What possesses a couple of writers to venture into wave-swept waters in a tiny canoe in November?
Well, why don’t you ask me? That’s what I did yesterday, with my companion Clarence.
Yesterday might have been the last day of summer. The first snowfall had melted. The temperature had risen above zero. No ice on the lake yet. And the wind gusts reached velocities of less than a hundred klicks an hour.
You see, I am preparing Muskeg Tours 2012 for publication. In 1987, I published the original text about the historic sites of the LIttle Long Lac Gold Camp. In that year I visited all the sites, took pictures, described the scenes. Soon I will publish a completely updated version. For the past year I’ve had only one more site to visit – well, re-visit. The Elmos mine.
Tom Johnson, prospector, was the father of this mining camp. It was Johnson who, in 1932, discovered the Little Long Lac mine on the south shore of Barton Bay, the west arm of Kenogamisis Lake. A railway ran about a mile-and-a-half north of the bay, and that was the only link to civilized Canada. There wasn’t a single road in the region closer than a hundred miles. While he was waiting for a big-shot investor to arrive by plane, he explored a little further west down the bay. That’s when he made the strike that would become the Elmos mine.
Okay, you have a question. Why has it taken me a year to get to the site? Well, it is out of the way. It never had a road to it. It was served by a wooden trestle that bridged a smaller bay back in the ’30s. That trestle rotted away long ago. It is accessible now only by water. And I did try once last year – lined up a boat, and just as we were about to launch, my partner and I chickened out. The waves were formidable.
And then, you know how it is. One thing after another that claimed my attention, including writing my debut novel and getting it launched. So that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
A few days ago I put my canoe in the water and made another attempt by myself. Again, driven back by the west wind and waves.
So yesterday, I enlisted another partner, and though it was still windy, we bucked the waves successfully. Only swamped once.
It’s a very interesting site. Everything crowded into an area less than a city block in size. Concrete foundations and rotting timbers. Not a building standing. Only one structure upright – three massive timbers standing straight up, and tied by cross-timbers. Have no idea what they were.
The site is dominated by a hillock of waste rock. Clarence was busy picking through the pieces of quartz there and shouting down his discoveries. Guess what – we won’t get rich anytime soon.
We searched diligently for the old shaft. When I visited in 1987, it stood there in the open, a few flimsy strands of barbed wire around it, uncovered, and full of water and debris. Clarence and I picked our way carefully around the whole site – nothing.
There are few sites more dangerous than an old mine site. Even a seemingly solid surface can collapse. Even shafts that have been capped with concrete, are dangerous, for weather and run-off undermine the caps and create chutes leading to the abyss.
This is a small area, remember, and we couldn’t find it. Then there it was, in a grove of trees that weren’t there before, behind a mound of debris that we were leery of clambering over.
Well, we admired the pit for quite a while. About ten feet down, a multitude of woody debris floated in a morass that was once empty air, 544 feet deep.
I did my thing: I took GPS coordinates and measurements and pictures.
As we were launching again, the canoe dumped, and Clarence got wet to the knees. Myself, I got away with damp socks. The bag with the camera and GPS unit took a small bath, but not enough to lose the records they contained.
So, expect the sanitized version of this episode in Muskeg Tours 2012. It was going to be Muskeg Tours 2011, but, as you know, stuff happens.
I suspect that Clarence, a songwriter, will be setting the saga to music one of these days.
So, you writers out there, what research have you done lately?
Postscript: In October 2016, the new Muskeg Tours has yet to be published. It will be titled Musket Tours 2017. Well, you know, stuff happens.