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Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Alfred David (Davey) and Jim Stibbard (1958)

Hal Studholme on a wet campus (1962) Alfred David burns rubbish as Murray Wilde watches (1958)
Alfred David (Davey)

HOMESICKNESS: A condition that usually afflicts the young, but it can strike even the most life-seasoned among us when far from familiar faces and surroundings. Most likely everyone can recall that deep ache and the sense of isolation that comes with the longing to be back home. The comfort of loving arms is the surest cure. But until they are open once again, this malady can seem unbearable, even incurable. The following is a story based on my recollections of being a counsellor for young boys at a YMCA camp in the late 1950s. - Hal Studholme, Feb. 2008

It was the first day of sunshine after four days of miserable weather and it was a beauty. Lake of the Woods can be cold, windy and downright uncomfortable when it rains, but when it dawns clear and fresh with a blue sky that stretches into forever, there is no place like it short of heaven on a Sunday morning.
The island was brimming with the hustle and bustle that is the norm when you gather 140 boys together, all bent on cramming into two weeks the most fun and adventure humanly possible. All camp was happy, except for one small boy.

Wyatt leaned against the rear wall of the kitchen, chin sunk deep into his chest, his back pressed flat as if he were trying to merge with the faded white boards. His mud-spattered legs, one crossed over the other, were stuck out in front of his hips like skinny props. The once-white running shoes which he sported with such pride when he charged off the camp launch with a crowd of other boys were scuffed and stained. He didn’t wear socks. At camp nothing slowed a guy down more first thing in the morning or getting ready for the afternoon swim than socks. Nobody wore them.

Wyatt’s counsellor Grant stood beside him, leaning over, one hand on the boy’s trembling shoulder. Normally, just being in the presence of Grant would bring a smile to Wyatt’s face. The young boy idolized his counsellor. Grant seemed to be explaining something, but whatever it was it didn’t seem to help as Wyatt shook his head and then slowly slid down the wall to end sitting on the soggy ground. A bit more mud wouldn’t show on those shorts which had suffered mightily from the same rainy weather as the shoes. Only Wyatt’s T-shirt seemed to have managed, miraculously, to keep a few spots in its original sunny orange hue, but the typical round Happy Face emblazoned on it was obviously out of place right now.

Wyatt wrapped his arms tightly around his drawn up legs and dropped his forehead to rest on his dirty knees. He choked back a sob. He was a picture of defeat. Not knowing what else to offer in support, Grant slumped down beside his young friend. He too looked defeated.
Wyatt was small for eight, almost a head shorter than his cabin mates. Hunched there by the kitchen steps he looked even smaller. His size and the thick blond curls which fell almost to his shoulders often drew taunts of, “Hey, little girl,” from the older boys.

After the first day of camp and several of those remarks, Wyatt had begun to think his dad was right, maybe it was time to get him a brush-cut like all the other boys in his school class. But, as expected, Wyatt’s mom and especially his grandmother, were horrified. End of argument. Even then he could have weathered the taunts had it not been for the rain.
There were plenty of great things about camp. He really liked the other guys in his cabin and Wyatt had struck up a strong friendship with the boy on the top bunk over him. The first three days had been filled with so much activity that, at day’s end, they barely stayed awake to the end of taps. Grant often said, “Good night guys” to eight smiling, sleeping bodies. Then came the rains.

It’s one of the most challenging aspects of creating programs for a resident camp, filling multiple, consecutive rainy days with diversionary fun. There are just so many indoor activities one can organize before you have experienced too many craft projects, sing songs, skit nights and story fests. Even extraordinary efforts by the cooks to produce new versions of beans and wieners and morning porridge fell flat. Eventually the smiles of staff and counsellors take on that strained look of people getting to the end of their store of ideas and their patience.

For Wyatt, the fun wore thin by the third day. On the fourth the dam burst. After a night of nearly constant sobbing, he had begged his counsellor to call his parents. The homesick bug had hit full force. He wanted to go home.
At a boy’s camp, homesickness is something to be fought and defeated. Giving in to it doesn’t grow manly character, or such was the thinking in camp circles of the day.

