Honoured by Nancy Avery and Tim Farrow
My grandmother, Alberta “Birdie” Farrow was present at my birth in 1941. I was born at home and she assisted my mother. At the time we lived in Sudbury where my father worked for INCO. Gramma Farrow was born around 1887 and lived in Mitchell, Ontario. She married Alvin George Farrow and they lived a privileged life in Toronto until my grandfather died at the age of 42.His death was a huge unexpected blow. Grandmother would soon find out that their money was all gone and she was on her own with three of her six children still at home. In order of birth, her children were: Russell, Lois, Jean, my father Hugh, David and Leah.
Birdie decided that she needed to make a new life for herself and her dependent children. She asked one of her husband’s brothers for a loan. She came to the Township of West Ferris and purchased the Torbay Lodge and Cabins on Lakeshore Drive and Banner Avenue in 1936.
In checking at the Land Registry Office I discovered that Gramma Farrow purchased Torbay from Mrs. Jeannie Fraser Ferguson, wife of John Ferguson, the acknowledged founder of North Bay. The property contained a large, log structure named the Highway Lodge and eight cabins on the roadway and two large cottages on Lake Nipissing.
I believe that she made the choice to come to North Bay because the Dionne Quints had just been born and the town was about to be put on the world stage. Every tourist establishment in the area was full during the summer months and at times we took American families into our homes. Everyone initially came to see the Quints and then people came for the fishing and natural beauty of our lakes. Many bought vacation properties on Lake Nipissing, Trout Lake and the French River.
In 1946 the Lodge burned down and the decision was made to rebuild. That was when my family moved back to North Bay. In the 1950’s the Farrow family opened a second restaurant, the Torbay Chicken Bar in North Bay at the corner of Algonquin and McIntyre Street.
I can only imagine how difficult it was for her to take on the huge tourist camp that Torbay was at that time. During those years Gramma Farrow was kept very busy – preparing the chicken for two restaurants and managing the housekeeping and laundry for all the cabins. There was a building with a communal washroom on one side and laundry room on the other where she could be found every day washing, hanging out, and mangling (ironing) the linens from the cabins. To this day when I smell Ivory Soap I am right back in that laundry room. I followed her around like a baby chick filled with awe and love for the 12 years that she was in my life. One of my fondest memories was of her taking me down the road to White Owl for a piece of pie. She would sit and visit with Mr. & Mrs. Watt while I gobbled up the pie. She died when I was 18.
Gramma Farrow inspired me in ways I cannot count. She would listen to my complaints and requests and always have words of wisdom for me. She was a strong, hard-working, family-loving and independent woman who was respected by those people with whom she came into contact, both the tourists and her neighbours.