A History of the Jefferson Canadian Club
By George M. Wakeman
June 1, 1966
It was no “flash in the pan” when finally the dream of a few men incorporated the Jefferson Canadian Fish and Game Club in August 1929. There were many months of planning, solicitation of prospective members and a few trips of an exploratory nature into Canada before the dream came true.
Nelson Crouch, an engineer on the New York Central Railroad, was the prime mover in getting the Club started. In his railroad work, he naturally contacted many other “railroaders” and they made up a majority of the charter members. The urge to fish and to get to some far off place in the “bush” was in all honesty not the only reason for the Club’s birth. The Volstead Act (prohibition) was still in force in the US and “John Barleycorn” was a most intimate companion. Therefore, in establishing a camp somewhere in Canada, his force was not only possible, but he was a most frequent visitor!
After many queries by letter, telegram etc., a trip was made to Gracefield, Quebec in May 1928. There were two cars that carried Nelson Crouch, Bob Sheldon, Walter Bisnett, Albert King, Spike Irvin, Tom Murphy and Tom Flemming on that trip north. Mr. Flemming, who owned the Belmont Hotel in Ottawa and hosted the party the night of May 17, 1928 acted as their business agent. He, being a Canadian and a shrewd businessman mutually interested in their plans to look for suitable property, was both a wise and fortunate selection. For his efforts and continued interest in the club, he was made the first honorary member.
The party stayed at the Hotel Gracefield and among others, talked to a priest, Father Durotise who represented the local government. Gerry Grace the innkeeper, acted as interpreter for the party. Every lead they had on a perspective tract for sale either had no access roads or else very, very poor ones. Finally Flemming asked if there wasn’t a game warden around to question. About that time, in walked Dave Robarge, a French Canadian with a mailbag over his shoulder, just in from the log cabin post office at “Whitefish Lake” of which he was postmaster. A Mr. Marlowe, a Gracefield local who had joined the party after the morning discussion, hailed Robarge to come over. The group put the question to him about the availability of camp sites. ln his very broken but business-like English he replied, “Hi dot one hacre or 400. I tell you noting, you want to look alright, if no dat’s alright.”
The group agreed to have a look at the property when he said “You dot chains? Put dem on or you can’t get tru, and follow me.” They made the trip along the narrow winding muddy dirt roads which lead to the Robarge farm house, which is the first farm located just west of our present site. Mrs. Robarge prepared the party dinner and later on they walked across the road to the present camp location.
Dave left the road and walked a few short paces and parting the brush said “You build camp here.” The men wanted a little time to think about this sudden proposal and requested that Robarge give them an option. (Mr. Robarge was one of the very few local Frenchmen who had a partial understanding of English but he didn’t know what an option was.) After pondering the situation for several moments, Robarge replied “If you boys dot $800 in ten days it yours, if not it belong to the first man who comes.”
My father-in-law, A.J. King was himself French and had retained some knowledge of the language from his early days at home. Being a calm, sincere and reasonable man, he and Robarge went off by themselves to discuss terms. When they returned, King had convinced Robarge that $750.00 would be a fair price and he agreed to have our lawyer, a Mr. Fornham (Mr. Flemming’s lawyer), draw up the necessary papers.
The name Jefferson was taken from the New York State County in which most of the new club’s members resided. The addition of Canadian was most natural and the Fish and Game Club followed as the natural intent of this group. So it was that on August 15, 1928 the sale and transfer of lands was made by David Robarge to the Jefferson Canadian Fish and Game Club. The amount of land is described as extending east from lot line 17 thence westerly along the shore line to the old boathouse of the Bitabi Club., a distance of 1500 feet and bounded on the north by the highway. A stone at the east end of the property is now marked in white with JCC. An iron stake at the western terminus marks the site of the old Bitabi Club boathouse.
As mentioned earlier, many long months of planning preceded the final culmination of a dream. Meetings were generally held at Nels Crouch’s house throughout the winter. Each man was assessed one dollar, which took care of mailing and the acting secretary’s expenses. Finally the group elected its first officers; Charles Davie – Secretary, Barry Kimball -Treasurer, Walter Bisonette – Vice President, and Nels Crouch – President.
Word of the newly-formed Jefferson Canadian Fish and Game Club spread and reached the Liberty Club in Pittsburg PA. The Liberty Club (a vacation stag club) asked for permission to use the property for an event in August 1928. They were granted permission and in lieu of a monetary payment, guest privileges were extended to Jefferson Canadian Club members to participate in the event. Further, the wood used to construct their temporary camp quarters would be donated to JCC.