A hard press of hyper-activity, beaming smiles, lots of laughter and constant buddy-buddy companionship from Grant and other counsellors and staff were the weapons of choice. All missed their mark. Wyatt’s sadness deepened and Grant determined it was time for the ultimate treatment. Slumped together in their mutual funk, neither Wyatt nor Grant seemed to notice the tempting aroma of fresh baked bread that wafted through the screened door of the kitchen as it swung open with a squeal of rusted hinges.

A tiny figure in a stained white coat and a crumpled cap that said, “Purity Flour” on its front stepped out. Davey, 80 years old and cook for more than 40, was a camp legend. The old man had been up since four o’clock preparing a breakfast of oatmeal for the nearly 200 hungry souls that inhabited the island camp in the summer.

Davey wearily sat down on the weathered steps and reached out a thin calloused hand to ruffle the boy’s tangled mop of hair. While cooking was his pride and joy, it was spending eight weeks with “my boys” that drew him back every year, despite declaring each fall that this would be his last summer at camp.

For a long while, no one said a word. Then, slowly, Wyatt’s arms loosened their tight wrap around his legs and he looked up and tilted his head towards the old cook.
As a junior camper, Wyatt sat at one of the front tables in the dining hall and he often caught Davey giving him and the other juniors a big wink and a smile from the kitchen pass-through where the food came out in steaming bowls and heaped-high plates. Davey and food were a camper’s best friends.

The bright July sun caught Wyatt’s small round face. His soft brown eyes were brimming and streaks from many tears glistened on his pale white cheeks. He lifted a grubby hand and scrubbed his face, then wiped his runny nose on his arm. Davey began to talk to Wyatt in a quiet measured tone.
Whatever wisdom and comfort the words held, they flowed over the boy and his counsellor and seemed to calm both. After a few minutes the hint of a smile flickered across the boy’s face and the thick curls shook as Wyatt nodded his head.

With a knowing chuckle the old man called something over his shoulder into the din of the kitchen and a few moments later the door opened and one of the kitchen boys, a broad grin on his sweat-streaked face, handed out three plates, each holding a large slice of what appeared to be blueberry pie. Huge scoops of ice cream crowned the offerings. Wyatt’s eyes widened and his smile broadened. Grant stifled a hoot of laughter. He had heard of, but never experienced, one of Davey’s “treatments”. Forks in hand, the cook, the boy and the counsellor dug into the delicacies with delight. Davey’s blueberry pies were as famous as he was to generations of campers and staff.

When you’ve been around boys at camp for more than 40 years, you get to know a cure or two for homesickness. The old cook watched as Wyatt and Grant walked across the playing field, arms around each other’s waists. For now, Davey’s remedy seemed to work once again......but tomorrow’s forecast called for showers.

Alfred David’s last summer at camp was 1961. He died that winter. His first summer was in 1920. His former job was in a factory assembling oil cans. In 1966 the chapel was dedicated in his memory.

The Night of the Skulker

The rec hall as it looked in 1958. On the roof on the left is the bell tower
By Don (Steemer) Plant

If we did it today, they'd call in the social workers and then the lawyers.
Heck, maybe even the cops.
There we were in 1975. A bunch of long-haired CITs who’d soon have total control of Copeland Island - well, control for one evening, anyway. The counsellors would soon be taking a well-deserved night off in Kenora.
We upstart brats who couldn’t even shave yet were the mentors who campers, some barely younger than us, had to aspire to. Or at least sing the same songs we belted out badly in the old rec hall.
We had to impress them. We had to make our mark. So we put our heads together and came up with a plan – the perfect plan.
We’d scare the living be-jesus out of them. We’d give them a thrill they'd never forget.

One of us drew a blood-soaked note and stabbed it with a broken arrow to the wall of the rec hall the day before.
"Beware the Midnight Skulker," it said, red paint dripping off the page.
Another note was pinned in the old biffy, the Eight Holer: "The Midnight Skulker rises again."
The Skulker had haunted camp for generations. He was known for launching fireballs through an open door in the log cabin, or dropping fireballs down the chimney of the rec hall.
In the 1920s he was known as Scotty’s ghost. During evening camp fires in the old rec hall campers heard his moaning and hissing coming from down the chimney.

One night some campers got so spooked they ran outside to chase him away. Little did they know the voice behind the moans and groans was a counsellor who had to scoot off the rec hall roof quickly to avoid being seen. He thumped across the rec hall roof so hard he shook loose a stack of dishes in the back kitchen, sending them crashing to the floor.
Years later, Scotty’s ghost became known as the Skulker. In earlier appearances the Skulker dragged counsellors out of their beds, hung them from the front of their cabins and paddled their butts.

