The Dowker family played over several generations a prominent role in the history of Baie-D'Urfé. There is also Dowker Island, a green island with some hidden ruins. Dowker Island has always fascinated me. Like a treasure island, a beautiful and magical place, located exactly at the point where the waters from the Ottawa River and the Saint Laurent River meet. Let's first get a little overview and then explore Dowker Island in detail.
Lieutenant-Colonel George Woodcock Dowker (1825 - 1910) came to Canada in 1847. In Montreal, he married Susan Wright Leslie (1822 - 1906) of Quebec. The Leslies had moved during the 1840s from Quebec to Montreal. George Dowker married Susan Wright Leslie Sept. 21, 1848 at the Trinity Anglican Church on St-Paul Street in Old Montreal. George came from New York according to the marriage record and they lived for a while in Brooklyn, New York, before they settled on a nice piece of land right by the water in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue in the late 1850s.
This stretch of land is opposite McGill's Macdonald Campus, and the former Col. George Dowker home is now the Faculty Club for this campus, known as Tadja Hall (21082 Lakeshore).
In Col. Dowker's times the whole area was known as "Côte Ste Anne Sud". The southern part along Lakeshore up to the row of houses on the east of Maple Street used be part of Baie-D'Urfé from the creation of the town until 1964. One Baie-D'Urfé Mayor and three councilors lived in those houses along the water.
Col. George Dowker was the operator and paymaster for the locks in Ste Anne.
George and Susan had seven children: George Lamb (1848 - 1881, fell on a hot July day into the water near Beauharnois and drowned), Arthur H. (1852 - 1927), Leslie Rose (1854 - 1945), Harry B. (1856 - 1931), Spencer W. (1860 - 1912), Gertrude V. (1861 - 1950) and Vivian de Vere (1865 - 1923).
Dowker Drive, Baie-D'Urfe
Leslie Dowker Road Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue
Marriage, Sep. 21, 1848, Dowker and Leslie, Trinity Memorial Anglican Church in Old Montreal. This church was still in Montreal until 2017. It had relocated serveral times and moved in 1923 to the N.D.G neighborhood. The church closed in 2017.
1881 Census of Canada, the Dowker family at Ste Anne du bout de l'Ile, source: https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/census/Pages/census.aspx
Grave of Susan Wright Leslie, mount royal cemetery, section C, photo: Sep. 2020; Susan is the daugther of Ann Ritchie and Samuel Henry Wright Leslie, a doctor; the stone is for the women in the family; there is no stone for the men; there is also no stone for George Dowker but he is supposed to be buried here.
The Dowker houses are almost next to each other with the exception of Idlewyld, Leslie's house on Dowker Island.
Dowker houses in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue and Baie-D'Urfe
G: Near the bottom of Apple Hill Road in Baie-D'Urfé: Leslie's access to Dowker Island
The Thomson House and Cedar Croft are in Baie-D'Urfé. Beausejour, Throstle Lodge, and Cottonwoods are in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue. Dowker Island with the Idlewyld is part of the municipality of Notre-Dame-de-l'Île-Perrot.
Thomas R. Lee wrote in 1973 an article in the N&V about "The Dowker Family". An excellent study of those buildings was done in 1992 by Jan Kubanek when he was at the McGill School of Architecture. Sandy Knoepfel wrote two News & Views articles in 2006 as part of the "Time & Again" series.
Francine Ranger-Smith gave a presentation about Dowker Island in 2012 and a transcript is available via the website of the Société historique Beaurepaire-Beaconsfield. Francine Ranger-Smith won a price for her presentation.
You can click on the links below to read those documents. Each of those documents focuses on slightly different aspects but they are all very detailed and interesting to read.
According to the municipality of Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue the year of construction is 1860 but this is probably an error. The study by Jan Kubanek mentions "approximately 1890" as the year of construction. Beausejour was the house of Leslie Rose before he moved to Dowker Island.
The house is in good condition and it is still the original house.
