Swift Rapids

A brief history

Living in a colony

(From one perspective)
What was it like growing up in an isolated colony? Graphic of early colony
The children attended a one room school staffed with a competent teacher provided by the company. As one would expect,swimming, canoeing, boating, hiking and fishing occupied the summer hollidays. Softball was played on a makeshift diamond where running the bases involved dodging rocks on the uneven terrain, and a home run resulted in a game delay to retrieve the ball from a small weed filled ravine. They only had one ball.
Winter sports included skiing, sleigh riding, snowshoeing and skating etc. During this period Bombardier was probably only making commercial snow mobiles, and Polaris was the "north star" not an ATV/Snowmobile manufacturer. The personal sleds so common today were yet to come on the scene. During the winter, cars were parked near Severn Falls (Upper Big Chute Road) and a 6.5km snowshoe or ski trek would get you home. I believe this particular route is a section of an established snowmobile trail today. It was walked regularly.

Being a kid in this environment was different from living in town. With no stores or restaurants in which to hang out or shop, Eaton's and Simpson's catalogues were worn ragged as reading material. Mailorder items would arrive by train at the Hydro Glen Post Office 3km up stream at Kellys General Store.

With no direct access road to the Swift until the early 1960s, there were obviously no cars. The colony occupied a fairly small area and mountain bikes were yet to be developed. The power line road joined a concession road about 15 kilometers south from the colony which led to Orillia. At that time the only direct access to or from Swift Rapids was by boat or aircraft. In the winter and between seasons they had the horse drawn sleigh or wagon which made daily weekday trips to Hydro Glen, either on a bush trail or on the frozen river.

Most families had dogs and cats. One dog that I had habitually came home with porcupine quills on his nose. He didn't enjoy having them removed and he never really learned to leave the porci's alone. He had a knack for getting into trouble, once or twice raiding the neighbour's chicken coup. He was probably a level or two down from a coyote and definitely not as smart.

Being near the electric generating station, everyone had electric appliances. The use of the Ice House mentioned in the former buildings page was for an earlier phase of the colony. This was at a time when ice boxes were still common in the towns and cities (1930's and 40's). Families had fresh milk and eggs; my dad had a cow and chickens, as did other families. The milk was unpastuerized and I don't ever recall candling eggs. That's the way it was. Every household also had a vegetable garden. One garden was on a small reclaimed swamp area where the rich black compost grew huge carrots. There was an occasional night time raid to taste those sweet carrots. The homes were heated by woodburning furnaces. Wood was cut (no chain saws) a year ahead of time and horse and sleigh transported from the bush during the winter for the following winter heating season.

A trip to the variety store was a 3.2km trip up river. The shoes came off as soon as school was out in June and some went barefoot all summer (I guess it was a thing, had to toughen up those feet). This was more from choice rather than for economy, but Im sure the parents appreciated saving 2 months worth of wear and tear on shoes.

The inhabitants made their own fun and entertainment holding dances and Christmas Pagents in the school and having frequent Euchre Parties. The colony handy man played the fiddle accompanied by piano or guitar, not that this was one of his official duties. An operator who worked in the plant "called" for the square dances. Family picnics along the Severn River and hiking through wilderness to nearby lakes in Muskoka District north of the river were common outdoor activities. Sunday school and church services were held also in the school house. Cecil Garry, the lockmaster at the time, preached lay services. It was said that he had read through the St James Bible several times. He was a wise and kind gentleman.

Many who left the Swift to establish careers, raise families or to follow personal interests, were never heard from again. However for others, a connection to "The Swift" exists. Even though, over the last several decades it has become an isolated spot on the map; aka "lock 43/ Swift Rapids", it still represents "home" to many who grew up there.

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Photos from Fall 2011, May 2014 and Spring Freshet plus a Graphic depicting the early Colony

All photos and graphic ┬ędmincoff may be downloaded for non-commercial use only. Thanks. Contact