In today’s post, Jess Matthews, Chief Naturalist of Rondeau Provincial Park, takes us back in time…
There may have been a time when you used your paddle to get through the white caps. Other times, it dragged you calmly over quiet wetlands.
They are a lifesaver. Solid, reliable; something that won’t break down on any trip you’re on.
But what if we told you that a paddle can also take you back in time to the beginning of the provincial park system? A time when the only two superintendents of Ontario parks were within 600 kilometers of each other and correspondence was primarily by letter.
Just two paddles are tangible pieces of history that connects Algonquin Provincial Park and Rondeau Provincial Park through a story of beginnings, friendships and marriage.
Let’s take you back
The year is 1898 and George W. Bartlett has just been hired to be the new superintendent of Algonquin.
Everything was new. The Ontario Parks system had just begun and Bartlett worked to meet the demands for a superintendent commensurate with the values of the time.
One of his most notable accomplishments would be the creation of a “country line” telephone system through the park so that information could travel more quickly to the countryside.
Left: Isaac Gardiner. Right: George W. Bartlett
He would go on to be Algonquin’s superintendent for 25 years.
Some years earlier, about 600 miles to the southwest, Isaac Gardiner became Rondeau’s first superintendent.
Similarly, he worked within the politics and public values of the time to make Rondeau an exciting place for those seeking an outdoor experience.
They would be the only two superintendents who would be entrusted with the only two provincial parks, until 1913.
Not surprisingly, these two men reached out and consulted on all things Ontario parks.
The letters and telegraphs they sent to each other eventually resulted in meetings and friendship.
A special connection
Bartlett often traveled to Rondeau and spent time with the Gardiner family, becoming very good friends with Isaac and his family during the years they spent together.
Their friendship continued until 1913, when Isaac Gardiner died.
Isaac’s death did not stop the continuing relationships between the two families.
Bartlett continued to visit Rondeau and eventually married Isaac Gardiner’s daughter, Mary Gardiner, in 1922.
That same year, Gardiner decided to retire from his position in Algonquin and settle with his new wife in Ridgetown, a small community outside Rondeau.
As a retirement gift, Ontario Parks gave Bartlett a set of paddles. He brought them with him to his home in Ridgetown.
When he died, he bequeathed the oars to his wife, Mary Gardiner, and she left them to her lawyer to decide what to do with them.
Finally the family gave them to Rondeau, since this had been one of Bartlett’s favorite places.
Find a new home
The paddles are now part of the Ontario Parks History exhibit at the Rondeau Visitor Centre.
Every year, thousands of people pass through Rondeau and observe the paddles that connected the lives of the early years in Ontario parks.
See history in person!
Rondeau Provincial Park is open year-round.