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Bullfrog by Deke Welles

Updated: Aug 25, 2020

In 1990, I suggested to my four siblings that we build another family camp.  We all shared Cricket Island and loved it, but were finding it difficult to squeeze in sufficient Desbarats time without extensive overlap and strain on kitchen, beds . . . and each other. Another camp would free up vacation availability and create more opportunities for us and our kids to see one another.

Everyone agreed that this was a good idea, but they did not have the same sense of urgency: another camp was a “nice to have” item, not a “must have” convenience.  Being only a seven hour drive away, still desirous of alleviating some of the Cricket congestion, and warming to the idea of having a place of our own, I received permission from my brothers and sister to build our own place. 

My father once observed that if anyone was ever to build on the mainland parcel purchased by my grandparents many years ago, a good site probably existed above a large flat rock along the shore opposite the northeastern edge of Coatsworth.  Hopie, our kids and I walked around this area in the summer of 1991 and though the trees were so dense it was difficult to get an exact feel for the view, we concurred.  We confirmed the locations for both the main house and sleeping cabin in early April of 1992 and commenced building that summer.

Some friends who owned Town & Country Cedar Homes helped us with the design of our cabins.  The main living area is reminiscent of Cricket with a long dining table at one end and a fireplace at the other.  We liked the notion of a sleeping loft such as at the Scott Welles camp, hence a very high ceiling.  Often the kitchen gets relegated to the rear of a Desbarats building. We desired ours to be out front so that those in the cooking area could see the lake and be part of the action, yet we wished to be able to close it off when the occasion called for it. Finally, we decided to insulate and provide heat to the main house to enable late fall or winter visits.

Such visits would require potable water in addition to heat.  Rather than boil lake water (once we chopped through the ice), we decided that digging a well would do the trick.  There is a lot of good quality underground water and quite a few wells along the north shore of the Desbarats area.  Most of the water around us had been located between 5 and 75 feet below ground level.  To be safe, we budgeted drilling down to 100 feet.  After 275 feet we had no more than a slow, inadequate flow.  We attempted a second well with similar, meager results. Plan B: for winter we would use a “heat trace” to keep our lake water supply from freezing – and boil our drinking water.

At the beginning of May, 1993 our structures were complete.  Hopie and I met the moving van with our “settlers’ effects” at Canada Customs. They reviewed our list of goods and ushered us through without even opening the truck.  Perhaps if they had studied it more thoroughly and noticed that we had a bull’s head on board we would have been detained.

Many places in Desbarats have some sort of wild animal head on the wall.  Often they are moose (such as at Cricket) or deer.  We had decided to name our camp “Bullfrog” in honor of my grandparents who had the foresight to procure the land we were going to occupy. The original Bullfrog was a large mahogany inboard, subsequently converted to inboard-outboard drive. Many people in Desbarats still carry the image in their minds of the wonderful, diminutive Betty Welles piloting the big craft around the lake.  So if our camp was to be named Bullfrog, shouldn’t we have a bull? 

We performed quite a search for a bull’s head and I thought I had zeroed in on one in Matamoros, Mexico. It was a fighting bull on the wall of a restaurant.  I left the purchase negotiations to a business colleague.  Some months later, actually one week before the moving van was scheduled, my associate called confirming that our bull had been procured. I said, “Good, you finally got that fighting bull.”  He replied, “No, I was unsuccessful, but I found one in Brownsville, TX instead. It’s nice but not quite the same.” “What does it look like?” I asked. “It’s got big ears.”

On May 8, 1993 the bull was hung on the fireplace.  Bullfrog was complete.

. . . Oh, about spending some winter time in Desbarats.  On Dec. 26, 1993 Hope, our three kids and I ventured up to enjoy the beauty of Desbarats in the snow and ice.  It got rather chilly that evening and we had a frozen pipe problem.  I called our caretaker the next morning and asked, “How cold did it get last night?”  He said, “Minus forty.”  Attempting to be a smart aleck, I responded, “Celsius or Fahrenheit?”  His reply: “If you look at your thermometer, you’ll see that they are one and the same at that temperature.”

We gave winter one more shot in 1994.  As of this writing in 2008, we have yet to return.  (And as of this writing in 2020, this still holds true.)

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