BEND PICNIC WAS BIG EVENT
Fifty years ago one of the big days of the year was the Sunday School picnic. For many it was perhaps the one and only day of the year when a visit would be made to Grand Bend. It was a day we looked forward to with great anticipation and preparation.
In those days livery stables provided the horses and the necessary vehicles to carry the large crowd. I attended the James Street Sunday School and to provide travelling accommodation for the pupils it was necessary to secure buses from Crediton, Dashwood, Centralia or Hensall and from the two liveries in Exeter. When packed the buses must have carried about 30 youngsters with a chaperone or two in each bus. The night before the picnic the dishes were packed at the church; a bee was held for squeezing lemons, for without lemonade no picnic would be a success. A large milk can, bigger than the ones you see today, was used for making the lemonade. Hot tea was also a necessity for others. A special vehicle was used to convey the baskets and the sports equipment.
The buses would gather at the church between eight and nine o'clock in the morning. When most of the buses were on hand the word was sounded to "pile in" and the scramble for position began. Then someone would come to the back of the bus and ask "Is there room for any more?" and several others would be squeezed in. There was disappointment when some had to wait for the late buses.
The trip over rutty, dusty roads took about two and a half hours. It was fun to alight from the bus and run along beside it. One year I am certain that I ran several miles along the Dashwood road. There were few cottages in what was the Exeter side at Grand Bend and there were several long tables. The horses were tied to the trees and hay and water provided for them. Those from the farm drove their own horses and altogether there was a sizeable number. When it came to food there was little difference then than now, the tables groaned with everything that the heart, or the stomach, could desire. The cottagers, which were few, often profited from the overabundance of food.
There were no motor boats in the early days and Grandfather Southcott, who was a tradition at Grand Bend in those days, ran what we would call today a boat livery. They were home-made boats that rented for 25¢ an hour and were in good demand when the lake was calm. I remember once my oldest brother was shoved out into the lake in a boat with only one oar. There were only a few on the beach at the time and the wind was offshore and carried him out into the lake. Finally one of the fishermen came to the rescue and rowed out after him arriving in the nick of time as a few minutes more would have been too late.
About the only other attraction was William Elsie's merry-go-round and on picnic days it was well patronized.
The years have witnessed a great transformation in the matter of bathing suits. What would the women of those early years think of the fair damsels that parade the beach today in their scant attire. "The brazen hussies" was the familiar remark when the fair sex first began to bare their limbs. The first bathing suits were often prim affairs with coloured braid and ruffled sleeves, the outfit covering the whole body. Stockings were worn with long pantaloons and overskirts. Gradually the pantaloons and overskirts became shorter and shorter and then the overskirt disappeared.
There used to be a long bath house on the beach built of rough lumber with cracks between the boards that formed the partitions. A small rental fee was charged. It was used mostly by the men but I recall on one occasion when two girls changed their clothes in one of the booths. After coming out of the water to change their clothes there was a rush by some of the lads for the booth next to them.
The men were not always provided with bathing suits and hated to pay the price of a rental. On one of the picnic days a number of men went a short distance up the shore and refreshed themselves in the cool waters in their birthday suits. Trees lined the shore and there were no cottagers, but one young bride, on learning that her husband was among them, and fearing that he might be drowned, ran up the beach and demanded that he come out of the water and waited to see that he did.
With the development of the Exeter Park the picnic grounds were transferred to the property east of the church and here ball games and races were enjoyed for many years. With the commercializing of this last piece of property by the erection of cabins and the roller-skating rink the picnic parties at Grand Bend have largely disappeared and even Grand Bend Sunday School took their children elsewhere for their annual outing.
J. M. Southcott