What a tremendous year it has been! A year made memorable by so many fantastic people! Earlier this fall I came across a comment on social media left by our friend and guest of 10 years Chuck from MO, “Perrault Lake Camp, a little south of heaven (Ontario).” It is a privilege to share the Canadian wilderness with all the good people who call PLC their home away from home. Thank you Chuck & Debbie! Moreover, thank you to everyone for your kind words and honorable mentions. There were many and they are all appreciated! We do our best to anticipate all our guests in hopes of facilitating an unparalleled fishing and hunting adventure! In addition to the friendly familiar faces of our treasured annual guests the 2019 season brought with it more new faces than ever before. We met so many great people! Kind, fun, interesting outdoor enthusiasts whom we hope will become familiar faces around here too! So, to begin this year’s Christmas News Letter we would like to say thank you! To everyone new to us, well seasoned in PLC culture or somewhere in between thank you for choosing Perrault Lake Camp! It was a pleasure to have you with us!
While getting to know all the newcomers in 2019 we discovered that most people were surprised to learn that Perrault Lake Camp is our year round permanent residence. Our home. We’re the real deal folks! Canadians born and raised! Cold weather warriors! They were all genuinely quite curious about what life is like for us up here, particularly through the winter. And so began the Q & A:
Is PLC open through the winter? What do you do? Through the winter months the resort is closed. Mid October, after the last diehard Musky fishermen have come and gone, we tidy up the cabins, launder the linens one last time, drain the waterlines, pull out all the boats, winterize the motors and store all the odds and ends that accumulate around the yard. Through the off-season we keep busy with communications, the admin side of things and maintaining/renovating/upgrading our facilities and equipment. We have been at this game for over a decade now and in some respects we have come full circle. Years ago the top of the to-do list read -Build new docks. That same bullet is back at the top of the list, scheduled for immediately following the 2020 thaw!
How long have you been doing this? What did you do before? How did you two meet? Where are you both from? Mark was born in Dryden, raised here in Perrault Falls ON. His parents were from Winnipeg and first came to the area as tourists thoroughly enjoying their annual fishing trips. In 1978 they traded the city for rural life and began their careers as outfitters. (Definitely check out the Christmas album on our Facebook page –I found some gems in the old albums!) When was the camp built? Our best guess is late 50’s/early 60’s. I’m from a small town in northern Alberta, no stranger to lake life and country living. Our paths crossed back in college. Mark and I were both in the Business Admin program at a small college in northern Alberta. We found our way there on athletic scholarships, we were in a few of the same classes and shared a group of mutual friends. Shortly after we started dating Mark’s dad passed way of cancer. Joe was an amazing man. He and Faye, Mark’s mom, had run the lodge for 25 years. At that point Mark stepped in to a big pair of shoes and helped his mom run the camp. I was invited to work at the resort for the summer. What did you think of all this? What’s not to like! That was 17 years ago! That became the routine -school and camp. In 2005 we finished college and realized that it was time to make a plan for the future. Although we had never set out to become outfitters we decide that working towards purchasing PLC was an opportunity we could not pass up. Mark was 22, I was 20 years old. Oh the things we have learned since then! For 10 years we worked through the winters in Alberta and ran the resort through the spring/summer/fall. We were fortunate that the oil and gas industry was booming at the time. We kept very busy. Mark worked as a winch tractor truck driver hauling drilling rigs all over Alberta. I worked at a local tire shop in accounting and admin. In 2009 we officially crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s, we were camp owners! It would be 5 years before we stayed our first winter. Perrault Lake Camp has been in the family for 42 years. The good times shared here by countless families and friends, the memories made, the feelings of excitement, happiness and peace that PLC has brought to so many people are a fortune beyond measure. This place is special. Mark and I are grateful to carry on this tradition, proud of what we do and hopeful that our way of life will carry on for generations to come.