This night, we planned to rig the dinner bell above the rec hall with an extra rope. We’d attach it to the clapper and run it down the old roof through a hole in the adjoining back work shed. That way one of us could ring the bell without being seen.
Everyone figured I was the best one to climb up and do the deed. I was the lightest and least likely to fall through the dry-rotted roof.

One of us stood inside the rec hall, watching the bending depressions in the ceiling as I climbed up, yelling directions to another guy outside when I strayed too far from the supporting timbers.
The clapper was quickly tied. I scrambled down without falling through the shingles. The other rope end was looped on a nail in the back work shed.
We giggled like school girls at how clever we were.
The big event came the next day.

Word had spread. The kids quietly buzzed about this Midnight Skulker. The counsellors were going off-island that evening.
We CITs pretended all was normal. But tonight was going to be different.
We arranged for a camp sing-along inside the rec hall. One of the counsellors, bless him, decided to forego the night-off dinner binge in Kenora and secretly stay behind to help us.
He waited in a cabin until his cue.
The rec hall was full of bustling kids seated on the old wooden benches. The CITs took turns leading silly songs the campers all knew.
The old bell rope hung above the floor as usual, away from everybody.

After half an hour or so, the appointed song began: that old chestnut, "When It's Lamp Lighting Time in the Valley." I told my cabin of junior boys I had to go for a pee.
Stealthily like a Ninja, I made my way to the back of the rec hall and into the work shed. When it came to the quiet part of the song, when everyone hums as the leader speaks those profound lyrics – “When it's lamp-lighting time in the valley” – I yanked with all my being on the secret rope.

Inside the rec hall, the singing stopped.
I heard later that everyone stared wide-eyed at the old bell rope.
It hung there. No one was pulling it, yet the bell rang again and again and again and again.
Then came a collective gasp and the first cries of terror.
A dark figure dressed in a trench coat bounded through the front door wearing pantyhose over his head, his hands on fire!

The kids scambled to the far side of the room, screaming. The Skulker let out an ear-splitting, maniacal laugh, threw the burning gloves on the floor and made his escape out the same door, howling into the distance. The gloves disintegrated and burned out.

Little did campers know the fiend had doused his rubber gloves with lighter fluid seconds before he burst in on the camp sing-song.
The kids were beyond terrified. More like frozen with fear.
I returned after my 'pee' to a cabin-full of boys who latched onto me like I was Moses in the middle of the Red Sea. Some were sniffling.
Even the seniors were wide-eyed and trembling. I kept a straight face and asked what happened.
The sing-along was over. The campers decided there was safety in numbers and it was better to have two cabins of kids sleeping under one roof. But we still had to make it safely to our bunks.
Would the Skulker return? Would he terrorize us again?

As we stumbled down the trail toward our cabin, each boy grasped my clothes with at least one hand. Some curled their fingers around my belt loops. No one let go.
We crowded into the cabin without incident and held a support-group session. It seemed like hours but everyone eventually went to sleep, two to a bunk.
Little did anyone know the Midnight Skulker was close by -- closer than anyone thought.
But some campers were ready.

Kelly Richards had hours earlier been on a day canoe trip to Sultana Island and the abandoned gold mine. He brought back a souvenir, a big chunk of rock. And he’d take no chances with the Midnight Skulker haunting the cabin line. He tucked his rock under his pillow.
Then the crazed Skulker struck. Right there, right then in Richards’ cabin. Richards swiftly bounded out of bed and whacked the intruder over the head with his rock.
Dazed and confused, the Skulker and his accomplice fled the cabin. The Skulker was seriously wounded and had to be carried down the cabin trail away from the fired-up and now in-pursuit campers.

The next day, Camp Director
Punch Jackson suggested the Skulker had made his last appearance on Copeland Island.
Kerry Renaud, nursing a big lump on his head, and his accomplice Paul Jordan gratefully agreed.
Today, almost 33 years later,
Kelly Richards' memory of that night is this and only this: “Those years were amazing. It was a cool camp.”

Where are they now:

Don Plant lives in Kelowna, B.C. with his wife Barb Pullan and two children. Don is a senior reporter at the The Daily Courier. (Camp Stephens 1972-77).

