James N. Wychgel

An early islander on Lake Temagami and his bond with John Turner

By James Wychgel Norton                              POSTED: NOVEMBER 28, 2010

                                                                                               

My grandfather, James N. Wychgel (rhymes with Michael), a doctor at a steel plant in Cleveland, Ohio, began exploring the Lake Temagami region about 1918. He was part of an early wave of professionals from the Cleveland area who discovered the unique beauty of Lake Temagami in the early 1900’s and became islanders.

Gramps’ best friend was John Turner Jr., the legendary Temagami native who promoted canoeing and fishing in the area from his base on Bear Island. Gramps and John Turner fished and explored the Temagami region almost every summer and once, about 1923, canoed all the way to Hudson Bay. They played baseball and square danced at Bear Island, relaxed and enjoyed the scenery.  They became so close that John gave his friend's name to his son Adam Edward James (known as Jimmy), born in 1927.

In those times it was a long journey from Ohio to Temagami. Gramps first took the train from Cleveland to Toronto and then spent the night at the Royal York before stocking up on supplies at Michie’s for the journey north. The next day involved a train trip to Temagami, followed perhaps by a night at a hotel, which he described in his journal as full of bedbugs. Finally, a steamboat took him to Bear Island where he met up with his friend and guide, John Turner.

One purpose of their exploration was to select an island on Lake Temagami for a long-term lease that was then available from the Ontario government. His 1925 journal includes brief notes about 13 islands they investigated including: 1086, 1075, 1069, 1066, 847, 723, 750, 707, 663, 859, 842, 741 and 308. Eventually, he settled on island 1066, a two-and-a-half acre island near the western shore of the lake, despite concerns about the location, a long distance (approximately 25 kilometers by boat) from the town of Temagami. (This was before the Lake Temagami Access Road was built to service the Copperfields Mine on Temagami Island).

He selected well. Island 1066 is an island paradise with all the attributes for a comfortable cottage retreat. It is a teardrop-shaped tract with the fat end facing east. The mainland shore, about 100 meters away, parallels the southern side of the island creating a narrow channel, and an ideal location for a boathouse protected from the sometimes strong winds and large waves. Because the island tapers to a narrow tip on the west end, Gramps selected the east side for the modest one-bedroom cottage and the channel on the sunny south side for an enclosed boathouse.

The cottage and boathouse were constructed in 1927, the same year that Dr. Wychgel acquired lease number 160 to the island for the whopping sum of $100. The 25- by 38-foot cottage and boathouse cost $750 in 1927 and a 10- by 14-foot sleeping cottage was added in 1941 for $150. The cottage was designed by an architect who was also a friend and patient of Gramps. He had a fatal case of cancer and Gramps brought him to Temagami to have a good end-of-life experience in the wilderness. John Turner and his crew built the structures largely from logs and lumber acquired locally. Prior to that time, many of the cottages on Lake Temagami were built by French Canadians, so Gramps helped his friend John Turner get into the business of building cottages.

A few years later, Gramps married my grandmother, Ruth Cannell Wychgel, and they spent their honeymoon canoeing in the Temagami region. Once again, John Turner was their guide and it was just the three of them in the wilderness. There are many family stories about this adventure. Ruth couldn’t swim so it must have been traumatic for her to be in the middle of the canoe crossing open stretches of water. To make matters worse she was told to bring only warm wool clothes and it turned out that she was allergic to wool and the temperatures reached into the 80’s. A bee stung her finger and it swelled up so much they couldn’t get her new wedding ring off. One night the tent was set up at a campsite by an anthill and on another near a stinky dead duck in the bushes.

In spite of the trauma of the first trip together, they traveled in style from Cleveland in Gramps’ new car, a fancy Packard roadster, along the newly built Highway 11, which eventually replaced the railroad as the preferred way to Temagami. In those days, however, the road was dirt in some areas and was not the easy and fast route that it is today.

Gramma was a trooper despite the ruggedness of Temagami that was so different from her city life in Cleveland. On her many trips to Temagami she cooked on a Guelph Iron Works woodstove. Ice was delivered from John Turner’s ice house on Bear Island to the cottage’s red ice box. She heated a stone iron to keep clothes, sheets and towels neat and tidy.

According to my Mom, she wore nylon stockings every day and never washed her hair to prevent damaging the last permanent she had in Cleveland! There are many artifacts of these early days still at the cottage today, including the old wood stove which serves as a counter top, the ice box which we use for storage, the stone iron which now makes a nice door stop, and a dining room table that belonged to Gramma’s parents which was brought up later. A canoe paddle, tent post and water cup are on display above the fireplace to commemorate the trip to Hudson Bay, and the Peterborough canvas canoe that Gramps and John Turner paddled still resides in the boat house. It has been rebuilt twice since the epic trip.