Beausejour, source: study by J. Kubanek
21090 Lakeshore, Oct 2020
21090 Lakeshore, Aug. 2020
21090 Lakeshore, Nov. 2020
21090 Lakeshore, view from the water side, Aug. 2020
Throstle Lodge is the first Dowker residence in the area. Col. George Dowker and Susan Wright Leslie purchased the property probably in 1858. The actual notarial act has not been preserved but the book of notary Isaac J. Gibb shows the signing of a mortgage March 6, 1858 (notarial act number 17828). The house burns unfortunately down and the Dowkers build in 1861 a new home in the same place and call it Throstle Lodge. It is today known as McGill Tadja Hall and McGill has an own history section on their website. It became the house of Arthur Hamilton after the death of Lieutenant-Colonel George Dowker in 1910. Arthur Hamilton Dowker died in 1927 and his brother Leslie sold the house in 1929 to James Harold Dougall, president of the Dougall Varnish Company. James H. Dougall was elected as a Baie-D'Urfe councillor in 1931. The Dougalls keept the house probably until 1946. In 1947 it was owned by the Veteran's Land Act and Baie-D'Urfe Mayor William Cruikshank and his wife bought the house in the mid-50s.
The external appearence of the house changed significantly after Peter N. Hickey had bought it in 1964. He added the big extension to the east. The main Throstle Lodge building is however still there. The basement of the main house and the layout of a number of rooms is still original.
The Macdonald Stewart Foundation aquired the property in 1975. The official opening of "Tadja Hall" by Dr. David Stewart was in November 1978. Tadja was the name of Dr. David Stewart's favorite cat. A portrait of Tadja can be seen above one of the three fireplaces in the old section of the house.
"Tadja Hall" serves today the Macdonald Campus faculty club hosting meetings, luncheons, wedding receptions and dinners.
Throstle Lodge around 1905, view from the south-west, source: Fred Dowker via Constance Turnbull
Throstle Lodge, now Tadja Hall, Oct. 2020, the old part is the house section with the chimney; view from the north-west; the eastern part (behind the hedge) is the addition by Peter N. Hickey.
Aerial photo with Beausejour (A) and Throstle Lodge (B), 1949, source: Archives de la Ville de Montreal
Throstle Lodge, now Tadja Hall, Aug. 2020, backyard side
Tadja Hall, view from the north-west, Apr. 2021
Throstle Lodge, now Tadja Hall, Oct. 2020, backyard side (view from the south)
Throstle Lodge, now Tadja Hall, Nov. 2007, view from the south-west, source: Constance Turnbull
Throstle Lodge, now Tadja Hall, Sep. 2020, view from the water
Throstle Lodge, now Tadja Hall, view from the graden towards the water
Throstle Lodge, view from the water, about 1900, source: Fred Dowker via Constance Turnbull
Throstle Lodge, now Tadja Hall, view from the west, winter 1904-1905, source: Fred Dowker via Constance Turnbull
Arthur Hamilton Dowker (1852-1927), about 1880, source: Fred Dowker via Constance Turnbull
Leslie R. Dowker sells Throstle Lodge in 1929, source: The Gazette Dec. 3 1929, this is the last time the Dowkers owned the house.
21082 Lakeshore in Oct. 1959, source: Bethell family via Constance Turnbull, view from the south-west
21082 Lakeshore about 1961 with the addition of a garage (on the right=to the east), Mr. Hickey will replace this part with a much bigger extension, source: Bethell family via Constance Turnbull
Drawing of Tadja Hall by Bonnie P. Folkins, 1989, view from the south, photo: March 2021
Tadja Hall dining room with a portrait of the cat Tadja above the fireplace, photo: March 2021
Tadja the cat, portrait by Point-Claire artist Mary Milligan, photo: March 2021
Leslie R. Dowker bought the land on June 5, 1895 from Hilaire Caron but it is
Arthur Hamilton, the second son of Colonel George Dowker and Susan Wright Leslie,
who presented son George Newton (1883-1967) and his bride Gwen Bagnall (1884-1938)
with "The Cottonwoods" as a wedding present. George Newton and Gwen married July 5, 1911, and the house was built in 1913/1914/1915. George Newton was a Baie-D'Urfé councilor from 1917 to 1923.
The house is today owned by the McGill University.
