It was the summer of 1981 and the fishing was good in the French River district in Northern Ontario. When my Uncle Pat and Aunt Lilianne offered to take us on a weekend fishing trip we jumped at the chance. Bev and I had only been married a few months and it seemed like a perfect opportunity for one of those family bonding times. My Mom and Dad were planning on coming along and in a burst of happy inspiration we invited my brand new parents-in-law to join us. That meant there would be eight of us and we would have to do some fancy planning in the logistics department to make it all happen.
Uncle Pat was an experienced guide and he meant to take us down the French River to its outlet in Georgian Bay. We could set up camp on one of the islands there and he was confident that we would have no trouble catching our quota of pickerel in such choice fishing grounds. He offered to take Bev’s parents in his own boat along with Aunt Lilianne and most of the supplies. Mom and Dad had a 16 foot aluminum canoe with a little 3 hp gas motor on the back and Bev borrowed a 14 foot aluminum boat and a motor from a friend for the two of us. The weather was perfect and our spirits were high as we set out from the dock at the marina with our little fleet. Life just couldn’t get any better.
There was one point on the journey that offered something of a challenge. The river split into two rocky channels and the currents were tricky. One channel was navigable if you knew what you were doing. The other was too dangerous to attempt with a boat. We pulled in to shore and disembarked to walk along the rocks to the lower end of the fast water. Uncle Pat planned to take the boats through one at a time and meet us there. Naturally, my Dad insisted on taking his own boat through. He would follow closely and didn’t expect to have any trouble. Mom didn’t even bother to get out. Her confidence wasn’t misplaced and the whole transit was accomplished without a hitch. She looked a little smug as she sat there waiting with a smile on her face while the rest of us sorted ourselves out and climbed back aboard to continue down the river.
In due time, we arrived at our destination and chose a likely spot to pitch the tents and establish our camp. The fishing was all we could have hoped for and we feasted on fresh pickerel the whole time we were there. Not even sleeping on the ground could dampen our enthusiasm. We were all a little sorry to see the weekend come to a close when the time came to pack up and head home.
By the time we reached the spot where the river divided I was glad of the chance to get out and stretch my legs. Uncle Pat proceeded to take the first of the boats up through the channel and the rest of us started walking. Mom and Dad, predictably, didn’t wait for his return but decided to head up on their own. The first intimation that something was wrong came when we saw my uncle running along the rocks waving his arms above his head and shouting.
“Nooo! That’s the wrong way!” He turned to us as we scrambled to join him, his alarm all too evident in his clenched fists and tight face. “They’re in the wrong channel.”
Of course, by that time Dad was well aware of the mistake he’d made. Unfortunately it is quite impossible to turn a 16 foot canoe around once you’re caught in a tight place. He had no choice but to go forward and hope that his little motor would be up to the challenge. It was a wild ride with Mom clutching both sides of the canoe in a white-knuckled grip while the churning water tossed them around and threatened to swamp them at any second. One quick glance at my Dad’s grim face was enough to cause her to swallow the scream that was threatening to erupt at any moment. She didn’t dare distract him. His blue eyes glittered with a look of fierce determination and his mouth was set in a thin line as he worked to keep them from capsizing in their struggle against the current.