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Jul. 31, 2021 | Saturday
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Mimi McEwen, 82, owned Chautauqua's colourful Peake Inn
Mimi McEwen and her grandson Samuel Jowett. (Supplied)

Shaun Devlin
Special to The Lake Report

Miriam “Mimi” McEwen, owner of the colourful Chautauqua home known as the Peake Inn, will be remembered by her many friends, relatives and acquaintances for her infectious laugh and her warm, outgoing personality.

She died on June 13 at the age of 82.

Mimi’s great-grandfather Rev. Lewis C. Peake was the secretary of the Niagara Assembly and the managing director of the NOTL Chautauqua established in 1887. Lewis built his family one of the original Chautauqua cottages, located near Lansdowne Pond.

In 1919, Mimi’s grandparents Charles and Edith Peake bought a separate Chautauqua cottage at 23 Vincent Ave. that had been built by a St. Catharines doctor.

The cottage became known as the “Peake Inn” (although it has always been a residence.) The family has maintained a cottage log of events and visitors ever since.

Mimi and her sister Bonnie grew up in Toronto but spent their childhood summers at the cottage with their grandparents. As young girls, Mimi and Bonnie would head down the street to smoke “cigarettes” made from oak leaves wrapped in paper.

Her aunt was Margaret Peake Benton, the successful painter and writer. Benton apparently also fancied herself a singer, though others did not agree, and Mimi and her sister made fun of their aunt's efforts during recitals when she couldn’t see them.

Their antics apparently were undetected, as Benton asked them once to sit for a portrait. Alas, the girls were too impatient to do so and missed their chance at artistic fame.

As teenagers, Mimi and Bonnie got jobs working at Charlie Ledoux’s along the Niagara River, and when not working spent their wages waterskiing on the river.

They had local boyfriends for the summer, but when September arrived, they said goodbye and went back to their boyfriends in Toronto.

Married at the Presbyterian church on Simcoe Street, Mimi lived and worked as a teacher in Toronto and elsewhere in Ontario, visiting NOTL over the years, until she retired in the mid-1990s and acquired the cottage from her mother.

She added a back kitchen, from which she could glimpse Lake Ontario, and a deck where she loved to entertain friends and relatives or sit with her dog enjoying nature.

She carefully maintained the look and feel of the cottage, including the original “Peake Inn” sign which on occasion she had to take down to avoid passersby asking to rent a room.

Mimi liked a good protest, especially if the cause was heritage preservation. She joined the NOTL Conservancy Society, where she helped with the efforts to preserve the Willowbank estate and became a member of its board of directors.

She loved to travel, visiting and cruising in Europe many times. She also owned a camper van and she and her pet pooch drove south for the winter, often meeting up with a friend from NOTL who also had her own van.

She had many good friends in town and was active in the community, whether it was walking her dog (or sometimes dogs) to Ryerson Park, having dinner with friends or participating in one of the groups and organizations with which she was involved.

Her approach to life is best summed up by her son Adam, who said, "“She loved NOTL so much and it was the place she most wanted to be."

"It was such a big part of her entire life and she was always sharing memories of her childhood there … she so loved talking and laughing with everyone there," he said.

"Her laughter seems to be the common memory of most I’ve spoken with, and I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

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