Cottonwoods, view from the south-east, source: study by Jan Kubanek
Cottonwoods, backyard, Oct. 2020
Cottonwoods in 1992, view from the south-west, source: Constance Turnbull
Cottonwoods, backyard (view from the south-west), Sep. 2020
Cottonwoods, backyard (view from the south-west), Sep. 2020
Cottonwoods, view from the north, Aug. 2020
Cottonwoods, view from the north-west, 1920, source: Fred Dowker via Constance Turnbull
Cottonwoods, view from the west, Apr. 2021
Cottonwoods, view from the north-west, Aug. 2020
Cottonwoods, view from the north-east, Apr. 2021
Cottonwoods, water side, at night, Nov. 2020
Cottonwoods, water side, Sep. 2020
Cottonwoods trees (Poplar trees) at 21048 Lakeshore, Nov. 2020, some of the tree trunks are so big that two people hugging a tree from opposite sides can not reach each others hands
Hugging one of the Cottonwoods trees at 21048 Lakeshore, March 2021
Cottonwoods, water side, summer 1981, source: https://numerique.banq.qc.ca/patrimoine/details/52327/3155721
Cottonwoods, view from the south-west, photo: Jan. 2021
The Cottonwoods, view from the river, about 1920, shows 4 large cottonwoods trees, source: Fred Dowker via Sandy Knoepfel
George Newton Dowker and Gwen Bagnall at their wedding, Feb. 1912, source: Peter McAuslan
Leslie buys the land for Cottonwoods, June 5, 1895; the contract mentions a land of irregualr shape between various points and one of those is a large Cotton Woods tree on the south west, including the tree. The seller, Hilaire Caron had some wooden buildings and a mill on the property. He removed them according to the contract. Source: Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, click to read (opens a pdf file)
Built before 1900 (maybe 1895) by Leslie R. Dowker as a summer cottage. The house is known today as Thomson House because of Professor Lesslie Rielle Thomson (1886-1958) and his spouse Harriet Thomson (born Blackstock, 1894-1990) who lived here from 1949 until 1990. They married on June 20, 1931, and moved to Baie-D'Urfe after the war. They had two daughters, Harriet and Elspeth Barbara. Daugther Harriet lived in the house with her family until 2014.
This house saw almost no external change during the times of the Thomsons. They might have added a very small additional extension to the east. The owner(s?) between Dowker and Thomson added the extension to the east which gave the house an L-shape. A large barn was built on the east end of the property. The current owner changed the extension in 2015 and made it bigger.
A 2004 document about Baie D'Urfe heritage buildings by Pierre Beaupré and Josette Michaud sets the year of construction around 1890. They mention that the house was winterized during the 1940s and an extension was added.
This house is quite important in the context of Baie-D'Urfe. It was built by Vivian Dowker, Baie-D'Urfé's first mayor. The famous architect Edward Maxwell did some addition and alterations in 1911/1912 on this house.
See Baie-D'Urfe "Heritage houses" section for pictures and details.
Dowker Island, view from Town Hall (view from the north-west), June 2020
Dowker Island, view from Town Hall, Oct. 2020
Dowker Island, view from Town Hall, Sep. 2020
Dowker Island, view from the west, Sep. 2020, from this angle one can see to the right the smaller island behind Dowker Island, Madore Island
Dowker Island, view from the west, Sep. 2020, from this angle one can still see a tiny space with "a few trees missing" between Madore Island and Dowker Island
Dowker Island, view from Town Hall, Nov. 2020
Dowker Island, view from the frozen bay, a rare case of perfect ice for skating, Dec. 29, 2020
Panorama view of Dowker Island and the bay, May 2021
Bird-eye view of Dowker Island from Baie-D'Urfe, Sep. 11, 2022
Bird-eye view of Dowker Island from the west, Sep. 11, 2022
Dowker Island is where the waters of the Ottawa River and the St-Laurent River meet. The two rivers have different water colors. The St-Laurent River is more blue-green and the Ottawa River more brown due to higher concentrations of tannic acid (from trees) and higher sediment content. There are three officially named islands around Dowker Island. The islands are marked in the photo below: 1: Caron Island, 2: Madore Island, 3: Daoust Island, 4 and 5: no official name. Daoust Island is the only island that has today a house on the island.
Islands around Dowker, google earth 2017
Daoust Island (3), the island with a summer cottage, photo: March 2020
View from Dowker Island to D'Aoust Island (3), photo: June 2021
The difference in water color between St-Laurent River and Ottawa River is most obvious in aerial images but you can even notice it from the ground.
Difference in water color, photo: July 2021, A=St-Laurent River, B=Ottawa River; the point where the waters mix changes, depends on the water levels in the two rivers.
This group of islands used to be known as "Les Iles Sainte Geneviève" until the mid 1800s when it became Lynch's Island. Named after Peter Lynch (1802-1874) an Irish immigrant and a resident of the parish of St. Joachim de la Pointe Claire (now Beaconsfield). Peter Lynch had besides "Dowker Island" a large farmland from today's Thompson Point in Beaconsfield to the railway tracks as well as a some smaller lots to the north-east. Peter Lynch was married to Sophie Leblanc (1796-1877) who was born in Pointe Claire. Note that there is also a Peter Lynch from Nova Scotia. He was a lawer and lived around the same time as the farmer Peter Lynch. The lawer worked for a few years in Montreal and it is therefore easy to confuse him with the farmer.
