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 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?"
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
"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.
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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