HUNTSVILLE – A beautiful lakefront property called Pitman’s Bay has been in the hearts of Huntsville residents and youth for more than eight decades.
Wally Johns, Frank Booth, Charles Booth, Rev. Frank Milligan dig to place the footings for the dining lodge at Pitman’s Bay in June 1953.
David Johns, former member of Huntsville’s heritage committee and author of Pathways to Highways: The History of Huntsville’s First Roads and Automotive Industry, has research and written a thorough history of Pitman’s Bay, an 83-acre town-owned property on Mary Lake that is undergoing a highly anticipated revitalization after decades of decline.
“The deep affection for my father and his love of scouting and Pitman’s Bay is why I did the research. He spent a good portion of his life down at the camp and I was lucky enough to tag along and enjoy this incredible place with him,” said Johns. “I have a huge emotional and personal connection with it.”
Johns’ father, Walter ‘Wally’ Johns, had been involved with Boy Scouts since the 1920s and volunteered with the Huntsville group after he moved here in 1940. Pitman’s Bay has a long scouting history.
The three-page history talks about public interest in the property, which began in 1927 when the Huntsville Boy Scout Association first started raising money to buy it from private property owners.
“But in 1931 it (the association) decided to give all the accumulated money to the needy residents of the Town of Huntsville, due to the Great Depression having started in 1929,” writes Johns.
He explains that the reason for naming the area Pitman’s Bay is a mystery. There is no record of a Pitman in the land registry records, the provincial census or any cemetery records.
“No one living in the area, going way back in years, knows anything about a Pitman family, but for sure the bay was always called Pitman’s,” he writes.
Richard H. Stewart, whose name is on the 1871 census, was the first landowner. But his name disappears from the 1881 census. George Bain purchased the land in 1921, writes Johns, but died shortly afterward, leaving his wife, Elizabeth, and children with the property.
“Stanton Hogg, whose relatives have owned property on Mary Lake since the 1920s, was told by his mother that Mrs. Bain and her children in the summertime washed clothes for people,” he writes.
But, by the 1930s, the homestead building had fallen down.
A group of local men and women interested in buying camping grounds for Huntsville’s youth visited the property, known then as Old Bain Farm, in 1941. But the wartime conditions kept them from moving forward with the plan, writes Johns.
“But all in attendance agreed that this would be the ideal site because of its many natural assets,” he writes.
However, the community’s eagerness to have the property got a boost in 1945 when it learned Mrs. Bain was thinking of selling it to Americans who proposed to develop it as a cottage site.
George Hutcheson had a conversation with other local businessmen Claude Wardell and Sid Avery, who raised the funds to purchase the property.
“The men who all belonged to the United Church in town, purchased the land thinking that all the local youth groups would enjoy camping there and the church would eventually want the land and they would sell it to them at the price they had previously paid,” writes Johns.
Activity at the camp started almost immediately. The Scouts helped put sawdust on the trail leading into the camp and two cabins were moved to the camp from the shore of Lake Waseosa to be used as a cookhouse and cooks quarters.
Boy Scout and Girl Guide camps as well as church camps for boys and girls were held at the site. Youth from across Huntsville and the surrounding area were able to use the camp and Johns includes many reminiscences in his historical account.
Hutcheson approached the United Church in 1951 and asked if it wanted to purchase the property. But the church did not have the funds and its youth group numbers were dropping, writes Johns.
However, a scoutmaster was in attendance and he shortly confirmed that the Scouts wanted the property.
A community-wide fundraising blitz began.
By October 1951, writes Johns, the community had raised the necessary funds and the town purchased the property in trust to the Boy Scout Association, for the youth of Huntsville and area. Two years later, and after more fundraising, the dining lodge was built. It is still standing on the property.
Countless contractors, businesses, service clubs and community members volunteered their time and services to improving the property for public use.
The Scouts, Huntsville Air Cadets and Bracebridge Army Cadets still use the site, as do a children’s day camp program and families, who rent the property from the town on weekends.
“We believe that Pitman’s Bay Camp should receive some attention from the Town of Huntsville,” Johns writes as he concludes is paper. “The history of the location clearly demonstrates how many people gave of their time and money to the creation and building of this facility to benefit the youths of our area. All of their hard work should not be forgotten.”
Johns collected his research over two years from family records, property owner interviews, land registry searches and newspaper archives.
“Some time was taken up by chatting with the locals, especially people that lived around Mary Lake and the camp. This was the most enjoyable part of the work as I met a lot of wonderful, warm citizens,” he said.
He added that in future he would like to combine his research on local scouting and Pitman’s Bay into a book.