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REMEMBER THIS: Miracle and tragedy on the lake: Part two (4 photos)

On July 10, 1924, a massive search was undertaken by Barrie residents, summer cottagers at Big Bay Point and anyone with a boat

Editor's note: The following is the second instalment of a two-part series. To read Part 1, click here

In 1923, the Murchisons of Maple Avenue were awaiting the arrival of a second grandchild. Two years earlier, their daughter, Phyllis Townsley, had given birth to a little girl at her British Columbia home.

Now, Monita Smith was expecting her first child and Mr. and Mrs. D.C. Murchison were eager to have a grandchild closer to home.

Monita’s husband, Edgar Smith, worked for the Bank of Toronto in Cobourg, Ont. Monita did what was commonly done in those days; she went home to her family to await the birth of her child.

Sadly, the little boy was born too soon and only lived a few hours. The arrangements were left to the nearby funeral parlour of G.G. Smith, the business of the child’s late paternal grandfather, then operated by the babe’s uncle, Charles Smith.

The following summer would further test the strength of both the Murchison and Smith families.

The well-to-do of Barrie often kept a cottage on Big Bay Point. It wasn’t far from Barrie, but far enough that all the cares of business life could be forgotten for just a little while during the summer months and the Murchisons had such an oasis.

During the first weeks of July 1924, the Murchisons installed themselves in their summer quarters across the bay. Soon, they were joined by Monita and Edgar Smith as well as Wilbur Hoskin, a friend and co-worker of Edgar Smith. The Murchisons' teenage daughter, Margaret, had asked along her pal, Vera Charles.

On the afternoon of Thursday, July 10, Edgar, Wilbur and Margaret decided to take a sail across the bay. They set out in a sponson canoe, which had a sail, and was designed to be unsinkable.

From shore, Margaret’s father and her friend, Vera, watched the trio until they landed on the opposite side of the water.

When evening came and the canoe hadn’t returned, Mr. Murchison and a friend rowed across the bay and around the water’s edge, but found no trace of the group. When they returned to the cottage and found the canoe and occupants still missing, they went back to Barrie once more and enlisted the help of a search party.

A massive search was undertaken by residents of Barrie, summer cottagers of Big Bay Point and anyone with a boat of any kind.

Nothing was found that night nor on Friday.

On Saturday, the mast of the little vessel was found and the worst was assumed. The search turned to a sad recovery mission.

Sunday brought no relief. No more clues. No pieces of wreckage. No bodies turned up.

But Monday brought a miracle. A message was sent from Brechin, all the way across Lake Simcoe, that Margaret Murchison was alive. It came at 9:30 in the morning, but was not believed at first.

By 11, the incredible news was confirmed and an eager posse, which included members of the Murchison family and their physician, Dr. Victor Hart, raced to Brechin by car.

There, they found a weak but alive girl. Margaret was badly blistered by sunburn, suffering from poison ivy and exposure.

Dr. Hart had her transferred to Barrie by ambulance the next day.

Margaret Murchison had a harrowing tale to tell. She explained that the canoe journey had been a pleasant one until, on the return trip, the trio met with a sudden and extreme wind gust that nearly tipped the canoe.

Wilbur Hoskin was swept out of the vessel by a large wave, but was able to swim to the canoe again. However, he was unable to climb back in and neither Margaret nor her brother-in-law, Edgar, succeeded in pulling him over the side.

As further bad weather battered the canoe, and after clinging to the side for hours, Wilbur became too weak to hold on and slipped beneath the surface.

Edgar Smith and Margaret were ousted from the canoe more than once by subsequent wind and waves, but always managed back in again.

However, Edgar had swallowed a lot of water, according to Margaret, and was very nauseous. He too grew weak and eventually died.

Margaret removed Edgar’s bathing suit shirt to give herself an extra layer of clothing. Swim attire was all that any of them had been wearing that day.

Soon after, another wave carried Edgar away.

In and out of consciousness, half dreaming, through a thunderstorm and past the twinkling lights of the Orillia Hospital, Margaret eventually landed on the marshy eastern shore of the lake where a fisherman was shocked by the sight of her.

The unsinkable Margaret Murchison recovered and then some. She outlived her entire family, including two husbands, and passed away at 95 years of age in 2004.

Each week, the Barrie Historical Archive provides BarrieToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past. This unique column features photos and stories from years gone by and is sure to appeal to the historian in each of us.

Mary Harris

About the Author: Mary Harris

Mary Harris is the Director of History and Research at the Barrie Historical Archive. The Barrie Historical Archive is a free, online archive that centralizes Barrie's historical content.
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