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Thursday, 26 July 2012

Pine Bluff Lodge Redux



1954. The Second World War had been over for about 9 years. The middle class was expanding. Most families finally had a car. Women wore dresses that came to about a foot over their ankles. Men still wore fedora hats. Louis St. Laurent was the prime minister and Vincent Massey was the governor general. Marilyn Bell swam across Lake Ontario. Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four minute mile. Milton Berle and I Love Lucy were on TV. Cigarette ads had doctors recommending “smooth tasting” smokes. Marlon Brando was leaving an image on young people that most parents weren’t thrilled with. Joseph McCarthy was hunting down supposed Communists in the US. The TV dinner was introduced. Gas in Canada was 22 cents a gallon. Marilyn Munroe married Joe Dimaggio. Bill Haley introduced teenagers to Rock Around The Clock. Other tunes heard on the radio in 1954 were Sh-Boom, Hey There, Earth Angel, and Mr. Sandman. Perry Como, Patti Page, Johnny Ray, and Rosemary Clooney were at the top of the musical charts.
1954. It was 58 years ago that our family spent the summer months of July and August at a resort called Pine Bluff Lodge. Calling the place “a resort” might be a slight exaggeration. The property consisted of a main house and a guest house, two dark red painted cottages, a very small beach area, and a dock with about three boats tied up to it.
4 kids, someone's dog, and the Hudson
Pine Bluff Lodge was located just over the border on the American side of the line between the province of Quebec and the state of Vermont on the eastern shore of Lake Memphremagog. The border crossing of Beebe (pronounced Beebee) was only 3 or 4 miles away.
Our family, at the time, totalled six. My mother was in her late thirties and my father was in his late forties. Both passed away a number of years ago. My older sister, Sandra, was 16, my older brother, David, was 13, I was 7, and my younger sister, Joan, was 3. The summer of 1954 was one of the few summers all four children were in one place on vacation.
We lived in Montreal and my guess is that our stay at Pine Bluff Lodge was the result of one of my parents seeing an ad in the vacation spots section of the Montreal Star or Montreal Gazette newspapers.
My father owned a Hudson car at the time. I am not sure if it was the Wasp or Hornet model. In early July we packed our luggage in the trunk and with 3 of us in the front seat and 3 of us in the back seat we headed south through the eastern Townships towards our destination. There was no Autoroute back then. At the small city of Magog, on the northern tip of Lake Memphremagog, the paved road turned into a dirt road. We passed a number farms. The dirt road winded its way through rolling hills. Occasionally, we would see brief glimpses of the lake off in the distance. From time to time the Hudson would lurch when my father applied the brakes a bit at a curve in the road. A trail of dust could be seen out the back window. All in all, the car ride took about 5 or 6 hours. 
For some strange reason, I also remember a tune that was playing on the radio. Frank Weir`s The Happy Wanderer. ``I love to go awandering….my backpack on my back….fa-la-ree,fa-la-ra, fa-la-ra-ha-ha-ha-ha.``
Mr. Bourbeau, my sister Joan, and my father
Pine Bluff Lodge was owned by a Mr. Bourbeau. He was a balding middle aged man who wore glasses. He was also American. How he came to acquire Pine Bluff Lodge is beyond me. I think he was originally from Massachusetts. Wherever he came from and wherever his family lived in the off-season, he seemed to typify the American entrepreneurial spirit of the post war years. Mrs. Bourbeau assisted him in running the lodge and they had one son, Bob, who was about 17.
The cottage we stayed at
Our home for the summer was one of the two cottages on the property. It had a carport. The foundation was supported by concrete blocks or large boulders. I don’t remember much about the place including how the rooms were laid out. I do remember the screen door that was clogged with shag flies. I also remember finding a Red Ryder air rifle underneath the back of the cottage that was quickly confiscated, never to be seen again. At least by me.
During the week, my mother was in charge of the roost. My father owned a business in Montreal and came down on the weekends. To be as delicate as possible here, he wasn’t missed by the 3 oldest children. On the other hand, he had the car, which meant that he was our link to civilization and perhaps a day trip to Newport, Vermont.
For the most part that summer, we were left to our own devises as far as entertaining ourselves during the day. There was no TV.  My sister, Sandra, got involved with her first boyfriend, Bob Bourbeau, who was the resort owner’s son. My brother, David, liked fishing and was old enough to have access to a row boat. Mr. Bourbeau took him out a few times in his motor boat for some early morning perch fishing. My younger sister, Joan, was just three and one of us, including my mother, always had our eyes on her. Most of my time was spent down by the water often hanging out on the dock. I spent hour after hour there trying to catch minnows or small pickerel with a fishing net.
Sandra, Me, Bob, and Joan
Minnow fishing
There were a few other guests staying at the resort. Older people. I don’t recall there being any other kids. There was a gap of about 6 years between my brother’s age and mine and occasionally we found ourselves spending time together simply because there weren’t any other options.
One day seemed to blend into another. The term “the dog days of summer” supposedly means stagnation. In a way, it seemed like time was standing still. Just the arrival of a car would stir our curiosity. On the upside I guess you could say we were getting a lot of fresh air.
The beach area was very small. No more than 20 feet across. It was right on the edge of the property. Next to the beach was a small cabin with a screened porch. I remember a young couple who were staying in the cabin giving me some candy that looked like pebbles.
Cabin next door
The beach
For several days I sat on the dock and watched Bob Bourbeau dive off a boat and try and retrieve a lost outboard motor that had gone to a watery grave. I don’t think he ever recovered it.
One day my brother took me along with him for a long hike to the border crossing at Beebe. The plan was to get an ice cream, a bottle of pop, or some candy. Well worth the long walk. It was a very hot day and the telephone wires were singing. Kind of like a loud hissing sound. A number of years later when I heard Glenn Campbell’s Wichita Lineman song I knew what he was talking about. On the way back from Beebe my brother thought it would be funny to hide from me so he could enjoy my distress in not knowing where he was. This went on for a few hours as he furtively snuck through the farm fields before revealing himself near the resort gate. It wasn’t very funny to me.
Another time my brother took my younger sister and I out in a rowboat. I think he was told to stick close to shore. We found a creek that fed into the lake and rowed up it for some distance. There were bulrushes everywhere. He kind of lost track of the time and it seemed to take forever to get out of that creek. There was a bit of a panic and I was ordered to share the rowing. We made it back in time for a late dinner.
And then there was the boat ride from hell. My father rented a shiny veneered motorboat. Today it would be considered a classic. I was playing on the beach when I was informed that the whole family was going for a boat ride. Sitting on the shore day after day watching other people out on boats, and now, finally, I was going to enjoy the same thing. Was I ever wrong.
My father was hardly an experienced boater. The lake was very choppy that day and he apparently hadn’t considered that it was going to be very chilly speeding over the waves. All I had on was my bathing suit and I got cold very fast. We hadn’t brought any warm clothes, towels or a blanket. The discomfort might have been manageable if the boat ride was just for 10 minutes but it ended up lasting about 3 hours. I crawled up under the bow to get out of the wind and the spray but I was still freezing. And then I found a second misery, the constant banging of the bow against the waves. Bam!.Bam! Bam! I shuddered each time. The thought occurred to me that we still hadn’t arrived at a point where we were going to turn back and it would be some time before this would all end. I couldn’t get off of that boat fast enough when we finally made it back to the lodge.
A more enjoyable time on the rented boat was the day we took it over to Newport, Vermont to buy groceries. It seemed like a neat kind of thing to do at the time. It kind of felt like we were pioneers stocking up at the general store. It was also kind of nice to see other people other than the denizens of the lodge. We always looked forward to any trip into Newport.
Arriving at Newport, Vermont by boat
Towards the end of the summer I got wind of a county fair coming up and desperately wanted to go. I asked the owner of the lodge if he had any small jobs he wanted done where I could pick up a few quarters to spend at the fair. I was shown how to use a scythe which was used for clearing tall grass. Up until this point I think I was looked upon by anyone older as a bit of a nuisance. I tried my best not to annoy anyone during this time and finally the night of the county fair came. The deal was that my older sister could go with her boyfriend only if they took me along. I think they spent all of about 5 minutes with me at the fair before losing me. I spent my hard earned quarters on a few rides, tossed a few baseballs at some milk bottles and ate some junk. Somehow, they managed to find me when it was time to go home.
I had lunch a few times at the main house and was impressed by the way they had a variety of sandwiches on a big wooden lazy Susan. Many years later I spotted one of these devises at a garage sale and snapped one up for 5 bucks. It finally fell apart and I would like to get another one.
The owner of the lodge had a hobby that I have never seen anywhere else. He drew little pictures of houses and cows on knots of wood, shellacked them, drilled a hole in them and made them into key chains. An untapped industry just waiting for a real entrepreneur?
The summer came to an end and we packed up the Hudson and headed back to Montreal. I don’t think my sister ever saw her first boyfriend ever again. My father and Mr. Bourbeau were on pretty good terms and I think he was looking for an investor in the plastics industry. I also think he thought my father had a bit more cash than he did. Mr. Bourbeau visited our house a few months later and I think he was disappointed in the results of his pitch. The following summer we vacationed at Georgeville further up the lake.
Bob,Sandra,David,Me,Our Mother,Joan,Mrs. Bourbeau goodbyes at Pine Bluff Lodge

