Untouched by Time

The Forgotten Mountie of Honeymoon Cottage

On the north Shore of Long Lake in Temiskaming, Northern Ontario exists a small log cabin untouched by time. Retired Sgt. Major Charles Dee of the NWMP cleared his land and built as his retirement home his very own detachment house, traditionally found in the Prairies or the far North.

At the foot of a long tree covered hill sits a neat log house with a clearing sloping gently towards the shores of Long Lake. The cabin is stark white and contrasts greatly with the dark green of the surrounding pines and cedars that cradle it. The doors and windows are trimmed with green and the clearing is mowed close and obviously cared for. A small enclosure for vegetables rests on the other side of the white painted flagpole rising beside the house: a smaller one is attached to the floating boat house and trim landing.

This is how the “New Ontario” settlers described Charlie Dee’s cabin in 1915. Twenty years later, author E. Newton-White also described it with amazing similarity. Today it stands with little variance and the descriptions still hold true. The only difference is the flagpoles. Now the one at the boathouse displays an American flag, representing the home of the new owners. A large 35’ flagpole no longer shadows the cabin, but stands behind it. The maple leaf flapping in the breeze keeps sentry over the lonely grave of the Mountie who is laid to rest there.

The Mountie 

Sergeant-Major Charles Harry Dee, Regimental Number 1628, was born February 28th, 1861 at Romford, Essex England. His parents, 3 sisters, and 2 brothers had immigrated to Canada and settled in the Whitby and Toronto areas.

Charlie Dee had been working the docks as a steam fitter when he enlisted with the Militia. His timing into the famous force coincided with the Louis Riel Rebellion of 1885. Serving two years with the Queen’s Own Regiment of the Militia, this honour marksman’s first assignment was his attachment to Colonel Otter’s special force at Battleford and Cutknife Hill. No overtime and call back for these men of the North West. The 230 troops transported Indian rebel prisoners overland for 200 miles only to arrive in places like Fort Pit to straight flour and water rations. From there he transferred into the North West Mounted Police and there he stayed, 21 years to the day. His initial postings moved him around from the prairies of Regina to the foothills and mountains of the Fort McLeod, Calgary and the Okotoks/High River District. He found time to play on the football team in Regina and also enjoyed soccer and cricket. He was also a member of standing the Royal Arch Masonic Lodge in Calgary as well as the Masonic Order NWMP in Regina. But his initial days on the Prairies were spent making the peace rather than keeping it. Rife with frontier problems and history making firsts, the Mounties of the Prairies dealt with everything from untamed settlers to the first passenger train passing through Banff. Dee made his mark by tracking 3 cattle rustlers who had a two-day lead. After finally catching up to them he was too late to stop the rustlers from cutting off the earmarks and re-branding the cattle, but he did prevail. All 31 head were returned to the rightful owners and the rustlers spent the better part of one winter of the late 1800’s holed up in the Montana mountains avoiding the Mounties. His Commanding Officer stated in Dee’s service record that he had never seen “a better member nor more efficient and faithful Policeman”.

Each time his contract came up for renewal, Dee signed on again, repeating the ritual of his medical, renewing the Oath, and Engagement. Sometimes it was for 5 years, others for only one. In 1899 Dee was told that he couldn’t be a Staff Sgt. because there were simply too many already…. unless he were to transfer to the Territories. So he did, raising his pay from $1.00 /day to $1.25/ day with an allotment of 3 pairs of breeches (instead of two) and a pair of moccasins every 3 years.

One of his first assignments in the Territories was looking for a prisoner. Although the Inuit put out their version of the red carpet for him, he managed to get stuck trying to enter an igloo. Invited to an evening meal of raw blubber he was left to sit on a bench of ice, freezing himself to the outdoor furniture. His recollection of the horrendous odours that would permeate from an igloo housing several over-clothed Inuit for months on end left no doubt as to what he went through. Ever the storyteller, his experiences were passed on and remembered with a surreal clarity.

In 1903, Dee departed with the Neptune Artic Expedition, whose mission was to restore fair trade and establish a Customs Port to protect the waters and whalers of the Hudson Bay. Up until then, whiskey and firearms were traded for skins and daughters. Scottish and American whalers dominated the water and manipulated the locals. The far North was a large part of Sgt. Major Dee’s career. A great deal of time was spent in solitude and in places so remote they are seldom seen by people even today. In spite of the loneliness, Charlie Dee remained a collector of sorts. Dee was never too distanced from his memory makers. He carried his buffalo horns, lariat, jackboots and spurs with him to the Territories and carried back soapstone carvings, a Narwhale tusk, and a polar bear skull. The latter said to be the unfortunate recipient of a chance meeting at the crest of an isolated Artic rise.

The Man 

After leaving the RNWMP in 1907 with over two decades of exemplary service, Retired Sgt. Major Charles Dee tried to re-establish himself and find a place for himself outside the Mounted Police. Living the life in the rough West and the rugged Arctic never prepared him to mesh with polite society or the pace familiar to his family back in Toronto. Within one year he left Toronto and headed north again. Families were heading to Temiskaming where mining and logging was so prevalent. Hundreds of people every month were discovering this vast area.

