The Bummer’s Roost
The Bummer’s Roost beside the Nipissing Road in January, 1963. The original boarding house was destroyed by fire many years earlier.
North Star, Wednesday, February 23, 2005
by John Macfie | Dunchurch, Ontario
I am tramping around and through the swamps in Lount Township looking for hemlock bark and boarding at the Bummer’s Roost - a good place.
So wrote timber cruiser Duncan Macdonald of Parry Sound in a letter to a friend dated September 22, 1901. Macdonald datelined the letter Mecanoma, the official name of a stopping place on the Nipissing Road, about 12 road miles due north of Magnetawan. But even then, few people knew the location by its proper name. Nearly everyone called it “The Bummer’s Roost.”
A century later, this colourful appellation for an out-of-the-way clutch of buildings in the centre of Lount Township has gained official recognition. It now appears on regional maps. When, a few years back, that section of the old Rosseau-Nipissing Colonization Road was appropriated as a link in a Canada-wide recreation trail, the name Bummer’s Roost was cast in bronze on a historical plaque and posted at the roadside.
The best authority on the background of Mecanoma/Bummer’s Roost is Everett Kirton. The grandson of settlers, Everett grew up absorbing tales of early days in northern Parry Sound District. His career path led him through the lumber industry to a position as a chief ranger’s clerk with the Ontario Department of Lands and Forests. Before retiring, in the 1960s, he began compiling a history of his surroundings. First published piece-meal in news bulletins put out by the Parry Sound office of the department, and later given limited distribution as The History of Northern Parry Sound District, Everett’s township-by-township series still stands as the most revealing and entertaining treatment of the subject.
Everett says it was homesteader Robert Galbraith who named the place “Mecanoma.” A travelling Ojlbway exclaimed “Afik-anah omah.1 “ (“Here is a path!”), when he chanced upon the newly chopped right-of-way for the Rosseau-Nipissing colonization road.
Galbraith appropriated the phrase as a name for the locality and its future post office. Another early newcomer, Alfred Russell, recognized the spot midway between Magnetawan and Commanda as being well situated as an overnight stopping place for travellers.
He built a log boarding house and stables, obtained a liquor license, and began providing wayfarers with food, lodging and refreshment.
Everett credits Richard Mannering, a sidekick of Alfred Russell’s, with inspiring the name “Bummer’s Roost.” Russell and Mannering had come north together intending to live by trapping furs. But Mannering, in contrast to Russell, “was not much of a hustler,” and people began referring to him as “Dick the Bummer.” It was the lay-about Mannering himself, who, as a joke, one day tacked up a notice designating the establishment as “The Bummer’s Roost.”
The name caught the public fancy, and “Mecanoma” faded from usage.
The Bummer’s Roost marks the starting point of another curiously named geographical feature, the “Poor Man’s Road.” As settlement of the Rosseau-Nipissing Road and its parallel artery to the west, the Great North Road proceeded, a decision was made to carve out a 10-mile-long, east-west access road linking the two. The Bummer’s Roost became the departure point, and the industrious Alfred Russell was put in charge of construction. Everett Kirton explains:
“Their equipment did not include even one cross-cut saw. The trees were felled and cut into short lengths with axes, and rolled off the roadway with handspikes. The men worked long hours every day of the week and were paid ten dollars per month, by scrip - an order for groceries at the Magnetawan store. Due to the hard labour, low rate of pay and method of payment, this road was called the ‘Poor Man’s Road.
The part that remains in use today, providing access to Fowke Lake, a few miles west of the Bummer’s Roost, is still called the Poor Man’s Road.
Duncan Macdonald endured much hardship as he traversed Lount Township assessing its tanbark potential for the Burton Brothers Lumber Company. One windy day, he was forced to flee the woods entirely, with “trees tumbling and falling in every direction.”
When it rained, he got soaked from above, and when it didn’t, swamps wet him from below. But his spirits inevitably lifted when the last transect of the day was finished and he turned, footsore and hungry, toward his Bummer’s Roost lodgings.
“The tramping is wet and miserable,” he remarked further on in the letter quoted above, “but the quarters and table is good.”