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September 14, 2001

Algonquin Park remembrances II

Last week, we left Bernice Cleator and her two teenage friends stranded in the bush in Algonquin Park. They were just settling in for the night when they heard footsteps on the nearby portage. The story continues..

By Bernice Cleator

By a twist of serendipity, Norm and Doug, the two eldest sons of Andy Grant the Park Ranger, were on their way home after working as guides for a group of fishermen a few lakes distant. They quickly assessed our predicament and came up with a solution. Norm took Toby in his canoe, and Doug took Aleda and me in ours. Their powerful strokes swept us down the lake through the darkness, and when the moon rose above the pointed tops of the pines the journey was perfect. 

They insisted on seeing us right to the door of our cabin "just in case," Norm said, "the 'big fella' is prowling around." "Have you seen him yet?" asked Doug.

Bernice and Aleda at the Cabin

No, we hadn't seen him, but we'd certainly heard him. The "big fella" was a bear who was never far from our cabin. No doubt it was the smell of food that attracted him. He never bothered us but his crashing through the brush was a fearful sound. We never came up the path from the lake, or set foot out the back to the outhouse without taking the axe.

There was one other occasion when Norm and Doug came to our rescue just when all looked hopeless. We three were paddling across one of the lakes when we ran over a floating log, which tore a hole in the bottom of the canoe. One of us had to sit on the bottom while the other two paddled, and that afternoon I was the unfortunate one. As the water rushed in through the hole Toby called out, "Sit tight, Bernice. Sit right on the hole as hard as you can!" 

I did, managing to gather up all the gear and hold it above my head. Aleda and Toby paddled frantically towards the shore, but the canoe was filling up rapidly. Before we reached land, only the gunwales rode above the surface, and I was in water up to the armpits. 

And that was the precise moment when Norm and Doug Grant stroked toward us, seeming to appear out of nowhere. Once on shore they upturned our canoe and used their patching gear to close the hole. After an hour or so of drying time, both for ourselves and the patching job, we were safely on our way.

"Wow," said Aleda, "wouldn't our mothers have a fit if they could see what we are up to!" 

Indeed. But so far we had been lucky. Our luck held out for two more years. During the summers of our sixteenth and seventeenth years we returned for two idyllic weeks in our personal paradise. 

We called the cabin Beralto, using parts of our three names, and we made the wilderness our own. We found new places to explore, a rushing waterfall to swim under and great blueberry patches to sit in for dessert.

Aleda: "Wow, this is the life"

But all things come to an end. Each year our last morning in the wilderness began the same way. Up at five, after a restless night, we would load the canoe and set off down Upper Couchon Lake in the early morning mist. We'd paddle through the Narrows where the beaver family lived, usually managing to unsettle the mud hen who would screech at us. 

Then we'd travel the whole length of Lower Couchon Lake. There at its base was Daventry, the park ranger's headquarters and the place where the train would make a brief stop for us. We would leave the canoe for our friends the Grant boys to return to the cabin, then reluctantly climb on the little train and take our leave, vowing always to return next year.

But after 1938 the next year never came. By then all three of us were beginning to prepare for our three very different careers. Suddenly our lives changed, and in another year the whole world changed as we plunged headlong into war.

It was the end of innocence.

What happened to the young people in the story?

The three girls who were born in North Bay were close friends in high school. They kept in touch over the years.

Bernice graduated from the University of Western Ontario and became a teacher. She married her husband Ken, and Anglican priest, and went to parishes in California, Toronto and Montreal, where she worked with him and raised three sons. Bernice and her husband later ran tours and cruises all over the world for many years. She has written numerous travel articles for magazines and newspapers. 

She is a certified worker for Laubauch Literacy Canada and has written books for adult new readers

Toby graduated from Queen's University and had a long career with the Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal, where she had postings all over the world. She often visited her brother who was a Canadian Ambassador in the diplomatic service. She later returned to Queen's University in an administrative capacity. She died in 1978.

Aleda trained as a nurse and married a man who became the Head of the Chemistry Department at Bishop's University. She had four children and thirteen grandchildren. 

Widowed in 1990, she divides her time between her home on Lake Champlain in Quebec and her winter home in Arizona.

Norm Grant was the son of the long time Park Ranger at Daventry, Andy Grant. Norm worked briefly as a Park Ranger and filled in as a teacher at the school in Daventry for a couple of years. He went on to a long career in teaching in North Bay secondary schools, after acquiring a degree from Queen's University. He died in 1983 after 35 years of teaching, and a year after winning a million dollars in the Super Lotto draw. He and his wife Jean had four children.

Doug Grant became a navigator on a bomber in the war, where he was shot down and broke his leg bailing out. He spent eighteen months as a prisoner of war in Germany. He married and had one daughter, and became a successful engineer. He died in British Columbia, where he lived. 

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