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Mudlunta's Matriarchs


A Gananoque businessman and sailor who loved to explore the St. Lawrence River bought this island for the princely sum of $250 in 1875. It was a sound investment in more ways than one. It's still treasured by his descendants today and its history and traditions are as much a part of their DNA as Charles Edward Britton himself.

 

Every summer since Britton purchased Mudlunta Island in the Admiralty Group of islands near Gananoque, they have come back to the shores to swim, boat, and gather for reunion parties and dinners. There are now five cottages on the eight-acre island which has a panoramic view of the River and surrounding islands locals call "Britton Bay."

"I wouldn't live anywhere else that I couldn't be there for as much of the summer as I could," said David Orr, the great grandson of Britton, who has spent all of his 70 summers here.

Orr jokes that he is "the de facto island caretaker" since he and wife Judy along with their dog Wizard make the annual trek to their cottage from their Lansdowne home in April and don't leave the island until November.

But while Britton was the island's patriarch, it was two women in the family who held its social fabric together for decades. They shared the same first name - Muriel - but everyone called them Dee and Diddy - the reasons for their nicknames unknown to this day.

Muriel "Dee" Britton was born in 1879, the second-youngest of Charles' four children. She was a great aunt to David Orr. Diddy was her niece and Orr's aunt.

An avid sailor, Britton was a Commodore of the American Canoe Association. In 1901, he arranged for the sale of Sugar Island for $1000.00 for the ACA, which still owns the island located in the Gananoque Narrows. 

Britton was the owner of the Cowan & Britton Manufacturing Company in Gananoque, which made hinges, nails and bolts.

Muriel Bedford-Jones or Diddy, drove across the country annually from Vancouver B.C., to return to the island to spend time with her nieces and nephews and her beloved aunt Dee.

To mark the 100the anniversary of Charles Edward Britton's purchase of the island, Diddy wrote a memoir of life on Mudlunta with photographs titled: 'There is a River' in 1975. "From our earliest days," she wrote, "to stay with Dee at the island was our idea of Heaven." 

Dee loved to cook dinners for 20 with roasts and pies with homemade ice cream and taking the children for picnics on nearby islands. On rainy days, they played Parcheesi and Monopoly. When Dee died in 1948, Diddy stepped into the role of Mudlunta matriarch. Neither ever married.

Charles Britton bought Mudlunta, a native word believed to be translated as 'Half Moon,' because of its half-crescent shape, in May 1875.

Diddy recounts each year the family moved from the mainland, transporting cow, turkeys, and a grand piano, by scow. On one occasion, she wrote, the scow almost sank "and all the animals had to swim for it, while the chest containing the family silver went to the bottom of the River."

Diddy was headmistress at Crofton House School, a prestigious girl's school in Vancouver. She drove to Gananoque every summer with Edith, her longtime companion and a retired school nurse. Diddy rowed to Gananoque for supplies. 

She oversaw a celebration in August 1975 to mark the centennial of the family's patriarchs' purchase of Mudlunta Island complete with fireworks.

Diddy and Dee's nieces and nephews continue to come back every summer. Michael Bedford-Jones, a bishop of the Anglican Church in Toronto has been called upon to give Sunday sermons at nearby Half Moon Bay at Bostwick Island, where parishioners have worshipped for more than a century.

"Our other homes have changed, but the island has remained," wrote Diddy. "The soul, of course, of the island is its people and we hear along the well-known paths the echoing footsteps of those who have gone before us."

Today there are five cottages on the island and a moss green boathouse that is over a century old. A fallen pine tree with short bare branches along one path brings up childhood memories for Orr of climbing the tree dubbed "Mudlunta Heights." A cottage built in 1900 belongs to several families of Britton descendants. A fire destroyed three cottages on the island in 1985, the year Diddy passed away. Many memories - including photographs of Dee and Diddy - were lost in the blaze. 

But Diddy's memoir endures both on the island and in the National Archives of Canada in Ottawa as chronicle of cottage life in the Thousand Islands. Her words pass on a loving legacy to Mudlunta's future generations.