Jump ahead to 1982. I’m living in Vancouver, BC. I had gotten married the year before and my wife at the time, Theresa, and I went back east to see my mother (my father had passed away the previous year) and we look up some old haunts from where I grew up. We went down to the Eastern Townships and into Vermont. I wanted to see what Pine Bluff Lodge looked like these many years later. I finally found the place. It was no longer a lodge and the cottage we stayed at was about to be bulldozed. I took a few pictures.
Cabin next door 1982
The cottage 1982
The former guest house 1982
Jump ahead again to 2012. I was on an almost 8000 mile road trip across Canada and the US. About a week after arriving in Ontario, I picked Linda up at the airport in Toronto and a few days later we headed out to the 401 and the province of Quebec. We spent several days in and around Montreal, including The Laurentian Mountains. We then drove down to the Eastern Townships.  After spending some time around Georgeville, Quebec and Stanstead, Quebec, our plan was to spend a few days in upstate Vermont and upstate New York. We crossed over the border at a place called Derby Line. The belligerent border guy on the US side asked us where we were going and I replied that we were planning on seeing Newport, Vermont and that I wanted to see if I could find a place called Pine Bluff Lodge. The border guy told me he had lived in the area since 1958 and had never heard of the place. Ergo It didn’t exist.
Border crossing at Derby Line, Vermont
We checked into a motel in Newport and the following morning and had brunch at a place down by the docks. Apparently a fierce rainstorm had chased the outdoor eaters inside the previous evening. Over brunch I expressed my determination to once again find Pine Bluff Lodge. I knew if I drove north close to the lake that I might have a chance.
We drove down a dirt road and stopped and talked to a local farm family. They had never heard of Pine Bluff Lodge but suggested that the area I might be looking for was a mile or two away. We also had a look at a monstrosity of a mansion that sat on top of a hill overlooking their pleasant farm. We drove down another dirt road and we could see the lake ahead of us. I kind of got a feeling.
I knocked on the front door of one of the houses and the knock was answered by a gal who looked to be about 30. She told me she had never heard of Pine Bluff Lodge. I looked around. This looked like the place. I walked over to the other large house that was perched on the edge of Lake Memphremagog and a woman with garden gloves on asked me if she could help me. I asked her if this place had ever been called Pine Bluff Lodge. She replied that yes indeed it was.
I told her that my family had stayed at Pine Bluff Lodge almost 60 years before. The she went and got her dad who owned the place. He is an 80 year old gentlemen, quite tall in stature, who spent most of his life in sales. It turned out that he had spent some time on the west coast where I live and we talked about an island off of West Vancouver that we were both familiar with, Bowen Island, where I lived for a few years in the early 1980s.
Apparently he bought the place around 1966 or 1967. He didn’t buy it from the owner we knew. Mr. Bourbeau. He also told us that when he bought the place that it was still operating as a kind of resort and that he had to clean the property and the main house up quite a bit.
I think I got a bit confused because there are two houses fairly close to one another. I think the white house in the photos was at one time a guest house at Pine Bluff Lodge and was later sold independently from the rest of the property. I vaguely remember my grandparents staying for a brief period in the guest house.
I had my picture taken with the current owner and he was gracious about telling us to take as many photos as we cared to. I drank it all in.
Me and the owner of the property since 1966
Updated owner's house
Owner's house from water
Newer dock
Owner's boat The Puddleduck
Updated former guest house
In front of owner's house
There used be a circular driveway here
As we drove off of the property a deer bounded out onto the road and back into the bushes. It seemed appropriate. In and out of history in just a few short moments.
Road out of the former Pine Bluff Lodge
I felt very satisfied that I had found what I was looking for. It did exist.