Business was booming and all of it was possible from the resources in the land. During this time the locals liked to joke that “Toronto is just the place you catch the train north to the real Canada”.

Either swept up in the moment or simply captivated by the beautiful surroundings, Charlie Dee stayed, buying up 11 acres of land accessible only by boat in the summer or skis and snowshoes in the winter. He cleared a spot of his land right down the centre and used the logs to build his home. A home that was a replica of any detachment house scattered across the west or in the Arctic. Neighbours dotted the shorelines of Long Lake with great frequency up until 1922 when a great fire destroyed most of the area. Charlie Dee’s little stretch of land and its surrounding forest remained untouched by this great fire, but its effect was great and permanent. The closest settlement, Charlton, went from 5000 inhabitants to under 200 practically overnight. With the logging destroyed and mines left with nothing to build their braces the area became very quiet and lonely. Those who did stay were now spread out, but many of their descendants still remain in the area. Remembering Charlie Dee is a favourite pastime for some and the stories are all remembered with a smile.

Charlie Dee wasn’t “Charles” nor was he “Mr. Dee” or even “Sgt. Or “Sarge”. He was always referred to as “Charlie Dee”; as though the use of both names explained something outsiders couldn’t know.

Charlie Dee spent many days paddling over to the local Boy Scout camp regaling the young lads with tales of the “old days among the Indians on the western Plains” and his years in the North. On several of these trips he would wear his uniform and bring his old equipment, all of which he kept in excellent shape, especially his lariat and jackboots with spurs.

The children on the shores of Long Lake looked up to him and remember him as happy go lucky and always cheerful. Always the charitable one, he would help anyone he knew to be hard up. He also always had time to show the young boys how to tie knots, hold a gun safely, or snare a rabbit.

Charlie Dee had one of the first motorized boats in the area. He used this boat to manoeuvre logs down the lake to the mill for money. Up until then a steamboat was the only access in or out of the area. It wasn’t until after 1920 a road was even considered. On one of his return trips he brought home a gramophone. People up and down the lake would say goodnight to a hot summer night hearing it play softly from his veranda.

Charlie Dee spent his summer days fishing, hunting or hiking several miles to the fire tower at the head of the lakes. His winters he travelled around on snowshoes and “could he move”. His life in retirement was as methodical as his life in the Mounted Police. His affairs also followed this doctrine of order. Knowing he was sick and in his last months he had his own coffin made and the plot behind his Mountie house where he was to be buried was staked out. Neighbours took turns caring for the ailing Charlie Dee up until his death in November of 1938. With no family in the area, this quiet methodical man left his dearest possessions and his spotless and whitewashed cabin to those who cared for him in his final days.

The Legend 

When the Sgt. Major cloned the familiar cabin’s style, no one was sure if was intentional or if tradition was just so ingrained in him that it seemed the thing to do. Regardless of his reasons, his home from retirement to deathbed was as familiar to him as his time stationed on the Prairies and in the Arctic. Charlie Dee filled that home with the memories from his time as a Mountie. Indian artefacts, a rawhide lariat, Inuit carvings, a Narwhale tusk, and jack boots with spurs, each with a story he was more than willing to share. Even the polar bear skull that he “acquired” from the chance meeting with said bear graced this world. Soapstone carvings of wolves, penguins and a ptarmigan rested on the windowsill. Photographs of his time in His Majesties service hung on the walls. His stories were exciting and full of adventure and are still being shared over neighbourhood fences. Through his stories his home had a never-ending string of visitors. Indians, Mounties, ranchers, traders, Inuit, and whalers; all filled his cabin to the brim, bringing memories of the Frontier to life. Although living, breathing visitors may have been scarce, the assumption that he had been lonely is wrong. He never considered his life in the wilderness lonely; not after the far North.

In time, the property was sold and passed into the hands of various owners. One of the owners turned the cabin into a bed and breakfast style getaway where honeymooners could seclude themselves with a beautiful lakeside view. Over the years the artifacts have all faded into the lives of Charlie Dee’s friends and their families. Some were sold when times were very tough, others lost, and still some are coveted secretly in the fear of someone removing them.

Honeymoon Cottage has changed hands 6 times and has been altered over time to accommodate each of its owners but the original look of the detachment house still prevails. The walls are still home to photographs of Retired Sgt. Major Charles Dee.

Removing these photos seems to be as sacrilegious as removing the forgotten Mountie of Honeymoon Cottage from his final resting place.

The newest owners from West Virginia have renamed the property “Dee Landing” and have whitewashed the old detachment house in the hopes of restoring some of its original integrity.

Each of the previous owners remained true to the memory of this well liked, respected, son, brother, steamfitter, soldier, Mountie, sailor, logger, fisherman, friend and neighbour. Like a diamond, Charlie Dee had many sides, some clearer than others, all precious to those who catch a glimpse.

In May 2004, Retired Sgt. Major Charles H. Dee of the RNWMP was provided a new headstone for his lonely grave. The unfortunate battle between time and granite made it necessary for the RCMP to replace. With his new marker, Charlie Dee continues to face out over the lake where he spent the last years of his life, nestled in the acres of forest he has ever since been guarding.