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HomeNewsDonna (Dancey) Logan Remembers Growing Up In Burnt River

Donna (Dancey) Logan Remembers Growing Up In Burnt River

This story is part of our partnership with Maryboro Lodge The Fenelon Falls Museum and was written by Glenn Walker.

KAWARTHA LAKES-Donna Logan’s parents, Rose Marion and Stanley Dancey, moved to Burnt River in 1932, as many local families were struggling to adjust to the Great Depression. It was not a relocation that they had planned. Stanley worked for the Canadian National Railway and had been transferred as station agent from Campbellcroft to Burnt River. Stanley had grown up near Lochlin and Rose in Lindsay, so they knew the community, but not all of its long-standing families.

The community of Burnt River was named for the watercourse that flowed through the village, but the waterway had many cataracts upstream that made it more suitable for canoes than steamers or motorboats. More than the waterway, the settlement grew up around the railway, servicing the surrounding farming community. 

Burnt River Station

The railway station was located on east side of the main street of town, north of the river. It was one of the community’s social gathering places. Heated with a pot-bellied stove, there was a warm radiant heat in winter when many of the farmers came in to chat, when they were not too busy with work on the farm. “They sat and smoked, chewed tobacco and spit into spittoons on the floor, as they gathered around the stove. Farmers were happy to come and chew rag with their friends, it was a social. As a youngster, the Second World War was raging, that was all the news. Families would gather around their radios to hear Jimmy Hunter give the 6 o’clock news. You couldn’t run the battery down listening to the radio all day, because in that age all the radios were battery powered. We often just listened to the news. The farmers were not actually taking the train, it was just the social place to go and catch up on what was happening in the village.”

A lot of the traffic on the railway was freight. Before trucks were everywhere, a lot of the goods that came and went from the community rode the rails. At the station, there was a huge baggage room. Dad’s office had a roll down cover where he would sell tickets, and he had a telephone—people phoned to find out when the trains would come. I was always fascinated by the telegraphy key and a few times I was allowed to signal people. Everyone knew a few signals like SOS,” but it was an acquired skill to be able to send and interpret messages. It seemed like the key was going all the time, as they would get information about trains and freight.” A lot of tourists came to Burnt River by train to visit Four Mile Lake.

Burnt River had no street lights, “but there were lights on the trains. In winter they were fitted with snowplows,” though even then they might occasionally get stuck in massive snow drifts. The roads were typically not plowed, and many farm families used sleighs to get around.


Section Boss Bob Hanthorn on his Jigger with Happy

“Bob Hanthorn was the section foreman for the CNR. He lived just up the main street from us, and had a hand cart or jigger that was used to look over the railway and see what maintenance was needed. He had quite an area to cover, perhaps Fell’s Station to Gelert. Our family grew up with theirs. There were three boys, Blair, Clawson and Gayle, plus sisters, Beulah (Robson) and Lorna (Jackett). He and my Dad shared a lot of laughs. My dad had a wild sense of humour.”

In Burnt River, there was little in the way of formal recreation, so children made their own fun. “Skijoring was the big thing after church—for the kids that were allowed to do it. It was a big thing in Scandinavian countries. They attached a rope onto cars, and the skier held on, drifting behind the car.” Adventurous skiers would ascend the snowbanks on either side of the road.” Some kids drifted sideways almost over to the fences. “It could be scary, especially for younger kids, you had to be old enough to go skijoring.” 

“When I was a kid, our neighbours kept animals in the barns behind their houses. Cattle pastured next to Roddy Wright’s store on the main street—there was a field there before the tree line. I remember riding a cow there. I was not typically allowed to ride horses, but Daddy would let me ride one old horse. You had to be inventive about what you did—kids today would think that we were nuts, but it all seemed natural back then.”

“In spring we would dance around a Maypole on May 24, and go on picnics. Both churches had picnics by the river. We walked down to the river, which was where we learned how to swim. There was a noticeable current, so that was dangerous, but the big kids took us and taught us. In winter we went skating on the Burnt River. We made so much of our own entertainment back then.”


Burnt River Stone Public School, built in 1900, with addition for grades, 9 and 10, photo dated Sep 1964

“When school was out, Mom and Dad took us up to Bow Lake.” The family camped there in the summer, later building a cabin. “On Sunday we were expected to read our bible, even when we were vacationing at Bow Lake. Dad had built a little cabin back in the woods, where there was a Victrola. There we could dance and mother would not realize what was going on. It has all changed now, today so few people go to church.”