A map from 1884 shows a house slightly to the north of the today's Idlewyld ruins. This map is the first really accurate map of these islands. All older maps show the islands with incorrect dimensions or in the wrong place.
St-Annes sailing course map by H.M. Perrault, 1884, the house shown is not Idlewyld, source: BAnQ numerique
Census 1851, pairsh of St-Joachim, farmer Peter Lynch, Sophie Leblanc and their children, source: archives Canada
The Peter Lynch cottage on "Dowker Island" is placed such that he could see it from his farmhouse at "Thompson Point".
Leslie R. Dowker purchased in 1887 (or 1897?) Lynch's Island and it became known as Dowker Island. Leslie was a wholesale leather merchant, and his company, "Dowker, McIntosh & Co.", was located at 70 St-Peter Street (now Rue Saint-Pierre) in Montreal (later at 31 St-Peter), near the old port. He loved his island and he built a house for year-round use around 1900 near the north-eastern tip of the island. He named the house Idlewyld and he lived there until his death in 1945. The house had all the conveniences of a modern house with central heating, running water, and electricity. Note that the Baie-D'Urfe tricentenial book shows 1887 as the year in which Leslie purchased the island. No documents have been found to confirm the exact date. Sometimes 1897 is shown as the year of purchase. One of those is a typo.
Dowker in the Lovels Directory from 1895
Montreal downtown at the time of Leslie Rose Dowker, St Peter Street marked, map from 1895, source: Montreal Archives
Idlewyld on Dowker Island, view from the east, source: Fred Dowker via Constance Turnbull
Idlewyld on Dowker Island, painting by Karen Dowker, 1999, source: Constance Turnbull
The Dowkers at their island, view towards the east, left to right: Spencer Wilcox Dowker (1860-1912), George Newton Dowker (1883-1967), Leslie Rose Dowker (1854-1945), source: F. Dowker via C. Turnbull, ~1897
Leslie R. Dowker, this photo was not taken at Idlewyld because there was no fence, source: Fred Dowker via Constance Turnbull
Leslie R. Dowker dies in his 92nd year, resided on Dowker Island since his retirement 20 years ago, the Gazette, Feb. 22, 1945. Note: the 1881 census mentions that Leslie was born in the USA (Brooklyn, NY) and not in Montreal.
Leslie was known among children as the "Peppermint Man" but it seems that not only the local children liked him. He was featured in a 1898 advertisement. This suggests that he was widely known and respected.
Idlewyld was a large stone house with 4 bedrooms. It was well built and had 2 feet thick stone walls. Leslie tried to sell the property for a short while in the summer of 1928 and the advertisement has a detailed description of the property. It had electricity from a generator and running water as well as central heating via two coal fired furnaces. Leslie's address mentioned in the advertisement is Beaurepaire rather than Baie-D'Urfe. There was no home delivery of mail in those days and one would pick-up mail at the post office but the Baie-D'Urfe office was at that time only operational during the summer month while Beaurepaire had a year-round post office. As a year-round resident Leslie would have preferred the Beaurepaire office.
Dowker Island for sale, The Gazette, Aug. 2, 1928
Aerial photo of Dowker Island May 1930, source: National Air Photo Library, Natural Resources Canada
The earliest available aerial photo is from May 14, 1930. It was taken around the same time as the "for sale advertisement". The earliest clear and sharp aerial photo is from 1948. The 1930 photo is however good enough to confirm that there were no changes between 1930 and 1948. I have numbered in the 1948 photo the different buildings.
The main house, Idlewyld, 4 bedrooms.
Pumphouse (it contained also the generator)
House on Caron Island, "man's house" (probably a one-room building)
Dock for Leslie's motorboat
The area east of Caron Island seems to be used as a small harbor.
Navigation light. This light was still in operation until the 1990s.
The "for sale advertisement" mentions a man's house without further explanations or details. There is no house to the west except for the tiny building on Caron Island. In the 1800s and early 1900s some of the bigger houses would have had a "smoking room" also known as "man's room". Such a room was exclusively for men, a place to socialize and discuss matters of business, smoke and drink. It contained usually a table, some comfortable chairs and a small bar. Leslie was a heavy smoker and he made his own alcohol. It is likely that this small building on Caron Island was such a place.