What is the winter like in Perrault Falls? It must be so quiet? Do you get a lot of snow? Is it cold? How cold? The winter can be both beautiful and peaceful. Only the folks with grown children imagined scenes of Planet Earth caliber. Pristine white wilderness sparsely dotted with thought-provoking animal tracks and evergreen bows drowning in thick masses of undisturbed snow. Winter is a long season, charming but challenging. Yes, through the winter it is dark a little more than two thirds of the day. Yes, in a good year we get a lot of snow up here. At least 2 feet blankets the yard through the winter months. (A good year will accumulate 4 feet of standing snow.) We are always shoveling! It is also our responsibility to plow our driveway out to the highway. Yes, we run official winter tires October to April. You must! Yes, the highway does close in extreme weather and all you can do is wait for crews to finish battling the elements. This is all fairly standard for our American friends bordering the great white north but for those of you farther south it’s a whole different ball game! On a side note, we don’t play any kind of ball outside in the winter. Your ball would freeze. When you strike it the result is somewhere between cracked wide open to an all out shatter. Spoils the fun in a hurry. Yes, we laugh when guests from Kentucky tell us how two inches of snow shut down the county for 24 hours. Yes, a school bus takes the kids 25 miles each way to and from school. They miss half a dozen days or so due to unsafe road conditions. Yes, it can be awfully, unbelievably, dangerously cold in the winter. In those dark days through the dead of winter you can hope for highs of -13 and expect lows of -40 or worse. Not including the wind chill factor. In spite of all that, I am proud or simply conditioned to say that in true testament of our amazing Canadianism, although the busses are cancelled in extreme weather, the schools and local businesses will open and the snowplows are always running. We are the north! Winter warriors! Blizzards dumping a foot and a half of snow overnight, freezing rain that turns the highway into a skating rink and negative 48 Fahrenheit with the wind chill doesn’t stop us for long! I don’t blame the busses for extreme weather cancellations. In -40, nothing runs reliably. Unless it’s me, getting inside!
What do the kids do around here? Remember my reference to the serenity of a scene from Planet Earth? Well, you won’t find that caliber of tranquil beauty in our yard. The overwhelming network of activity would keep an expert tracker busy all winter long. The kids travel a fresh path each and every time they go to and from the sliding hill, around the play structure, across the yard to random snow angels and meandering paths around the trees. There are prints leading in and out of the woods, to the small snow fort, the big snow fort, a dilapidated snowman, a lucky snowman still intact and 4 giant snowballs just sitting in a row. There are dog tracks every which way leading to dig sites in search of fetch toys, following grouse along the edge of the woods and chasing creatures tree to tree. There are downhill sleds tucked under the cedars next to the sliding hill, which you know as the road down to the boat launch. As the snow accumulates over the winter we plow it into a giant mound at the top of the hill. The north side of “snow mountain” serves as the perfect launch to send you and your snow racer speeding down the slick hard packed slope, over the jump along the shoreline and you better believe that it is always a contest to see who can coast the farthest to a stop! The west side of this massive pile of frozen fun is the perfect base for the annual snow castle. Mark and the kids carefully cut and position hardened blocks of snow to build a turret overlooking the grounds. What castle is complete without an escape tunnel to slip from the top level down and out the opposite side. A few paces away shovels are left laying in the snow next to another tunnel, this one is to China. A lone mitten rests abandoned near a small spruce and unlike the neighboring trees its bows are completely void of even a single snowflake. Why, you ask? It was shaken like the dickens because it’s funny to set off an avalanche on your sister when she least expects it. Circling back to the question, I ask, what don’t they do?!
Does anyone else live in Perrault Falls through the winter? Are there any services available? There are a whopping 26 people in the community through the winter! (Give or take a few snowbirds smart enough to dodge the darkest days.) Our little post office outlet remains open year round. Getting the mail is exciting at this time of year. All the packages are stacked up near the door as you walk in. It’s common practice to read the labels and see who got what from where. One might be for us of course. Dutchie’s, the local store closes in the fall but the Whiskey Jack Restaurant is open mid week and through the weekend all winter long. There is a YouTube video out there that pokes at the happenings in a rural watering hole. Spot on! The video features two guys in flannel perched at the counter with a few beers. One says to the other, “Where’s Eddy? He’s usually here by now eh.” The other guy explains in detail, “He had a doctors appointment this morning, gout is acting up again. Then he went ice fishing. Bob and Dave helped him pull his shack out there the other day. He’ll be her in 35 minutes.” Cut to the two guys + Eddy now staring out the window watching the highway traffic sporadically roll by, “That’s a fancy truck, eh? Whose truck is that?” “Yeah. I don’t know. Never seen it in my life.” or “Oh yeah eh, that’s so and so’s new wheels. Work must be good at the mill.” You get the picture. They’ll also let you know when you have a package to pick up!