Donna Logan Girl Guides Life Saving Medal, age 14, 1947

One day, when Donna was 14 years old, George, a boy with special needs fell in the water at Bow Lake. “He was a way out from shore, and I started running. Mother was screaming hysterically.” Donna swam out and saved him, “even though he was 13 and bigger than me. Dad got in his cedar strip boat, got George in the boat, and dragged me into shore.” With artificial respiration, they managed to save George, and Donna was awarded a silver medal for lifesaving. Unfortunately, George drowned at a cottage in Haliburton the next summer.

“I learned how to drive when I was 3. My older brother helped me into the car and told me that you just put your foot on the pedal to make it go—and so I drove Daddy’s new Buick right into the ditch. In those days the ditches were significant. Terry said I would be in a lot of trouble when Dad got home. But when I told Dad I wanted to drive, he laughed and laughed. Then he took me out in the car and let me drive—you wouldn’t do that if you grew up in town.”

Burnt River had an outdoor skating rink, which was located in a low spot on the main street on the Sheehey’s property. “Often we put on our skates at home and skated down the main street because it was all ice and snow. I don’t remember that there were boards on the rink when I was going there as a kid, nor do I remember organized hockey games. It was just a skating rink. Someone would have to shovel the snow off the rink. The Switzer boys lived across the road… kids were strong from working on the farm, and two or three of them would have it cleaned off in no time.” 

“At that time, the community centre was not attached to the back of the United Church, it was its own separate building. I remember it being a creamy yellow colour on the outside. It hosted everything from quilting bees to Christmas concerts to public meetings. There was square dancing there—it was where everybody met. They showed movies at the community centre, by putting up a sheet with a projector. They were on Saturday afternoon and every kid in town was there. I saw my first movie there when I was about 6. I remember screaming and diving under the seats. From the sound effects, I thought it was a real train!”

“The Community Centre also hosted an annual Christmas Party. They put real candles on the Christmas tree and lit every one. Later in Life, when I married Arthur who was a fireman, I lit candles on a tree—there must have been 60 of them—and I thought he was going to have a heart attack!”

Growing up during the Great Depression, Christmas was often quite simple. “We would be thankful if we got one toy for Christmas. We got fruit in our stocking, like an orange and an apple. We were lucky to get an orange, that was a wonderful treat, and it might be the only time we got citrus fruit. I had an aunt in Ganonoque, who sent me two pairs of bloomers every year. Over the years, I accumulated 4 dollies and a cradle. We also had a top that you pumped so it would spin. Since it was a special occasion, the living room was opened up for Christmas Day. In winter, ordinarily the house was shut up, since you didn’t want to heat the whole house, just the kitchen and bedrooms.” 

“To do something special for me, my mom made clothes for my dolls. One year she made a bride’s dress, another year, it was a dress and leggings, like a snowsuit outfit—made from blue satin. She often cut up old lingerie to get the satin. Mom was also a wonderful baker, when she was younger she had baked for her parents’ ice cream parlour and bake shop in Lindsay. I remember how much we enjoyed her stew with dumplings on top, bread pudding, ginger snaps, chocolate cake, and pies—blueberry, strawberry rhubarb and lemon. Because we had chickens, we could have make meringue.”

July 12th was a huge annual celebration, and “the trains would be jammed with people coming from Haliburton to Lindsay or wherever the big parade would be. After the day of celebrations, some of the passengers would be drunk by the time they came home—my dad told me about it. There were special midnight trains for the event. A lot of people looked forward to the day, but it also bred so much discontent.”

As a kid I used to play with June and Joyce Wood (daughters of Carmen Wood). Their mother was not well, and I said that I knew how to light the fire. We put all kinds of kindling in and blew the lids right off the stove. I thought I was going to be in so much trouble, but no one came in and noticed. They lived in a white house beside Roddy Wright’s Store. The Shosenbergs later lived in the same house. I also played with Rhoda Wright, whose dad Roddy owned the store south of the railway tracks on the Main Street, her older brother Jimmy became an Electrolux Salesman.”

Wright’s general store was the one of three in town in the early 1940s. “It was a big, double building on the left side heading north through town. For Burnt River in those days, it was a huge store. I think it was white and red. They had display jars where you could see merchandise like beans and macaroni. There was also a huge counter with a glass front on it, where you could see the nuts and bolts. You would go in and say what you wanted, for instance a pound of peas or flour. They sold pretty much everything that you needed, fabric, rubber boots and coats. I remember they had a big barrel of cookies…and a Charlie McCarthy doll and an Edgar Bergen puppet that I really wanted.” 

“We went to the stone school which was north of the four corners on the east side. The first eight grades were taught in the front of the building, with more than twenty kids in that class. Not many students went on to high school, because they were needed on the farm. There was an addition on the back where they taught Grades 9 and 10. There was no kindergarten at that time, and the school also did not have cadets.”

