Greetings & Good Tidings from Perrault Lake Camp!
“We look forward to seeing you in warm sunny May/June/July/August/September!” This was our email sign off way back at the beginning of 2020. I remember feeling excited. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, 2020, how futuristic!’ When I was a kid I thought we’d all have flying cars in 2020. Anyway, off we went, the start of a new year. Going through the motions of everyday life. The usual chitchat between small business owners is always the same in January and February… “How is your summer looking?” “Look like a good year ahead?” To which we reply, “Yup! If everyone shows up it will be a great year!” Well, along came March… Reality sure took a sharp turn off a steep cliff. And cars don’t fly! Much to everyone’s great shock and dismay, no one showed up.
We heard from you though! We are more than grateful for that. As we all watched the first ever Canada/ US border closure continually renew itself 30 days at a time, keeping in touch was all we could do. Speaking with our friends and guests, listening to your challenges, hearing your perspectives and working together have offered tremendous comfort as we all do our best to move forward. There was no doubt that our guests, friends and family were all here in spirit.
Fun Fact: THE GREATEST PEOPLE STAY AT PERRAULT LAKE CAMP!
We can’t thank you all enough for your consideration and support over the past year. Thank you to everyone who called and emailed to check in, to give an update on life in the lower 48 and to make plans for the future. Mark and I wish to express our sincerest thanks to all our guests for carrying your deposits to the coming year. Thank you to those who sent a deposit for “someday.” Thank you to those who offered to pay for their trip in full in advance. Thank you to the group who sent a generous and unexpected donation. Thank you to those who sent a gift to the kids. Your thoughtfulness and kindnesses are more appreciated that I can even say. Thank you to everyone who supported our social media efforts in an attempt to bring our Canadian wild life to you. We appreciate all your likes, comments and shares. It feels good to know that you’re all out there! More than anything, we look forward to seeing you all again and to meeting the folks we have come to know by phone and email over the past year.
Tourism will return to NW Ontario. That long drive can’t come soon enough! How liberating and exciting that day will be. Like a sweet 16 year old with their drivers license officially in hand, literally skipping out of the DMV! Unstoppable! Heading back to the land of rocks, trees and water; the Canadian wild. Cruising back to big skies and bald eagles. Perrault Lake awaits you! Out of the cities, off the expressways and interstates, across the border, past the smelly mill in Dryden and finally, Hwy 105. Heading north on the last leg of your journey! Which landmarks do you reference for distance? The over pass where the highway crosses the Wabigoon River? Someone is usually parked on the shoulder admiring those picturesque little falls. The Buller Creek crossing maybe? A low spot constantly at risk of flooding the highway. In June 2014 Buller Creek flooded the 105 in over a foot of water. Some guests will remember being rerouted to a network of country roads snaking along the quiet rural countryside north of Vermilion Bay. How about Ten Sheds? Just passed the creek, a stones throw on the east side of the road, sits a well-kept old white farmhouse in a yard cluttered with sheds. The first time I went by that place I thought, ‘Geez that guy must have 10 sheds!’ There are in fact ten sheds varying in size from an outhouse to a small garage. We don’t know who lives there but Mark and I are fond of this place. They are old school people. The grounds are always neat and tidy, buildings maintained and a clean car sits parked out front only during the day. I feel like I’m describing my grandparent’s house or my in-law’s, Joe and Faye’s Perrault Lake Camp of years ago. Our favorite part is the garden. They grow the most plentiful and robust garden. Every trip we make to Dryden in the spring ends with us in awe, “You should see Ten Shed’s tomatoes/potatoes/etc! How do they do it!”
Rolling along, the railroad tracks intersect the 105 signaling a return to the rugged terrain of the Canadian Shield. The road cuts through 50’ rock faces, curves and dips past logging blocks, little lakes and thick evergreen forests. Can you picture the ‘Perrault Falls Adventure Area’ sign? A light colored rustic billboard depicting a lone wolf howling at the wide-open sky. It marks the southern boundary of our watershed. Moving on, do you accelerate or coast through those sharp bends on the edge of Cliff Lake? The camp signs are thick in these parts. From the passenger side, Cedar Lake peaks through the trees at passers by. Not much further now. Pickerel Creek on the left, Jackfish Lake on the right, a few miles of heavy timber, Chicago Point Rd and there it is, Perrault Lake! From Highway Bay you can see clear across the lake to Whale Rock point. The locals have names for the various parts of our sparse rural community. The rest stop to the post office is considered South side, uptown Perrault Falls puts you at the Whiskey Jack and Dutchie’s, our local store, is downtown. HEY! Pay attention! Pump the breaks! You’ll miss your turn at the bottom of the hill!
