The Fab Fort: Discovering lake land

By Gord Mackintosh
Special to the Times

I dug deep holes in our Fort Frances backyard, hoping for treasure, ancient settlements, a tunnel to Stedmans for candy.

I built shacks there of materials borrowed from back lanes. I never felt guilty because I didn’t raid gardens that often. I also hear wet cement went missing from First Street curbs, late at night, about 7:30 pm. As if I know.

The yard hosted spitting and burping contests, a Dinky and Corgi Toy village – with cement roads – and, before Mom could intervene, firecrackers.

Mom’s unease grew.

I left a firecracker in our windowsill ashtray with the odd buttons. After school, Mom confronted me. “You should never play with firecrackers! They could take your hand right off. Or your eye out.”

I asked, “What? What’s wrong?”

She said, “The firecracker, in the ashtray. I had to get rid of it. When I lit it at the back door, it went off. Boom! Right in my fingers. Awful things! They shouldn’t be allowed.”

I wonder if Johnsons next door saw her celebration.

Spreading my wings beyond the yard, and the Point, I discovered bush and bog across Eighth Street. The tranquility of its noise beckoned, gifting a love of chickadee melodies. The bog was a deep sponge. I assured Mom, “I’m playing with Peat.”

When older, near the Causeway I found where the railway blocked an inlet, creating a pond. Mom regularly drove me. It supported jackfish and a sun-loving turtle. And soon a raft.

From Rainy Lake’s shore I dragged logs that escaped booms to the mill. I tied them, hammered on boards, and grabbed a paddle.

I proudly pushed my vessel onto the pond. It disappeared.

It did float, but just under the water.

Among its logs were deadheads.

I nonetheless boarded for excursions, and later insisted Mom come see. Despite my believable walk on water schtick, she gasped, “Get off that thing this instant!”

I left my pond to nature. I thought. I discovered CN loading rock into it.

Friends’ parents then generously welcomed me to cabins. Adventureland.

I met a bush pilot slapped by tree-tops and an irrigated late-night boat driver slapped by shoreline trees. Waves whacked rivets out of a pal’s boat and, overnight, it sunk. A skiff sunk from one leak too many, and an outboard half-sunk from an open drain plug. Tip: before leaping into your boat, check for water. Even better, check the plug, Gord.

We crammed into a parent’s car with an unlicensed teen. Confused by two pedals and two radio dials, we bulldozed into the bush until we lodged on a stump.

Painting cabins for cash, I plummeted 15 feet, wide-eyed on a home-made scaffold almost balanced by stones and paint cans. On the cabin’s picture window, the paintbrush traced my descent.

I submerged a Sno-Jet in slush, terrified. Yet after a sauna, I slid mostly naked into ice-holes of slush, eagerly.

Years later at my in-law’s off-grid cabin, we encountered audacious deer flies, ants, mice. And thirsty visitors.

But why does bacon, pancakes, and coffee taste better there?

Why is there sunrise and sunset only at the lake?

Often, boat motors didn’t work. Ugh! And cell phones didn’t work. Yay!

We had a battery radio. I miss “OB’s” busy Message Period for the skinny on folks’ otherwise private affairs. Messages might say: “To Bud and Myrtle on Crappie Island. From Guzzler, Big Bea, the kids, and Dribbles. Can’t come up next summer after all. Meet us at the landing at 4 today. Will bring two bottles of beer.”

Our family explored the cliffs and crevices of Black Sturgeon Bay. Father-in-law, Otto and I caught a fighting fish – at the same time. He yelled for the net. I yelled for the net. Otto caught its mouth. I caught its tail.

We planned “dock days” where, until supper, we only stepped ashore for more ice and, maybe, the outhouse. We enjoyed indulgent BBQ’s where someone apparently assigned clean-up to a bungling bear, followed by cards, and my ghost stories that later kept me up.

One hot day with Margie and the children – Dorothy was a week old – our boat-motor sputtered out of gas. That hadn’t happened since our honeymoon.

We paddled to a dock. Facing a long walk to our own dock for fuel, I wore Margie’s Birkenstocks to desolate Highway 502.

The sandals squeezed and bit. And I think I had them on the wrong feet. Hammered by heat, each disabled step was a chore despite the melting, soft black-top.

A cyclist shockingly approached. I knew him. I proudly shouted “Hello!” and looked ahead to avoid answering questions proving, for certain, I’m a dumbass. He surely wondered why I’d walk in swimwear on sweltering, remote highways. Perhaps to correct a foot disorder.

And son, Gordie and I cleared a new dock path. Small rocks needed moving. On digging, we discovered two-foot-deep, belligerent boulders. We could hardly inch them – except into the boat, up the dock, into the vehicle, home to our Winnipeg back yard. Four trophies.

I’d love to take home all the Fort’s lake land.

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