WILTZ: Remembering Canada — the way it wasA while back I recounted some of the adventures of Olive Reamer, a young widow left alone in the British Columbia wilderness with three small children. An Avon reader informed me that Olive Reamer Fredrickson had written a book, The Silence of the North, and I mentioned that I would make an effort to read it. The Wagner library obtained the book for me, and it proved to be a great story.
By: Roger Wiltz, The Daily Republic
A while back I recounted some of the adventures of Olive Reamer, a young widow left alone in the British Columbia wilderness with three small children. An Avon reader informed me that Olive Reamer Fredrickson had written a book, The Silence of the North, and I mentioned that I would make an effort to read it. The Wagner library obtained the book for me, and it proved to be a great story.
The preface of the book talked about “total recall,” a gift Olive possessed, and after reading about it, I believe that I have been blessed with some of the same ability to recall details from the distant past that help me with this column.
As you read today’s column, Armour’s Vern Carpenter and I will be fishing Saskatchewan’s Reindeer Lake. Our first class adventure will include the flight in to the island lodge, meals, cabin and guide. In fishing for Arctic grayling and lake trout, I’ll satisfy an itch I haven’t scratched since 1990 when I made the same trip with my father. As my schedule is hectic, it might be awhile before I can tell you about Reindeer.
As much as I savor south of the equator expeditions, my favorite direction is north. Thanks to my adventuresome father, our north woods encounters began in the middle 50s when I was in grade school. We had very little equipment, but we didn’t know it, and we did just fine with what we had. Hopefully I won’t bore you as I’ve touched on some of this material in the past.
Our early northland adventures included my father, my brother John and myself. On an early trip, we had planned to stay in a Duluth motel the first night. When all the motor lodges read “No Vacancy,” we continued north on Highway 61 hoping to find a place up the road. It was late when our motel quest failed in Two Harbors, and dad finally drove the 1951 Hudson onto some Lake Superior lake front property where we would camp. The Hudson was low to the ground, and it immediately sank into the sand. Dad was angry, but not as angry as he would be in the morning when a tow job cost $5.
Dad had taken along his Colt .38 revolver. I suppose he was thinking of bears. At the border the gun was confiscated by the Canadian officials, but they promised to take good care of it, and they did. When we stopped at what we guessed would be the last outpost before entering the undeveloped area where we planned to leave the car at a fire lookout tower and portage our boat, motor, and gear into Quetico’s French Lake, we found the meager establishment open but unoccupied.
Though we had not been there before, two of my dad’s fellow employees had told us about Quetico, the fire tower and the portage. We also had a good map. We gassed up the car, filled our gas cans with fuel, fixed a last meal on the establishment’s grill with what was available (bacon, eggs and potatoes), and left money on the counter for all we had taken. On the crude road we would take, what would one day be the Atikokan Highway, chain gangs were breaking up rocks with sledge hammers.
Our gear included a wide, 12-foot wooden boat we had built in the basement the previous winter. Our outboard was an antique Johnson “Sea Horse Three.” One started that motor with a rope. We had a small three-man canvas wall tent with no floor. Dad had bought two sleeping bags that zipped together, thinking that three of us could sleep in two bags. That idea didn’t come even close to working.
I recall that food was my greatest concern. I wanted to bring Coke along, but we were short on space. Dad said we would drink water dipped directly from the lake. (In my many Canadian adventures, lake water has never made me sick.) Groceries included a large slab of bacon, canned food, pancake mix, powdered milk, oil, crackers and flour.
At this time of my life I was really into photography. We had a black and white photo lab in the basement, and I had purchased an already antique Kodak No. 2 “Supermatic” camera that took size 616 film. That camera took photos that could rival today’s best cameras. It had a full range of “F” stops, exposure times that ran from “time” to 1/400s of a second, and the self-timer I used for today’s photo. I still have the camera, but 616 film is long gone. Speaking of film, how much longer will 35mm film be available?
Though we are not roughing it on our current adventure, I still have a desire to drive as far north as the road goes, tow my little john boat including my small Mercury four-stroke engine that is extremely efficient, pack my sleeping bag, folding cot, some gas cans, and a tent (I still want to get a slip-in camper), and go for it. If a partner steps forward who says he can handle it, it’s a done deal. I’d go by myself if I thought Betsy wouldn’t worry, but she would, and I’ll not cause her any additional stress.
Right now I’m on a very tight schedule. We fly out of Reindeer Thursday. I plan to be home Friday evening, drive to Wisconsin the Saturday, and leave again for Canada the Sunday with my son-in-law and grandchildren. We could go as late as the Monday if we drove all day, but that’s the only margin for error I have. By the time we get back, I’ll need a vacation!
*See you next week.