Willy Waterton: A Journey Through the Golden Age of Georgian Bay Life

For the Mountain Life Blue Mountains Photo Issue we asked several of our regular photographers to pick a handful of their finest shots, and to tell the stories behind them. Longtime shooter, Willy Waterton takes us on a visual journey through the Golden Age of Georgian Bay life.



Dorothea Bumstead sweeps the doorway of the East Linton general store in March 1980. I was attracted by the old metal signs advertising soft drinks adorning the store’s exterior. Dorothea’s relatives the Larters opened the East Linton general store in 1911 and the building stills stands at the corner of Grey County Road 1 and the East Linton Sideroad west, now as a residence. Little had changed over the years when I photographed Dorothea at work. You could still buy a paper bag of rolled oats by imperial weight.

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Duncan Moulton, the last commercial fisherman in Owen Sound, August 1980. I came across Dunc while poking around the back roads of Grey County. He and his wife Eleanor spent summers in a cottage at Johnson Harbour near the mouth of Owen Sound. Dunc had fished Owen Sound since he was big enough to help his father John and two older brothers William and James. He told me he was “around 80” as I tried to gain his confidence. Once he learned my family had settled the area close by in the mid 1840s, he softened and soon I was following him in my kayak as he motored offshore a couple of miles to check his nets. I nearly flipped as I took a long shot with a telephoto lens as he pulled nets from his cedar-strip runabout. Much later we found out we were distantly related by marriage. Duncan Moulton died in 1988, “around 88”.





Wilma Ward feeding her chickens, September 1986. Sisters Sadie and Wilma Ward carried on a family farming tradition that started when their father Walter brought 98 acres at the north end of Bass lake in 1904 for a cream operation. After his death in 1951, the Ward sisters ran the farm in northern Grey County by themselves with only seasonal help. A day began at 6:30 am when the sisters milked 13 Holsteins and ended 15 hours later after a second milking. Asked why they continued to farm after 35 years Sadie, 64 at the time, said, ”We both enjoy it, partly because you are your own boss”. Wilma, 66, said her last holiday was in 1967. “I went to Expo and I haven’t missed a milking since.”



Cecil and Edith Brown, the last cottagers on Emmett Lake near Tobermory, August 1989. Through a Tobermory acquaintance, I learned the Browns were to to be evicted from their cottage on Emmett Lake when the Ontario government turned over their land to the federal government for the newly established Bruce Peninsula National Park. The Browns had been on the lake since the early ‘60s. Over their time at Emmett Lake the Browns had become caretakers of the lake, keeping an eye on boaters and campers and more than once put out campfires left burning. Cecil, known as “Brownie”, knew the best fishing holes after spending so many years on the lake. After this photograph and story appeared in papers across the country, Parks Canada negotiated a lease allowing the Browns to use the cottage indefinitely. We became friends with the Browns until their deaths (Cecil at 100 in 2005; Edith at 96 in 2010).


Police and First Nation members treated each other with respect—though it was serious situation, it never felt threatening. At one point both sides escorted an ambulance from Tobermory through their respective barriers.” —Willy Waterton


Members of Cape Croker and Saugeen First Nations man one of seven barriers erected across Highway 6, 16 km east of Tobermory, September 1990. The barriers were erected to protest lack of action on local land claims. After being informed that Highway 6 was barricaded I rushed up the Bruce to find the road was indeed blocked just north of the Johnston Harbour Sideroad. Having connections with members of Cape Croker I was allowed free access to this barrier and I spent most of the day photographing from both sides. Police and First Nation members treated each other with respect—though it was serious situation, it never felt threatening. At one point both sides escorted an ambulance from Tobermory through their respective barriers. The land claims have yet to be resolved.



W.A. “Bill” Waterton was a Royal Air Force Squadron Leader during the Second World War and a test pilot after the war. With the anniversary of the 100th year of powered flight in 2003, I knew that my father was a likely candidate for a story along with the fact he was in his 87th year and hadn’t told his story since his 1956 memoir, The Quick and the Dead. He agreed to a photograph, providing the aircraft propeller in the background had three blades—not two as on regular Cessna 152s or 172s. After a few phone calls I found a three-bladed aircraft at the Billy Bishop airport in Owen Sound; the only catch was the aircraft was behind a five-foot snow drift and Bill at this point wasn’t the steadiest on his feet. After I explained the situation, airport manager Jeff Beckett and a former RCAF F18 fighter pilot who had seen action in the Gulf War happily offered to blow out the snow drift. Bill and I drove up to the nose of the plane where Jeff met us and helped as I set up a flash unit and stool for Bill to pose on in his flight jacket.


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The real story behind this shot is about the mount I made that allowed me to strap my full-frame Nikon D4 to Taylor Rowlands’ chest and fire it off trailside via Pocket Wizard. I am 300 feet back in the bush tripping the shutter on this. It was exceedingly dark in this forest, with barely enough natural light to make an exposure. I wanted to convey some motion and dragged the shutter as slow as 1/30th of a second on this one. Even at that exposure, I was at ISO 18,102, which is out of bounds even for my mighty D4. Sometimes you have to push your gear past the in-spec limit to get the shot… Read more


MLBM_coverFrom the new Mountain Life Blue Mountains Spring Photo issue. Available now. Read more about what’s in the issue, check the online edition here or pick up a free print copy at Blue Mountain Resort and Blue Mountain Village; various locations in the Georgian Bay/Blue Mountains/Barrie/GTA region including Loblaws, Foodland, Valu-MartSquire Johns, The Barn Co-op, Scenic Caves, Kamikaze, all MEC StoresCorbetts Oakville, Tom Thomson Art Gallery, Scandinave Spa,and elsewhere.