Temagami, Ontario. The long road north was packed dirt and gravel at times, pavement at others.
Windshields took a beating and tires were challenged. Fuel stops were few and far between, especially at night, which made a spare gas can good insurance.
Quaint, one-story roadside motels dotted the map and smallish towns sometimes featured an actual hotel with squeaky wire springs, and screened windows, usable if one could pry the window open.
That was in the mid-1940s, when Ravenna Isaly’s owner, Ernie Seyfried, purchased a remote Lake Temagami island. He named the island and the single cabin that lay hidden from the lake behind a screen of pines the Ernie-Anna, after him and his wife.
It seems that Seyfried had sought the distant getaway after visiting the lake, probably staying in one or more of the wilderness lodges that were legendary and busy throughout the summer in those days.
By then, Lake Temagami had gained national fame for its many summer youth camps, secluded canoe trials, and legendary lake trout fishing. And of course the American Plan lodges where visitors stayed in cabins, ate first-class meals and attended entertainment in huge, log buildings, and fished the mornings away guided by native guides from the nearby Bear Island tribe.
But apparently Seyfried wanted more and he found it in the lake’s southern reaches some 20 watery miles from the town of Temagami, a busy hub from which all lake activities sprung.
And so did his son, Harold (my uncle), and his family, who inherited the remote cabin in the mid-1950s.
My first visit was in 1957 and I remember it well. We spent our first night on the noisy lip of Niagara Falls. We slept in the car after indulging packed sandwiches.
I remember a stone and pipe railing that separated us from the gorge. We then stayed another night in the Temagami Hotel, a wooden structure that some years later burned to the ground.
Uncle Harold picked us up the next morning in his boat and we reached the island, five long, rainy hours later. At the time, the cabin needed attention.
We searched the place for every watertight vessel we could find to catch countless roof leaks.
Light was produced by candles, oil lights, and white gas lanterns.
Mosquitoes and other unwelcome pests came and went through rotted screens. But given the remoteness, the pine and cedar surroundings, and a seemingly endless lake with water so clear that one could see 20 or more feet to the bottom, it was the finest lodging I could ever wish for or dream about.
As teenagers, we fished and played our days away all too quickly. We visited the Hudson Bay Trading Company store on Bear Island, we portaged by canoe to even more remote lakes and rivers, and we learned very well how to build a pile of firewood, fillet fish, and operate outboard motors.
We also learned how to pull up old roofing and put down new, how to swing a heavy brush full of oil onto weathered log siding, and how to install new screen on windows and doors.
Living a dream
We are there now, living an impossible dream that nothing should ever change.
My grandsons always ask what is different now, what has changed since that first trip some 58 years ago. My answer includes new-fangled propane lights and stove, electronic depth finders, a gasoline driven water pump that brings lake water to the house.
But the place is still without electricity, we still boil lake water for everyday use, and the massive hand-laid stone fireplace still illuminates our past and promises a bright future.
In its glow is where each and every night we gather around to lie about our fishing success, share a laugh or two, and tell the storied history of annual northern trips gone by, stories that some of us hope will be told again when we are gone.
And too, Canadian mosquitoes are still as large as hummingbirds and mean as pit bulls and the night sky is so full of stars that one can bear the mosquitoes for the time it takes to see each and every one.
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