Perrault Lake Camp! Same sign –Regal orange lettering on a black oval framed by wildlife and greenery. Come on in!! The great cedar eagle carving remains perched in the driveway keenly eyeing all who arrive. Our large front steps will host an eclectic variety of rustic planters full of beautiful bright flowers, massive moose antlers and mini Canadian flags flapping in the breeze. The Leader Board will once again acknowledge the marvelous angling accolades of our guests and most importantly, the sign outside the door will say OPEN!!!!!!!!! We are very excited to welcome you all back to PLC!
So, what was happening up here while the world struggled to handle Covid-19? Many people were surprised to learn that the tourism sector in NW Ontario relies on residents of the United States for 95% of its annual traffic. The border closure partnered with domestic travel restrictions changed our way of life and ultimately left us with a lot of time on our hands. In many ways, life was really great. In some ways, things were really not great. We were at our best when we kept busy. So we kept busy! We are grateful for the really great parts…
Did everyone have enough toilet paper to make it through the spring? Wasn’t that something! Oh sure, we laughed at the hysteria too. Then we quickly realized the shortages were real and went to the basement to inventory our supply. Phew! Stocked up! One day in early April Mark and I sent the kids on a mission. A ‘get some fresh air, get out of our hair, this quarantine business is draining’ mission. We gave them each a grocery bag and asked them to bring back all the toilet paper from the cabins. They came back with big smiles, rosy cheeks and full bags!
For a short period of time the grocery chains struggled to stock dietary staples too. Things like bread, butter, yeast, eggs, milk, meat, canned goods were all flying off the shelves. In accordance with rural living, we are bulk shoppers and tend to load up on sale items whenever possible. Much to our relief the basement stock shelf was in good shape pre pandemic. I will admit that I did some panic purchasing myself. We now have 5 years worth of yeast and I found a great deal on 3 years worth of ketchup! Mark and I wondered how the kids would remember all this… “My mom was baking lots of bread. That was pretty good. We didn’t have butter for a while; margarine tastes weird on toast. A lot of the packaging on our food was plain yellow (no name brand). My mom and dad talked about getting chickens, we’re not farmers? We weren’t allowed to touch anything from the store until they disinfected every single thing that came home and wiped the door handles 45 times. Mom left our mail in the truck for 4 days before we could open in. We were not allowed to go into any stores and we couldn’t play with our friends. We didn’t have any customers. It was pretty lonely around the camp.”
With that last bit in mind, something beautiful bloomed through the spring and summer. We watched our children develop an incredible bond. They may not realize it but they forged a solid foundation upon which they continue to build a lifelong friendship. Sure they became frustrated with each other, needed space at times and wished more than anything that they had someone else to play with but the memories they made and times they shared are treasures beyond measure. One summer evening we were walleye fishing a hump out in the middle of Perrault. The air was calm, the lake was flat and the bite was on! Our fish finder was lit up with walleye. We were setting hooks, netting keepers and having a great time. To the south, thick dark clouds began to swell until the entire southern skyline was engulfed in darkness. Thunder rolled and lightning flashed beyond College and Jackfish Lakes. The kids were curious about lightning, which prompted an interesting conversation about the forces of nature. It didn’t take long to limit out. Good thing because Mother Nature had lost her patience with our presence. A jagged bolt of white-hot lightning split the sky followed immediately by an explosion of crashing thunder. A wall of deep blue water appeared just beyond Hatfield Island. It was time to go! Carmen immediately stowed her rod, “Let’s go, I don’t want Jack to get hit by lightning. He is my best buddy in the whole world!”
Our best times were shared as a family enjoying the activities we promote. 2020 was an opportunity to show our kids what Perrault Lake Camp and Team Tycholis are really all about. We experienced the wonder and excitement of life in the wilds of Canada.