Kerry Renaud lives in Winnipeg. He is married to Stephens-Manitou alumnus Joanne Dufort. They have two sons; Taylor, 20, and Matt, 23.
Kerry is the Chief Operating Officer for Scootaround Inc. a U.S. company providing mobility rental services to travellers requiring wheelchairs and scooters at hotels and resorts throughout North America. (Camp Stephens years 1964-75).

Paul Jordan also lives in Winnipeg. Paul is the Chief Operating Officer at the Forks Renewal Corp. He has four sons ages 16 to 22. His cottage looks on Lone Pine Point. (Camp Stephens years 1965-76).

Punch Jackson lives in Edmonton, Alberta. Punch, now retired, is the former Executive Director of Public Library Services forthe Alberta government. (Camp Stephens years 1956-76).

Kelly Richards lives in Winnipeg. He is a carpenter with Manitoba Hydro and travels the province working on various projects. (Camp Stephens years 1971-75).

The Left Hand of Kelly Hardwick

By Bruce Owen
Italic The 1976 six week, from left: McGregor, Jacques, Maclean, Snyder, Hardwick with Robinson in orange rain suit.
Hardwick checks his hand during a paddle break.
In a tent along a river that drains into Hudson Bay, Kelly Hardwick rocked and forth in unbearable pain. Unable to sleep, the throbbing in his swollen hand defying the painkillers he was taking.
The 16-year-old
Hardwick, in the darkness of the six-man tent, looked at his trip leader Neil Robinson in pure agony.
“Neil, what am I going to do?” he asked
“Kelly, I can’t sit up with you all night,” a worried
Robinson replied. “I need some sleep to paddle so we can get you help.”

It’s a moment both men remember clearly today, 32 years later almost to the day. It was also a moment that, although they didn’t know it at the time, would define them and who they would become.
“The whole trip changed me,”
Hardwick, now 48, said in a recent interview. “It really challenges who you are and how you feel about other people and the world and the wilderness.”
“I’ll never forget it,” added
Robinson, now 55. “It was pretty traumatic. The situation could’ve been a lot worse.”
“It was a brutal end to a long trip,” said
Dave McGregor, also 48, summing up what was the men’s six-week trip of 1976. “I remember falling asleep paddling the canoe.”
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip,”
Tom Snyder, 48, said. “It brought six young guys together and made them into young men.”
Also along were
John Maclean and Mike Jacques. Their trip would cover about 700 miles, starting July 22 at Savant Lake going north to the Winisk River, and down the Winisk to its end at Hudson Bay.

The 1976 six week, (photo above) from left:
McGregor, Jacques, Maclean, Snyder, Hardwick with Robinson in orange rain suit.
The trip was supposed to end Sept. 5, but it finished five days earlier because of
Hardwick’s hand.

Robinson added, “I wish we had a phone along so we could have had the possibility of getting Kelly off the river sooner or had a plane waiting at Winisk to get him to hospital sooner.” Nowadays each trip has a phone and two leaders.
Hardwick said about four weeks into the trip he injured the index finger of his left hand.
“I felt something weird with the finger, but I didn’t say anything to anybody. I didn’t think it was anything to worry about.”

Days later he was horsing around in some rapids when he jammed the finger on some rocks. The pain was incredible.
“I thought that I had broken it.”
Still he didn’t tell anyone. He slid into the tent with everyone else thinking it would just go away.
“In the morning it had puffed up twice as big as it should be,” he said. “You could tell it was infected. It was bad.”

What had happened days earlier was that a sliver, perhaps an aluminum sliver from a canoe, had pierced his finger. Untreated, and with the dirt of the trail mixed in, the infection spread at an alarming speed.
“He came up to me and said, ‘Neil, my finger is hurting,’
Robinson recalled. “We were on the Winisk by then. The current was strong and there was no going back.”Hardwick’s injury wasn’t the only mishap of the trip. Robinson had pulled his stomach muscles – he had his appendix out three weeks before the trip’s start. And Maclean had pulled his back trying to shove a canoe through a portage – he was carrying the Alumacraft canoe by himself. Both were unable to paddle for several days.

