Gordon McCormack - September 1978

Gordon McCormack – September 1978

Many long time Baysville residents have passed away and as time goes on the collective memory pool recalling these people gets smaller.  Gordon McCormack  like many of his generation  made a significant impact on his community and a  lot of water has passed under the Baysville bridge since Gordon passed away in 1978.  Here’s a piece of his story.

During the early 1940s, Gordon worked for Eaton’s of College Street  in the hardware department. He dreamed of owning his own general store. One day one of his regular customers casually mentioned to him that he knew of such a store for sale in a place called Baysville. Gordon had a wife Rhona, a son David and a baby daughter Ruthie to consider but he felt that this might be an opportunity to make a new life outside of the city. He traveled to Baysville, which at that time was not the easy commute we know today. Highway 11  was two lanes of less than stellar pavement and the “highway” leading into Baysville from Bracebridge  (then known as King’s Highway 118) was a pitiful winding roadway.  It was so bad, that annual spring flooding literally cut Baysville off from southern points for days at a time. Gordon made the trek and met with Mr. Bill Smith, the owner and proprietor of the general store overlooking the South Muskoka River on what is now North Road. There’s no doubt that Gordon knew in the first minute he was looking at his life’s dream. The two men agreed on a price and with the help of family & friends Gordon borrowed what was needed to meet the terms. To aid in the transition of ownership, Bill worked in the store until Gordon became familiar with the store’s operation and the customers.  Given the poor road conditions at that time, most local residents shopped at the 3 general stores in BaysvilleFindlay’s, Langmaid’s and McCormack’s. This fact made it easy to meet virtually everyone in short order. Once the transition was complete, Gordon moved Rhona, David & Ruthie to Baysville and the business was officially renamed McCormack’s General Store.

McCormack's General Store - 1959

McCormack’s General Store – 1959

Gordon found himself to be a hero one day in 1947.  Nine year old Leonard Slater was playing with David and fell into the water off the public dock in front of the store. It was at the deepest part and Leonard had sunk out of sight. David ran and got Gordon who jumped in without thinking and rescued Leonard from the bottom of the river. Gordon could not swim a stroke.  Leonard grew up to be a North Bay city policeman. Sadly, it was not Leonard’s destiny to live a long life as he was shot on duty while responding to a robbery and died in 1970. He was 32.

In the 1950s the sale of boats and Johnson Outboards became a significant part of the General Store’s business.  It was at this time that McCormack’s Baysville Marine became a separate business from the store and operated out of the two boathouse buildings at the foot of North Road.  Gordon and David ran Baysville Marine together with David being the master service

Gordon with Carl Kiekhaefer - August 1964 - Bigwin Inn

Gordon & Carl Kiekhaefer – August 1964 – Bigwin Inn

mechanic and Gordon handling sales. In the mid ’50s  Kiekhaefer Mercury Outboards came to Canada. In the spring of 1957  McCormack’s Baysville Marine became  the second Mercury dealer in Canada and the business continued to see much success. So much so that Gordon won an all-expense paid trip from Mercury to their annual dealer convention for having sold so many Merc products in 1964. Incredibly, the convention site chosen was Bigwin Inn ! Gordon while disappointed was undaunted and hopped in one of his own boats and drove up the lake to Bigwin.  Carl Kiekhaefer, President of Mercury thought that this didn’t amount to much of a prize and told Gordon that he didn’t care how many Merc Outboards  Gordon

Bigwin Inn - 1964

Bigwin Inn – 1964

sold next year - he was going to the next convention for sure. As it turned out, 1965 was an even better sales year and Gordon legitimately won his trip – this time the Mercury convention was held in Tampa Florida.

During the winter of 1960/61, Gordon brought the first snowmobile to Baysville – a SkiDoo. Very few residents had seen one and couldn’t figure out what the noise was as Gordon roared up and down the streets of the village after dark. It caused quite a stir.

