Father. Farmer. Maple-syrup maker. Jack of all trades. Born Feb. 20, 1942, in Gravenhurst, Ont.; died Oct. 9, 2016, in Gravenhurst; aged 74.
Were Carl Terry still with us, the irony would not have been lost on him that a summary of his life would be published in a national newspaper. Carl would have struggled unsuccessfully to read it. His formal education ended at Grade 8.
But that mattered little to hundreds of cottagers and townsfolk in and around Gravenhurst, Ont., 175 kilometres north of Toronto, who knew him and oftentimes came to rely on his hands and unvarnished wisdom to get a water pump working, a snowmobile started or to bring down a tree that hovered dangerously over their dwelling.
He came by these skills honestly: a working man of working people. Carl was the second of four children and only son of Arnold and Lillian Terry. Of mixed Irish-English-German-Dutch blood, the ancestral Terry clan arrived in Muskoka, Ont., in the mid-1800s – at about the same time as a handful of other local “founding” families: the Woods, Barnes, Schells and Greavettes.
Carl’s father, Arnold, worked at the local lumber mill. In winter, he’d chop blocks of ice from lakes. Lillian’s parents had operated a lighthouse on Lake Muskoka. Eventually, Carl’s parents settled on 71 hectares between Gravenhurst and Bala, Ont., where they raised their young family, and livestock on the side.
Lumber, forest, timber and trees figured prominently in Carl’s DNA. Firewood kept his maple sap boiling in spring. He cussed the canopy of pine trees that smothered the hardwoods below. In the fall, he would stop by to judge whether you had put away enough wood for winter. “You need more,” was a common verdict of his, even if you didn’t.
The bush was the front porch of Carl’s life. It’s where he hunted. It’s where he trekked, silently, in his gum boots, an eye always cocked for evidence of wildlife. A crippled tree, its peak twisted, was a sign that lightening had struck. He trapped muskrat, beaver and rabbit until the market for those furs evaporated 25 years ago.
Carl did well by water, too. When frozen, it burst pipes and cracked pumps, which meant a call to Carl to come and fix the problem. When it flooded cottage roads, he’d find a culvert to implant. Pickerel, bass and perch helped feed his family of two daughters and two sons, with wife Anne.
He could spin a good yarn; frequently with nuggets of truth. In his adolescence, he played for the local Gravenhurst minor hockey team – sometimes, he insisted, against Bobby Orr from nearby Parry Sound. Carl relished an evening of poker with “the boys,” a tumbler of rum-and-whatever by his side and laughter all-round. His toothless grin told us if he’d picked our pockets again.
His life could be hardscrabble. We fretted when his demons crept too close; we cheered when he conquered them. He lost a part of one finger in a farming accident and had ribs crushed more than once while rounding up cattle in the barn.
Notwithstanding his Grizzly Adams demeanour – or maybe because of it – children loved being in his presence. Who else but Carl would let a 10-year-old drive his all-terrain vehicle? Kids would follow him as he went about his chores; they’d stare as he occasionally slaughtered livestock in their presence.
Carl Terry was a larger-than-life rural Ontario character who many of us were privileged to know and love. His memory shall be eternal.
Gregory Hamara is Carl’s long-time friend.Report Typo/Error
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