We fished a lot! May 16th 2020, the 3rd Saturday in May, is the walleye opener. It was overcast, cool and calm. We packed for shore lunch, puttered away from an empty camp and crossed a desolate Perrault Lake to the Ord River. The trees were bare and the shoreline was trimmed with dull brown sagging reeds. Yet, it was indeed springtime. A light tinge of lively green was visible along the waters edge. I must add that we have never in our entire career and in Mark’s entire life at PLC, ever, fished the Ord. Let alone fished anywhere on opening day. This was an exciting new adventure for us! A few locals were anchored just inside the mouth of the river. Our guests have told us for years of opening week in the Ord. Boats lined up-bow to stern all the way along the river’s meandering course. Anchored so close together you could walk the river stepping vessel to vessel. It was hard to imagine. We rounded a few bends and settled in Herman’s Hole, a deep pocket on the rim of a sharp curve just passed the opening to Church Lake. Herman was a friend of the family, member of the community and well-known guide of years ago. All these years later, he did not disappoint. We caught fish! We all did our part reeling in spunky eater sized walleyes for lunch. Shore lunch was on a giant rock around the corner. Jack was learning to make fire, and clean fish. Carmen helped prep the beans and chop onions, potatoes and lemons. Our fresh fish sizzled to crispy perfection in the cast iron pan. It had been months since we last ate walleye. (I know you can relate!) We savored every last delicious bite!
A few weeks later, after thoroughly exploring the Ord, we veered right at Whale Rock and travelled the Cedar River all the way to the old burnt out bridge. A must see historical landmark. Many years ago the bridge supported logging traffic. When it was no longer needed the platform was dismantled and much of the frame was burned to discourage further use. You can barely spot the break in the woods where a wide road once met up with the wooden structure. Now, the west side of the bridge protrudes from the thick forest in a rickety tangle of weathered, worn down grey beams, giant steel bolts and a few jagged ends of twisted rebar. The sagging trestles are marked by decades of carved signatures. All that remains of the east side of the bridge is a row of scorched wooden posts pacing two by two into the weeds. The old bridge spanned a narrow section of the river. It is sheltered and peaceful there. Frogs croaked, bugs were buzzing, ducks skimmed the reeds and an eagle sat perched high above the top of the tallest spruce tree. A beaver industriously swam back and forth along the west side of the river dragging sticks and branches to his house north of the bridge. They move so silently through the water with their little faces barely breaching the surface. We didn’t realize it was only a few feet from the boat until it slapped its tail on the calm water scaring the dickens out of us! I suppose we disturbed their peaceful space. What a honey hole! The fishing around the bridge was fantastic! None stop nibble, set, net! We caught a ton of walleye and wood! The bridge really is falling apart. It was impossible to avoid getting snagged on its discarded parts!
Carmen is a very prudent angler. Half way through a slow, cautious retrieve she was snagged. She stood up, lifted her rod above her head and began to whip the rod tip back and forth in an effort to free the snag. Every angler knows the motion that follows, “$#*& snagged again!” She gave it her best effort to free her jig all by herself when the snag pulled back! “Wowwee! Dad! It’s pulling me over! The drag was zinging in an aggressive battle of tug-a-war! She was holding on for dear life, those little hands wrapped tight around the handle and Mark beside her ready to grab the rod should her grip fail. Mark coached her all the way along, “tip up, line tight, and reel in when the fish is not pulling away.” Carmen’s taught line danced around the calm surface but the murky water gave no glimpse of what was causing all the commotion below. The struggle continued for a few minutes with the butt of the rod digging into Carmen’s little belly. She was not letting go! The fish swam from one side of the boat to the other, it pulled hard testing her resolve. We were sure it was a walleye. The fish stayed deep, putting up a stubborn fight. Carmen was starting to tire out, “Tip up! Reel in! Your doing great!” She was! And finally, a 40-inch musky broke the surface with the flash of its wide silver back. There were shrieks of excitement, “It’s a musky!!” A whole new world of exhilaration was upon us. Carmen fought that fish like a pro. She was calm, patient and sound in her technique. Yet, sometimes they get away. All of a sudden the line snapped and it was gone.
We enjoyed fishing the east end of the lake so much that we decided to camp in the Cedar River. There is an amazing shore lunch spot on a point between Perch Island and Fat Man Squeeze with views of the sparkling blue water to the west, south and east. The perfect place to enjoy the sound of waves lapping at the waters edge, the steady fall of raindrops on the tent canvas and the hum of a bloodthirsty swarm of mosquitoes a trillion strong! I had hoped the mosquitoes would have starved themselves out a bit this season. No such luck! We spent a few days and nights out there in the tent; sipping hot coffee in the morning sunshine, sitting around the campfire, learning survival skills, eating s’mores, watching the sun set and when the bugs came out at dusk we played cards in the tent. We also visited the bridge many times in hopes of snagging Carmen’s big friend again. No luck there either.
