The Fab Fort: Get to the Point

By Gord Mackintosh
Special to the Times

At the perfect collision of rolling river valley and wild boreal, the Rainy region is among North America’s best for beauty and bounty. And for a good garbage dump or two.

Swim at Reef Point. Note where your horseshoes land because they sink in the finest sand at Sandpoint. And there’s the Fort’s long-time summer place – just “the Point.”

The Point once boasted wooden turquoise see-saws you could not crack, a towering, terrifying metal slide, and a ninety-mile-an-hour merry-go-round – to prep kids for life, or Emo’s Fair.

An empty replica wooden fort and, later, a giant’s red wooden chair amused or bewildered us.

On Wednesday nights, car horns erupted in loud applause from the Point for the summer drive-up Town Band concerts. The horns, not those in the Band, blared as far as Pit Road #1, or #2.

Before widespread air conditioning, the Point is where the Fort cooled off.

As I tell our children, the Point’s big bustling dock hosted our swimming lessons once the ice was mostly out.

Ah, the cool bouquet of Rainy Lake up the nose.

After swimming as a child, I changed into pants to avoid the scalding bus or car seats of vinyl with Mom just holding a towel around me – to keep away all the girls. Ok, the mosquitos.

As daring teens, we swam to the boom-posts – albeit outpaced by old George Mayhew. We conquered the dock with a carpet of many-coloured towels and coconut-scented lotions, and dined on Bathhouse crinkle-cut fries drenched in ketchup and vinegar in paper-mache-type trays. We watched disruptive cannonballs, rattails snapping – and girls. Just kidding, Margie.

Family picnics meant Kool-Aid, sandwiches in folded wax paper, and watermelon with seeds that we spit across the Point’s always squishy grass.

I asked my Winnipeg cousins if they had a Point. After explaining myself, they replied, “No.” For years I knew Winnipeg wasn’t for me.

The town then built an indoor pool. That ended the excuse of waves for failing the Red Cross test. But the water is way warmer, and a little kid told me he knows why.

With its dock gone too, the Point’s beach is now largely vacated, except near the RV’s.

On a recent August afternoon, no one swam there despite blazing heat. I plunged in.

A dad with three bouncing children arrived. He called out, “Is the water ok?”

I replied, “Pretty warm actually!”

He said, “I mean with the sign and all?”

I asked, “What sign?”

I found this sign. Mostly behind a hedge.

It said to expect bacteria if there was recent rain. Check. If windy. Check. Birds in the water. Check.

I got itchy. Very itchy. On my nose. My scalp. Especially my privates. I felt bad for the children in the water that I certified.

After showering later on, itching ended. Aha! The sign made me think I itched.

Some warning signs need warning signs. Go swim!

But the Point is not at the point. A scandal. The real point is “Seven Oaks.” Here’s another scandal: there aren’t seven oaks – because you can’t count that dead one. No one alerts the oak-numbering people though because the willows are absolutely grand.

This oasis offers no amenities but remains a notorious place to make out. I have heard. There can be several vehicles at once however and waving isn’t cool, unless you’re, dang, stuck in snow. I have heard.

From the Point, folks sure enjoy walking the wonderful La Verendrye Parkway along the upper Rainy River. Visitors to its lookout tower report 120 steps. I’ll take their word for it. And there’s the riverside’s outdoor gym I can let someone else try.

This replaces wave-worn docks, leaning boathouses, and rusted vessels, but fond memories remain.

In the 1970’s, my wee nephew, Paul, and I launched a kite at Lion’s Park – a box kite of silver metallic material connected with purple sticks. The beaut rose miraculously, tugging the long string. And broke away. I never got the Scout badge for knots.

It whisked south. I ran with Paul in my arms. We almost caught up. As the kite reached the river, I felt our loss.

Suddenly the glistening kite swooped. The operator of a small tugboat in mid-river watched with us as it landed on a log boom. The tug pivoted, lurched into the logs, bobbing to the kite. The operator’s arm stretched out as the tugboat tilted. He delivered our treasure alongside a dock. And delivered a cherished memory of local adventure and kindness.

Speaking of kindness, as a teen I drove girlfriends to not only the Point, but the town dump. You did this at night when the rats ran from your headlights. Come to think of it, former girlfriends.

During the day, I found good stuff, including a rich variety of hood ornaments from the derelict vehicle pile – as gifts for, say, girlfriends. Former girlfriends.

The dump is different now and I don’t go anymore. Mind you, I recently spotted 21 eagles there, and a garden gnome in good shape.

But take your gals elsewhere – like up the Dryden highway, for bears at that dump.

Better yet, get to the Point.

Next: Discovering lake land