Winter in Northern Ontario.
BY J. W. HOLLAND.
Transcribed from the February 1909 Edition of “Rod and Gun and Motor Sports in Canada”
The winter of 1907-08 was spent by me on Lake Waquekobing (Big Basswood Lake), at the club house of the Canadian Camp Club of which I had charge. Readers of ''Rod and Gun" who live in lower latitudes than this may be interested in winter conditions here. Not that our latitude is so very high ; we are about in line with the middle of France and some three degrees farther south than Vancouver. We have, however, no warm ocean currents to temper the boreal breezes that come from the icebound Arctic seas. Our elevation, too, of over a thousand feet above sea level has its influence in lowering the general temperature. Yet we are not without advantages, especially as compared with the Northwest. We have the shelter of the vast forests, and plenty of the best fuel always on hand, a dry, clear, bracing atmosphere, which makes it easier to resist the cold, and good winter roads without snowdrifts.
Before describing the winter, however let me speak of the locality which is one that should interest all lovers of nature and sport. The club house is situated on the north shore of Lake Waquekobing, locally known as Big Basswood Lake, a beautiful body of clear sparkling water, stretching east and west about nine miles and two and a half miles across at its widest part. It reaches entirely across the township of Day in the district of Algoma and penetrates into the townships of Gladstone at the east and Kirkwood at the west It presents every variety of shore line from bold rocky bluffs to gentle slopes, mostly covered with dense woods, but here andthere opening into cultivated farms. It contains several beautiful bays with stretches of sandy beach, and at one part, where a a small stream enters, is covered with lily pads. It is fed chiefly by underground springs and at one point is of unknown depth. About three miles from its eastern end it debouches into a stream of considerable volume which falls over eighty feet in less than a quarter of a mile and then enters another lake about five miles in length which rejoices in the high sounding Indian name of Pakawagamengau. But alas ! for the romanceof poor Lo, to his more prosaic and labor – saving white brother, its name is "Mud" (now Bright Lake). Another stream from the eastern end of Mud Lake carries its waters to the great Mississaga River flowing into Lake Huron. Besides these two principal lakes there are half a dozen others nearly and easily accessible, ranging in size from a mile and a half in length to a little gem with a surface of some one hundred and fifty acres, set on the top of a commanding eminence in the midst of the surrounding forest. In all these lakes the gamey black bass abounds and in the larger ones are lake trout, whitefish and pickerel.
This series of delightful lakes, with so many attractive features for tourist and sportsmen, are distant less than five miles from the north shore of Lake Huron, fifty miles east of the Soo, and less than ten miles from the thriving town of Thessalon, where hundreds of thousands of dollars were expended the previous summer in new buildings and enterprises, including a smelter for the reduction of copper ore, a new sawmill, the largest on the lake shore, a forty thousand dollar hotel, several stores and numerous residences.
The lakes are not the only attraction. The mighty Mississaga River flows within three quarters of a mile of the club house and the exploitation of the canoe trip down two hundred miles of this river from the main line of the Canadian Pacific to this point was the genesis of the Canadian Camp Club. The scenery along this river excites the unbounded admiration of all who view it. There are huge bluffs from the summits of which wide views of the surrounding country may be had, deep forested valleys, where deer and moose abound, grand waterfalls, rocky canyons, through which the river forges with amazing energy, rushing rapids and long stretches of deep, wide, smooth-flowing water, along which the canoe glides like a phantom. Numerous American visitors can testify that there is no exaggeration in the brief description of the advantages of this region for a summer outing.
Now as to winter conditions. For the past three summers I have been a frequent visitor to this vicinity and becoming enamoured with its beauties have purchased a tract of land on the Missassaga on which there is a good six-roomed house built of square pine logs well put together. It was my intention to spend a portion of this winter on that place, when the departure of Mr. Hope (you can note from an earlier Blog that J.B. Dobie noted on recollection of a visit to the Clubhouse in the early 1900’s that he believed that Mr. Hope was then the proprietor) induced me to accept the care of the club house instead. Having heard stories of the thermometer dropping to twenty and even forty degrees below zero, it was with some trepidation that I looked forward to my winter's experiences, as I am not by any means a lover of cold weather, and have no arctic exploration ambitions.
I was indeed agreeably disappointed. It was only after the first week of February was past that the snow began to accumulate to any considerable depth. Up to almost the end of January there was not more than six inches of snow on the ground and later snowfalls only increased it to about a foot in depth, just enough to enable the lumbermen to haul their logs conveniently to the waterways.
