Never been a fan of crowds Meet Darren Rogers the recluse of

The island houses 86 cottages,  which in the summer can house up to 200 people. By September, the number of visitors begins to die out, leaving Rogers as the only resident. It’s an idyllic life on Cockburn Island. In the summer, the tiny Ontario island hums with life. Parents relax in folding chairs set out on the sandy beaches, keeping an eye on their children swimming in the waters of Lake Huron. Beavers come out of their dens to enjoy the sun, while deer look for the best patches to graze in the woods. In the evenings, older couples stroll arm-in-arm through the streets of Tolsmaville, the cosy cottage community nestled on the island. And then winter arrives and the lake begins to freeze. Chairs are folded away, cars are loaded, cottages locked up and soon the last boat pushes off from the island, headed for Thessalon and Meldrum Bay. As the snow sets in, the only sign of life is a light in the cottage where sits Darren Rogers, the island caretaker.He will be the only person living on the island for the rest of winter.“I’ve never been a fan of crowds,” says the 52-year-old with a chuckle.  “And then if you show up during winter, there’s not a lot going on here — there’s only one person,” Rogers said during a telephone interview. (He isn’t exactly easy to find; despite having a phone number, he suggests emailing him with a scheduled time to call as he often works in parts of the island with no cell service.)As island caretaker, Rogers looks after road maintenance, building repairs, safety equipment, tending to the needs of the summer residents — “it’s all rolled into one job,” he says. His years working as a farm hand on various dairy farms in Ontario and operating heavy equipment have prepared him for the physical labour. But his work experience wasn’t the only thing that got him the job. “The biggest thing here is you have to be willing to live out here,” he said. “It’s not a five-day-a-week job, it’s 24/7.”It might sound ideal at first. But the idea of living by yourself in the dead of winter, away from mainland can quickly turn daunting. According to Rogers, an older couple had been originally hired to try out the job for a year. “They didn’t like it,” he said, “and gave it up.”Lee Chappell, the last island caretaker, lived on the island since the early 1980s with his late wife Lynne and a maintenance employee. It was Chappell’s “penchant for privacy” that led him to make the island his home for 32 years, according to a 2009 Sault Star headline. Nevertheless, he moved back to the mainland in 2009 to live out the rest of his days in Thessalon. So far, Rogers has lived alone on the island for 14 years, ever since taking up post in 2006. While he has no complaints, he said the township has hired another person to give him a hand. However, it remains to be seen whether the person will be able to get through the first winter. “He hasn’t made it through the year yet,” said Rogers.Help or no help — this is it for Rogers. “Nowadays when you want a quieter life and you want to relax with no drama, this is the place to be,” he said. For Rogers, living on Cockburn Island is life come full circle. Ever since he was 10-years-old, his family would take a boat to the island during summers. “My father had a deer hunting camp and would bring us kids over,” he said. “I enjoyed it.”Decades later, he first learned of the job through an advertisement posted in the North Shore Sentinel, the local paper for Thessalon. He was working on a horse farm in Sault Ste. Marie at the time, but was open to trying “something different.” “At the time I was just bumming around,” he said. “I had no big career goals, so thought I’d give it a try.”It helped that he knew most of the local town council in charge of filling the vacancy and vice-versa. “It wasn’t like I was going into an interview with a bunch of strangers,” he said. “They knew who I was … and that’s the only way you’re gonna know if a person is going to like it (on the island) or not,”Unlike the couple before him, Rogers said he found the transition from mainland to island fairly easy, thanks to his years on the farm and his love for camping. “This was just a camping trip extended,” he said. Chappell had also stayed for the first year of his employment and showed him the ropes.  Cockburn island makes up part of an archipelago that separates Lake Huron from Georgian Bay. “The only time I miss them is at Christmas,” he said. He spends Christmas alone, celebrating with a home-cooked meal of turkey and roast potatoes. “I don’t do the Christmas tree and all that, just the supper,” he said. “I usually make a phone call during the day when everybody is having their supper and talk to them then.”Does it ever get lonely? Not really, according to Rogers. “Everyone knows I’ve always liked doing things on my own,” he said. The only challenge he says, is in planning for the winter. “You don’t have a store to run to,” he said. “So if you’re planning on doing any projects over the winter then I gotta sit down now and figure out all the parts I need and what I’m doing.”If anything, having the whole island to himself is about as good as it gets. “Snowmobiling anytime I