The ruins of all buildings except the house on Caron Island are still visible. The most impressive one is the main house and you can see how massive those walls were.
The ruins of the main house on Dowker Island, this is the chimney on the southern side of the house, photo: Aug. 2019
The ruins of the main house on Dowker Island, this is one of the corners of the house and you can see how massive those wall were, photo: Aug. 2019
Dowker Island, Idlewyld, chimney, upper part of the chimney, photo: March 2014
The barn is a few hundred feet to the west of the main house. It was destroyed a few years earlier than the main house but it was also a stone building with strong walls and they are visible to this day.
The ruins of the barn, photo: March 2019
Painting of the "Old Dowker Island Stables" by Claire Fauteux (1890-1988), view from the north-west, the Gazette, Sat. Oct. 4, 1947
Riveted metal parts inside the barn, photo: Jan. 2021
Steel barrel that is still in good condition and will probably last another 100 years, photo: Jan. 2021
East end of the barn, photo: Jan. 2021
South-west end of the barn, photo: Jan. 2021
If you know who the current owner of the Claire Fauteux "Vieilles Écuries, Dowker Island" painting is then let me know. Maybe it is possible to get a better photo of this painting.
A solid steel barrel stands near the southern wall inside the barn. The barrel has several millimeter thick walls. It is certainly going back to Leslie Dowker's times. Modern steel barrels are made of thin tin plated steel and would be rusted through in a decade. There is also a large metal container or machine part of some sort. This part is riveted around the edges. It is old and original because today such a metal structure would be welded, not riveted.
Leslie brought the rock for the construction of the house from Ile-Perrot and it is different from the rock
naturally found on Dowker Island. The natural rock on Dowker Island is grey and remains completely grey as it weathers. The rock used for most of the buildings is a little different. The rock used for the barn is again a different rock than the one used for the main house, the pump house and the dock in the north. The main house, the pump house and the dock were built with the same rock. This rock becomes porous and sometimes brown as it weathers. Small holes develop on the surface over time. These holes are not very deep and do not have any structural impact. They develop because those areas of the stone are softer and wash out. The sand used for the cement is red. The rock used for the barn becomes a little bit brown but develops only very few pores or non at all. It is similar to the rock found naturally on Dowker Island.
Outside wall of the main house: 1) rock area not exposed to rain, 2) rock develops small holes on the surface as it weathers, 3) red cement, photo: Feb. 2021
Rock naturally occuring on Dowker Island: it has horizontal layers and remains grey, it does not develop a porous surface, photo: Feb. 2021
Caron Island is a tiny island to the west and one could walk from Dowker Island to Caron Island through waist-deep water. There are no ruins left on Caron Island and this is probably because somebody built a bigger wooden cottage on that island in the 70s. The original "man's house" must have been removed before that cottage was built. It is however still possible to see where that small harbor would have been. There are a few bushes and some reed grass growing to the east of Caron Island (between Caron Island and Dowker Island) but the water is a bit deeper right next to Caron Island.
Caron Island as seen from the shore of Dowker Island, photo: March 2019
Aerial photo from 1975, a new cottage can be seen on Caron Island, the barn has no roof, Idlewyld is still standing, source: Archives de la Ville de Montreal
The cottage on Caron Island was built by Gerard Tardif, at the time a notary at 278 Lakeshore in Pointe-Claire.
Parts of the original boat dock on the northern end of the island are still there and very visible even from far away. Next to it is a cement block. This block was the foundation of a navigation light that stood here until the 1990s.
Dowker island navigation light cement base, photo: Aug. 2019
Dowker island navigation light cement base, photo: Feb. 2021
Dowker island navigation light in the summer of 1981, souce: http://numerique.banq.qc.ca/ patrimoine/details/52327/3155721
To the east are the foundations of the pump and generator house and this is also where you can see the flat rock mentioned in Sandy Knoepfel's article. The area is a beautiful bay, ideal for swimming.
Foundations of the pump house, photo: March 2020
The pump house ruins, the ice pushed during the last winter the water intake pipe out from under the rocks. It is a galvanized steel pipe; photo: June 2021
The bay to the east, photo: Aug. 2019
Natural sheets of flat rock form steps into the water, photo: July 2020
These natural steps into the water allow you to see what the normal water level was thousands of years ago! The top last step that used to be normally under water has a wave pattern in the stone. No other step has this pattern. Water waves reflected off the end of the step causing standing waves and this process etched a wave pattern into the top step. The water level is at the moment during most summers lower than the historic normal and the step with the wave pattern is dry. This makes it easy to take a clear picture. The next higher step does not have any pattern because there is rarely any water, but the step below does not have any patter either because the water surface with the waves is too high up. It is just this one step, which is had maybe an inch of water on it that has this wave pattern.