Many JCC members availed themselves of the guest offer and reported that the Liberty Club had one bang-up event. 1t was said that the countryside regaled nearly every night of the stay with “dancing and fiddling”. Strict decorum was observed however and the few old timers left around the lake speak with a twinkle in their eye as they recall the summer of 1928.
By the summer of 1929, the Club had decided on a camp size of 18′ X 24′. Mr. Flemming arranged for the men and materials and by June, our Main Camp was completed at a cost of $800.00. The first members to arrive, Bob Fader and Lloyd Bristol, brought a wood burning stove, cast-off furniture and dishes. 1t was a very modest beginning to be sure. One icebox served the club since an Ice House was included in the Main Camp cost of construction. Arrangements were made with the Robarge family to purchase the spring for $50.00. A 50 -foot square was staked around the spring with a right-of-way to the road. This has been one of the clubs most valuable assets. To our knowledge, Jefferson Canadian is the only camp on the lake with a gravity flow of spring water.
The additions and improvements to the camp came along slowly. First the two cabins, Helen and Dorothy, were erected in 1930. They were named because on my first visit to camp that year there were present Helen Thiebeau and Dorothy Larock, daughters of members. It was only logical that their names be used to christen the new cabins. I did not have a small paint brush but I made one by cutting some bristles from a large one and tied them to a match stick with fishing line. Helen was lettered first because it was shorter for me to try out my “new brush”.
In those early days, a young Englishman named Joe Spears did guiding and general clean-up for our camp. He got married and requested permission to build a cabin home. The permission was granted and the main structure of “Little Joe” was built at a cost of $50.00 club money. The half logs were sawn at the water mill which stood at the outflow of Victoria Lake. It was in this modest cabin that in June of 1936 that Spears’ first baby was born, a girl named “Bunny”.
By this time the heavy use of the club was already overcrowding our quarters. ln 1934, Bob Fader and Frank Egan were engaged to add the “honeymoon annex” including the front porch. Toilets and the water tank were added in 1936. Prior to this, hot water came from the reservoir attached to the wood burning stove. The “Chick Sales” was located past the fireplace toward the ravine. A slight depression marks the grave site of the old pit. The wood shed was added to the main camp in 1940.
Chip-in was erected around 1943 as a boat house by Nels Crouch. Subsequently, additions were made and 4 members bought shares in it. In granting permission, the Directors specified that the building would revert to the club upon the death or a member withdrawing from the Club. In 1959, the Directors made a contract with the existing owners to release the property to the Club in five years in lieu of their dues remission. So it was that in 1965, the Club gained unattached membership to Chip-in.
The present boathouse was built by Dave Robarge in 1945 or 1946. Ed Peterson was the member who negotiated with Dave and advised on its construction at a cost of about $750.00. Boats had always been costly and expended items.
Wooden boats, locally made, were purchased. Careless use and improper maintenance were a yearly headache. Two Penn Yan boats were purchased in the early ’40’s but even these well-built boats gradually succumbed to their misuse. ln 1960, two large aluminum boats were purchased followed in 1964 by the two smaller aluminum boats. lt is the intent of the Directors to eventually replace and acquire all aluminum boats. The yearly cost of materials and labor to maintain the wooden boats has been about $120.00.
Camp improvements continued gradually with a grand painting party in 1953 when all the members visiting the camp took brush in hand and gave our buildings their second paint job. The foundation to the main lodge was improved in 1953 when the basement was excavated and new block walls installed. Many a good time has been had in the “Rumpus Room” and many a freezer of “old fashioned ice cream” has been prepared there. The ice cream preparation was a ritual always supervised by Nels Crouch.
The new ice house was built in 1958. That fall the electricity was installed in the main lodge. The new dining room was completed in 1959 by the Club members. The only expense involved was for materials which amounted to $443.00. The previous year (1958) a gas stove was purchased and installed in the main lodge, giving the cooks a break during the hot summer days from the old wood stove.
Further improvements to “Little Joe” in both the kitchen and living room were completed in 1963. Electricity was extended from the boathouse. Only the cost of materials was charged to the Club as all labor was done by the members.
