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BACK ROADS BILL Diving deep into an old pool

This week Bill takes us for an unusual dip into the history of a remote island swimming pool

Who constructs a concrete swimming pool, by hand, on a small island in the middle of a remote lake, for his wife to swim in, with the pool water coming from another source, not the lake? And way before recreational pools became popular in backyards, never mind the back roads.

Next to the Bethnal Springs health spa, back roads’ mystery story, this next puzzle has many question and answer pieces.

And this story underlines the importance of recalling oral history and some aspects of social media.


Like many stories, this one starts with a tidbit from someone who reached out to me.

In the beginning, all I knew was that there was supposed to be a swimming pool (how can that be) on an island within Raven Lake, east of Virgina Town, south of Highway 66 near the Ontario-Quebec border.

So recently it was on to the back roads to find out more. We found the pool based on the early information. Some ornate-looking but weathered concrete steps and a railing greeted us on the east side a small island no greater in area than a small house lot. Ten steps and there’s a pool alright, with many trees growing throughout. It looks like a real-life terrarium.

Brian Emblin is a mining engineer in Timmins, he was part of this escapade. He calculated the measured dimensions (16’ X 32’ X almost 6’– the walls are seven inches wide) that approximately 20 cubic meters of hand-mixed cement would have been needed for this island project. “That’s a lot of cement and work,” he said.

Jason Ingram of nearby Larder Lake Station Road - another accomplice - brought along a shovel and discovered the bottom and the depth of the pool at fifty-six inches and three feet at the shallow end. 

“But it is sloped,” he said. And a great deal of household debris is at the bottom. He also said the walls have “very little aggregate” meaning less filler of gravel and small rocks and more pure mixed concrete. In contrast, you can see all of the gravel filler in the retaining walls at the nearby century-old Raven Lake hydro dams. Jason found the 1954 pool date etched in the concrete patio. You can see the outline of where a small rectangular cabin once stood.

The volume would be about 68,000 litres or 15,000 Imperial gallons of water. You can see the teal-like flakes of concrete-based paint used post-WWII. And you can see the joint lines in the concrete indicating it was not a continuous pour. Swimming pools became popular in North America after World War II. There would be only a handful in most northern Ontario communities leading into the 1970’s. This one on an island would prove to be more than a novelty.

There was a rumour the pool was spring-fed from nearby Adamson Lake. It is about one hundred metres from the island to the east side of the lake. Up we went the steep slope to the fifth contour interval. We found a disarray of one-inch copper pipe inside plastic, along with a large shut-off valve. Bingo!

The water in the stream was much colder than Raven Lake so the assumption is the source lake is spring-fed. It was true, the water for the pool came from another source, a small feat of engineering.

Joe “Who?”

Upon return social media was embraced, two Facebook posts were made to the Larder Lake Information Group and the Citizens of McGarry Township.

The first posts indicated that the swimming pool was created by a hydro dam keeper and that the concrete was poured by a team of workers during the construction of the small dams. And that the island was owned by a rich American who created the pool for his wife with mobility challenges.

More sporadic posts started coming in identifying “Joe” and “Joe’s Island.” But more sorting out was needed.

From Rick Barker: “Story I heard was an American started building the pool but his wife got sick and the place was never finished properly. The family name was apparently Adamson. He ran a 2" poly pipe with a valve from the lake on the hill/cliff to gravity feed the pool every time they wanted to change the water, a feat in itself so that lake was named Adamson. An old timer from the area told me that a gentleman named Joe Scrupnik* (sic) looked after the property for a few years for one of the later owners. Also there was a gentleman in McGarry that commented on a previous post saying he guided some of the Adamson family in later years to the Island and also to the lake on the hill. My source has since passed but he knew the story well.”

An offering from member Samantha Pierce started the ball rolling.

“I hear that he built it for his wife. She didn’t like to swim in the lakes so he bought her an island and built her this pool so she could enjoy swimming and have the beautiful view.

Those are husband goals right there 😂 (sic).”

And then member, Janice-Kevan Cunningham weighed in, she had a family cottage on Raven Lake.

“Hi there. The fellow who had the cottage, his name was Joe. Heavy accent. Nice gentleman. I swam in his pool a few times, early in the year as it got dirty as the summer went on. It was colder than the lake when I swam but I could say I did it.

“His wife was mobile but didn't like to swim in the lake. When he died the cottage got broken into and the ministry dismantled the cottage, put it in the pool and burnt what was left. You could not own an island on the lake. His dock was on the west side of the island and he would wave at everybody as they went past. My dad and I would stop in often for a visit and watch his kerosene light from our cottage. Always knew when he was there. He had a plane.”

Also, she said, “Joe mixed all the cement for the pool the old-fashioned way and hauled everything over by himself. My dad was always so impressed with how hardworking he was.”

More and more people started posting. The information was rampant.


Clarity started with Sharon Nadeau. “The cottage and pool were built by our next-door neighbours here in Chaput Hughes, Joe and Marg Sukavif (I don't remember the correct spelling).

More queries, back to the posters.

