Lake Winnipeg is a very large lake which lies about 50 miles north of Winnipeg, Manitoba. My father was employed by the Canadian Pacific Railway and had a railway pass so we road the trains for free. In the 1940’s we made regular trips to Winnipeg Beach, which lies on the western side of the lake in the southern basin. The CPR developed the town and beach about 1900.
The Canadian National Railway, not to be outdone, developed Grand Beach Manitoba on the eastern shore of the lake. Grand beach got it’s name from the fact that the prevailing north west winds built up huge sand drifts, more than ten feet high all along the beach. Today, Grand beach can be reached by car in about a hour and a half.
I was familure with both beaches but I was particularly attracted to Grand Beach because the north west winds during and after a storm produced very high waves at Grand Beach. The lake is about twenty miles wide between Winnipeg Beach and Grand beach and average depth of the water was about 39 feet deep. The strong winds and shallow water produces waves of four six feet in height. Canoeing at Grand Beach in the waves is similar to surfing.
When I was in my mid twenties I watched the weather forecasts and waited for the right rain storm over Lake Winnipeg. After the storm had passed it took a day or two for the waves to die down. Timing was everything. You had to wait for the storm to pass and the sun to come out but not wait too long and miss the large waves crashing ashore.
One morning I made the drive to Grand Beach with the canoe on the roof of the car. As I untied the canoe I was very pleased to see four foot waves crashing onto the beach, under clearing skies. I soon had the canoe in the water and was paddling with all my strength to get through the waves and get about a hundred feet off shore. I then quickly turned the canoe around and headed for the beach, driven by the wind and waves. Each time I came ashore the canoe was driven high and dry high up on the beach. It took all my skill as a canoeist to stay in control and not be swamped by the high waves.
I was on a portion of the beach that was unoccupied, but further south I could see fifty or so sun bathers or swimmers in the water. I also noticed a life guard in a small boat, patrolling back and forth in the area of the swimmers.
After I had made a half dozen trips out into the lake and back onto the beach I suddenly found the life guard and his boat beside me. I was informed that I could not paddle out into the lake when the waves were so high as it was not safe!
As we bobbed up and down on the storm tossed water I politely explained I had a right to go where ever I wanted to on the lake but was particularly staying away from the beach occupied by the swimmers. I explained that I had extensive training as a life guard and had traveled many miles to be on the lake as the storm was dying down. After convincing the 17 or 18 year old life guard that I was in no danger and had no intention of leaving, he motored back to his duties further down the beach.
About an hour later as I sat out in the lake and made preparations for another dash ashore, I noticed the lifeguard in his boat. He was heading in my direction, parallel to the beach with the wind coming from his left. Suddenly a strong gust of wind snatched his baseball cap off his head and it landing in the water on the beach side of the boat. Without a second of hesitation he swung the boat towards the beach and cut the speed to zero.
I sat there amazed as I watched the next large wave climb up the back of the boat and over the transom. The boat instantly filled and started sinking. I turned my canoe and stated paddling towards the sinking boat. Just as I neared the boat the heavy motor at the back of the boat sank out of sight. I pulled alongside the boat as it sank and helped the lifeguard into my canoe. at almost the same moment all but the nose of the boat sank out of sight.
There was no way we could recover the boat so I paddled my passenger toward the beach and landed him before a large beach audience who were standing transfixed aloong the shoreline. The waves eventually drove the boat into shallower water where it could be recovered and dragged ashore. The drowned motor prevented any more life guard patrols that day.
I felt sorry for the soaking wet and embarrassed lifeguard as he dripped up the beach to his shed.