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  • Writer's pictureErin Dentzien

217-1 AVE - Tugboat Tales at Marfranken

Mary Ellen Herman began coming to Ma-Me-O with her parents Fred and Gladys Duggan as an infant in 1942. The family would rent Spencer’s Cabin called ‘This Is It’ for many years. In 1952, the family had just arrived at Ma-Me-O and Mary Ellen’s parents went for a ride to then shortly returned with the news that they had bought a cabin of their own! The family moved into 217-1 Avenue in 1952.

In 1954, the whole family took on the task of renovating the cabin and moving the garage up, to be closer to the cabin, as a converted guest house. Initially, the cabin had two bedrooms, a very tiny kitchen, two-burner propane stove and an ice box which was very common for the time period. Water was hauled from across the road by the kids each day. In the first year of owning the Duggan family hosted 23 people at one time at the cabin with Gladys cooking all the meals off the two-burner stove! All the guests stayed in tents, the bunkhouse, porch and on the cabin floor. Mary Ellen recalled that very same year seeing a beautiful sunset and wishing she could paint the glory of the sun setting over Pigeon Lake. Over the years, a pump was installed from a well that was also dug for running water in the kitchen.

Main Street View of 217-1st Avenue

In 1954, the whole family took on the task of renovating and adding on to the cabin as well as moving the garage up, to be closer to the cabin as a converted guest house. It now had 4 bedrooms. The cabin did not get an indoor bathroom until 1970. Later it was given the name MARFRANKEN after the whole family, using parts of all their names.Their Mother Gladys’ middle name was Marcella and their Father was Fred with their kids being Margaret, Mary Ellen, Marion, Frank and Ken.

Every year on the last day of school, Gladys would have the car piled up with toys, clothes and food essentials ready to pile all the kids in to head to Ma-Me-O Beach. Mary Ellen remembered being in the water from eight in the morning until eight in the evening every day while living at the cabin. It was an ideal life for kids growing up along the shores of Pigeon Lake. The family was also very into boating and waterskiing. Mary Ellen truly enjoyed going out in the rain to have the clay road squish between her toes and watch the storms go on overhead.

There was a big hole in front of Lloyd’s cabin (just down the street) which was where cars would often get stuck. One night Mary-Ellen and teenaged friends covered the hole so covered it so

people would not notice the hole and drive into it and get stuck. They would then need assistance and the opportunistic kids made a few bucks pushing cars out of the hole. Mary Ellen and her teenaged friends found an abandoned tug boat that was then used by the kids to go all over the lake; though most often they would venture out to ‘Bird Poop Island.’ They fixed it up and coated the old boat in gallons of paint. The only catch was that they had to borrow the car battery from one of their parents' cars to run the boat. Robbie McDonald was part of the tug boat crew and became convinced he was going to map the lake floor on every expedition out onto the lake. There was always an adventure to be had whether that was out on the tugboat or dances at the hall for those wild teen years.

When Mary Ellen was 18, she left Alberta and entered a convent in Kingston, Ontario to become a nun. Returning in 1966, she would make a point to come out at least two weeks every summer to the family cabin. All five siblings ended up inheriting the family cabin when their mother passed away in 1998.

The cabin now remains in the family under the ownership of Mary Ellen’s youngest brother Frank and his wife Lori. Family still comes out to enjoy time at Marfranken every weekend, filling the days with pontoon boating and night time bonfires. Once a year they have a compulsory Duggan Day every August where all the siblings, cousins and their clans get together to reminisce about their many years at the cabin while catching up. A tradition that will continue for years to come.

That's all for now folks! Stay tuned for our next post as more stories are collected and submitted.

~History Book Team~

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