The step on the left was historically most of the time just below the water's surface and has a wave patter etched into it. Photo: July 2021. Side note: the water level was in June 2019 at the "correct historic level".
When looking from the bay on Dowker Island along the river towards Montreal on a clear day, you can see the Saint Joseph's Oratory on Mount Royal as well as the downtown Montreal skyscrapers. From near the ruins, you see the church in Pointe-Claire to the right of Saint Joseph's Oratory of Mount Royal. From the southern end of Dowker Island, you have a more unobstructed view and the Pointe-Claire church is to the left of Mount Royal.
View towards Montreal, photo: Jan. 2019
View towards Montreal, photo: Aug. 2019, the church in the front is in Point Claire
View from near Madore Island towards Montreal, photo: March 2020
View from the Dowker bay towards Montreal, photo: June 2021
View from the southern end of Dowker Island towards Montreal, photo: June 2021
There are trees next to the ruins on Dowker Island that are nearly as old as the ruins. One stands next to the barn and another one next to the main house. Both are really large and beautifully grown maple trees. Those trees were already big trees in Lesslie Dowker's times and they are still standing today. These two trees must have been 30-40 years old in 1948 based on the size of the crown seen in the aerial photos and the trunk size shown in the Claire Fauteux painting.
Large trees still standing today marked in green. Pond/hole marked in orange, source: Archives de la Ville de Montreal
Tree (1) next to the main building, photo: Jan 2021
Tree (1), view from the main house, photo: Jan 2021
Tree (2) next to the barn, photo: Jan 2021
Tree (2) as seen in the painting by Claire Fauteux, the Gazette, Sat. Oct. 4, 1947
Mysterious pond or water hole; marked as (3) in the above aerial photo; photo: Jan. 2021; it is filled with water most of the time but dries out during the summer
Leslie had a caretaker, David Girard. He continued to live for a while at Idlewyld after Leslie's death in February of 1945. He did however remove some wood and two engines from the island, and this resulted in a dispute between the Dowkers and the caretaker. The island remained uninhabited and the Dowkers sold it in 1949 to new owners who incorporated as "Dowker Park Inc". The capital stock of the company was $40000 and that is probably related to the price at which Dowker Island was bought. The island was then available for some time as a vacation rental. Lucille and Gerard Tardif bought the company "Dowker Park Inc" in 1956. After a number of vandalism incidents, the windows were bricked over. Idlewyld burned down in 1977. The Tardif family made in 1985 an attempt to restore Idlewyld but another fire ended that project. Dowker Island is still a private island, but you can't build anymore and the beautiful nature around the island as well as the island itself are now enjoyed by many people who go there by boat or walk over the ice during the winter.
Dowker Park Inc, announcement in the Quebec official Gazette, 1949, source: https://collections.banq.qc.ca /ark:/52327/2358533
Idlewyld as a vacation rental, the Gazette, June 29, 1950, the picture is slightly edited, the adv. was one of many, click picture for original
Idlewyld windows bricked over, photo circa 1960, Fred Dowker with his 4 children (Lynda, Karen, Susan, George), source: Fred Dowker via Constance Turnbull
Dowker Island fires in 1977, it is unknown in which paper this appeared (it's not the Gazette), source: Fred Dowker via Constance Turnbull
Idlewyld about 1980, source: Fred Dowker via Constance Turnbull
Idlewyld about 1985, source: Fred Dowker via Constance Turnbull
The outdoor scenes for a 1956/1957 CBC TV children's series were shot on Dowker Island. The series was called "Radisson" in Canada and "Tomahawk" in the US. It features fur trader and explorer Pierre-Esprit Radisson. Pierre-Esprit Radisson is a real historic figure but the TV story is fictional. The TV series had 39 episodes, 30min each.
Most of the scenes seems to have been shot on the east side (Idlewyld is to the west) of the island along the shore facing Beaconsfield.
Radisson TV series, source: Ottawa Citizen, Jan. 18, 1957
CBC archives: Outdoor scenes for the Radisson TV series. This screne is shot on the east side of the Dowker Island bay.
The Dowker bay is beautiful but it is deep enough for larger boats and it can get quite busy during the summer.
