A 1961 Shoal Story
A SHOAL STORY
In the summer of 1961, I was a member of the waterfront staff at Camp Opemikon, located on McManus Bay on the south-west side of Christie Lake. This camp was operated by the Ottawa District Council of the Boy Scouts of Canada (now known as Scouts Canada). The waterfront staff included lifeguards, swimming instructors and boating instructors. I was a member of the boat crew who looked after a fleet of canoes, row boats, and a few motor boats.
As a result of this work, I was also permitted to operate the motor boats for purposes other than camper activities. So when some of the staff asked permission to go across the lake one evening in search of a store, I was among the group of seven or eight teenaged-staffers who headed out for a place called Arliedale Lodge, which one of the fellows had visited previously with his family.
Our navigation must have been reasonably good because we located the Arliedale beach without any difficulty. We quickly beached our 18-foot cargo boat, with its 1930s 18-hp open-flywheel outboard motor, and walked up the pathway to the Lodge. I don’t remember whether there was a store there or not, but we did find several girls that worked at the Lodge who, it seemed, were just as eager to meet us as we were to meet them. Within a half-hour or so, several other girls arrived, one with a transistor radio, and a beach-party soon developed. After an hour or two of dancing and socializing, it was time for us to return to Camp as we had a midnight curfew. Finding our way back to Camp in the dark was a little more challenging, but we made it back on time, and without incident.
However, before we left that night, we had made a date for the same time the following week, weather permitting, to meet up again with our new-found Christie Lake friends. These once-a-week rendez-vous continued throughout the summer until one fateful evening when we attended a cottage party near Norvic Lodge. Since there were only 4 of us going this time, we were permitted to take the Camp’s smaller, but faster, 14-foot cedar-strip fishing boat with a 1949 Johnson 10 hp motor attached.
We were able to find our way to the cottage much more quickly with the smaller boat, and another gathering of the Opemikon boys and the Lodge girls was enjoyed by all. We even stayed later than usual because we assumed we could get back to the Camp in the same reduced time as we had taken to get there. When we finally said our farewells that night, we headed for home feeling very pleased with ourselves for getting the use of the smaller, faster boat. What we hadn’t counted on was the fact that we had not been to this cottage before, and as a result we quickly became disoriented on our return trip across the lake to McManus Bay.
The purpose of this boat at the Camp was to tow campers on a riding- board we called an aqua-plane. It was a sort of 1960s version of tubing, although none of us knew that term yet. For safety reasons, the boat was configured so that one person steered the boat from the front at the steering-wheel while a second, lookout-person operated the gear-shift and throttle at the back. So it was this night that we were trying to drive our boat across the lake, back to camp. One fellow was steering from the front, there were two more sitting on the middle seat, and I was operating the motor. As we cruised along the lake as fast as the old motor could go, with four teenagers aboard, the boat was inadvertently steered onto a shoal, causing the boat to come to an abrupt stop. The motor reacted to this sudden stop by tilting up out of the water with a resulting loud roar from the un-muffled exhaust which normal exits below the water line. As soon as I regained my composure, I shut down the motor so we could talk to each other and figure out what had just happened. One of the fellows in the middle soon realized that water was coming into the boat through a hole in the bottom, and we all scrambled to get our life-jackets on. This turned out not to be necessary when we further realized that we were in very shallow water, and would not need to swim to safety. Once we all got out of the boat, it floated off the shoal such that we were able to pull it ashore to a little island that was close by. Soon after, the boat came to rest on the shallow bottom as it continued to fill with water.
Once we were safely on the island, we wondered what to do next. Fortunately, we didn’t have to ponder very long. Although we didn’t realize it, we were quite close to the shoreline and nearby cottages. Several of the cottagers had heard us bang into the rocky shoal, and then the subsequent roar of our motor, and they came outside to see what had happened. We still had flashlights and were able to signal to them where we were stranded. Within a few minutes we were rescued by someone who then took us ashore to get dried off. We explained where we were from and someone agreed to drive us, by car, back to the Camp. I believe the OPP were called to let them know what had occurred, and to tell them about the now-abandoned boat on the island.
As I recall, the OPP came to the camp to check on us and to take a report, but as far as I know, there was no further investigation into the accident. The next day the four of us were sent out with the 18-footer to retrieve the damaged boat and motor. The boat was deemed beyond repair and there were no more aqua-plane rides given for the rest of that summer. The motor did survive and was used for a few more summers until it also became too old to repair.
Shortly after this accident occurred, the Camp Chief suggested that perhaps we should invite the girls to the Camp, but during daytime to lessen the possibility of their encountering any navigation problems. I believe that four or five of the girls accepted the invitation to a Sunday noontime dinner in the camp’s dining hall. This was a very noteworthy occasion for what was then an all-male camp. I can recall that at least one of the girls was driven over in her parents’ car, instead of in a boat, just in case.
Although no one was punished for what happened that night on the lake, I believe that Camp staff were no longer permitted to go out at night in a camp-owned boat. But despite the potential danger we had put ourselves in, it was more like an adventure, at least to me. For a short time, we had been ship-wrecked, on an island, somewhere on Christie Lake.
Submitted by Rover Scout David Truemner, Camp Opemikon staff, 1960-1963
Edited by Queen Scout Gordon Welby, Opemikon staff 1959-1961