Settler of township lots: Lots 9 & 10, Conc. 6, Stanhope
Location: Map point is the approximate location with the north half of Lot 10, Conc. 6 one lot south of Hwy 35 between Buckslide Road and Boshkung Lake Road.
Land acquisition: 1931 from Clifford Barry, Elvin Walter Johnson & Wilfred Mason; 1948 From Wilfred Mason to Elvin Johnson. Ontario Land Parcel Register - Stanhope (Images 29 & 32).
Dates of residency:
A Park For All Seasons: Stanhope Township's The Elvin Johnson Park. Source: Soulwinds
Tucked away at the end of a "no exit" road on the northern edge of Halls Lake in the Alqoinquin Highlands is a corner of heaven on a warm summer day. If you come north on Highway 35 from Carnarvon, make a right onto Little Hawk Lake Road (just a little way past Halls Lake Market, the finest bakery around), and drive for three kilometers, you will come to a junction. On the left is Big Hawk Lake Rd, leading to the historic log chute and a marina for the water access only cottages on Big Hawk Lake. But on the right, just a few feet further than the sign pole, is Old Mill Road, signless except for its name, which leads to The Elvin Johnson Park, the name of which doesn't appear on any sign.
So who was Elvin Johnson? And how did he come to merit this little gem of a park being named after him? He was born at Halls Lake in 1914, and spent most of his life in Stanhope township, becoming one of the founding fathers of Stanhope. (He is quoted as having said that "one month in Toronto" was enough for him.) Without him this small patch of land - boasting more lakes than any other township in Haliburton County - might have faded away with the logging industry. Farming on Boshkung Lake as a young adult with his Jersey Islands wife Ruby, without water or electricity or a car - just a team of horses, Johnson was a pioneer in the true sense of that word. They raised Muscovi ducks, chickens, pigs, and always a team of horses, though there was no real road at that time, just a dirt track. By the 1930's, Johnson needed more to support his growing family, so he became involved in surveying land between Twelve Mile Lake and Dorset for the "new road" : Highway 35. With no real tools except by hand, blasting through the rock faces was - by our standards - Herculean.
Here are some of the community contributions Elvin Johnson made in his lifetime: he served on the School Committee, the Dump Committee, the Roads Committee, the Board of Management, the Community Centre Committee, and the Parks and Recreation Committee - all of them collaborating to make Stanhope a viable township within the county. He was Commissioner of the (first) Telephone System when five or six homes were connected to the one party line. He also spent sixteen years through several terms as a councilor, and was Deputy Reeve from 1985-1988. In the early 70's, he was responsible for creating the Stanhope Fire Department against strong belief that the township couldn't support such a venture. The first pumper arrived in 1973 - and twenty men volunteered. During those years he also was a leader in rebuilding the Hawk Lake Log Chute on the Kennisis River through a Federally sponsored Winter Works project in 1971 - in the depth of winter. Here was a strong man with other strong men.
The Elvin Johnson Park is perhaps the clearest recognition of Johnson's contribution to the Stanhope community, and one that carries his name into the present and the future. While he was on council, the MNR offered this land to the township to develop into a park, but no one seemed interested, so Johnson took it on himself, with the council's encouragement. It took him a couple of years to complete the park with the help of students, and in 1988, at the age of 74 - when he announced that he wasn't going to run for council again - he received the offer of having the park named after him. That same year, he received the honor of "Stanhope Citizen of the Year."
Could there be a better example of community-mindedness, of a life given in service, hard steady work, creativity and thoughtfulness - not only for people, but for this land around us, which supports us every day? The park commemorates this life, and offers us a glimpse into a past not so distant in years, but definitely distant in values and the giving of talent, strength and self for one's community. Such was Elvin Johnson, and he deserves commemoration in this public way.
So - with that history - what can you expect at The Elvin Johnson Park? It is a water's edge delight of nature. Located at the northern edge of Halls Lake, just to the right of where the Little Kennisis River runs into the lake, the little park produces a variety of possibilities for families, picnics and solitary readers and writers. It's sandy beach extends for several meters out from the shore, making water play safe for little ones just getting to know themselves in water, and inviting for longer range, experienced swimmers. In fact, most weekday mornings in the summer, the township provides swimming lessons for children of all ages. Picnic tables, sheltered and unsheltered, washrooms, a small playground and fireplaces provide welcoming focal points for people of all ages to gather.
Besides the forest surrounding the park, trees provide shade along some of the shoreline. At the far left corner, facing the water, you can even walk around to a private, sheltered cove which most people never discover. It is dotted with driftwood and weathered roots, and offers an even deeper quiet than the park itself. Readers and writers attend!
To the right of the beach is a narrow causeway, just enough for one car at a time, going over to the lake's island where several lucky people own summer cottages with stupendous views around the island's rocky edges. The causeway sports a boat launch also. Fishing boats quietly dot the water, especially in early morning.
One night a week for the summer months, Stanhope Township offers a campfire with a variety of themes in Elvin Johnson Park. These can be anything from "Scary Stories", Traditional Singalongs, looking at the night sky with an astronomer, visits from an old logger - and every year there are new themes. A Google search will quickly bring you the list for the coming summer.
Each morning in every season, when my companion and I, with our Golden Retriever Kai, walk along Old Mill Road to the park, we encounter some form of wild life. Deer roam the forest. Arctic hare zig-zag back and forth across our path almost every day, white in winter, brown in summer. Their sole purpose seems to be to taunt the dog, for they wait in complete stillness until we are almost there; then they run across in front of us. Grouse waddle slowly across the road. In spring and summer we shoo the occasional black bear back into the woods. Merlin Falcons screech at crows and ravens, claiming their territory, and in June we've watched them loudly teach their chicks to fly. Song sparrows, mourning doves, white-throated sparrows, woodpeckers - pileated, hairy and downy - a few owls - weave the walk with sound. A final reward, reaching Elvin Johnson Park, is hearing the long, slow loon call fill the air, for a pair of loons still returns to Halls Lake every summer. We take it as a sign that - despite the cottages and their loud water toys - Halls Lake can still sustain a nesting pair, when other lakes in our area cannot
In autumn, Elvin Johnson Park takes on a different and more haunting beauty. the swimming docks are pulled onshore, the park usually deserted, when the mists of the lake make their mysterious appearance, morning after morning. The park becomes like an outdoor auditorium, a place to sit or stand while watching the mists move and shift, fade, disappear and reveal colors more vivid as fall deepens. If slowing down is what you want to do, mist-watching in autumn in Elvin Johnson Park is a sure investment of time and attention.
Thank you, Elvin Johnson. Your park continues to be a well-cared for corner of the Algonquin Highlands. It's worth looking for, especially on those summer days when sitting next to water is necessary, or when the mists of autumn stop your breath with beauty.