Frenchman's Narrows – Part 1 of 2.

August 1974, while living in Kenora, Ontario, I decided to take a canoe trip far out in the Lake of the Woods to spend time amongst the islands in places I have never visited. I planned to go alone and by canoe and get far away from civilization and the daily rat race.

I was going into an uninhabited region with large expanses of open water, know for high winds and large waves. Common sense dictated that I had to take special steps to guarantee my safety. I owned a 16 ft. fiber glass canoe that had served me well for over 20 years but it could be easily swamped by large waves. I took an old canvass tent and trimmed it to fit the top of the canoe then fastened it down securely all around the upper edges. I designed a special skirt in the area where I sat, that would tie snugly around my chest and keep the water out.

Because I planned to go about 50 miles I attached my small 1 1/2 horsepower outboard motor to the left rear of the canoe. Long before the departure date I tested the equipment and discovered that the motor had a tendency to splash water into the rear of the canoe. That problem was solved by adding a splash guard between the motor and the side of the canoe.

The first day the weather was great and I enjoyed traveling around the islands and at no time did I see another boat, person, or cottage. I brought sandwiches for lunch so I was able to keep traveling south, leaving Kenora and the north shore far behind. When I stopped for supper at a small island, and what with all the fresh air and exercise, I fell asleep by the campfire. About an hour later I was jerked awake by the crash of lightning and thunder right over my head. I jumped up and set up my tent and gathered all my equipment inside just as the rain started to fall. The canoe was pulled up on the rocky shore and turned over.

I had traveled about ten miles as the crow flies, but much more by navigating around all the islands. I was happy to go to bed early as I wanted to get fresh start in the morning. It rained all night but I was dry and secure because I had a fairly new four man tent.

In the morning the rain had stopped, I broke camp, and was quickly back in my canoe and heading south. The terrain was changing from numerous islands, to wide open expanses of water. The sky was getting cloudy and overcast and the wind was beginning to pick up. The rain started up in the distance and I could see it heading my way and stirring up the surface of the water. I obviously was heading right into a severe storm that was coming directly at me from Frenchman’s Narrows. I had to get off the lake and to shore before the full force of the storm reached me.

Part II – “Wind Bound” to follow.

The Finlander

I met Arnie in the early 70’s when he lived in a house south of Kenora, Ontario. He built himself a log cabin on the east shore of the Lake of the Woods and was a great carpenter. One winter, while continuing to work on the cabin he had an accident. He had just put a new saw blade in his table saw and while cutting some wood trim he cut his thumb off!!

He described to me how shocked he was and how badly he started to bleed. Other than his big white dog, he was alone, with no one to help him. He realized that he needed to drive into town to get help at the hospital but first he had to shut down the cabin. He rushed around bleeding profusely, turning off the furnace, the lights, and locking the doors. He managed to find a towel to wrap around his hand to limit the bleeding. His dog Tina realized something was wrong and cowered in a corner of the room.

Eventually Arnie staggered out to the truck and headed for town. His dog sat in the truck with him but sat as far away as possible. On the winding and hilly drive to town it was difficult to drive very fast and he was afraid he was going to pass out and drive into the ditch. Arnie eventually got into town but rather than go further to the hospital he stopped at his house where he fell down and passed out from the loss of blood. His wife was at home and an ambulance soon had Arnie in the hospital and taken care of. They were unable to reattach the thumb as it was left in the cabin many miles away..

Many years after the event Arnie and I were discussing the accident while out at the cabin and having a few drinks. He confessed that the whole episode upset him badly and he had trouble getting over it. When his hand had healed enough he returned to the cabin and found it still in the same condition when he left it.

Not only was the table saw covered in blood but the thumb was still lying there. At the time of the accident the pain had caused him to shake his hand up and down dramatically, while yelling and cursing at his own stupidity. The result was that not only was there blood on the floor but on the walls and ceiling. Instead of simply wrapping up the hand and jumping in the truck he went round and closed up the cabin in the usual manner. He turned off the furnace and the lights and locked the door. He left a trail of blood where ever he went and on what ever he touched. The amount of blood loss made it look like someone had been butchered in the cabin. In the end it was necessary to repaint most of the walls and ceiling. The entire situation badly upset the dog, particular the yelling and cursing, and it was many weeks before she would go near her master.

During our talk I learned that during World War II, while living in Finland, Arnie was in the Finnish Army and fought against the Germans. At one point he and a group of fellow soldiers were on ski patrol and ran into a lager group of Germans. They were forced to flee and were chased by the Germans. They came to a river which had steep banks on both sides. With difficulty they got down the near bank, abandoned their skis and swam across the river. As they were climbing the deep snow on the far bank the Germans caught up and started shooting. Of the dozen or so Finnish soldiers with Arnie all of them were shot and killed and only he managed to escape.

Because of this tragedy and all the other bad experiences he suffered during the war he considered himself very lucky to have escaped without a scratch. Cutting off his thumb made him relive his close escape and bring back all the war memories. It was these buried memories that upset him more than the loss of his thumb.

Shore Lunch

 

     It is traditional in Lake of the  Woods Country to stop at noon on some rocky shore, fillet a couple of fresh caught walleye, and cook up a delicious shore lunch. In this little tale, events occurred near Sioux Narrows, Ontario.

The fishing party was made up of a number of American Professional Football players who came to Canada on a weekend fishing trip. Included in the group was the teenage brother of one of the players. The three boats had all been pulled up on a poplar lunching spot and after lunch the men were laying around having a short rest before getting back to an afternoon of fishing.

Without asking anyone, the teen ager, who was a very large young man, dragged one of the fishing boats off the beach an headed out on the lake for a joy ride.  At first he drove up and down in a normal manner but soon picked up the pace and raced around in figurer eights or various sized circles.

Two older were fishing from a  boat near by and on a couple of occasions the teenager raced past around them rocking, their boat and disturbing the tranquility of their fishing.

Not satisfied with his antics and deaf to the pleas of his fishing group on shore, he changed position and moved back so that he was sitting on the back of the boat, partly on the transom and partly on the side of the boat.  This resulted in the front of the boat sitting very high in the water and created greater waves as he continued his antics.

During one of his steep sudden turns the boy fell out of the boat backwards, into the wave churned lake. The motor tiller was sharp to one side so the boat continued on at high speed in small circles. As the boy struggled in the water to stay afloat the boat started to circle him.  On about the third circle the boat ran directly over the swimmer, head on.

The men on shore standing watching the antics then ran for their boats.  The two fishermen that were close to the accident, both threw their fishing rods overboard, started their boat, and raced to the scene. The boat was still racing around in circles so they had some difficult in getting along side the injured boy.

When they reached him he was surrounded in a cloud of red bloody water. Because of his size they had trouble hauling him into the boat.  They were shocked to see he had been hit in the face with the propeller and had three open lacerations on the front of his face. One on a diagonal line across his forehead, one over bridge of his broken nose and the third across his mouth.  He was stunned with shock and difficult to deal with

His brother soon arrived in another boat and they quickly headed back to the tourist camp for help. The boy eventually got medical help in Kenora, Ontario and received a lengthy series of treatments. He fully recovered but was left with some scars.

A short length of time after the incident a lawyer on the boys behalf sued the tourist camp for providing a faulty boat and motor and asked for a great deal of money for medical attention as well a money for pain and suffering.

The two fishermen witnesses who were close to the entire event, and each suffered the loss of expensive fishing gear, willingly gave a statement at to what occurred and the entire case was thrown out of court.