A Reflection on The Swim Dock

— Brian Betsworth ’90

As I understand it, the Swim Dock was originally the formal arrival dock for the Eaton family’s private steamship, which would come from Gravenhurst to Kwandag after Sir John and Lady Eaton had travelled north on their private CPR rail car, which, incidentally, is owned and preserved by a friend of mine, who also owns Higgins & Burke Tea Company.

I recall the dock, as all the other docks around the property, was said to have been built from pine timbers, logged, cut, and milled onsite, in winter.

Teams of horses hauled the timbers into place on the lake ice, lifted by derrick and hand by carpenters and tradespeople, to be constructed into crib frame structures. The massive beams were driven through and fastened together with iron nails and rods, and the crib frames filled with granite from the shore.

The cribs, built taller than the water was deep, sank to the bottom by sheer force of gravity after the ice melted, with minor adjustments made when the water turned warmer. The cribs are still there, and support the docks as they are today.

Anyone who has snorkelled or scuba dived around the docks at RLC will see this historic craftsmanship still intact under the water, and it’s highly likely to stay intact for quite some time, as they were built by hand and horse, with brutal density and rigourous toughness. I’ve even heard that the same timbersmiths were summoned back by Lady Eaton to build the Log Cabin, as a more “rustic” retreat than the opulent Mansion.

Of course, the modern method for dock building is either steel structure with motorized underwater aerators to constantly move water and prevent freezing, or a floating dock which rises and falls with the ice and lake water level. Both of these methods are costly.

But there is significant history around “the old ways”, and the old structures & foundations which many of us have tread on, which formed the literal underpinnings of a multitude of experiences and memories, which live still, and which need to be acknowledged before “the new way” is devised, implemented, and integrated.

Interesting times. More to come.