Tuesday, March 29, 2016


"Dad's Flat Bottom Boat" -  Oil Wash

"Arrival"  - Oil wash and pencil:  from a photo c 1952

Cut off as I am from seeing my cabin in Northwestern Ontario in winter, (we have no road access and I am not able to ski in anymore) I find myself longing for "The Word". We are always eager to get there, and we start packing as soon as someone says the word. And that word is, "thelakeisopen!"I love the first frigid trip down the lake in the boat, leaning over the gunnels and pushing aside slush on the water; hearing the candling of the underwater icicles tinkling as we stop the engine to push our way through the melting surface. 

It's not that I am anxious for time to pass quickly. I guess what I would really like is the time travel from a couple of my novels  - so I could come and go to the lake any time I wanted. I'd love to see the snow through the wrap around veranda windows once again - while a fire snaps and crackles in the Franklin stove in the main room -  and the cook stove fires up in the kitchen.  

Once we arrive, the floor will be icy cold, but that's what moccasins are for. And we will heat the beds with heat packs before turning in. 

In less than a month, I'll be there. I hope. I call the lake our legacy - given to us by our English grandfather who often passed by the sparkling water when he traveled with my grandmother and his small children to the Canadian Pacific Railway's holiday camps at Laclu, Ontario. 

On their way to Laclu, they always had a stop at a small train station that served the miners at Star lake who used the railway as a starting point to portage to the mines. One year, Grandpa, when his own kids were still small, decided to make a special trip with some work buddies to take a closer look at the lake at the bottom of the hill. Perhaps the railway people would give them a boat in order to take a look around if they arrived for a camping weekend. 

He liked the fact that this little station offered comfortable access to the shining lake below. So, he returned with some work buddies a few weeks later - and in a borrowed row boat, they traveled the three miles down the lake to the three bays at the very end. He and his friends felt a connection to this long, narrow lake with intriguing bays breaking off the main body  - and together they bought an entire shoreline on a stretch of land facing all the bays. The land they chose had a narrow sandy beach that would allow for docks and, eventually, boathouses. 

In the photo below you can see my mother, (in the white shorts), my grandmother (in the polka dot dress) and others waiting for the supply train. I remember standing waiting for this as a child. Mind you, we didn't arrive by train. No free railway passage like my grandparents, so our Dad drove to the lake with all of us piled in - each with a backpack to carry. He would park the car under trees near the Manitoba fish hatchery road, and we would walk the two mile trail to a narrow inlet of our lake where we kept an old boat that would ferry us to our own log cabin - if the little Champion 1 1/2 horsepower motor - kept in a tiny rough shed would start! Otherwise it was a looong row. 

Waiting at the station, c 1935

There were a small group of homesteads dotted along the the lake in 1918 when my grandfather bought his land. One homesteader, halfway down the lake, had a couple of heavy horses that used to carry workers and equipment at the other end of the lake -  across the long portage to the next lake - heading for the The Penniac Reef Gold Mine on Star lake. The mine became inactive in 1918, not long after my grandparents built their place. 

There was even a murder on the lake not far from the station. The wife of the murdered man ran a small camp for miners. A fellow, in one of the narrow bays who lived right beside the portage to the mines, shot the woman's husband for trespassing and he died of his wounds. But the story was was much more than that. I hope to write that story one day! My grandfather suggested to the widow that she open a store for the new holiday arrivals building summer cabins along the lake. And being a canny woman, she did just that. This was eventually expanded into a pleasant clapboard inn - still active as a local store for the campers.  

The Inn

In the early 1900's the long stretch of land that sloped away from the railway toward the lake already had an interesting past of failed farming;  but the station itself was an active one, with a water tower, and two houses one for for station family and a larger one for the foreman of works and his family.  And of course there was the stopover camp for the busy movement of miners.

Much of it's energy slowed down when the mines closed, so my grandfather paid the owner of the old sway back horses to have them drag logs across the frozen lake one winter. He had cut down many fir trees the previous autumn, for building his cabin the next spring and summer. He had been told it was easier to strip the bark off the trees after a good long freeze. The advice was good advice. But a few years later the horses and their owner were gone.

But, things took a different turn. The train began to deliver more campers  - a few families at a time - and cabins began to pop up here and there along the lake. Most of them were railway workers. The children from the railway homes loved to see more children arrive. I can't imagine what it was like in mid-winter to teach in a one room school house in the back of nowhere and to board in a miner's camp. I am sure the teachers who worked there didn't stay long.

The school behind the railway station

My grandparents would always arrive by train as George had free family passes. No one takes the train there now. A road was built by the camper's association in 1858 - one year after my father died at age 47. There is no longer a station there, of course, and the trains rush right past the once tiny hamlet with nary a look back.

My grandparents, with the help of friends, built a log cabin on a piece of the land they had all purchased, as I said, around 1918. I think my grandfather loved the pioneering spirit of it all. And the place became very handy during the depression when he and one of his sons had to work part time in order the share wages with fellow workers - and my grandparents spent quite a lot of time there, living off the game, fish, blueberries, and mushrooms - plus special orders sent by train to Eaton's for flour, sugar and other staples.

My grandparents and their three children lived in tents for the first summer. I am sure my grandmother loved that! She looks pretty weary sitting sitting in that deck chair. 

My grandfather is the proud one with the pipe in his mouth.  His three kids are in front and two friends beside him. My mother is holding a doll. She got an Eaton's beauty doll one year. That may be it.

The cabin still stands and one family member, a cousin who is the last one to live there rarely does so, as she lives in California. Hopefully one of our family will buy it one day.

My parents bought land across the lake on a small peninsula with a pretty island at the point. We can see this old place from our docks. 

Before 1920, my grandfather had built a cabin, a boat house, and at least one flat bottom boat. He bought a transport canoe and in a stroke of what he believed was genius, he added a sail to it, thinking they could sail the miles down the lake to the station, rather than row all the way.

On the first trial test, the wind caught the sail in the middle of the bay and pushed my grandparents across the lake at a very fast clip. It ended when they were pushed up onto the sandy shore. My grandfather had no control  - except he did use his paddle as a rudder. My mother told us that my grandmother got out with great dignity and refused to ever get into it again. And she was true to her word. So my grandfather built a canvas covered frame at the back of the big flat-bottom boat and there my grandmother sat on pillows - riding in state down the narrow lake just like the queens of Egypt.

Coming up in my next post - the many moods of our beautiful bays  - from my canoe