Saturday, September 3, 2011

Freedom 55

Elsas is a small community at the north end of Kapuskasing Lake, about 75 km west of Timmins, ON, that can only be accessed by float plane, train or canoe. It used to house a lumber mill and four hundred people at its peak, but now it has only a handful of cottagers and various Canadian National Railway employees.

My husband, Alan, read about the place a few years ago in A Paddler's Guide to Ontario's Lost Canoe Routes and ever since had an itch to go. Since one of the joys of being retired is we’re free to work on our bucket lists (things we want to do before we kick the bucket), off we went, put our canoe on the train, and arrived in the middle of the day in the middle of nowhere to find a wonderful adventure awaiting.

 Dave Quigley, a friendly man in his late fifties, was sitting on the porch and came over to greet us. Alan, a history buff, had lots of questions, especially about the two fellas mentioned in the canoe guide book. They were truly a couple of storied characters who hated each other even though they were the only ones left in town. Dave pointed to where the old-timers had lived before passing and noted one place was up for sale.

The weather report said it was supposed to clear later in the afternoon, but we didn’t see any sign of it. Remaining hopeful yet cautious, we grabbed our raincoats, put the canoe in, and went to find the mill downstream at the junction of the Kapuskasing and Nemegosenda rivers.  There were whitecaps on the lake, but past the trestle the river was flat, a totally different ecosystem with its tall, grassy shoreline.

I spotted a red bird with black wings in the bushes, and Sharon Quigley got out her guidebook when we returned and suggested it was the Scarlett Tanager – another new bird for me.

Soon we glided up to the site of the old mill and tried to break our way through the thicket, but since Alan was wearing shorts and the sky was getting darker, we decided to head back.

Before we got a chance to set up our tent, the rain started and Dave invited us to stay in one of the cabins. How wonderful!  We settled in, played Scrabble over dinner and looked forward to a campfire. Unfortunately the weather didn’t co-operate so we crawled into our cozy new down sleeping bags with our books and lamps and unwound.

Thankfully, the next day was sunny. With a packed lunch, we ventured out directly into the head wind and stayed close enough to shore to see a scurrying red fox. Gosenda Lodge, at the other end of the bay, was active as we paddled around the point with young and old enjoying the sunshine.

Around the next bay I thought I heard voices in front of us, or was it squawking ravens? Sure enough, the CNR guys were working on the track where we were headed. Agate was never a town, only a siding, which I learned is where one train sits so the other can pass.

We got out and walked the tracks and learned some more of the history from the workers, then went to look for a treasure. Kicking around at the dumpsite, Alan eventually found an old C.N.R. oil can and we went back happy.

It rained again the last day, but we were determined to see the Continental Wood Products Corp. mill. Alan found its history online and was eager to explore it with his metal detector.

Properly dressed, we trudged our way back into history and were in awe of the standing structures. Seventy years later, you could sense the fifty foot walls had stories to tell.

We picked up a few rusted parts then headed down the Nemegosenda looking for the old metal bridge the Quigleys told us about. But five miles is a lot farther in a canoe than it is in a motor boat, so we turned back as foreboding skies once again approached.

Sitting at the tracks, waiting for the delayed train that evening, the rising full moon entertained us with her beauty. Swapping tales and swatting mosquitoes, the large family from the lodge, the Quigleys, and us, all intermingled and buzzed with delight.

You know, I don’t think a person has to be retired to enjoy that Freedom 55 feeling. From what we’ve experienced, all you have to do is slow down and fill your heart with appreciation. Time and money aren’t enough. It’s appreciation that gives life that extra dimension, that wondrous joy - and that can be accessed anywhere, anytime.



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