“There were separate toilets for boys and girls. Boys and girls were not allowed to go out at the same time to go to the washroom. We sat in double seats, with ink wells containing real ink. I had long blonde hair in braids and one day the boy behind me dipped my braids in the ink well filled with green ink. I was just furious, to say nothing of my mother. In the centre of the school there was a pot-bellied stove, and it was very hot beside the vent. But, boy, those schools were not warm!”

“I remember one teacher who had red hair and a bad temper, but also brought treats to school for the kids. He would go out in the bush and cut tag alder that he would use to beat the boys if they did anything that he didn’t approve of. I remember him beating the Dudman boys over a seat, and the kids who came in from the east line. When I told Dad about it, he said, ‘After Christmas Holidays you won’t have to worry about him anymore.’ He reported the teacher and he was fired.” Afterwards Donna was taught by Miss Thornton and Miss Brittnall, “she was so pretty, so little and so sweet, but if we didn’t do what she wanted, she would cry.”

While Donna was a youngster, her grandmother and mother knit the sweaters and socks for their family—boys often wore knee socks with breeches. Her father would buy his suits from McCallum’s Men’s Wear in Fenelon Falls, and when they wore out, the material was recycled into clothing that Donna wore. When they were not making outfits for their own families, the ladies in town were often busy preparing things for the church bazaars. “There were a lot of activities around the churches and in war time they knit for Britain. Grandma gave $5 to buy war stamps. She would write notes to the soldiers as she knitted them socks. $5 was a lot of money, it was a big deal if you could buy a book of war stamps.” 

Burnt River Telephone Exchange – Sam Suddaby House – Later Stanley Dancey House (Donna Logan)

Donna grew up in a home built by Sam Suddaby, that for many years was the Burnt River Telephone Exchange. Her childhood in Burnt River was cut short by the fire of 1944. “We were in school at the time and the teacher told us that we would have to walk out the fourth line and down the railway because there was a fire in town. I remember seeing our house on fire and Ralph and Marg Sheehey’s burning.”

The CNR Train helped to put out the 1944 Burnt River Fire

The Sheeheys operated a gas station on the Main Street when it caught fire. “No one wanted to call the fire department, because whoever called paid. Dad had a phone at the station, and realized that if no one was going to call then he should.” The fire spread quickly, consuming the gas station, Billings’ House (Les was sawyer at the Bow Lake Lumber Company), Donna’s childhood home, and John and June Handley’s Store and home. The loss of these four buildings really changed the community. “The Billings were in their 80s.” All the buildings consumed were on the west side of the main street, starting north of the railway tracks, and south of Donna’s father’s sawmill (Bow Lake Lumber Company—now the Community Centre).

“During the fire, they got most of our stuff out of the house, and took it down to the baggage room at the station. My mother just went nuts, and was yelling on the stairs. A man went upstairs and in trying to get everything out threw a box of my grandmother’s dishes out the window. Mom was a fussy woman, and when she got down to the station, her clothes were out on the floor and people were walking on them in the chaos of the fire. It was a very scary day. I wondered if I was ever going to have a house again. I had two cats. The black one died in the fire, and the orange was burned badly burned on one side. It was 6 months before her hair grew back. I cried and cried.”

“Clayton Hodgson was the MP, and he just came and handed Dad his house keys, saying ‘I’m not there so make yourself at home. Dad brought a cabin down from Bow Lake and put it on the mill property for the family to live in temporarily. The four buildings consumed made a lasting impact on the community—it consumed two of the three stores, and Burnt River would never be quite the same again.

“Our house was owned by the Suddabys, and we were paying $8 a month rent.” Rather than staying in Burnt River, the Danceys decided to move to Fenelon Falls, settling at 20 Market Street, across from what is now the Fenelon Falls Library. “It was like moving to the city for me. I had been to Lindsay to visit my aunt and to Peterborough to shop. There were so many new activities there. There was a tennis court across the street and you could go skating at the rink. There were activities like dancing and I learned to roller skate. I took music lessons from Mrs. Littleton and became a Girl Guide. In Fenelon Falls I had a lot more friends—in Burnt River it had seemed like everyone was a lot older—so having friends was a wonderful surprise for me. I thought that I would not be able to learn at school because everyone would be so smart because they lived in town.” Her teenage years in Fenelon Falls would be a very different experience than growing up in the close-knit community at Burnt River.  

This story is a memory and nobody’s memory is perfect. Sometimes details get a little mixed up, things get forgotten or overlooked, and the perspective is inevitably subjective. If you notice something that not right, have something you would like to tell us, or a memory to share the museum would be happy to hear from you: [email protected]

If you want to make a donation to the museum, you can e-transfer to: [email protected] or mail a cheque to :

Maryboro Lodge Museum

Box 179

50 Oak Street

Fenelon Falls, ON

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