Hardwick’s was soon becoming the most serious.
“At first we all just though it would heal up,”
Maclean said. “We just thought he banged his finger between two canoes. We didn’t think it was a big deal.”
But it was a big deal.
In a stroke of forethought,
Robinson had packed antibiotics in the medical kit. The Penicillin would later not only save Hardwick’s finger, but his entire arm.
“I was told that gangrene had set in. If it wasn’t for the Penicillin it would’ve been a lot worse. Another couple of days and I would have lost the arm.”

To get
Hardwick to hospital – again, there was no radio phone – Robinson and the others made a decision to paddle full tilt every day until they hit Winisk on the Hudson Bay coast. That meant 40 miles or more each day.
“You just pull up your bootstraps and go for it,”
Robinson said. “The group worked really hard to get Kelly out.”
“If we didn’t do it we weren’t sure Kelly would make it,”
Maclean said, explaining the seriousness of the situation.
said that involved eating cold bannock at first light, breaking camp and paddling several miles where they would stop and cook a warm breakfast, such as it is on trial. Later they’d stop for trail lunch and then continue until darkness made it unsafe to paddle.
“They became really focused to get me there as fast as they could,”
Hardwick said. “There was nothing else Neil could’ve done. He did as much as he could.”
“Neil should get the credit,”
McGregor added. “He kept us together.”

“It’s sad that it worked out the way our trip did,”
Snyder said. “But we all made it and the special person to thank is Neil. He held it all together and made sure we were safe. In the end we were all taking risks with all we did. We had one job to do and that was to get Kelly to the hospital.”

In the last few miles, the high water from the bay created waves on the Winisk that prevented the group from continuing by canoe.
Robinson made a decision he and Hardwick would walk the rest of the way to Winisk, following the shore as best they could.McGregor said the rest followed behind, walking the canoes along the shoreline. They eventually caught up to Hardwick and Robinson. Hours later they came up to a fog-enshrouded Winisk.
Robinson soon found someone to help him hire a plane to fly Hardwick out. Once it was able to take off Hardwick ended up in hospital in Timmins. He was then transferred to the St. Boniface General Hospital in Winnipeg where he would spend the next eight weeks. He got out briefly for Thanksgiving, but went back in until after Christmas.

The rest of the crew were stuck in Winisk until they could be picked up to head back to Camp Stephens for the return ceremony.
While there it snowed.
“I swam in Hudson Bay that day just to say I did it,”
McGregor said. “Boy, it was cold.”
But before they got to Stephens they made a quick detour. Still in their trail clothes they visited
Hardwick in hospital. They also showed him the moose antlers they had picked up for their plaque, which now hangs in the trail depot at Camp Stephens.
Hardwick’s hand was still a mess. Doctors had grafted it to his hip to heal. The scars are still visible.
In those six weeks he and the others faced things they never thought possible, or would ever come close experiencing again.
“I couldn’t imagine it wouldn’t change anybody,”
Hardwick said.
“The bottom line is that Neil kept it all together with all that was going on,”
Snyder said. “I just hope that one day all of us will be able to get together and sit around a campfire and tell our new stories to each other.”
“There isn’t a day that goes by where the trip and camp doesn’t influence me morally, physically and spiritually,”
Maclean said. “What we learned and how we all got along together is with me each day in what I do now. It makes my world a better place.”
Where they’re now
Kelly Hardwick lives in Edmonton with his family. Hardwick received his Ph.D. in sociology with a specialization in criminology from the University of Calgary in 2002. He was an assistant professor of sociology at Utah State University from 2004 before returning to Canada this summer. He works at a private research firm.
Neil Robinson lives in Canmore with his family and wife Cathy (Suffron), a former CIT director at Camp Stephens. Neil was involved at Camp Stephens from the ages of 10to 28. He still goes on canoe trips. He is a commercial property manager.

Dave McGregor lives in Souris with his family. His son Andrew was on the six-week trip three years ago. Dave is CEO of Child and Family Services of Western Manitoba.
Tom Snyder is a property manager for exclusive cottage properties around Kenora, where he lives with his busy family. His wife Colleen Sullivan (a six-weeker in 1980) works as an RN / Program Coordinator for the Family Health Team. They have four kids.
John Maclean works in Canada’s north for mining companies doing exploration. He sets up remote camps, arrange permits and then tears camps down at the end of the season. He may go to Finland for his next job.
Mike Jacques, we don’t know. If you do, please tell us.

