Swift Rapids

A brief history


Living in a colony

(From one perspective)
What was it like growing up in an isolated colony? Graphic of early colony
The kids grew up doing the things that most kids liked to do in that era. They attended school (a possble exception) in a colony school house staffed with a competent teacher. The summers were filled with swimming, canoeing, boating, hiking and fishing. They played softball on a makeshift diamond by the school. Running the bases involved dodging rocks on the uneven terrain. A home run resulted in a game delay to retrieve the ball from a small ravine full of weeds. They only had one ball. For the bases they used spare steel plates used to reinforce the ends of the stop logs in the waist water sluices on the dam.
They participated in all the "manual" type winter sports e.g. skiing, sleigh riding, snowshoeing and skating etc. During this period Bombardier was probably only making commercial snow mobiles, and Polaris was the "north star" not an ATV/Snowmobile manufacturer. The personal sleds so common today were yet to come on the scene.
During the winter, cars were parked near Severn Falls followed by a 6.5km snowshoe or ski trek through the bush to get home. I believe this particular route is a section of an established snowmobile trail today. It was walked regularly.

Being a kid in this environment was very different from living in town. With no stores or restaurants in which to hang out or shop, Eaton's and Simpson's catalogues were worn ragged as reading material. And when the Christmas catalogue arrived -- wow let's shop and wish.

There were no cars or bicycles at Swift Rapids at this time. There was little need since the colony occupied a fairly small area and mountain bikes were yet to be developed. The power line road joined a concession road about 15 kilometers south from the colony which led to Orillia. Before the major improvements to that road in the early 60's, it was passable only by horse team and wagon. It would have been a major challenge for even the modern 4x4's of today. Up until this time the only direct access to or from Swift Rapids was by boat or aircraft. In the winter and between seasons they had, as mentioned, the horse drawn sleigh and wagon.
Most families had dogs and cats. One dog that I had habitually came home with porcupine quills on his nose. He didn't enjoy having them removed and he never really learned to leave the porci's alone. He had a knack for getting into trouble, once or twice raiding the neighbour's chicken coup. He was probably a level or two down from a coyote and definitely not as smart.

Being close to an electric generating station, everyone had electric appliances. The use of the "Ice House" mentioned in the "former buildings" page was for an earlier phase of the colony. This was at a time when ice boxes were still common in the towns and cities (1930's and 40's). Families had fresh milk and eggs; my dad had a cow and chickens, as did other families. The milk was unpastuerized and I don't ever recall candling eggs. That's the way it was. Every household also had a vegetable garden. One garden was on a small reclaimed swamp area where the rich black compost grew huge carrots. There was an occasional night time raid to taste those sweet carrots and not by rabbits. The homes were heated by woodburning furnaces. Wood was cut (no chain saws) a year ahead of time and horse and sleigh transported from the bush during the winter for the following winter heating season.
A trip to the variety store was a 3.2km trip up river, armed with a nickel and later six cents (inflation) to buy a chocolate bar at Kelley's Post Office/Store. The shoes came off as soon as school was out in June and some went barefoot all summer (had to toughen up those feet). This was more from choice rather than for economy, but Im sure the parents appreciated saving 2 months worth of wear and tear on shoes.

The inhabitants made their own fun and entertainment holding dances and Christmas Pagents in the school and having frequent Euchre Parties. The colony handy man played the fiddle accompanied by piano or guitar, not that this was one of his official duties. Boyd Balkwell, an operator in the plant "called" for the square dances. Family picnics along the Severn River and hiking through wilderness to nearby lakes in Muskoka District north of the river were common outdoor activities. Sunday school and church services were held also in the school house. Cecil Garry, the lockmaster for many years, preached lay services. It was said that he had read through the St James Bible several times. He was a wise and kind gentleman.

Many who left the Swift to establish careers, raise families or to follow personal interests, were never heard from again. However for others, a connection to "The Swift" exists. Even though, over the last several decades it has become an isolated spot on the map; aka "lock 43/ Swift Rapids", it still represents "home" to many who grew up there.

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Photos

Photos©donmincoff from Fall 2011, May 2014 and Spring Freshet plus a Graphic depicting the early Colony

The photos may be downloaded for non-commercial use. Thanks. Contact

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