celebrations will provide entertainment and experience, it’s undoubtedly the two-year project of a publishing committee which will become the treasured icon of the Golf Club’s 75th birthday. Big Bay Point, A Special Place is a colourful, well-written perspective which celebrates the entire community while paying respect to the golf course that has succeeded in knitting the community together.
In the early days of Big Bay Point, businesses were patronized by lakeboat passengers who took the train from Toronto to Allandale and across the water to the Peninsular Park Hotel, and a brisk business included fine dining, day picnics, horse and buggy transportation, and door to door milk delivery.
Now 100 member families strong, the Big Bay Point Golf and Country Club had modest beginnings, mostly at the hands of the Bill Pepall family who purchased the Cooke farm at Rockaway Beach and sold its barn to an Oro farmer who hitched his horses to it and towed it away across the ice. Bill Pepall used a lot of inventiveness as he developed his property, and one change was to develop one, then two, then three holes from which to play golf.
Claude Craig, son of J.F. Craig, is 90 this year and has lived at Big Bay Point all his life. He remembers hauling stones from the fields of the Pepall farm to develop the fairways for the fifth to ninth holes, lugging stones to a stoneboat and being paid by the hour for his work.
The local golf course took on dramatic development after one of the local girls, Mildred Gooch, married one of the Thompson boys, the golf architect family that developed many of Canada’s finest golf courses. Frank Thompson was a big golfer and his family took new interest in the Big Bay Point course, and became instrumental in developing it. In 1936, it was Mildred Gooch Thompson’s energy that build the clubhouse that still stands today.
Don Avery is the member who organized the team that published this commemorative book. He credits an interviewing team that went far afield to find people and record memories. He always envisioned that the book would be a community history, and the club convinced one of its own summer residents, Jack Batten, to do the very fine writing. Of the club’s 100 members today, at least 10-12 of them are founding families of 75 years ago. The golf course became a social centre with regular dances and bands, tennis, and golf tournaments among the young and the adults.
Don credits the work of designer Smith-Boake Designwerke Inc and of the printer, Friesen Printers Ltd., located in a mennonite community 100 miles south of Winnipeg for maintaining a rigid schedule that saw the book launched on its publication date. With advance sales of 200 copies, the project went to print with 1,000 copies in total. Priced at $60, the book is available at the Golf Club, at its Pro Shop, at Blondie’s Restaurant, at the two variety stores in “The Point”. Don Avery is quick to point out that publication wouldn’t have been possible without the generous sponsorship of dozens of supporters along the way.
When I asked him what most surprised him in the course of this venture, Avery was thoughtful: “the nostalgia that I felt as I was growing up here I thought was unique, but it isn’t. Everyone we interviewed expressed the same emotional connection, no matter what generation. People were willing to talk to share that same feeling.
“There’s far more history than I expected, more than just the golf course… our first nations people, lakeboats, stores, founding families… there’s so much.”
This book, Big Bay Point, A Special Place, captures it all.