decades ago, my father, Terry Lee, found a wooden sign behind our cabin boat shed. He assumed it had once hung above the door, named this Ontario lake side property: Brynmorwydd. Father, who grew up in Cardiff and emigrated to Canada in the 1970s, knew immediately that it was Welsh. But the cottage, which originally belonged to my stepmother’s family, was actually a Canadian exercise for my father, who was not very practical using canoes or camp fires. I don’t think he ever anticipated that it would pull him back to Wales, but a few weeks later he saw the name of the first cabin owner listed on one of his blocks: John G Bolt.
He sought deeds, records, maps and censuses with the help of my uncle, and the story of John Bolt emerged, born in 1886 near Llanrhaeadr, north Wales. As the son of an animal keeper, he moved to Cheshire at the age of eight, after his parents died. In 1927, Bolt sailed to Canada and worked on the Pacific Pacific Railroad: he claimed a plot of land, built a cabin, and named it the land where he was born: Brynmorwydd.
My father and I arrived at Llanrhaeadr-yng-Nghinmeirch in the summer of 2013. Fog spread in the valleys, obscuring sheep. It’s been a decade since we vacationed together. When father renovated the cottage, I lived in England. But this trip was designed to unite us: he wanted to track the original Brynmorwydd; I am doing a PhD in landscape history. We feel like the ideal team.
Every day, we take the courage to look for clues: the estate no longer exists, and while some of the place names remain, some buildings have them. We have a map of OS 1875, which I compared with Google Maps, looking for Bolt’s birthplace.
We stopped at the pub and chatted with the bartender. “A little strange request,” my father began, in his Welsh style swimming into the corners of the Canadian-present accent. “We come from Canada, where we have a cottage called Brynmorwydd …” “You will want to talk to the man in the corner,” said the bartender, pointing to an elderly man who had dinner Sunday. “He grows in the main house of the estate.”
It seems too coincidental. The man told us that the land was in a narrow lane. And personal. Undeterred, we drove down the winding road to the top of the hill. There was almost nothing there. An abandoned building, a gate, a ignore sign, and a broad valley view: a green blanket with hedges. Is this what John Bolt missed? Dad pulled out a photo of a wooden sign and posed for a photo.
We open our hut every year when the ice in our bay melts. Among the teapots and old photos, a folder called “John G Bolt” holds the papers we carried when we were combing the countryside. On each visit, I open it to check that the pages are organized, then look for my father. He might grope to split logs or tidy up the boat shed. Occasionally he would rest, looking above the water that stretched in front of our Brynmorwydd.
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