Jewel Skinner (left) and Elwood Bartraw (right) formed a saw gang. It was an advantage for the pair to be of similar size as they sawed together all day. In 1932 Harold Skinner (centre) walked to this Golden Valley lumber camp in Parry Sound from Bracebridge looking for work.
A young man goes AWOL from his military unit to search for his brother who had recently been blinded. A girl of 12 whose daily chores included baking bread for a family of 14. A group of boys on the way back from sucker fishing mistake a bear for a big black dog and nearly pay the price.
These are the Twice Told Tales of Grace Taylor. Taylor is a lifelong Bracebridge resident and former schoolteacher who has spent many years putting together the stories, letters and photos from some of Muskoka’s earliest days.
“My ancestors were some of the earliest settlers in Muskoka and the book actually began as a family history,” says Taylor. “I started looking into some geanilogy facts and that was back in the mid-70s and then I began recording interviews with people in the 80s. I found that when we were interviewing people they didn’t care that much about dates and facts; they were most interested in talking about the people and their stories.”
Taylor says her grandmother was one of those great storytellers and she would often relate the tale of her grandparents making the trip from Ireland to start a new life in Muskoka.
“I was fortunate to have storytellers on both sides of my family, so I learned about local history through my parents and grandparents,” she says. “I listened to the stories the first time they told me, now they can tell their tales again.”
The book primarily centres around five generations of the Matchett, White, Bowers and Skinner families and the people and places central to their lives.
“I give some context occasionally but for the most part I leave the story as they told it,” she says.
The final chapter of the book centres around St. Peter’s Roxborough Anglican Church. The church opened at the intersection of Rocksborough and Fraserburg Roads in 1933 and was physically picked up and transported to the Muskoka Pioneer Power site at the Bracebridge fairgrounds in 2019.
The book spans several generations and includes more than 500 photographs that were collected over the course of many years.
Taylor says the response to the book has been tremendous and they’ve already sold more than 300 copies.
“I feel a great responsibility to safeguard the voices of those who are now mainly gone and present them to readers who want to hear authentic Muskoka local history,” she says. “We often hear that history is mainly about the famous and the infamous. Anyone reading this book will find that the history of Muskoka is full of vivid characters. Free Grant settlers, farmers, migrants, soldiers and ministers all had a story to tell. My role has simply been to share their stories with all who love Muskoka and want to know more about the people who lived here.”
Twice Told Tales is available at Worth Repeating in Bracebridge, The Apothecary Shop in Port Carling, Gifts 4 Friends in Huntsville, and it can be found at most local libraries.
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