Does the lake freeze solid? How much ice? Can you drive on it? Perrault and neighboring lakes freeze over accumulating at least 30 inches of ice through the winter. The ice is an interesting life cycle taking on the qualities of a living being. Like all creatures it is vulnerable to the forces of nature. Ideal conditions yield a superior product. Unfavorable conditions bear weakness. It begins with the tiniest of crystals, they multiply, spread and thicken. Concealing the soft water, shielding the delicate life within from winter’s bitter cold. Calm winds are ideal for a smooth solid freeze. Also perfect for a natural skating rink. Windy days through the late fall churn up the fragile shards forming a rough brittle surface –no skating rink. Add a few inches of ill-timed snow over thin ice and the developing slab can remain insulated from even the most frigid of temperatures. However, the north winds will inevitably blow scattering snow to the shorelines allowing the freeze to successfully set in. The surface area of Perrault Lake occupies 8100 acres of space. As the lake ice’s mass increases the giant sheet bends and flexes. It can only withstand so much pressure before it breaks! Cracks rip through the layers and ring through the air, pops and booms echo on the frozen breeze. Growing pains. The forces at play are so powerful that at times you can hear the tones and vibrations from inside the house. One of my favorite parts of winter is listening to the ice sing in the wee hours of the morning. The soundtrack plays 24/7 all winter long. Imagine standing over 100 feet of water and all of a sudden a loud crack shoots through the ice directly underfoot, then a series of deep pops thump through the crisp air fading into the distance. Feeling comfortable out there takes some getting used to. As winter progresses the maturing ice’s integrity is continually tested. Current flows year round through Perrault Lake slowly decreasing the water level. When the lake beneath no long sufficiently supports the ice surface the sheet collapses creating a deep rift that can span shoreline to shoreline. Significant snowfall can also build up and weigh down the slab displacing the soft water underneath. This creates overflow, a layer of slush on the surface. Under the right conditions the ice can remain dry, solid and strong all winter long. Thriving well into the month of May as it stubbornly protests even the brightest strongest rays of the spring thaw. Slushy, brittle, thin ice doesn’t stand a chance. Going back to the fall, the bay in front of PLC is always frozen by the end of November while parts of the main lake have remained open until Mid December. They say you only need a few inches of ice to support a person and a foot of ice to support a vehicle. We don’t set foot over deep water until there is a solid 12 inches of ice. Furthermore, ice roads are maintained and generally safe for vehicles, there are no roads where we go. We leave the truck on solid ground and snowmobile across the frozen water.
Are you safe on the lake ice? There is always real concern in this query and rightfully so. Yes, you are safe IF you pay constant attention to your surroundings. Read the signs! Hazards are often marked and not to be ignored. Lets start with breather holes, small openings covered by a thin layer of ice. The weak spot is caused by insulating snow and frequent stress fractures and can be very dangerous. Some years the ice is littered with portals to the dark water below. Other years, when a good solid freeze has had the chance to set in, there are very few. Signs: dark spots and/or a visible hole. What do you do if you’re cruising along and come up on a breather hole? In a truck, you swerve like you have never defensively swerved before. On a snowmobile, don’t stop. Just keep cruising. You’re good! Another warning sign to watch for, beaver houses. Not necessarily the damn, the hut. It is a hub of year round activity, a beacon indicating thin ice and well deserving of a wide berth. Next on the list of hazards is ice heaves. They vary in intensity, some winters not occurring at all. When pressure builds to an overwhelming level the entire sheet of ice can snap driving a massive break across the frozen plain. Water seeps up through the crack. The two sides compete for space as they shift, refreezes and grow resulting in one side overtaking the other. Sort of like a tiny model of tectonic plates raising a mountain range. I’ve seen heaves 6 feet high, walls of ice jaggedly projecting from the frozen plains. They are impressive, unstable and often impassable when stretching shoreline to shoreline. There are also specific places that are known to be unsafe. Places you don’t go, the spots that never freeze. Regardless of air temperature, snowfall levels and ice quality these areas hold open water year round. Fat man’s squeeze, a narrow section of the Cedar River framed by a rock wall on the west side and bogs on the east is a