“And yes, Marg (or we called her grandma) didn't like to swim in the lake. Grandpa Joe piped the water from a spring on the main land across from the island. I remember the water being much colder than than Raven lake. I remember the cottage being two rooms, kitchen/living space and the other were bedrooms, the beds were separated by sheets.”

More facts emerged.

“I also remember running around the perimeter of the island. This would have been over 60 years ago."

“And no, they did not own the island, they were squatting. I don't remember when, but I was told the ministry took down the cabin and burnt it.“

“Marg was his first wife and she was not ailing at the time the pool was in use while I was a kid. The pool was built for Marg. From what my mother had told me, Joe hired Anne Lorenz to look after Marg when she got sick. After Marg passed away Anne stayed with Joe, I am not 100 per cent certain whether they ever married…”

Janice-Kevan Cunningham posted again. “He was still going until the early-mid 70s at least I think. The cottage was burnt down in the fall of 1979 or thereabouts. I'm judging that from my wedding and how old I look in the picture. Hubby and I got married fall of '78 and this picture was probably taken in the summer of '79 as that was his first time there. I'm sure Joe was there before 1954.” She said they had a few children.

Then finally Melinda Lorenz Brandon. “My grandmother and step-grandfather owned it.

“That was my grandmother and step-grandfather's place! Annie and Joe. He built the cabin and pool by hand. Grandma wasn't ailing at that time. She just didn't like to swim in the lake. As kids, we spent lots of time there. Grandpa Joe passed away around 1982 or 83. Can't remember exactly when.” He built that pool by hand! Brought all supplies across on his little boat. Loved it! We swam all the time in there. It was their little piece of heaven. So calm and peaceful there. I miss it and them!

“His last name is Sukovieff (Sook - oh – viff - Russian), not sure how he acquired the island, as far as I know, he did not have anything to do with the dams. He lived in Chaput Hughes across from Bruckner’s store. He worked in KL City as a Tax Assessor.” The village of Chaput Hughes is part of nearby Kirkland Lake.”

“Joe also dug a septic by hand and had running water in the cabin along with a flushing toilet. It was heaven.”

The dams

Phil Davis is a long-time mechanical engineer and was also the local roads board tax collector for King Kirkland-Lebel Township.

He supplied a historic map showing the power line from Raven Lake to Larder Lake and the eight mines on the Lader Lake shoreline.

Phil produced maps of the unorganized McFadden Township surveyed in 1907 and Phil notes “The map from 1974 says that the island had a registered LUP (Land Use Permit). This island does not appear to be any part of an old mining claim.”

We know “Joe” did not own the island and was a “squatter,” as identified by his family. But there was a designated LUP provided by the Crown that shows up on the map link. As you scroll you will see the LUP reference, this is interesting because it had to be in someone’s name (Adamson?).


Then things got interesting with the motherlode call from Brendan Cunningham (son of Janice above) from North Bay.

“Hey, what are you doing telling everyone about my favourite camping and fishin’ spot?”

His grandparents, Janice’s parents had a camp at the north end of Raven Lake and he supplied some family album photos – finally evidence. And you can see the timber skills needed to build a small log cabin next to the pool. He has been returning to the island for more than twenty years.

Then another lucky angling cast. “Hi Bill my name is James Deveau and Joe was my grandfather and Annie was my grandmother. Joe passed away in 1979 as I recall. Joe and his brothers ran a pipe from a lake or pond across the lake to the cottage and we had cold fresh running water out of a tap in the cottage. Wow, been a long time since I was there.” (It is the first reference that Joe was not alone in his endeavours.)

Fast forward in the 2,500-hectare waterway class, Larder River Provincial Park, a 30-kilometre stretch of the river is preserved on Oct. 4, 1985. Facebook members reported the cabin was burnt down by the ministry and the remains dumped into the pool, circa 1979. By observation, there is a great deal of metal debris (bedframes) in the pool. And you can see this in the provided Cunningham 1979 photo. Joe was most likely on the island from the late 1940s to the mid-1970s.

With the advent of the new Park, the LUP was withdrawn from a more recent map, and the land reverted back to the Crown.


From an industrial archaeology perspective, the remains of the crib dams, powerhouses, and penstock are historic souvenirs of what was. It is an early look at the beginning of generating water power in the province.

Adamson Lake, where the swimming pool water emanates, was named on May 5, 1927 (Canadian Geographical Names Database). Still some mystery from a late post from Francoise Jean-Yves Godin.

“On September 15th, 2014, I guided a group of people to Adamson Lake for an ashes’ spreading ceremony, the senior people aboard the airplane were the Adamson’s ancestors who discovered the lake.”

Here’s the map of the highlighted locations. The concrete pool remains in good shape and will not deteriorate for quite some time.

The moral of this back roads story is that oral evidence and the application of social media matter. And thank goodness for family photo albums. You can never have too much information.

As an update, the puzzling Bethnal Springs map in the Dec. 30, 2020, story has more than 60,000 views and I'm still looking for pics when it operated in the 1920s near Gogama.