First in a series
The boundaries of Queenston stretch from Line 6 to the north, Queenston Heights to the south, Concession 1 to the west and the Niagara River to the east. They encompass much more than the historic village centre, which is bordered by the Niagara River Parkway.
The Shalamar Lake campgrounds on Line 8 were a part of Queenston and, in the resort's heyday, village children often played in the half-acre pool.
The story of Shalamar Lake begins as a family saga. It was built by Harold Herbert Sheppard and began operating in the mid-1960s. It has seen several changes in ownership over the decades and but is still operating and is known now as Vine Ridge Resort.
Sheppard was a character and although he went by Bert, he was usually known as Shep. The name Sheppard is well-known in Queenston and a very pretty crescent that winds its way up the escarpment is named for the family.
Shep’s daughter, Cynthia, tells the story.
“I loved listening to him cast his vision with a twinkle in his eye, his signature. Some dreams materialized and some remained in the recesses of his mind, and mine," she says.
"The pool, I believe, was the first ever self-proclaimed ‘man-made lake,’ with sand all around the perimeter. It offered hours of play for toddlers and much confusion to incoming tourists looking for the lake! Unfortunately, the staff and lifeguards had to spend many hours cleaning the sand out of the pool. It was replaced with an asphalt apron painted blue like the water.”
Cynthia’s sister Diane Sheppard ran the pool area.
In the early days, campers could use the pool for free. Queenstonians could buy family memberships and people from all over Niagara could pay a daily fee of 75 cents. Shep would contact a local radio station daily, to let listeners know the water temperature.
Diane also managed five lifeguards, and sold hot dogs and ice cream.
While Diane was overseeing the pool, Cynthia looked after the camping area. There were 350 serviced plots and an open tenting area.
Each winter the Sheppard family mailed out hundreds of flyers and people came from all over Canada and the United States.
During the camping season, these two teenage girls were busy from 7 in the morning to 11 at night, registering campers, selling groceries, cooking hamburgers, hot dogs and french fries. They also dealt with 911 calls, septic system backups and blocked toilets. According to Cynthia, the last happened “way too often.”
The girls’ brother Dale was a handyman, whose skills were highly valued. Another brother, Tim, was responsible for inventory in the shop. It was noticed that sometimes things like candy bars and chips went missing. According to Cynthia, Tim was the most likely culprit.
Other jobs taken on by the brothers included grass cutting and cleaning up the fire pits and washrooms.
Cynthia adds, “I can honestly say I loved Shalamar, all aspects of it. I learned some good management skills at a very young age. And Shalamar became a popular hangout for many of my friends. I believe my dad felt we were safest with friends hanging around than being out in the back forty all on our own.”
Next: Shalamar was a real family affair.
Author's acknowledgement: I’d like thank all of those who responded to my request for information about Shalamar Lake. All of you loved your time there. Because there were so many of you, I had to pick and choose the information I used, but I’m grateful to all of you.