The Hidden World of Huckleberry Rock – Excerpt

By Andrew Wagner-Chazalon

Here’s the rock. Now farm it.

Charles Stocker’s story is a familiar one in Muskoka. A barge-builder on the Thames,  he dreamed of owning land, rolling farmland where he could hunt and fish and be his own man. Attracted by glowing tales of the free grant lands in Canada, in 1865 he and two of his sons set sail for Toronto.

After five weeks of sailing and few more weeks of walking from Toronto, they arrived in Bracebridge. In the bustling hamlet  they bought lumber and other supplies and built a raft, which they poled down the Muskoka River and sailed up the lake to see the land agent. He assigned them lots 26 and 27 on the 11th concession of Monck, 150 acres of land that included what would become known as Huckleberry Rock.

The men laboured three years to carve out some sort of living through logging and farming. It was a hard life. They rowed to Bracebridge to get mail, and carried grain to Orillia to have it milled. They hunted and fished as they had dreamed, but it was for basic sustenance rather than for sport. They also gathered berries and other wild foods on the rocky dome and the surrounding woods. And they built a log house at the base of Huckleberry Rock in what would become Milford Bay.

In 1868, they were joined by the rest of the family – Charles’ wife, Martha, their three daughters, a son-in-law, and three grandchildren.

The next few years play out like a Greek tragedy. The eldest daughter, also named Martha, drowned while loading a barrel of sugar in a rowboat at Scarcliffe, where the steamship delivered supplies. Charles and Martha had donated land for a church plot; their 17-year-old daughter was the first person buried there.

The son-in law, Henry Sawyer, died of pneumonia contracted while working on the railroad in Orillia, leaving his pregnant wife, Polly, and three young children.

Broken-hearted at the death of her daughter, Martha returned to England. Tragedy followed her: while attending a festival on the Thames, she fell from a crowded wharf and was drowned.

Charles soon joined his daughter in the cemetery, killed in a hunting accident (he leaned his rifle against a tree, his dog knocked it over, and it fired.) Some accounts say the accident took place on Huckleberry Rock.

Charles and Martha’s children all left Muskoka. Polly was the last to go: after several years of working as a waitress, maid and cook in the Beaumaris Hotel, she met and married a retired sailor and moved with him to Toronto.

The land was passed to her eldest son, Harry Sawyer, who built a house next to the old log cabin and turned it into a tourist resort which he called Cedar Wild.

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