want, four-wheeling anytime I want,” he said. “It’s why I have no drive to get back to the North shore. There’s nothing for me there.” Darren Rogers Waves roll in at a sandy beach on Cockburn Island. Located in Northern Ontario, Cockburn is part of an archipelago stretching out into Lake Huron, with Meldrum Bay on one side and the Canada-U.S border on the other. The island covers 170 square kilometres, on which stand 86 cottages that make up the community of Tolsmaville. In the 1800s, its population grew rapidly with the construction of sawmills and peaked at 1,000 year-round residents during the Second World War. But in the 1960s, it began to dwindle as ferry services stopped altogether and the island became increasingly isolated. Story continues belowThis advertisement has not loaded yet,but your article continues below.As of 2013, the official population is zero — Statistics Canada’s practice is to round off populations in communities smaller than 15 people. The census data and the island’s isolation has mislead some into calling Tolsmaville a ghost town.“Years ago, you would have called it a ghost town because not many people were coming,” said Rogers. “But now we have a lot of younger retirees and so the population is staying pretty stable over the summer.”Thanks to the efforts of Harold Reeve, a former Tolsmaville mayor, the island was revived as a summer recreational community by the 1980s. Between May and September, the island can house up to 200 people, mostly during weekends. But after the annual fish-fry in August, the number of visitors begins to die down. Mhairi McFarlane/Nature Conservancy of Canada Ian Anderson “Most days are just going to work like a regular job,” he remarked.Back then, the job was mostly supervising the various contractors who’d come to maintain the island. As the township downsized, more of the work fell to him. “Being a younger guy, I was able to take over most of the road-work job over the years,” he said. Summer life on Cockburn flows at its own pace. There is no formal scheduling, no major plans made — everyone does as they please, when they please, according to Rogers. “Ninety percent of the time they’re sitting on the porch watching as the day goes by,” he said.Late afternoons are spent making social calls, stopping in at different cottages for the customary catch-ups and a drink or two. “It’s very informal — that’s how you get to know everyone,” said Rogers. Everyone knows everyone here and it’s not uncommon to see two cars pause in the middle of their respective drives around the township to say hello. The easy pace of island life affords Rogers a gift longed for by many living in the big cities — time. “If I have to do something today or put it off till tomorrow, that’s no problem,” said Rogers. “That’s my philosophy.”Nevertheless, the man is no lazy bones. He begins his work days early — out of bed by 5:30 a.m. and out the door an hour later. He treats his job as a regular eight-hour-a-day shift, finishing up in the early afternoon. His job includes a myriad of tasks, ranging from helping newcomers dock their boats to working on the community infrastructure. “Right now, I’m out working on the grader,” he said, during a phone call. The rest of the afternoon is spent completing some household chores, after which he might take himself on a drive around the island, to spot whatever wildlife he can find — which helps him plan for his annual deer and bear hunts. “I got the time to observe (the animals) so I know when they’re coming and going,” he said.A couple who visited Cockburn island in 2008 — two years into Roger’s reign — describe a curious experience with “the guy with the pickup truck.” “As we were coming in, though, a pick-up truck appeared out of nowhere, and a guy jumped out to help us with our lines. Another guy from a neighbouring boat came over to help as well. Then, after ensuring we were secure, they quickly left, barely giving us time to thank them,” wrote the couple on their blog. “The next morning, Darren the Harbormaster — the guy who drove down in his pickup to help with our lines — appeared out of nowhere again to help us with our lines again …. He faded away waving us a farewell (even now, we aren’t sure he was real),” they added. Rogers is a person of few words — yet, many belly laughs — and happiest when he is on his own. So much so, that he’s building a house in the middle of the island, farther away from the populated township, that he plans to move into in the next five or six years.“It’s a running gag around here,” he said with a chuckle. “Everybody knows I like it when everyone takes off.”His trips to the mainland are few, short and spread out — twice in the winter and once in September, mostly for stocking up on supplies and making necessary appointments. “I try to get them over with,” said Rogers. His family still make the annual trip to Cockburn island every August, for the community fish fry. “They all love the island, it’s a getaway from everything,” he said. Apart from the occasional trips, he doesn’t see them much but keeps in touch through daily phone calls.  The community centre at Cockburn Island. Becky Guthrie/Postmedia

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