"I hope that the months of June to September will stretch out for them as they did for us, as one long happy part of their lives, so that they too, in turn will ask the question: 'How many years is summer?'

By Kim Lunman, kimlunman@thousandislandslife.com

Kim Lunman is the owner and publisher of Island Life Magazine (http://www.islandlifemag.ca) based in Brockville, Ontario. Kim's  2012 magazine will be distributed in May in local newspapers in eastern Ontario and northern New York.  A special Islander Edition will be on sale in local book stores in both the United States and Canada in the summer.  This article was originally published in the 2011 edition of Island Life Magazine.  Neighbours on Kitsymenie Island were featured last month in The House That Jack Built, Kitsymenie Island and in June, 2011 TI Life’s  Robert Orr’s Knives and Wood… featured Lemon Island.

Editor’s note:  David Orr is well known in the Thousand Islands as a tireless volunteer.  He has served on both the Save the River and the Thousand Islands Association (TIA) board of directors  in several capacities.  Those of us who know, tip our hat to him - for many years David was responsible for the shoal marking program for both organizations and those markers keep us off the rocks!

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Comments

Dennis Honeywell
Comment by: Dennis Honeywell ( )
Left at: 11:42 AM Sunday, January 15, 2012
David & Judy are good friends of mine and always make the offer to stop for a beverage. They are both wonderful people and exactly how we think of "islanders". My last visit to the dock on Mudlunta found no body home at the cottage (indicated early on by the lack of Weimeraner greetings) but quickly followed up by a visit by an officer of the Crown that wanted to know what my report number was. Yikes...I did not have one. He graciously escorted me back to my side of the River and made it apparent to me that he was being very forgiving. Scared the bejesus out of me!
Rob Bickerton
Comment by: Rob Bickerton ( )
Left at: 1:12 PM Sunday, January 15, 2012
Wonderful story. Great picture of you David, Judy (and Wizard). Brings back memories of waterskiing by your dock as a kid. It was such a regular route that I'm surprised the boat didn't go there automatically!

Best regards,

Rob Bickerton
Sue Saiter-Manitouana Is.
Comment by: Sue Saiter-Manitouana Is. ( )
Left at: 4:33 PM Monday, January 16, 2012
During my summers I 'grew up" on Manitouana Island just next to David's and my older sister and i we played together with David. He remembers who pretty my sister was----how about that!!!! We love having Judy and David close neighbors and watch dogs for our island, expecially when we are not there. Our great grandparents and grandparents were real friends in the summers and would visit each other for evening activity. No electricity back then, so no TV for entertainment. A great article and The Orrs "are" the essence of the river people and we are glad.
peter brooks
Comment by: peter brooks ( )
Left at: 12:53 AM Tuesday, January 17, 2012
f9muKTI remember David&Judy since the 60's when my Dad had the Water Taxi. But you have missed the greatest Orr of all "Bob".What ever happened to the Preston Family of Mudlunta?
Phil Britton
Comment by: Phil Britton ( )
Left at: 5:12 PM Tuesday, January 17, 2012
As a reply to Peter's comment above, the Preston family has officially left Mudlunta but now call Manitouana home just across the bay from Mudlunta. Sis Preston unfortunately passed away suddenly in '99 but the rest of the family is doing well and still enjoying their summers on the river.
Chris Boers
Comment by: Chris Boers ( )
Left at: 4:28 PM Thursday, January 19, 2012
What a great story. I grew up next door to some of the Britton family in Manlius, NY. I'm glad to see that the family is still enjoying their legacy on Mudlunta Island.
Michael Bedford-Jones
Comment by: Michael Bedford-Jones ( )
Left at: 10:41 AM Monday, January 30, 2012
Being a resident of Mudlunta Island, and like David Orr, a great grandson of Charles Britton, I certainly enjoyed the article! I look forward to my 69th summer on the Island. Like David, I can't imagine living anywhere else in the summer.

Michael Bedford-Jones
Anonymous User
Comment by: Anonymous User
Left at: 11:47 PM Saturday, November 3, 2012
http://texasanalytica.shikshik.org/2012/11/04/briton-bedford/

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