Goshawk Lake, heading north, into the face of a spring snow storm
It was early May of 1968 and three of us were in an 16 ft. aluminum canoe crossing Goshawk Lake, forty miles north of Kenora, Ontario. As we pushed off from shore the wind from the west started to pick up and to the north, the direction we were heading, it started to snow.
David was running the small motor, William was sitting in the front seat, while I sat on the floor of the canoe in the middle. We were off on an adventure to deliver this canoe to a temporary hunting camp located at Rowdy lake, fifty or so miles to the north.
We had about three miles to go across the lake, while the width of the lake was at least four miles. As we moved away from the shore the wind increased as did the waves. Because we were traveling parallel to the waves the canoe was rolling badly as each wave passed under the canoe. As the minutes passed I became concerned about the canoe filling with water and leaving us with a half mile swim in very cold spring water.
Earlier in the winter my partner in business, VM, came to me with a request. He and two other men owned a temporary hunting camp on Rowdy Lake. It was a fly in camp and consisted of two large tents, one inside the other for insulation purposes. It all sat on a large plywood floor and could be taken down and removed at any time. Rules and regulations set out what was considered a temporary camp and this site followed the rules.
The camp had been in use for a couple of years for hunting deer and moose. A couple of aluminum boats and small motors had been flown in by bush plane but the canoe was too long for this form of transport.
The many swamps and small creeks could not be used by the boats when recovering downed game as the water was too shallow and narrow. The three owners of the camp had decided they needed a canoe to improve their transportation of moose meat in particular. It could not go in by bush plane so the only alternative was to take it in through a system of lakes and rivers that flowed from Rowdy lake. In other words the whole trip would be up stream.
My partner came up with the bright Idea that I should accompany the them on the trip north since I had considerable canoeing experience, which they all lacked.
We had been in a business partnership for four years but I only knew the other two men casually. I was about 35 years old, David at least 45 and William at least 55. We met a number of times to make the plans. My role in the trip was rather limited so I played a small part in the actual plans of what we were taking and or the route north.
And now, here I was in a cold northern lake traveling in a loaded canoe in an unsafe manner. I kept my mouth shut until we were in the middle of the lake and the situation was becoming critical. Finally I turned and said to David, “David, if you turn into the waves and increase your speed a little, I think you would find the canoe would ride better and there would be less chance of shipping water.”
In an instant he exploded and yelled in what I took as a frightened cry. “Here we are, hardly off the shore and you are trying to tell us what to do! Then, like a child having a tantrum, he suddenly turned the canoe into the waves and increased the speed. In an instant the next wave climbed the side of the canoe and deposited about five gallons of cold water on us all. At the same time the sudden increase in speed caused the bow of the canoe to dive into the following wave, once again adding to the water in the canoe.
It was a very frightening move and I felt sorry for William in the front as he had no warning of the sharp turn and no doubt was seriously frightened when he was doused with cold water.
Almost as soon as soon as David swerved left he swerved back so once again we were rolling in the trough of the waves and creeping our way north to the distant shore.
I can remember sitting there in the cold water and considering my options. I was a good swimmer but cold spring water could bring on hypothermia very quickly. If the canoe filled with water it would barely support three grown men from sinking. I looked at the shore and guessed we were less than half a mile away to my right or east. it would be an easy swim in warm water. Under these conditions I would have less than half an hour to make the shore before I would be slowed down by the hypothermia.
I actually started considering loosening the laces of my boot and unzipping my jacket. I knew there was no way I could save either man by towing them to shore. I was thinking rationally and certainly considering looking after myself, but finally decided to let the situation run its course. I was so disgusted by David’s behavior I probably would have tried to only save William.
It was at this moment the snow from the North moved in over us, limiting our vision to the length of the canoe. The heavy thick snow seemed to dampen down the waves and at the same time David cut our speed by half. In this little world of snow we crawled forward with no idea where we were or where we were going. The snow built up thickly on our hats, shoulders and legs.
Eventually the far rocky shore came into sight and we all agreed we need to get a good fire going and get dried out before we continued. The mood was dark, each of us were very disturbed by the turn of events and realized it was not going to be a pleasant journey. Worst of all we were only three miles into a 50 mile trip.
David and I were not on speaking terms. Things did not bode well for the rest of the journey, but I was ready to face it and make the best of it.