This is a pretty cool story. The reason I’m telling it now is that it took me 40 years to put the pieces together. I fear it is also a long story so please bear with me.
I think I was eight years old. The way I peg my age is that I had been scared silly by a Hawaii Five-O episode about the bubonic plague so I looked up the date of the episode. I mistook the name of the illness (the plague) and called it “the plank” when I was a kid. I couldn’t sleep for a week as I was expecting my brother Don to turn black at some point during the night. Summers were good around 1973. I had to check the location for this story with Mom and Dad before writing this, but our family had rented a cottage (Leason’s cottages we think) down Hardwood road on Lake Agnew near Espanola, Ontario. I can picture the location still.
We had a great cabin (a nice break from tenting) and I remember playing on the beach with my toy cars. An adult recalling an eight year old experience not reliable, but I clearly recall a kind lady walking up to me and offering me a toy plastic boat. It wasn’t just any boat – it was a ferry boat with little ramps that I could load my toy cars onto and take them out on the lake. It had a blue hull with a white top and it had been “previously enjoyed”. I knew this because one of the ramps was broken. That hardly mattered – I needed a boat for my toy cars.
Later that day the same lady ended up in Mom and Dad’s rented cottage talking to them and having tea I assume. Mom and Dad always did this with guests because they were always hospitable (like the lady). Mom & Dad were likely thanking her for her kindness to their son. All the time they were talking, I couldn’t help but think how familiar this lady looked. As they went on talking about adult stuff, I remember suddenly blurting out “You’re the lady from Rainbow Country!”. For you unfortunate souls who never had the opportunity to watch “Adventures in Rainbow Country“, this was a CBC television series in the early 1970s filmed around Whitefish Falls near Manitoulin Island.
Anyway – I don’t recall the details (because I was all about the boat) but Mom told be afterwards that the lady was pleased to be recognized. Our family talked with her for a while about how cool it must be to be a big star on a show like Rainbow Country. I remember Mom and Dad shared this chance encounter with this actress for years telling friends and family. It was quite relevant at the time because Adventures in Rainbow Country was a popular show in Northern Ontario (we only had two English TV channels after all).
So fast forward forty years later to Christmas 2013. I received a new iPad Air for Christmas from Michelle (thank you). I’m “Googling for the sake of Googling”, saw a Facebook post from Lori Ryan of Falconbridge, and started thinking back to Falcona Camp. Falcona is a children’s camp that my Dad and Mom used to run for Falconbridge Nickel Mines now operated by the YMCA. We spent wonderful summers at Falcona from the mid seventies on. Lori, I, and many lifelong friends we made at Falcona Camp used to hike regularly to a fire tower called Lumsden Tower a hike of several miles. I found myself with my new 2013 iPad wondering whether the tower was still standing. It is not – in my on-line research I learned that it collapsed because the rock bolts securing the base were never properly installed. I remember us all climbing to the top of the Tower in our early years at Falcona being scared silly. Glad we didn’t know at the time that the rock bolts securing the base were faulty.
It was then I made the connection that I think is so cool. I remembered an episode in Rainbow Country where the little girl in the show (Hannah) climbed up a similar tower. I later learned this tower was in Willisville, Ontario via a website honoring Towermen (part of my Lumsden research effort). In the show, Hannah was too scared to get down from the tower and had to be rescued. This Episode called the Tower is on YouTube. I just watched it again all the way through for old times sake. This got me wondering again for the first time in many years about that lady who gave me the boat many years before. The cool think about Google is that you can look people up!
Lois Maxwell sadly died in 2007 so I can’t say thanks to her as an adult. You can read a nice write-up and a tribute to her written up in the Independent, a UK news magazine. I just knew her only as a thoughtful person who apparently liked little kids. Everyone else apparently knew her as the actress that starred in 14 James Bond films as Miss Moneypenny (more films than Roger Moore or Sean Connery). She also starred in many Hollywood features films in the 40s and 50s. In one film she acted alongside a little known actor named Ronald Reagan. At some point, I gather she got homesick, moved back to her home in Canada, and became a local celebrity and joined the cast of Adventures in Rainbow Country.
I’ve become fascinated by her story and continue to look into it. What seems especially tragic to me is that her husband Peter Marriott died in 1973. I now understand from what I’ve read that we must have met Lois Maxwell just before or more likely just after her husband passed away.
At first I thought it was only me that had not realized that the boat lady was Miss Moneypenny. I called Mom and Dad and told them what I had discovered and they were as amazed as I.
There is something about the simple kindness of giving an eight year old kid a boat that is touching. It truly made my day and this is why I recall Lois Maxwell to this day. She certainly never volunteered to my Mom and Dad that she was Miss Moneypenny. She was happier talking to Mom and Dad about other things and their own experiences.
I can’t help but be inspired by Lois Maxwell. She wasn’t just a star. She was a good person who just happened to be a star. The lesson I take away from this, is that sometimes the most important thing a person can do is offer a simple kindness to someone else. To me, that day at Lake Agnew is how I’ll most remember Lois Maxwell. You never know you will write your legacy!
PS. This is almost as cool – If you happened to watch “The Tower” on YouTube – the actress that plays Hannah (Margot Kidder) went on to play Lois Lane in the original SuperMan movie where she starred alongside Christopher Reeve. I think Rainbow country turned out to be a good place for a lot of people.
PPS. If anyone has any more recollections around this topic I’d be interested in learning more.