The Wonder and the Mystery

By Bruce Owen
Fletcher canoeing at Camp Stephens

“There is a sense of eternity in the wild, where there are no clocks and no artificial barriers between a person and the natural world to which we all belong. Science talks about infinity, time, mass, energy. As a naturalist I would add wonder and mystery to this good list.”
– Steven Fletcher, from his biography What Do You Do If You Don’t Die? by Linda McIntosh

Before he hit the moose
Steven Fletcher danced across the water.

A paddle in his calloused hands, he cut through miles of rushing wilderness white water, getting better and stronger with each stroke.
“It’s kind of like high-level canoe ballet,” Fletcher said, describing his love and ways of the paddle.

In the late 1980s and early ‘90s the now- Winnipeg MP was a canoe buff. With his family, friends and the Manitoba Naturalist’s Society, young Steven mastered flat-water and white-water canoeing. He also took to kayaking, becoming the 1988 and 1989 Manitoba kayak champion and competing in the 1989 Canada games in several events.

He also spent a short time, only one week, at Camp Stephens.
He said he had a chance to work at camp as a counsellor, but instead took a job with the naturalists. They paid him $5 an hour, a princely sum for a young man working his way through university.
“That’s a lot of money in the camp counsellor world,” he said.

In late summer of 1995 he ended up at Camp Stephens at the invitation of friend and then-Wilderness Director
Zoe (Herbert) Routh.
She enlisted Fletcher to conduct a five-day canoe school for staff under Canadian Recreational Canoeing Association standards.

Students included
Routh, Jen (Sulkers) Wetherow, Dave Ross, Scott Feindel and Patsy Barker. Former tripper Stephen Sawchyn was an assistant leader for the course.

“Camp Stephens has always run great a great wilderness program, but Zoe wanted to raise the bar and help trail staff become officially recognized by the CRCA,”
Wetherow said. “Steven agreed to help lead this course during the last week of August in 1995.

“The trail staff involved had all just finished a fabulous summer. We were well tanned, muscled and figured we knew just about everything about canoeing so this course would be a breeze. We couldn't have been more wrong.”

That’s because
Fletcher had other plans.

“I worked them hard,”
Fletcher smiled from his wheelchair. “It was just great. We were up before the bell rang and we canoed all day.

“They were all granola crunchers,” he added, his grin widening. “I didn’t tell them I had a Reform Party membership. It wouldn’t have gone over too well.”

Wetherow said on the first morning Fletcher had them up before dawn.

“Steven came whistling down the path to announce the start of our day. After several nudges (and probably some curse words) we made our way to the dining hall to begin lessons.

“The first thing we learned was how little we actually knew about canoeing. Over the course of that week, Steven helped us all to understand that paddling is a fine art form. With the water as our canvas, we used boats and paddles as our paint and brush.”

Routh agreed.

“I remember Steven doing handstands in a canoe,” the
Australian business consultant said.
“I think canoe tricks was even one of the sign-offs for advanced canoe techniques. And then the video camera came out and Steve started doing this wild Bon Jovi dancing, his inner rock god released at last after a week of being so serious and hard-nosed.”
Fletcher said he still has the videos of the canoe school – 20 hours’ worth.

“It’s tough to watch the tapes,”
Fletcher said in a private moment.
Wetherow, a former camper, counsellor, tripper, wilderness co-ordinator and camp director at Stephens, said Fletcher passed on his love of the paddle in those five long days.

“It was nothing short of magical,” she said. “Steven pushed us to our absolute limits of ability and then a little further. He taught us that great art requires great discipline and practise. There were tears of frustration as Steven pushed us to work harder than we had ever worked before. And there were tears of joy when we realized we were capable of meeting those expectations.

“Steven was only at camp for a week but he made a lasting impact on all of us and I am so grateful for having had that marvellous experience.”

Less than six months later Fletcher’s life changed forever.

On Jan. 11, 1996 he was driving by himself to Bissett where the recent University of Manitoba engineering graduate worked as a mining engineer-in-training at the Rea Gold Corporation.

More than halfway through his early morning trip the 23-year-old swerved to miss a calf moose that had stepped in front of his car. In an instant he struck a giant moose coming up behind.
The animal bounced up over the hood of Fletcher’s car and peeled back the roof as it went.

