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Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Car On The Island

Jim Leggat's car summer of 1977
Recently I got a photo of this car parked outside the director's cabin. 

Like a lot of old photos, it brought back a bunch of memories long repressed in the back of my head.
It ended up on the island at the end the summer of 1977, my first year at camp. That year I mostly cleaned the toilets in the two High Rises. (It was my best job ever. I was so proud of myself when I was handed a $100 cheque at the end of the summer).
The car belonged to then camp director Jim Leggat.
Here's how it got to Camp Stephens, as told by some of the folks who pulled the caper:

Grant Platts:

Grant Platts
"We decided to have a little fun with Jim and bring his car out to the island," says Platts, who was camp director after Leggat.
"Burton (Tutt), Doug (Fraser), and I were definitely involved.  We also recruited Rod Cowtan (John's brother) who was the boatman that summer.  There may have been one or two others but I can't remember. 
"Burton arranged to get someone's barge from Kenora (It was Billy's barge-ed.) and we got a hold of Leggat's keys."

Eyewitness Jim Arthur:

Jim Arthur and Thomas, the bus
"Back then it was easy to get keys to someone's vehicle ...just say …'I need to do some running around; can I have your keys?' A promise to buy beer on the day off also helped.
"One night I do remember it being noted that a fair number of people had not shown up for evening java, not to mention any names but the initials were Burton Tutt and several others. In fact, they had not been seen since after supper. It was a particularly nasty night …. wavy, windy overcast… You get the picture…"


"Late one night we went into town, drove the car onto the barge and proceeded back to camp using the I/O (camp boat) as our motive power. 
"I remember it was a rather cold night and rainy - we had the car running to keep warm.  All was going well until we were stopped by an OPP patrol boat in the middle of the Devil's Gap channel.  They shone their big search light on us and came along side. In the ensuing excitement, the 'Dinse' (Doug Fraser) walked off the barge into the lake so we had to fish him out. 
"Of course the police wanted to know who's car was it, what we were doing in the middle of the night with it, if we had the owner's permission, why we didn't have proper running lights on, and other minor details.  Somehow we talked our way out of it and they let us go on our way (I think they made us turn on the car's four-way  flashers)."

Doug Fraser:
Doug Fraser

"Grant got everything right as far as I remember it," Fraser says. "I thought (Sailing director Commodore) Bob Colborne (Dave’s brother) was also in on the caper. I walked off the barge while we were being interrogated by the police because I was literally blinded by the searchlight. They did make us put the flashers on the car the rest of the way out to the island."


"Those involved in the caper has not taken into account, what happens when the OPP stop you (Hmmm, because they see a car on a barge on Lake of the Woods?) and you have to stop. in the Gap … where…. Oh…please sir, don’t make us crash into the shore ….and no sir, I don’t have the registration, but the owner does know I have it, honest. And you wonder why some camp staff have such large noses!
"Also, in the excitement, after putting the car into neutral so it could be rolled upon the barge …I guess someone forgot to put it back into park or put the emergency break on. And at one point (wind, waves) the car came very close to becoming an anchor."


"We arrived back at Stephens when it was still dark and offloaded the car by the sail dock.  We pushed it across the campus and past the director's cabin and got it down to McKinney's. We hid the barge behind King's Point.
"The next morning at breakfast we had Jim come outside and the car was driven up.  Jim did a great job of not appearing overly shocked - I think he just got in and drove it back to the director's cabin where that picture was taken.  We had to spend the rest of the day getting it back to Kenora."


"We staged a marriage ceremony that next morning for Jim and Karen and I thought we had confetti and everything. As they came out of the dining hall someone yelled 'Bring up the car' and the car drove up. Leggat did a fantastic job of taking it in stride – he jumped in the car with Karen and drove it to the director’s cabin."


"Anyway, the rumours abounded as to who is responsible and how did the car get onto the island. After much interrogation, it became clear that getting the car to the island was far more exciting and adventuresome than it being on the island."

What little I remember:

Burton was my 'counsellor' as he headed up Operations. Because Burton was busy, we didn't have much to do that day. So we stood near the sail dock as the barge was brought from its hiding place so the car could be loaded on it and taken safely back to Kenora.
Burton (now Boryen) backed it up onto the barge; two big planks were used to drive it up onto the barge. Burton was behind wheel and Doug provided guidance.
I remember Leggat watched from the shore in horror as it once or twice almost hit the water. He had to leave and go back to his cabin because it was so nerve-wracking for him to watch.
Once on the barge it headed back to Kenora no worse for wear.

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