We did not take for granted the accessibility and magnificence of the pristine wilderness. It is our happy place. What a shame it was not to be able to share it with you. The conditions through 2020 were gorgeous in NW Ontario. Very pleasing through the spring summer and fall. Each morning the soft glow of first light bloomed into a brilliant hot sunny day. The sunsets were something truly spectacular. The 4th of July was my favorite. As the sun set to the west it lit the horizon with bright white light and marbled the deep blue evening sky with rosy red streaks, all reflecting with perfect accuracy in the mirrored glass surface of Perrault Lake. It was incredible and perfectly reminiscent of the occasion! There was, however, a price for this hot sunny summer. The lakes are low and the woods are brittle. Spring began with medium water levels that steadily receded from shore all year long. The lake is presently the lowest Mark has ever seen. We are praying for large snowfalls and a wet spring… and an open border of course!
In August, the dry conditions ignited a forest fire a few miles southwest of the town of Red Lake, 70 miles north of Perrault Falls. It was serious. The town issued an evacuation notice displacing its population of 4000. A wave of frantic, terrified, unprepared evacuees came south over the course of 24 hours. The most remarkable part was the immediate response from the tourism community. Hundreds of lodges, resorts and camps that sat vacant or remained closed for the season opened up without hesitation to take in all those in need. Many people had little more than the cloths on their back. The community of Ear Falls and the outfitters of NW Ontario provided food, water, shelter and a welcoming caring environment despite the incredible hardships many were facing through the pandemic. Thankfully the fire was under control within a few days. A week after the evacuation order was given most everyone returned to their homes just as they left them. That was fantastic news. We hosted several families, great people! It was a pleasure to help, to meet our neighbors to the north and to see people at PLC again. The familiarity of kids playing in the yard, casting off the dock, people swimming and relaxing by the lake brought back so many wonderful memories of what summer should look like around here.
Adjusting to the unfamiliar routine in 2020 was a challenge. Believe it or not, we could not fish everyday. It didn’t feel right. In 17 years our annual cycle of activity has ingrained itself so deeply that our subconscious struggled to accept the change. We would often wake in the wee hours of the morning from dreams of guests arriving to unprepared cabins, uncut grass and a fleet of boats still sitting on the lawn. Old habits die hard! One constant you can always count on around here –there is always work to do. We pursued the satisfaction of accomplishment. It’s good for the soul. We kept busy!
Our first priority was to grow a respectable vegetable garden. Each year we set out with the best of intentions and the pace of a regular season would always get the best of us. We would end up with a few snacks here and there and a bunch of skinny yellowish plants struggling in hard dirt. Not this year! If Ten Sheds drove by our house they would have said, “That’s a fine looking garden kids!” Mark’s dad was also well known for his talented green thumb. He would have been proud of us. Mid May, while we would normally have been scrubbing cabins, racing against daylight with yard work and building or renovating something; we instead shoveled truckloads of nutrient rich natural black earth, set up sprinklers, started composting and planted our seeds. To our Southern friends May seems late for all this but up north we’re likely to get snow and guaranteed a few good hard frosts before Memorial weekend. Mark and I diligently watered, weeded and tended all summer long. It was very rewarding. We enjoyed eating fresh veggies all summer long. Mark replenished our basement stock shelf with 30 jars of the most delicious dill pickles, half a dozen jars of canned banana peppers and a batch of candied jalapenos. Those little delights are good on everything! He grew hot chili peppers too. What a fun way to ruin a squirrel’s day! Those mischievous little pests couldn’t resist a fire engine red finger long pepper. They would snatch one, bite in, and toss it like a time bomb to frantically scratch the bits off their tongue before racing back to the woods! When it came time to harvest we were thrilled with our results. We ended up with 75lbs of tomatoes made into tasty red sauce, 55lbs of carrots, 50lbs of potatoes, 2 large freezer bags of green beans, 1 bag of peas, a few more meals of beets and the satisfaction of successfully accomplishing our goal!