"Life could be a dream."....Sh-boom.....The Crewcuts....1954.

3 comments:

  1. Dear Colin,Thanks for your blog on Pine Bluff Lodge. My family and I stayed at the lodge in the summer of 1956. We drove all the way up from Manasquan N.J. in our green chevy. I am probably lucky to be alive after the hundreth (are we there yet) It was one of the best family vacations of my childhood. I remember fishing for small sunfish and playing around the rocks and the dock. There were a couple of small powered row boats and a canoe or two. About once a day a large fish I think was a pike came by to be fed by hand. The reason that I know the year was 1956 was because we went to see a new movie (Around The World In 80 Days) at the Burns Theater in Newport. As we left for home we bought a mixed labrador retreiver for five dollars that we named Bluff. He was my best buddy thru to my mid teens. Thanks for your pictures and stories. Best Regards, Larry Read

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  2. dear Colin,
    Today I was packing up some books in preparation for a move to Winston-Salem, NC from Lynchburg, VA and came across a book that my parents got on their wedding trip in September 1945. It is inscribed with the words: "With the compliments of Pine Bluff Lodge. September 1945 Isobel L. Wedgant (sp?)"
    I knew it was located on Lake Memphremagog on the Canadian border near New port, VT. The book is VERMONT IS WHERE YOU FIND IT. thanks for your blogspot.
    Jack Payden-Travers

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    1. Wow! That was 72 years ago. Nice state Vermont. Good luck with your move.

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