Chip-In was improved the previous year with a new block chimney and wood burning stove. The “arch” was cut into the porch area vastly improving the desirability and pleasantness of the camp. Permanent electrical installation was completed in the fall of 1964.
With the roadway constructed through to the Chip-In the previous year and the construction of the rock retaining wall alongside it completed, the grounds have become not only more usable but infinitely more attractive, particularly in appearance when viewed from the lake. (Editor’s note: I vividly remember that summer of 1963. My father, Jack Wakeman a spry 36 at the time, single handedly blazed the trail from the boathouse to the Chip-In using an axe, shovel, and saw. As a result, he suffered the worst case of poison ivy he had ever had. As a 10 year old, my job was to collect the bowling ball size rocks that my father used to make the retaining wall. To accomplish this, I rowed one of the wooden boats along the shoreline from the boat house to the Ottawa Club collecting rocks as I went.)
Last summer (1965) several members constructed the cedar log break wall at the dock area, extending for 44 feet in front of the boat house. This was a long needed and necessary improvement and should leas many years. Again, the only cost was for materials totaling $23.50 for the logs and spikes.
In 1930, the Club acquired “Crownlands” from the Canadian government under a yearly lease of $125.00. The lease was for 15 square miles of land located 90 miles north of Camp. It was a rough triangular shaped piece of land bounded on the west by the Jean de Terre River, on the east the Pesashiawa Creek and the 47th parallel to the north.
Located in the upper half of the lease nestled in the mountain top was the jewel of Kilrea Lake. Here was a trout fisherman’s dream. Speckled trout (Canadian red trout) abounded in seemingly inexhaustible numbers. Nearly every trout (and only trout) was 18″-20″ long and a day’s catch of 15-20 was common. But the old stories of the “fish hog” and the many poachers who were taken in by professional guides from the Maniwaki area (we could not afford a caretaker) soon depleted nature’s bountiful supply. However, we retained the lease for 27 years, losing it by political influence in
1957. We had a substantial log cabin built in 1935 from our native trees and many a wonderful camping trip was enjoyed by the members and their friends.
The serenity of this special place and the happy days spent there are best described by Claire Peterson, wife of member Walter Sr., who here gives permission for reprint:
Nestled in the mountains Beneath the northern sky; In total isolation
Kilrea’s blue water lie.
The sound of lapping water
Upon its rocky shores;
Attuned to the deep silence
That penetrates the soul
In the evening sky
The celestial bodies meet; And o’re this sleeping beauty Their silent vigil keep.
The sun burst fourth at dawn And warm the pure sweet air,· The sunny tempeled islands Look so peaceful and so fair.
Here yesterdays cares are forgotten And tomorrow seems far away; Here most thoughts go no farther Than the hours of each day.
A trail up o’re a mountain ridge
Climbs to the sky it seems; But at the summit lies Kilrea Like a vision from a dream!
Another world or planet Perhaps your steps did climb For at the bottom of that trail You’ve left your world behind!
In the thirty-eight years of our history (1928 to 1966), many changes have taken place. There are no charter members living. Over 150 members since the chartering have come and gone. Most all of the natives in the area speak at least some English so that communication is much easier. The roads are greatly improved (you should have seen them in 1929). That has brought many new camps to the Lake. The roads in the early days were so sticky (with mud) that your departure from Camp was timed to the “dry-out” from the last rain and the road from Hull was a narrow dirt and gravel horse road. You traveled in an endless dust cloud the entire distance to Gracefleld, traversing many log bridges.
There remains little else to be told. The Club has greatly expanded in facilities from its humble birth. However, it must be emphasized that much of its present day expansion was due to the untiring and unselfish efforts of many members who gave freely of both time and talent over and above their annual dues. Future history will only tell if those who follow still continue to give something of themselves to the betterment of the dear old Jefferson-Canadian Club.
There is one last item to be mentioned before we conclude this history. Having enjoyed myself these many years, the happy days at Camp with both family and wonderful fishing partners, I felt a permanent memorial to our founders should be erected.
The thought was conveyed to Walter Peterson, Sr. who wished to collaborate on such a project. Walter paid for hauling the stone. It was my pleasure to erect the memorial. The cross was donated by St. Mark’s church. The final dedication was held during the summer of 1966, God wi11ing! Thus concludes the history of the Jefferson-Canadian Fish and Game Club for the past thirty-eight years.
George M. Wakeman, President
Reviewed by Ralph Crouch
June 1, 1966