A Long Cold Winter in Paradise

Starring at that white page again……….I know! I will write about a very long winter I spent in some of the most beautiful land Ontario has to offer – Manitoulin Island.manitoulinislandmap

I had a friend who would spend summers up there working in his father”s business  in Meldrum bay out on west end of Manitoulin Island and he invited me to go with him during the thanksgiving  holiday back when I was 17 years old. The only way on the island in the winter was to drive up through Sudbury Ont. and drive south over the only bridge to the Island. It was an old railway bridge for when there was actually a train going to the island . I don’t know when the last train crossed over the island bridge.

The other option was the ferry during the summer. it ran from May to October The lake does freeze  over in the winter so the ferry shuts down. When it is running it shaves about 2 hours off the drive. We were lucky and caught the last ferry of the day.

Arriving on the island was breathtaking, all the colours were out in the trees. Maples, poplar, birch with the evergreens in between was one of the most amazing sights I had ever seen. I was lucky because fall only lasts about 2 weeks up there and I landed there right at the peak of the season.

We arrived at there  at Meldrum Bay and it was just as you would expect anything on the West end of the island. The business itself was the townships beer and liquor outlet, the hunting and trapping authority, the general store and rental of cabins for the hunters. It was only bow and arrow season so it was pretty quiet there.

I was given the royal tour of the area. I saw the old light house that they used to own, hiked through a lot of trappers trails. I think I took in more nature that day than my entire life. I immediately fell in love with area. Chopping wood, skinning and tanning hides.

If I had thought Meldrum bay was  quiet, they took me on a trip to Colbern  Island. The entire Island was owned by Ontario Paper and there were only 2 permanent residents working as caretakers for the Island. The was a town on the island before world war two. then everybody just left. The only people who come on the island now are hunters that have “squatted” in the old abandoned town buildings.

The building they used was the former police station. Fitting, since my friend’s father was a retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police Constable. Unless you are a hunter, the is nothing to do but split fire wood. I did get to hike around a bit with warnings of wolves from my hosts. I kept my hike short.

A couple of interesting places they took me out to where; the old car scrapyard, it cost a lot to bring a car to the island by boat, so when the car died, you don’t pay to have it shipped back, it was left to rot in the auto scrapyard. The other place they took me was to a spring that had the best water I have ever tasted. It was hidden away and no one spoke of its existence so it wouldn’t get back to some big water company and have them tear up the area.

The only way back and forth from that hidden island of paradise is by boat in the summer and snow machine in the winter. We had to hurry back as the old tug boat we were in wasn’t equipped  for night-time. No lights, no radio, no compass. I was as eager to start back as they were.

The next day I was still on my manic adventure on Manitoulin Island. They had another general store in Gore Bay (you will find that one on the map) we had to restock. We were also supposed dig a trench from the store to the propane rocket  that was supposed to be hooked up soon. Did I mention I was 17 years old then, not much work got done that day.

Now, we didn’t give much thought about how I was going to get back home to Guelph. So I just decided to hitchhike back. But, before I left I had a serious talk about living there and working for room and board. It was to be considered.

My trip home was fairly uneventful aside from having to walk half the trip. I left around 5pm so most of my trip was in the dark and through the night. I had one guy offer me a ride if I would help him with a couch he had in the back of his pickup truck. I helped with his sofa and that was cool. Got another ride that insisted I stop with him at a bar for a few drinks. I stuck to coke and nursed through his 5 bottles of beer. I excused myself and made a beeline for the front door. He was way too drunk to ride with.

I got home eventually, my roommate wanted to hear all about the trip, but the sun was coming up and all I interested in was sleep.

The next time I had a chance to go up North, was at Easter, the following year. It was a bad winter that year and we had to drive around Sudbury and down into the Island at Espanola.
The trip to Sudbury was not too bad. I being driven up by my friends Mom and she was one of the nervous drivers I had ever met.
After leaving Sudbury the storm really whipped up to a fury. The roads were almost impassable, but we soldered on.
Now, there was this hill. We all knew about. The roads were so slippery by this point that tractor trailers were sling into very deep ditches. Our driver was almost in a panic asked what she should do to traverse this hill.
I advised her to slow down before the hill, put the car in low gear and carefully drive to the bottom, then shift back into drive.
She obviously didn’t listen or thought not to listen to someone does not have a driver’s license. She drove full speed over the crest of the hill, and then dropped the gear shift (automatic by the way) all the way down into low gear. She shouted “hold on kids” just after she did it.
We were not driving anymore by any definition of the word. We were Skiing, sliding down this monster of a hill. In a small blue Chevy Ventura sideways.
How we made it I will never know. Once the car the car landed at the bottom of the hill, the road was not too bad and when we crossed the bridge to the island calm came over everyone in the car. We were home.
Manitoulin had a war with people who visited it or lived there; it is a beautiful place to be sure. There is like a healing force on the island.
The drive across was peaceful and as we approached the west end the trees got thicker. It is always a wonderful site to finally see the bay through the trees.
When we arrived at our destination, it was dark, but the greeting was warm but the air was damn cold. It felt great.
Over the weekend we worked out the how’s and why’s about me moving up there on a permanent basis. It was basically it was a work for room and board situation, and any transport to and from the island was my responsibility.
After heading back, I told my family (parents) my plans and it went over surprisingly well.
So 3 weeks later I was on a bus to Sudbury. That was a long trip, 6 hours long. We left Guelph at 9:00 am and arrived in Sudbury after dark. Then I had to transfer to another bus to the bridge going to the Island. It was cold a damp cold too. The North Channel doesn’t freeze over, so when it is -40 degrees F, it is COLD.
My friend was late coming so I sat down on my knap sac and marvelled at the almost total silence. I could hear my heart beating. When my friend showed up in his pickup it was almost an intrusion on the silence, but I was sure happy to get out of the cold.
About a month after arriving that dark shadow of depression hit me hard. I had trouble working, sleeping, even my appetite was affected. If I had known what it was, we could work around it.
But all could do is push myself harder and hope to shake it off and stop looking like a lazy bum. Those in the know depressions can’t be ‘Shook off’. My friends dad was getting a bit pissed off at me for not doing my share of the work around there. It was inevitable the next time my friend was going to Guelph, I was going with him.
My cold winter in paradise was over.

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