Access to the club house by land is had only by a trail through the woods, leading over a high hill from the government road along the river some three quarters of a mile away. On the road and river bank was situated the lumber camp of Mr. Jas. Rosenburg (everyone in this part of Algoma, either local or summer cottager, will recognize this surname from the lumber and builder supply business for many many decades), who had the contract for cutting the pine on four hundred acres in rear of the clubhouse. Some idea of the density of the forest may be formed by the fact that on this tract some fifteen thousand sawlogs have been cut and the cutting is not yet completed. And the pine is only one of a number of species of trees growing here, so that when all the pine is cut, there still remains a thick forest growth of hemlock, maple, red and white birch, cedar, spruce, balsam and others. I passed over this trail to the lumber camp almost every day for it was there I received my mail and heard from the outside world.
I also took more extended walks up and down the road and through the woods and hardly ever wore even heavy winter clothing. For instance, twice in January I visited my own place walking mostly through the woods, a distance of almost four miles, and on each occasion my entire outfit consisted of a medium weight suit of fleece underwear, a grey flannel shirt, not heavy, a suit of tweed that I wore the previous summer, a soft felt hat, a pair of woollen socks over one of cotton, ordinary leather walking boots and a pair of woollen mitts. I wore no muffler and no ear covers, and found myself at the end of the journey in a rather uncomfortable state of perspiration.
Perhaps the one feature of the winter that impressed me most was the large amount of sunshine. Fully five days of each week were clear all day with bright blue skies and the sun shining brilliantly, sometimes with a genial warmth that would do justice to an October day. Then the sunsets over Lake Waquekobing, how shall I describe them? Sometimes the sun goes down in a golden blaze with not a speck of cloud to modify the gold. Again when a layer of clouds hovers on the western horizon we have a coloring so gorgeous as to defy description.
A pecularly brilliant effect is produced when the sun sets clear, by the lingering lights on the distant hill tops and trees. It is as if a magic city had sprung into existence, with pavilions and towers and huge buildings brilliantly lighted throughout by electricity, something like the illuminations at the world's fairs, on a larger scale. We hear of Italian skies and Italian sunsets. Here we have them in zero weather and they are quite as entrancing to the lover of nature, even though he may not sit out on the lawn to enjoy them. Coming over the trail towards sunset the dark trunks of the trees outlined in a blaze of color, sometimes golden, sometimes roseate and sometimes many-hued, form an impressionist picture that would delight the soul of an artist.
Up to February we had but three or four short spells of very cold weather, on the night of the eighth of January, the thermometer touched fifteen below, and Lake Waquekobing, which had contemptuously shaken off one or two thin films of ice and piled them against the shores like heaps of broken glass, was caught napping and firmly bound under an inch of ice, which came near the melting point a few days later. On the fifteenth and sixteenth we had a similar snap, which moderated again towards the evening of the second day. Two or three days before the close of the month it was again very frosty. On each of these occasions the air was still, the sun shining brightly and as the weather moderated slight falls of snow followed. I wrote this on the evening of the seventh of February, after experiencing the heaviest snow storm of the season which began on the morning of the fifth and lasted throughout the following night, with high wind, during which nearly a foot of snow fell. I see by the New York papers that a similar storm swept the Eastern States on the twenty-fourth of January, when ten inches of snow fell in New York city, demoralizing traffic, partly suspending business, causing the death of half a dozen people and costing the city two hundred thousand dollars for removal of the snow.
One advantage of living "far from the madding crowd" is that we have no disastrous results to record from our storm. In the shelter of the forest the lumbermen worked all day, and like Tam O'Shanter wrote “The storm without might rain and rustle, He did not mind the storm a whussle.”
On February the seventh the sun shone as brightly as ever, with dazzling effect upon the pure white snow, and at night the early moon shed a soft effulgence over the scene, while the temperature was only sufficiently low to prevent the snow from clinging to the feet as one walked through it. The ice on the lake was strong enough for teams to drive across, and being well covered with snow made excellent sleighing over a perfectly level surface, and shortened many a farmer's road to town, besides saving considerable hill climbing. On the whole I believe that for those who enjoy clear cold weather the winter conditions on Lake Wacquekobing are almost ideal, and are not at all to be dreaded as many people imagine.