Days 47 – 51 (July 14th – July 18th) Winnipeg. The family and the Cabin.

After an evening of catch up with Louise and Gary with a bit of reminiscing, the following day we were driven on a tour of the city by Louise taking in a history of previous houses, schools etc of the Marshes. It included the original place where I had stayed all those years ago but now with a new property as the original house had blown up, luckily after Irene and George had moved! One stop-off was at her son Jon’s house which is situated along the Red River and has 2 red chairs, providing yet another photo opportunity….

We then went to see Irene (Rene) my 95 year old cousin who came to Canada as an 18 year old war bride. How brave was that, travelling on her own to a country and family that was all so new?

Maybe after years of war, rationing and blackouts an adventure was needed? She was married to George for over 60 years, has 3 children, lots of grandchildren and even more great grandchildren (apologies as I cannot remember the exact numbers!).

We chatted about family, and I heard a lot of new stories about her time working in Uxbridge and her close relationship with Doug, her uncle who was the same age as Rene. (He died in his 30’s from disseminated sclerosis).

Whilst there, Dawn, Rene’s eldest daughter, dropped in, another photo opportunity. We would catch up with her, Bev (Rene’s other daughter) and her husband Pat on Tuesday when we had arranged to go out for a meal.

Then it was time for our big adventure, to stay at the cabin, a long-awaited trip originally envisaged back in pre-COVID times. Once the car was packed up Gary drove us over the border into Ontario where we saw the original cabin built by Louise’s father where my parents had stayed in the 1990’s. We were picked up by Louise and Gary’s youngest son James in his new “pontoon” boat in the midst of a rainstorm. By the time we’d crossed over Shoal Lake to Dominique Island the weather had cleared.

Many Canadians have cabins which can vary hugely in location, size, structure, design and sophistication. They are a refuge from the searing heat of the summer in the cities as well as providing a peaceful haven and a great place for kids to enjoy their summer holidays. Self-sufficiency and a talent for problem-solving are a given when staying on an island miles from civilisation. Gary & Louise bought their 2 acre lake-side plot many years ago and subsequently designed and built a fabulous wooden cabin adjacent to the landing stage. Behind their cabin (which, to be fair, is more like a small house) is another, smaller cabin they had originally built, useful for hosting family members visiting from England. Efficient solar panels and good battery storage allow basics like a fridge, internet and light and modern advances in composting have even permitted the installation of modern toilets although piss-pots are available, an outside shower for use only by the hardy and the compost toilet. Special mention of the loo roll holder, a nail my dad sent over in the 1990’s, he had been shown their plot of land as yet unbuilt on and wanted to make a donation!

Behind the cabin is unspoiled forest humming with life, be it birds, bears, or, most likely, voracious insects. Design is critical, with good airflow vital in the hot summers and sufficient space by the water to allow time in the breeze coming off the lake. This place is fantastic but must have required years of planning and hard work to get right. In winter the lake is frozen and so the cabin can be accessed by car via an ice road over the lake. Huge wood stoves are essential to keep the cabins warm.

The transition from life in the city to life at the cabin is huge. Imagine a place without services? There, life slows down, and things happen more slowly. Recent floods had destroyed or seriously damaged most of the landing stages in the area so how individual cabin-owners adapted to this became very important, hence the pontoon boat became a critical part of island infrastructure as it allowed continued access to the cabin and a vital space on the edge of the lake so life could continue whilst insurance claims and repairs were carried out.

On our first evening James and his daughter Amelia took us all on a tour of the lake, planning the return leg to coincide with sunset.

The lake has breeding Loons and White Pelicans as well as garter snakes and various amphibians but what was even more obvious was the camaraderie of the cabin owners dotted round the lake. They face many common problems which are best resolved by working together and this fosters a great spirit of cooperation. An example of this happened the next day as were trying to shake off the after-effects of Louise & Gary’s superb hospitality and the wonderful cake which Louse had provided to welcome us (and we were too hasty to start eating before taking a photo..)

In the morning, James & Heidi’s children leapt into kayaks, jumped onto paddle boards or simply swam over to nearby properties followed by an influx of children from those properties, all enjoying direct access to the lake from the pontoon boat and enjoying the challenge of jumping off the gazebo. At “peak child” we must have reached double figures. What a great way to grow up!

One group of birds closely related to Swifts are the hummingbirds, of which one species breeds in the east of North America, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. At the cabin there are a couple of hummingbird feeders containing sugar solution which attracts these beautiful birds. Their metabolic rate is so high that overnight, when they can’t feed, they need to enter a state of torpor in order to survive the night.

After another late night and superb hospitality we prepared to leave this paradise, taking in a full tour of the lake, including a visit to a local Indian reserve to top up fuel.

Returning from the cabin we passed a tourist attraction unique to Winnipeg, plus the obligatory red chair!

Back to Winnipeg and a few more days of wonderful hospitality.