The water between Madore Island and Dowker Island is only 1-2m deep and with the occasional bolder at the bottom it is an area that is not easily accessible to larger boats especially motor boats. You can see Montreal in the distance but it feels like being far out in the wilderness. It's a beautiful spot to observe animals. You can see heros, golden eagles, all kinds of smaller birds, schools of fish, dragon flies and turtles. There is a beaver and you can see otters. It's really quiet and peaceful. It's a special place.
Area between Dowker Island and Madore Island, view towards the west, Dowker Island is the island on the right, photo: June 2021
Herons, photo: June 2021
A turtle on a rock in the sun, photo: June 2021
Area between Dowker Island and Madore Island, view towards the north-east, photo: June 2021
Leslie Dowker owned a piece of land near the crossing of Lakeshore and Apple Hill. The history of this "access to Dowker Island" remains a bit of a mystery. Please let me know if you have any more detailed information or documents that could help to figure out how it really was.
We know that he had a harbor and next to the harbor was a metal shed. There was also a small spring that provided fresh drinking water (Idlewyld had only water from the river).
For decades there was no public access to the water in the eastern part of Baie-D'Urfé. To get to Dowker Island one could only go via Town Hall or via the Lakeview boat launch in Beaconsfield. Thanks to the efforts of Mayor Maria Tutino and the council we have since 2018 a way to get to the water. The town owns now two lots and maintains on both lots a nice footpath to the water. One of those two lots was probably part of Leslie's access to Dowker Island.
An aerial photo from 1948 shows clearly where Leslie's shed and the harbor were (both marked in pink). Surprisingly it's a part of what is today 20094 Lakeshore (area marked in blue). The house at 20094 was built in 1920, many years after Leslie bought the island and this access to the island. In other words Leslie was there first and before the house at 20094 Lakeshore was built yet he is almost sharing the backyard with 20094 while there would be plenty of space just a few feet to the west. The lot marked in green is town property since 2018. The lot marked in red was already town property before 2018 but did not have a footpath to the water.
Aerial photo from 1948, Dowker Island access, source: Archives de la Ville de Montreal
Dowker Island access, photo: google earth Oct. 2017
Pink: harbor and shed
Blue: this is today 20094 Lakeshore
Orange: Probably Leslie's part of 20094 Lakeshore
Green: Maybe also Leslie's access, now owned by the Town of Baie-D'Urfé
Red: now owned by the Town of Baie-D'Urfé
There are many questions and theories around this Dowker Island access but nothing is really confirmed. It's quite possible that Leslie owned originally the green lot and the blue lot, possibly even the whole stretch from green to red, but decided later that he did not really need everything and sold a portion. The new owner built the house that is today 20094 but Leslie reserved a right of way for himself when selling the land.
Town property, photo: July 2020
Foot path on town property, photo: Oct. 2020
Spring near the bottom of the foot path, photo: Aug. 2020
Foot path on town property, many people come with cross coutry ski or snow shoes, photo: Feb. 2020
View from the end of the foot path to Dowker Island, photo: Oct. 2019
View from the Leslie Dowker harbor to the island, the path he would have taken by boat is marked in orange, photo: Oct. 2020
Leslie Dowker harbor, Dec. 3, 2019, the harbor is located at a point where the water stays open a little longer. You can see in the photo ice to the right and water to the left.
Sign at the lot opposite Apple Hill road, public access to the water, photo: Nov. 2021
Leslie's shed was still standing somewhere when Jan Kubanek wrote his study in 1992. It's unknown at what point it was removed. It stood originally where you see today the garden house at 20094 Lakeshore. It might have been moved some time ago to the "green lot" but today it is no longer there.
Leslie R. Dowker shed, source: study by Jan Kubanek, 1992
20094 Lakeshore, view from the water side, Leslie's shed stood originally were you see today the small garden house (building on the left with the red chairs in front), photo: Oct. 2020
20094 Lakeshore, view from the water side, the house that stood already in Leslie's times is the building to the right (black roof). The harbor is in the center-front and covered in snow. Photo: March 2020
20094 Lakeshore, view from the water side, Leslie Dowker harbor on the left, photo: 1985, source IP-BDU-2004-2
20094 Lakeshore, view from the north-east, photo: Jan. 2021, Leslie's part/right of way would have been to the right of the main house
The person that built in the 70s the cottage on Caron Island used a metal barge during the construction. This might have been the same barge mentioned in Francine Ranger-Smith's document (see further up). Parts of the barge were still on the "green lot" when the town purchased it in 2018 but the barge has since been removed.