treacherous section of thick marsh adjacent to steady current. Two big red danger flags. On the opposite end of the lake, just across the bay from home, The Falls drain water year round from Perrault Lake into neighboring Waubaskang. As you cross the bridge over the falls you’re guaranteed to see an otter or two, dipping, diving or sliding along the ice. Intense current and the presence of wildlife are good indicators of instability. The most common hazard however, is overflow. Accumulated snowfall weighs down the massive sheet of ice leaving the soft water nowhere to go. It leaches through cracks and holes soaking the snow just above the surface. The thick slush sits insulated under the remaining layers of snow waiting to trap you. A couple inches of overflow isn’t a problem but slow down or stop in a section of sludge 6-8 inches deep and you are stuck! You can’t dig your way out of water. Worse yet, the watery slush is now exposed to the elements. You better find a way out of there before it freezes in or your sled will become a permanent landmark and a hot topic at the restaurant! This brings me to the last and what should be the most obvious danger, exposure. Even the most savvy of adventures can run into trouble. There are no roads, few people and often no cell service in the wild. Be prepared! Whether you go alone or with a partner, tell someone where you are going and when you plan to be back. Don’t take risks or hazardous shortcuts. Full winter gear and a small pack of survival essentials could save your life if you get wet, stuck or your sled breaks down.
Do you ice fish? (There are at least 50 questions on this topic.) YES! As soon as the ice is trustworthy we are on it! We mainly target lake trout in neighboring bodies of water. No, there are no lake trout in Perrault Lake. We set up on the icy plain way out in the middle of nowhere and dangle our best presentation of fish goodies in hopeful anticipation of what may come up after it. No, I am not authorized to tell you what we use for bait. Do we catch anything? You bet! Over the past few years we have put together an impressive portfolio. When I say “we” Mark deserves most of the credit. He puts us on fish. How big, you ask? The biggest being Mark’s 23lbs lake trout (no length measurement), then Jackson’s 37.5” 18lbs Laker. Check out the photos in the Christmas Album on our Facebook page. No, we do not keep any of those big beautiful fish. We do keep a few small trout; 20-22 inches are perfect. Mark is also a wizard with a smoker! What is ice fishing like? Imagine yourself bundled in layers of cold weather gear. Mittens so thick your dexterity is reduced to the most primitive function of thumb and fingers together or apart. It’s a challenge to reel. (It’s also a challenge to reel when your fingers are frozen stiff. I choose to be comfortable and clumsy.) So, here you are parked above a little hole in the ice waiting. For hours. The lush scenery you’re accustomed to is barren. Spindly tree branches wave in the cold winds. The evergreens and rock formations are buried in deep drifts of sparkling snow. Each angler is permitted two active fishing rods. We set up in an accessible formation. On slow days you can hear the bitter wind whistling through the eyes of the miniature fishing rods. The ice cracks and groans under foot as we shuffle along the circuit to warm up our toes. We spend several minutes at each site ever so gently twitching the bait down below. (Did you know that shivering presents an ideal bait presentation? It does.) Thankfully, ice fishing isn’t all about freezing your ‘you know whats’ off! When the bite is on, you don’t have a chance to get cold. Tiny jingle bells clip on to the rod tip to alert us of movement on the line. On a good day they sound off nonstop keeping you running in full winter gear from hole to hole to set the hook. It is a lot of fun! The urgency feels like sliding in to home plate with the winning run! (No joke, we baseball slide. It’s the quickest and most fun way to get to the rod.) If you get there in time the line yanks back as you instinctively jerk the rod tip skyward. Fish on! Safe! Loosing a fish is especially devastating through the hard water season. Things to remember: a prompt hook set is key, avoid running the line over the sharp ice around the hole and for the love of all that is good in the world, keep the line tight! Silvery skin flashes from the black water. Big fish will bend that little rod right in half as you play the game of reel and run. Patience is a virtue. Enjoy the excitement. This is what you’ve been waiting for. Finally, after tense runs of the line and anxious reeling bright shiny skin flashes through the opening in the ice once again. You gently guide the fish toward the circular opening in the ice and there it is… a wide set of jaws lined with razor sharp teeth. Reaching in the hole to retrieve the fish is like the outdoorsmen’s version of the game Operation. MIND THE BUZZERS!