The store and the marine business took up a lot of Gordon’s time yet over the years he involved himself in the community through volunteerism and public service. Gordon was one of several local men who were instrumental in fund raising and the construction of the original Baysville Community Centre in 1952. He was on the McLean Township Council for many years, as well as the Muskoka District School Board and the Muskoka Land Division Committee. By 1965, the strain of running two enterprises was becoming too much so Gordon sold his beloved general store and focused on the marina. For a variety of reasons the new owner of the store literally ran it into bankruptcy by 1969 and Gordon ended up taking it back. He ran it for the 1969 season gradually rebuilding the lost clientele and once again sold it in 1970. The store was operated for a time by different families but never saw the success of its’ heyday again. Ultimately, it closed and sat derelict for many years finally being demolished in 2009.

McCormack's Baysville Marine - 1959

McCormack’s Baysville Marine – 1959

During the spring of 1966, an employee at the marina had a mishap, which resulted in a runaway boat. It was operating at full throttle, running a tight circle in front of the marina and progressively migrating down river with each revolution. Gordon hopped in another boat, warned the swimmers at the public dock of the danger and then began running his boat in a tight circle gradually making his way closer to the runaway in hopes of forcing it to shore. Didn’t work – so David in his quiet way decided on more drastic action. He produced a .306 rifle and literally shot the gas line clean off the engine which brought the boat to a stop in due course. Gordon looked on in stunned amazement.  If YouTube had existed back then, David would have been world famous – that was a shot that an army sniper would have been hard pressed to make !

In June 1968, a fellow named Paul Kay walked into the marina wanting to buy a new boat. Gordon had just taken on the Winner boat line – a boat noted for its’ ability to make extraordinarily sharp turns. Gordon took Paul out for a demo ride and wanting to show Paul this boat’s turning ability, Gordon abruptly cut the wheel .  When Gordon turned to ask Paul what he thought of that,  Paul was no longer in the boat.  Once fished out of the lake, Paul was so impressed that he bought the boat !

Mercury Logo - 1963Gordon and David continued to operate McCormack’s Baysville Marine and the business thrived.  Customers were treated as friends and came back year after year. Gordon took much pride in the fact that his customers saw him as a friend and not just a service provider. Sales grew exponentially with many new boat lines being added. David’s reputation as a gifted mechanic was well known and even  years later, many old time cottagers asked if he still “fixed boats”.

One day in 1973 a customer walked in to the marina and picked out a new Sidewinder boat for his 15 year old daughter’s birthday.  Gordon quoted him the price at which point the customer offered to “flip” for the boat – he would pay double the price if he lost the toss. Knowing the customer well, Gordon impulsively agreed and handed a quarter to me –  ”Heads” he said “Flip it Dan !” I could see the sweat on his brow and tossed the coined.  I knew a lot was at stake and thankfully the stars aligned – the quarter came up Heads.  The customer who was well-heeled burst out laughing and ponied up the cost. Gordon thanked him and then went somewhere to collect himself.  I saw that boat around the lake for many years and it always made me recall that day.

McCormack’s Baysville Marine was sold in March 1977 as Gordon then 65 was looking to retirement. Gordon stayed with the new owner for a season to assist in the transition just as Bill Smith had done for him many years before. David stayed with the marina until 1984 and then retired to New Liskeard Ontario. The marina changed hands over the years and operates today beside the original location under a different name.

Gordon  retired in late 1977  and was looking forward to spending his twilight years in Florida over the winters to come.  That was not to be.  His retirement was cut short when he suffered a fatal heart attack and died  the day after Christmas 1978.  The large oak tree near the center of the Baysville Horticultural Park was planted to commemorate his life. Like Gordon’s general store, the buildings which comprised McCormack’s Baysville Marine no longer exist. Progress dictates that things change over time whether we wish it or not.

In June 2004,  McCormack’s Cottage Maintenance & Security commenced operations continuing the family tradition of providing reliable customer service to Lake of Bays area cottagers.

Gordon McCormack made a difference in his community and his legacy I believe is that over 35 years after he left us, his name still comes up in conversation generating many humorous and heart warming stories. This happens routinely when I’m talking with my customers. I grew up watching Gordon run his businesses and naturally adopted his way of ensuring the customer was always treated fairly and came away receiving good value for dollar spent.   I’m his youngest son and speaking for my sister Ruthie and my late brother  David we are proud to have called him  ”Dad”.

Dan McCormack

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