The best time to explore Dowker Island is either during the summer by boat or in winter when the ice is strong enough. This means for most winters February and March. I prefer to go during the winter. There are no mosquitos and the ruins are easier to see without leaves on the vegetation.
The currents in this area are generally not strong, allowing for a thick layer of ice. The exception is however the area between Madore Island and Dowker Island. If you need to pass through this area then stay on one side. Never walk in the middle.
The water is deep west of Madore Island but the channel between Madore Island and Dowker Island is shallow. This increases the flow of water slightly and it makes it more difficult to form a good layer of ice.
I have been observing the area around Dowker Island for a number of years. To make it easier I have drawn an "ice map" showing where the ice is generally safe. Green are the areas where the ice will be the strongest. The red area should be avoided. Orange are areas where the currents are such that the ice will freeze late in the winter. Note that small differences in the water level between St-Laurent River and Ottawa River can shift the different areas on the "ice map" a bit.
Never go onto the ice during times when the temperatures are fluctuating. You want a number of consecutive cold days with no new snow. It is safer to not go alone.
Dowker Island ice map; do not walk in the red area
View from Ile Perrot to Madore Island, photo: Jan. 2021; an ice rink in the front but open water just a little bit further back; be very careful in this area
Reed grass at dowker island; areas near reed grass and other plants freeze later and there could be unstable ice; photo: Jan. 2021; those are very shallow areas but you could never the less get wet boots
Turn around after a few hundred meters and try to memorize the shoreline before going further out onto the ice
Winter sunset, Jan 2019
The "ice map" shows some orange dots along the shore. These are points where water runs into the river from small streams or storm drains. One such point is to the west of the town lot (the lot between 20100 and 20094, marked in green further up). A storm drain runs here at the west-end of the town lot into the water carrying potentially water mixed with road salt. There is also a small spring right at the end of the footpath (the footpath is to the east). A stream runs into the river at the town lot between 20086 and 200042 (the lot marked in red further up). This stream can carry a lot of water and it can be meltwater mixed with road salt. I avoid that access during the winter.
The weather conditions out on the open ice can be quite different from the weather on land. The wind will be much stronger. Try to avoid windy days. It is a good idea to turn around after walking for a few hundred meters and to look for a moment at the shoreline. Try to memorize it. There are no streets or markers on the open ice and the sun sets early in the winter. It could be difficult to find your way back home when you are far out on the ice and you don't know the shape of the shoreline.
What happens if you go through the ice? If there are currents or your velocity is high (snowmobile) then it can be difficult to find again the hole in the ice when you come back up. Fortunately that is not the case when you walk in this area because the water is generally flowing slowly. The main problem is that it could be difficult to get a grip somewhere to pull yourself out. A ski pole or some sort of a stick with metal at the end (sold as self-rescue Ice Picks or just a bigger screwdriver) can save your life in such a case because you can stick it into the snow/ice and then pull yourself out. Liquid water has at least 0°C and is warmer than the air and the snow around you. Don't panic and wait a moment to calm down. Pull yourself forward out of the hole and in the direction from where you came. Crawl until you are on stronger ice. I have never gone through the ice entirely but I went through the ice with one leg. Wring out your socks and use "snow powder" to dry your boots and cloth. Cold and dry snow absorbs water.
View from Beaconsfield
The closest access to Dowker Island from Beaconsfield is the Lakeview boat launch. It is about 50% further away form Dowker Island than the town lot at the end of Apple Hill (next to 20094 Lakeshore). However, you can see the Idlewyld ruins from the Beaconsfield shore.
The Idlewyld ruins are visible from the Lakeview boat launch in Beaconsfield, Oct. 2020
Dowker Island as seen from Beaconsfield, Lakeview boat launch, Oct. 2020
Dowker Island as seen from Beaconsfield, Lakeview boat launch, Feb. 2019
Dowker Island as seen from Beaconsfield, Angell Park, Feb. 2014
Ruins of the main house and the generator/pump house as seen with binoculars from the Lakeview boat launch, photo: Jan. 2021
I would like to thank Jan Kubanek for the scanned copy of his study and I would like to thank the McGill University Library for making the study available online via the eScholarship platform. I would also like to thank Sandy Knoepfel for making all the material used for her N&V articles available to me. A special thank you goes to Constance Turnbull who showed me Tadja Hall and shared many interesting photos. Last but not least a big thanks to Fred Dowker and his wife who are themselves very interested in history and were happy to share photos and information.
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