Saturday, September 3, 2011

Trip to English Island

The remote four acre island on Lake Minnitaki in North-West Ontario has been in Rich's family since the 1920s when his grandmother Jean, a singularly independent woman for her times, bought it as a vacation spot and had a rustic log cabin built on it.   This was where Jean romantically and unexpectedly met Rich's grandfather, who was touring the area by boat.

Since then, four generations of family have regularly visited "English Island" for rest, relaxation and good fishing.  The cabin sleeps up to 8 people and acts as a great gathering spot for family reunions.  Rich and his brothers have been going up there since they were children so the place holds great sentimental value for all of them.

It has become a tradition started by Rich's grandparent's and still carried out today for each year's visitors to document the year, the members of the excursion, and any notable events like "snow this year!".  This would be written right on the logs inside the cabin, so it has become a bit of a treasure hunt to wander around and find these entries from the past.

Getting to the island is quite the trek, involving either an 18 hour drive or a flight to Thunder Bay followed by a short hop on a small  Bearskin Airlines plane to get to the town of Sioux Lookout.  My first trip involved flying on a 5-seater where you are staring into the cockpit and the passengers were shifted around to balance the load on the plane.  Flying through turbulence in a tiny plane is really a stomach churning, white-knuckle roller coaster of a ride.

From there, an hour ride in a motorboat traversing over two rapids is required to reach the "camp" as it is known in Western Canada.  Navigating to the island seems to be a family secret passed down to each generation involving directions like "turn left at the big tree" and "right at the huge rock jutting out of the water".
There is no plumbing, electricity, cell or internet service so this is really an opportunity to get away from the hubbub of the city.  A gas generator provides lighting at night as well as powering a small fridge, while a propane stove is available for cooking.  There is also no air conditioning or heating other than a wood burning stove in the main room.  So the year that it was over 30 degrees was spent mostly cooling off in the lake, while the year that was 8 degrees and rainy saw us burning every scrap of dry wood, cardboard and paper that we could find.

The deck, overlooking the lake and neighbouring islands, provides a great spot to chat with family or catch up on pleasure reading during the day, and watch spectacular sunset views in the evening.

One year it was fascinating to see the skies darken, listen to the thunder getting closer and watch as a massive storm literally rolled across the lake from the mainland.  We scurried back to the cabin just in time before deluge began.

Beautiful, isolated soft sand beaches with clear shallow water are just a five minute boat ride away.  The peaceful calm atmosphere of having a beach all to yourselves trumps any experience you can get closer to Toronto.

There is even one beach which the family has nicknamed "Blueberry Beach", regaling me with stories past forages of bushes bursting with blueberries.  After five trips, I have yet to see a harvest of blueberries.  We've been either too early or too late.

We've seen plenty of wildlife on the island and in the surrounding areas including loons, bald eagle, a beaver.  I've heard stories of past visits where moose and bear have been spotted on the mainline but luckily for me, I've only come as close as seeing animal tracks.

This year we had the eery sensation of hearing a large pack of howling wolves on the mainland.  The sound traveled across the lake in such a way that made it sound like the wolves were right outside our cabin.  This made the thought of walking to the outhouse at night a much more daunting proposition. 

The most unusual sighting was the year that a huge pelican floated right by the island.  Rich and I could not believe our eyes when we saw it.  We could not fathom where it had come from or where it was headed, but at that moment, it was content to just bob up and down about 50ft away from us.

One of the major attractions of the island is the great fishing by the English River Falls.  Most years, there is a bountiful amount of fresh pickerel as well as the occasional perch, pike, trout and small mouth bass.  It is definitely a highlight of the trip to sit down to a plate of pan-fried breaded pickerel that came from the lake the same day!

That is why is very disappointing for our trip this year to find that the weeks of drought had caused the water levels to be too low to get to the falls to fish.   We knew it was trouble when we showed up and saw parts of the island that were usually under water.  We actually were able to hike around the island mostly along the shoreline, which is usually not the case.

We tried still fishing from the boat but were unsuccessful in landing a fish, even though I did get one to bite but lost it at the last minute.  Hopefully the fishing gods will be kinder on our next trip. But we still enjoyed a peaceful relaxing week with great weather and hardly any bugs.

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