In the 1930’s, Gramps decided to modernize the cottage to make it more convenient for his “best girlfriend”, as he called Gramma. He was the first seasonal resident to bring propane for a stove to Lake Temagami and, actually, drove two 20-pound propane tanks and copper tubing up from Chagrin Falls. Propane lights and a Servel fridge were added later. Eventually he helped Marty Taylor to start a propane business on the lake from his base that is now Temagami Marine. After that it wasn’t necessary to lug the tanks from Ohio.

Although Gramps went to Temagami to get away from his responsibilities as a doctor, he was called upon frequently to care for the residents and visitors to the region. There were occasional late night boat accidents that Gramps was asked to look after and he regularly prescribed medicines and stitched up cuts. Once, he even stitched up his own arm after being bitten by a dog while dropping off some friends at the elegant White Bear Resort in the Southwest Arm. Gramps was driving what my Mom and Uncle call “that ridiculous pointer,” a 26-foot, Norwegian, flat-bottomed boat that sprayed so much water that passengers had to wear raincoats even when the lake was calm.

In the winter time, John Turner and his wife Mary visited the Wychgels in Cleveland. Unfamiliar with the city streets, he was stopped by the police for driving the wrong way down Shaker Heights Boulevard. John was a charismatic man with a broad smile, warm disposition and a loud belly laugh. He charmed the police and was escorted with sirens blaring to Gramps’ house.

John and other Temagami natives attended Sportsmen’s Show at the Cleveland Arena about 1940. They regaled the city folk with stories of hunting, fishing and canoeing along with demonstrations of log rolling. After seeing and hearing these presentations, many a young boy was bitten by the wilderness bug and couldn’t wait to attend a canoe camp at Lake Temagami. Undoubtedly there are many families enjoying Temagami today who owe their first experiences to these winter promotions in large cities to the South.

In the 1940’s and 50’s, Gramps’ canoe adventures were replaced by activities closer to the island with Gramma, his son James Follansbee Wychgel (named after Gramp’s mentor, Dr. George Follansbee, a member of the Newcomb-Horr circle from Cleveland, who introduced him to Temagami) and daughter Betsy along with a gaggle of friends they brought to the lake. In 1944, he acquired fee title to the island and terminated the long-term lease for $137.50. The cost was composed of a $45-per-acre fee and $25 fee for survey work (wouldn’t it be nice to buy island property for $45 an acre today?). Most every summer he sat on the porch with John Turner where they laughed and reminisced about the good old days. He attended Temagami Lakes Association meetings regularly and was a member of the group when it was formed in 1931, although he probably did not attend the first meeting because his son was born that summer in Ohio.

Gramps would be proud that island 1066 is still pretty much as he left it without hydro or telephone. We still use propane for the fridge, stove, hot water and lighting. All three buildings are still there and the only significant change is the addition of a composting toilet that my Aunt Mary had Mac McKenzie build in 1997. Gramps’ old tools are still in the attic along with an array of nails, screws, bolts and old fishing equipment. My uncle, James Follansbee Wychgel, took loving care of the place for many decades after Gramps passed away and recently turned the responsibility over to my cousin Anne White and me.

Five generations of Dr. Wychgel’s family have visited and loved Lake Temagami. Gramps brought his in-laws, Eli Scott and Anna Mary “Mame” Cannell to island 1066 in the 1930s and his children, grandchildren, and now great-grandchildren are frequent visitors. His granddaughter Anne Wychgel White and great-grandson Scotty White followed the paddle strokes of Gramps and John Turner all the way to Hudson Bay, respectively at Wabun and Keewaydin. Scotty is on staff at Keewaydin. Grampa Wychgel’s Temagami legacy has endured for 90 years and with continued loving care will be appreciated for many generations to come. 

James Wychgel Norton carries on his grandfather’s legacy at island 1066.

This is a revised version of a story in the Temagami Times, Summer 2010.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Delivered Larry’s wife’s 7 1/2-pound girl. Fished and caught 10 1/2-pound trout."

Wychgel journal, Monday, July 13, 1925, 12:30 a.m.

 

Photo: James N. Wychgel, 1920s

James N. Wychgel, 1920s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SORTING OUT THE JOHN TURNERS
1842-1926 John Turner Sr.
born on James Bay
Temagami HBC factor
founded Lakeview House with
   wife Mary (Granny)
aka Oout-chim
1896-1969 John Turner Jr.
grandson of Sr
contractor on Lake Temagami
second proprietor of Lakeview
    House
1929-  

Primer Minister John Turner

ex-Camp Temagami camper

no relation

1968-

John Turner III

grandson of Jr.

Bear Island resident

contractor on Lake Temagami

   

____________________

 






 

 Photo: John Turner Jr., 1920s

John Turner Jr., 1920s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo: James Wychgel and John Turner Jr., 1920s

 James Wychgel and John Turner, 1940s

 

 

 

 

Photos: Wychgel family

Photo: John Turner on campsite, 1920s

John Turner at a campsite, 1920s

 

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