Monday, May 31, 2010

Stranded on an Island. How bad can it be?

Debra E. Marvin

My favorite summer vacation occurred when I was eleven years old. My parents used to go up to Canada on fishing trips before I came along so they were familiar with the unspoiled beauty of Ontario and Quebec.

While we often camped in the 1000 Islands region of the St. Lawrence, I only recall one vacation where we went so far north. It was also our most primitive camping experience. I loved it.

Cross Lake is a lake in Temagami, Nipissing District, Ontario, Canada. (I grew up in the town of Ontario, near Rochester New York on the southern shore of Lake Ontario.) The Temagami area is the traditional lands of the Ojibwe. When I went looking online for information on this area, I was amazed to find very little about. Now a trip would take us about seven hours so I imagine it was even longer in the sixties. Scroll around on the map here and you can see NY and Ontario. (I did this just for those of you who are directionally challenged or thought NY was on the East coast, which is is in a way but it's also our north coast, too!)

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Cross Lake is a little farther north than Ottawa, Ontario--Canada’s capital by the way. Ignore NY city and remember that New York is a Great Lakes state and we are separated from Canada by Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence and Niagara Rivers. New York is a rolling, green, agricultural state full of lakes and forests and farmland FYI!

My parents loaded up our station wagon (of course we had a station wagon!) and hitched up our new-to-us 14’ fiberglass boat with my dad's pride and joy 45mph Evinrude motor. Late that night, we headed north, crossed the St. Lawrence River at the beautiful 1000 Islands Bridge to arrive late morning in a sleepy little lakeside crossroads--basically a mom n’pop gas station where we bought perishables.

We put the boat in, filled it with everything for our week and headed out into the lake with no idea where to go. Cross Lake was dotted with islands; really they were rock outcroppings. No sandy beaches that I recall. Somehow we picked one, headed toward a good place to leave the boat, cut the engine and floated on in.

The big canvas tent went up. The chairs and coolers and old Coleman camp stove came out and we cleaned up an area where we could have a campfire.

Camping in the wild is an amazing experience but this particular trip had one unforgettable highlight.

Bringing a boat in to ‘beach’ on rock—even smooth flat rocks—takes it toll, and there was no place to actually anchor offshore and wade in. Very deep lake=very deep drop-off. We had to get close, walk over the front of the boat and step off onto the rocks. Eventually, the fiberglass got scraped enough that the boat started to leak. Okay, we’re on an island with a leaking, sinking boat. Not to worry. Dad can fix anything. We bailed and made one more trip into town for supplies, including a whole lotta chewing gum. Do you see where this is going?

Dad boiled up the gum over the camp stove when we got back, applied it like some kind of super caulk and our leaking problem ended. If I learned one thing from my dad it was this: Don’t panic. Come up with a solution. Use your imagination. Now they call it ‘thinking outside the box’. Mom called him Rube Goldberg.

I spent the week napping in the warmth of a tent, trying to befriend chipmunks, fishing, reading, eating camp food and swimming in my own private lagoon. It was amazing!

I apologize for the quality of my photos but I hope you get an idea of our private island. I think I might like to try and visit Cross Lake again but I probably would never find that island a second time, so many years later.

Thanks Mom and Dad for raising a girl who’s not afraid of a little dirt and inconvenience . . . one who loves solitude and finds in the beauty of the outdoors.


  1. That's really sweet and your dad sounds resourceful.

  2. Gum! Ha!

    Deb, it's no wonder you love historicals.

  3. Deb, I'm so glad you had a pic of your dad! He was such a creative, handy guy - as you say, a real Rube Goldberg! And you definitely follow in his footsteps!

    This trip must've been the summer before 6th grade, right? Just before we became best buds...I remember a couple camping trips with your family to the 1000 Islands & Massena areas, sleeping in your camping van. What fun!

  4. So fun! What memories. Thanks, Deb. I got a kick out of your post. And I loved your pics!

  5. Hi Deb,
    This is just what I need. My own island! Since my dad didn't stick around when I was a kid I think those pics are priceless.

    Maybe some year we can all find an island to go write on and brainstorm ideas together. Wouldn't that be fun!

  6. Wow, that sounds amazing. Gum was a smart idea!

  7. Love the pics, Deb.

    North Bay was my first posting while I served with the CAF. I met and married Nelson there. :)

    Our first camping trip was at the Provincial park near Temagami. Loved it there.

    Thank you for sharing this with us.


  8. Those pictures are great, Deb! What a wonderful family memory!


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