By Dave S. Clark
For many years, I’ve had a vague memory from my childhood of a 1950s truck, partially submerged in water in a swamp in a river in the Whiteshell Provincial Park in Manitoba, Canada.
The memory was created one summer, 16 or 17 years ago, when my uncle, brother and a couple cousins came across the truck while trying to find a portage route from the river to another lake. However, the day of our expedition, I was accidently hit on the head with a paddle, which sliced my scalp open. So I wasn’t sure if the whole day was just something I dreamt up in a bout of post-head-trauma creativity or if it actually happened. I know we never found the passage we were looking for, but I always remembered the truck.
This past summer, I ventured to find out. The river runs out of Jessica Lake, which my family has had a cottage on since the 1960s and is still a perennial retreat for us. The narrow river winds back and forth eventually ending up in Lone Island Lake, which, despite its name, actually has two islands in it. Somewhere along the way between the two lakes, the rusting old truck apparently sat, slowly rotting away.
When we made the trek many years ago, the only boat capable of maneuvering the shallow waters was a small 9.9 horsepower fishing boat. Again, I’m not sure if it was the head injury skewing my memory, but I remember the trip down the river being an epic journey that never seemed to end. With the boat packed full of six or seven of us, it probably did take quite some time.
However, the journey would be much quicker this time around. The old fishing boat was mothballed so our vessel would be my brother Kevin’s SeaDoo jet boat. It was sure to speed things up.
The first challenge was to actually find the mouth of the river. Kevin, his daughter Morgan and I set out to locate it. The river joins our lake in a large marsh that jutts in and out and we initially went down some dead ends and found ourselves turning back. Eventually, we located the river and we were on the way. We took it slow at first as nobody in the family had charted the river in a number of years and we didn’t want to hit anything.
The river is a series of tight hairpins back and forth, winding through reeds on either side. The reeds are flanked by rocky shores, which lead to acres of dense boreal forest. Jessica Lake, which is on the westerly edge of the rocky Canadian Shield, is always fairly quiet. But being in Manitoba’s cottage country there is always someone else out on the lake. As soon as we made the first turn down the river, the whole world got quieter. The other boats on the lake became just a distant hum. A few more turns and the only thing we could hear was our own watercraft.
If it wasn’t a blazingly hot day, it would have been slightly eerie. The only animals we saw on the way down were a venue of vultures, perched atop a dead pine, clinging to the rock and the river’s edge. But the bright sun and cloudless sky have a way of making a creepy situation more pleasant. We felt like we’d left the cottage life behind and entered uncharted territory. Kevin said he felt like he was Martin Sheen navigating the remote Nung River in Apocalypse Now.
After about 40 minutes, I started to get disappointed as the truck hadn’t yet appeared and we had to be closing in on Lone Island Lake. Then, we rounded a bend and I saw the cab, just the cab, cut and reflected in the mirror-still river. We inched towards it as I tried to take as many photos as possible before the boat disturbed the water surrounding it. It wasn’t at all how I imagined it. I remember it being bigger, further out of the water and deeper in the marsh. The last two may had been true when I had seen it last though.
I don’t know why I find beauty in these things, but it was moving to see. I got caught up in thinking about the story of how it got there. My only guess is that it was driven across the marsh in the winter to a nearby road then got stuck or broke down, and wasn’t retrieved before the snow and ice melted in the spring. It had then sat there relatively untouched for maybe 40, 50 or 60 years. We got closer to inspect it. The heads of the five cylinder powerplant were removed, and everything that wasn’t metal had long since become one with the earth again.
After peering over it for a few minutes, we had a decision to make – push on and make it to Lone Island Lake, a lake I had never been on before. If we did that, we’d be low on fuel for the trip back. Our other option was be safe and head back to Jessica. We chose the former and within 15 minutes we were hitting the boat’s top speed, racing around the big island in the middle of the Lone Island. We slowed down again briefly when we spotted a family of loons. Theire was a mother, father and one chick. What I assume was the mother quickly escaped with the chick while the male made some very unusual gestures to scare us away. We realized we were probably causing them stress, so we left them and headed back for Jessica. Although it had taken us an hour to weave our way down the river on the way down, Kevin was confident we could make it back a lot quicker.
He navigated the corners as fast as you possibly could. The only time we slowed down was when we spotted wading deep into the water for a drink. Kevin wove through with precision like he had been practicing the sequence of bends and turns in his head the entire time. Less than 20 minutes later, we were back in the familiar waters of Jessica, with just enough gas to get us back.
It was an adventure with my brother and niece that I won’t soon forget.