Our second priority was to tackle a few big projects that require a healthy dose of intensive labor, a fair bit of uninterrupted time and the freedom to make a real mess! This was the perfect opportunity to landscape the waterfront. Improve the curb appeal! To our return guests, can you picture the old boat ramp between the two docks on the west side of the boat launch? A 50’ row of planks that holds the 16’ Lund SSVs when not in use. Mark and I have talked about relocating that old relic for years and reclaiming the natural sand shoreline underneath. So we did! Sounds easy enough, eh? Simple plan. Hard work. But what better way to focus our nervous energy and enjoy the hot June sunshine? Our plan was: free the ramp from its existing location, float it farther down the west shoreline, anchored it in place and restore the central shoreline to its natural sand frontage. Mark’s dad, Joe, built the ramp around 35 years ago. Did you know that he cut his own lumber for all of his building projects back in the day? The structure was still surprisingly solid, held together by a series of cedar tree trunks spanning its 50’ length and 18” thick hand cut beams buried under a million rocks of all shapes and sizes. He hauled every one of those rocks in and here we are picking every single rock out. Pails of golf ball and baseball sized stones, armfuls of cantaloupe and watermelon sized rocks and boulders the size of the biggest musky bait tackle boxes. It took 10 days of rock picking to clear the beach. At the end of each day we were exhausted! I felt like a piece of paper that someone crumpled up into a little ball and threw against a wall! It was wonderful! As soon as the sand was accessible Mark and I turned around to see Jackson and Carmen crouched down building a castle with their pails and shovels. The kids played on the beach all summer long. The shoreline looks so tidy and natural. This project was a success in so many ways! Not to mention, our great tans and killer pipes (excellent muscle tone).
The second major project took place in August. Mark and I reroofed the house. We had hoped to do this last fall, 2019, however, once the season slowed down mid September there was no way to even begin. We saw record rainfall. Perrault Lake came up a foot and a half in September 2019 reaching record highs. The shingles were original to our 31 year old home; there were a few leaks and soft spots that worried us through the previous winter. Moreover, the way 2020 was going we were pretty sure that the coming year would bring on a collapse in the dead of winter. In early August, we stripped the old shingles, repaired the soft spots, recovered the roof, and installed the soffit, facia and trim. It took us two weeks from start to finish. What a mess and what a relief! The kids were such tremendous helpers through this project too. They were picking up the old shingles and combing the grass with magnets in search of stray nails and staples. So far, no leaks and no flat tires!
In between those two big jobs we crossed off a bunch of other To Do’s. Nature has been persistently reclaiming our ¼ mile long driveway. We cut back 8’ on either side, preparing to welcome you all back to PLC! We painted cabins and built stone framed flowerbeds along the front of a few cabins. Next year you can look forward to a variety of veggies growing at your door step.. Wouldn’t it be nice to grab a handful of fresh dill or green onions to accompany your daily catch! We pulled dozens of old tree stumps from around the yard, leveled the terrain and planted grass. We trimmed trees, repaired things, cleaned up junk piles and organized sheds and storage spaces. We even attempted to trap leeches and minnows. Rather unsuccessfully I might add, not much of a story there. However, our attempts did give us a reason to see some neat places and watch the sunrise.
As fall set in and slowly turned to winter, life seemed almost normal at PLC. The kids returned to school in September, we cut 3 cords of firewood and we closed down the camp. We enjoyed the last warm days of the season crappie fishing and grouse hunting to fill the freezer. Now, here we are again; checking in with guests, making plans, exchanging pleasantries, wishing, hoping and praying that we will see you all again in warm sunny May/ June/ July/ August/ September of 2021! Might as well be optimistic about the weather too! We are eager to return to the familiar routines that come with the arrival of our guests, friends and family! The kids are already chomping at the bit to fetch ice, bait and help with luggage. This summer Jack learned to waterski and Carmen is now cannonballing off the dock. They will be thrilled to show off their skills! When we meet again I’m pretty sure that I’ll be cleaning every toilet with a smile and if your up early enough you’ll see Mark skipping along the docks as he goes about his morning fuel tank filling routine. We look forward to our annual crawfish boil, bacon wrapped walleye kabobs, lakeside gatherings, sipping white owl in the evening, early morning chats on the dock, listening to the fish story of the day and enjoying all the wonders of the Canadian wilderness in the company of great people!
Merry Christmas! We wish you all a healthy, happy holiday season.
Cheers to a New Year!
Mark, Amy, Jackson, Carmen & Lucy