As the car skidded off the road into a ditch, the animal was flung off the car’s trunk back over the crumpled roof, slamming it back down and snapping Fletcher’s neck.

Fletcher now spends his time between Winnipeg and Ottawa. He’s been the MP for Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia since 2004, easily winning re-election in 2006 and 2008. Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed Fletcher as Minister of State for Democratic Reform following the 2008 federal election.

“I wonder what would have happened if I took a different path,”
Fletcher said as one of his aides tells him he’s expected soon at a political meeting.
“There are a lot of things I miss,” he said, his special wheelchair about to scoot away to the private gathering. “Canoeing is one of the things I miss the most.”

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

To The Mouth Of The Seal

By Bruce Owen

Again the sun amazes us by just being present. Louis and Jim woke up first about 6:10. Louis, the pig, soon after came into our tent (Norm, Chuck and Rhos) and woke us up by violently vibrating his tonsils and excreting nauseating sounds. He and Rhos finally made breakfast and after all the duties were completed, we got on the water at 8:00. Not bad for this crew!”.-- July 10, 1973

It will be 37 years ago this summer that
Jim Leggat (left, up top) took five teenage boys on a trip of a life time.
The 1973 six week followed the route of the early voyageurs, 600 miles starting at Pukatawagan in northern Manitoba to the mouth of the Seal River at Hudson Bay.
“I learned more in those six weeks and in preparing for the trip than I had to that point in my life,”
Rhos Dyke says.

“The trip changed me dramatically in how I carried on into 11th grade at Kelvin High School. I took on more responsibility at school and in the community. I learned a ton about teamwork.”
Dyke now lives in Los Angeles and is executive vice president at software company
Cloud Creek Systems.

Also on the trip were
John Russell, Louis Keene, Charles McLandress and Norm Krolman.
Russell, a professional engineer, splits his time between Las Vegas and Los Angeles. He is director of operations at
Sebastian Construction Group, a builder of high-end homes.

“It was the high-light of my life,” Russell says. “I think Leggat was only 21 and we were 16. There was supervision, but compared to today’s standards we were pretty free-wheeling.”

McLandress, lives in Toronto and is a
research scientist in the Department of Physics at the University of Toronto. He still paddles, and in 2006 canoed the Seal River a second time. “It taught me the importance of team work and the meaning of ‘group’ that can only come with such an experience,” McLandress says of the impact of the trip on him.

“Although I have many fond memories of the trip, the most vivid is our visit to a
Sayisi Dene community on the shores of Tadoule Lake. They had only recently moved there from Churchill to ‘get back to the land’ and live the traditional life of hunting and fishing.
“We camped there one night, staying up late to watch the Northern Lights with some of the Dene boys and exchanging stories of our experiences as 16-year olds.”

Keene, an
architect, lives in St. Simons Island, Georgia. He paints in his spare time.
“For me, it would not be overstating things to say that the experience gained that early in life really did set a course for me.
“I have continued to value travel at the top of my list. I have done a lot of mostly solo trips since, by motorcycle, sailboat and backpack through the Americas, the Middle East and Europe.
“I have always worked hard and done well enough but I am ambivalent about that part of life--moving down the road with endless days ahead and a sackful of good books to get into, ahhhhh – that’s it!

Two of the six on the trip have passed away.
Jim Leggat died suddenly Nov. 11, 1994 at age 41 while hiking in British Columbia. The first cabin on the line at Camp Stephens is named after him.

Norm Krolman, 39, disappeared Sept. 7, 1996 shortly after withdrawing cash from an ATM in Winnipeg.
Winnipeg police say all of his belongings were still at his Wardlaw apartment, a sign the self-employed computer programmer intended to return. Foul play is suspected.

His brother Ranald says Norm was creating virtual-reality applications on his own at the time.
“I'm not sure either if I could write accurately about the impact the trip had on Norm,” Ranald said in an email. “It’s my mother’s retelling of Norm’s stories about the six-week trip that I remember better than his original telling of them, like his coming around a rock on a polar bear; his pulling out his knife; his showing us how large the bear's print was, to show what a derisory defense his knife would have been; the bear backing away.
“His voice, the story itself, is overwhelmed in my memory by the sound of my mother's exclamations, her feelings about the danger he'd been in, her conjecturing about the miraculous reprieve. But I think an impact of the trip may have been how it helped to develop in Norm an ability to stand up for himself. He'd been pretty cruelly bullied in school.”