Now and again we also fish for crappie through the hard water season. This winter our first day out was December 1st. It was a beautiful sunny day, not a cloud in the bright blue sky. No wind and balmy temps of 23F. The transition to winter has been very mild this year. Only a few inches of snow had fallen thus far and the north winds had yet to really howl. We walked out from shore to one of our favorite locations on a small lake. You know, a little puddle down the road over that way a bit. Before venturing too far from shore Mark drilled a series of test holes just off a point and out toward deeper water. Ten inches of ice –that will do! Fast forward to actively fishing… As we all sat around our fishing holes peacefully working those tiny little lures the ice came to life. Loud cracks split the air from right underneath our feet. Deep pops and groans vibrantly resonated into the big open sky. The kids were amazed. Each time the ice spoke they would look up at Mark and I with eyes as wide as dinner plates searching our faces for any hint of concern. They had a few questions of their own. It was a wonderful afternoon, something to be truly thankful for. Did we catch anything? Mark put us on fish! A couple hours of super light tackle jigging produced enough pan fish for a delicious Sunday dinner. This is my question: Is there anything better than fresh fish?
Do you see any wildlife in the winter? Besides the kids? Yes! Late in the fall grouse wander the edge of the forest behind the house. Foxes traipse along behind their tracks sometimes coming right up to the kitchen door to peek inside. The bird feeder on the back deck brings in blue jays and whiskey jacks. Fishers and pine martins scamper in the woods and otters love to play in the falls and along the shorelines. We see rabbit tracks all over the wilderness and the occasional white rabbit darting across the trails in the woods. Moose are most commonly seen along the highway after dark. Their hulking bodies blend all too well with the blackness of night. While driving you often don’t see them until they are way too close for comfort. It can be very dangerous. A lone wolf has crossed the yard twice since we have stayed the winters but the pack seems to keep its distance passing through the area periodically. We see the tracks not far from here. The most memorable sighting for me was a lynx. Two years ago while ice fishing we spotted a figure crossing point to point almost a mile away. Jack and I jumped on a snow machine and set off speeding toward it. As we approached we slowed, keeping a respectful distance. The signature tufts on its ears were unmistakable. Lynx are terribly elusive and extremely powerful predators. Without a sound we watched in wonder. The lynx eyed us with a cool unfriendly stare. This creature was gorgeous and commanding of caution. Wide paws confidently padded over the deep snow. The lynx’s legs were disproportionately thick and muscular in comparison to its long lean frame. Its hind legs were longer than the front set giving the impression that this animal is always ready to pounce. The big cat’s fluffy grey fur was decorated in a black brindle pattern, the coat swayed lavishly with each step. A few moments later the lynx reached the tree line and disappeared into the forest. Words to describe the Canadian lynx: regal, luxurious, and deadly. This may have been a once in a lifetime viewing for Jack and I. We were thrilled to be in attendance!
Do you like winter? Do you like living here year round? Through the summer I joke that I would be happy never to see another winter again but once acclimated to the conditions the answer is yes. Winter brings a slower pace and privacy. It gives us a chance to catch our breath, reflect and tackle many things that we may not have time for through the on season. (We can also holler at our kids without fear of judgment. Albeit, they’re pretty good kids, there isn’t too much hollering.) We spend much of our time together as a family enjoying the outdoors teaching our children to connect with nature and respect the earth. Although the winter season does in fact occupy more than half of the calendar year it too changes quickly. The anticipation of the spring thaw, the hustle of readying the resort for opening day, and the exciting social environment on the way are all things that we very much look forward to. It is the best of both worlds. A little unorthodox in its all or nothing nature but nonetheless, we’re a little south of heaven here in northwest Ontario! We like it here very much.