For Dyke, Russell, Keene and McLandress, they went their own ways a long time ago. Like so many of us, university followed by careers, family and other things scattered them.

Late last year, Jim’s brother John gave me the
logbook for the 1973 Camp Stephens Six Week Trip.
He said it the trip was unique not only because of the route, but because Leggat was the only tripper. It was also one of the early trips where more thought was put into making it challenging. Like canoeing and camping in polar bear country. Subsequent trips saw increased focus on safety, including two trippers.

“It was extremely challenging,” Russell says. “I remember dragging our canoes over deadfall and rocks in shallow creeks with the bugs draining the life out of me.
“I remember collapsing one night in the tent with barely setting it up and then back at it the next day.”

It started July 1. There was no sunrise ceremony; only a few goodbyes from trail staff;
Jamie Grant, Mitch Halprin and Hugh Burton before the van pulled out of Winnipeg for The Pas.
When the van pulled into The Pas with Leggat, his boys and all their gear, the tone for the next six weeks was set.
Jim Leggat wrote: “We went up to Clearwater Provincial Park to look for a campsite. It was raining cats and dogs – couldn’t find one, everything was completely booked up – decided to ruff it and stay in a motel.
“We found the Wescana Inn – booked suite 17 but then we moved up to the executive suite and room 21 beside it – really nice.”
The first night of the trip was spent eating pizza, watching TV and throwing ice cubes at one another.

“We woke up at 6:45 a.m only to discover that the rain had not left us – oh poop!” Dyke wrote in the logbook. “We once again had scrambled eggs, once again we resisted the temptation to puke.”
The next day didn’t start on the water, but loading canoes and gear onto a train pointed towards Pukatawagan.
Leggat wrote as the train rolled north:
“The country seems to be getting pretty rough – started wondering what the hell we have signed up for.” About nine hours later the train stopped at Pawistik, a siding near Pukatawagan on the Churchill River.

The next morning, after an oatmeal breakfast, the two canoes hit the water.
The weather was perfect. Over the next couple of days they were ahead of schedule. And they hadn’t even broken a sweat. The fishing was also good.Louis, John, Norm, andChuck each caught fish, some they threw back, some they ate.
On the fourth day on trial it started raining.
“Decide to stay in bed,” Leggat wrote. “Broke camp around 10:30. Not to impressive – that’s too bad.

It rained steadily for the next few days.
In the days ahead the rain continued along with heavy winds. The rain they could handle. The wind, not so much. It whipped up the water making it dangerous to canoe on open water because of the high waves.
Waiting out the lousy weather and living in such close confines also brought out conflict.
“More strains on the trip are showing through as they boys were at each other’s throats in an argument over new positioning of the canoes,” McLandress wrote at the end of the second week. “Now once again tempers have died down and all grievances settled. We decided to hit the sack. That’s all for today. Covered 0 miles.”
When the weather changed the group of six made up for lost time on the Little Sand River.
“By now we were all rather upset at the bugs which seemed ravenous all the time,” Keene wrote.

Two days later the trip hit the Seal River. The boys lucked out when they came across a
Lamb Air cabin, one of many scattered throughout the north used by the northern airline.
In the days ahead the six shot numerous rapids, one which saw one of their canoes badly crunched when it went through some white water sideways:
“When it was all over, only one paddle was missing and three boys had the symptoms of pneumonia,” the July 29 log book entry reads. “Jim tried to kick the now four foot dent out and succeeded partly.”
On July 31 the trip saw their first seal—they called it Herbie—and seven days later saw their first big polar bear.
“I was really scared because I didn’t know what it would do,” Dyke said in the logbook.

In the days ahead, as they paddled towards Hudson Bay, they saw more polar bears. A lot more.
A week later they flew to Winnipeg from Churchill. Then trail director Jim King met them at the airport and took them to Pizza Place before driving them out to Kenora. They’d covered the distance of the six-week trip in about six hours.
On August 16 they paddled into camp.
“Two days ago we were sitting at Hudson Bay wondering if we would make it home to Camp Stephens,” Dyke wrote in the log the night before. “Camp seemed to be far away and almost in another world.”