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Manitoulin Island Ontario

Dawson Resort
Manitoulin Island Ontario

History of Dawson Resort

They Called Him Colin


Over 70 Years

The Manitou

Manitoulin Island

Manitoulin Island Ontario has a warm and friendly welcome that awaits you, are you looking for lodging and comfortable cottage accommodations on Manitoulin Island, Ontario? To satisfy your accommodation needs, there are the following motels, resorts, lodges, bed & breakfasts and campgrounds, all of these accommodations and places to stay are located on Manitoulin Island in northern Ontario, Canada.

Dawson Resort on Manitoulin Island

Over 70 Years on Manitoulin Island

Over 84 Years on Manitoulin Island

Finding Yesterday

By Robert W. Butche

In the summer of 2001, I traveled to Keith Bemis' fishing retreat in the beautiful far northern lakes region south of Nevis, Minnesota.

The trip was as much about renewal of relationships as it was about fishing the beautiful Crow Wing Lakes. Long days and cool nights provided ample opportunity for Keith and myself to revisit what had been in our lives as well as to contemplate what might yet be.

Aging changes more than our bodies, for it tempers and softens chapter of our lives long forgotten. But so does it yield up questions about what might have been had we only we made different choices. So this story is about the trip home from Camp Bemis -- and how I found myself unknowingly seeking to find the past and to rekindle relationships long abandoned.

If I managed to find yesterday, which I believe I did, its reality was far from what I had hoped.

Originally published August, 2001

 In some ways, I suppose, I'll never grow up -- for it seems even at age 65, I must turn every opportunity into an adventure. Hence I threw out my plans to return to Columbus from Camp Bemis by way of Chicago and a short visit to the sprawling McCormick estate in central Indiana. The McCormick's, Bill and Sheri, had gone to San Francisco, so we'll celebrate our 65th birthdays later. But, If not Indiana, where would I go? Where, indeed!

After a week in the north woods, I felt I needed more adventure. And so I decided, for more times than I can count at this age, to take the road less traveled. Adventure always finds me. It always has, but this adventure had twists and turns beyond anything I could imagine.

I considered going home by way of Fargo, North Dakota, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana -- on a route that Bill McCormick and I had enjoyed when returning from our Boyd Bode odyssey for the OSU Archives in August of 1998. So did I consider going on to Cheyenne and Denver to visit my friends the Shaffer's, or to cross Lake Michigan by ferry. But none of these caught my adventuresome fancy, so I decided to return to Columbus via the Trans Canada Highway. And what a joyous adventure it became.

Just the 175 mile trip from Camp Bemis to the Canadian border, by way of Bemidji and the vast Koochiching forest was exhilarating. Not another car on the dead-straight road from Bemidji to International Falls -- although there were several porcupines leisurely crossing the roadway in forested areas. But this trip was not to be about roads, but pathways in life.

The first big surprise came at International Falls where US 71 abruptly ends in the Boise Cascade plant's parking lot. Boise Cascade occupies two vast multi acre buildings -- one on the American side and another on the Canadian side of a little river. Boise Cascade's bridge connects the two plants and carries power, steam and utilities lines between the plants. It also provides one lane for cars in both directions. Boise Cascade charges $6 for crossing their bridge into Canada. What a deal.

Just outside of border town Fort Francis, Ontario, begins a gorgeous causeway across Rainy Lake -- one of two very large lakes astride Minnesota's US and Canadian border. Not far beyond Fort Francis, near Seine River Village, I noticed some of the cattle in a large grazing area had Antlers. I did a double take. As I slowed, I saw that there was an Elk just ahead on the right -- grazing quietly along the roadway.

Although there were frequent warnings about Elk and Deer along the Trans Canada Highway, these were the first, and last, I saw as I sped eastward. But within a hundred kilometers, just outside Atikokan, I came across a rather startled Moose standing in the roadway. As I pulled to a stop, he meandered off the pavement and munched nonchalantly as I pulled way.

By late afternoon I was in Thunder Bay, Ontario, on my way eastward to Nipigon, which, at 49 degrees North latitude, is where the northern and southern legs of the Trans Canada Highway join to traverse the highlands that guard the north shore of Lake Superior. It was on this leg that I first saw evidence of the approaching winter, for the Aspen were already turning yellow and brown in the bright afternoon sun. This segment of the trip is one of wonderment and exhilaration -- but it is a thousand miles from nowhere as well.

Night and I arrived together at the small village of Schreiber, Ontario. I spent the night in a $15 room at a trucker's motel and slept soundly even as an endless parade of trucks pulled into the refueling pumps just outside my room. The Motel was also the local Kentucky Fried Chicken stand and Pizza Hut all rolled into one -- something I saw nowhere else along my route. A cold Molson's beer revived my electrolytes and a delicious pizza ended my day long fast. In the coolness of evening I drifted off, not to be heard from again until the first rays of morning sun pierced the darkness of the dingy room. By then, there was a heavy dew on my car. Before leaving, I fueled up with gasoline and coffee for the mountainous trip ahead.

The size of Lake Superior makes it more of an ocean than a lake -- and unlike its glaciated southern shoreline, the north shore consists of igneous bedrock that rises majestically from the depths of the lake until it matures into mighty rolling hills taller than big city office buildings. What one experiences along this magnificent stretch of roadway is a succession of small mountains that rise a thousand feet or so above water level -- then, at a crest often chiseled from bedrock, the roadway daringly dives back to lake level. Even from the highest of these hills, Lake Superior seems an enormous and formidable body of water.

After passing through the towns of Pic Mobert South and White River, the Trans Canada Highway turns southeastward toward Wawa -- where it begins its dive south to Sault Sainte Marie. It was traffic time when I passed the Soo -- where the Trans Canada turns eastward toward Sudbury. It was on this leg that I sensed a need to revisit earlier experiences. Maturity means having wisdom, memories and, for me, at least, a yearning to revisit life's truly great chapters.

While spending a comfortable evening on the patio at Camp Bemis, Keith and I frequently spoke about our many years of fishing on Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron -- and how much we enjoyed Colin Montgomery, a rare and wonderful Canuck fond of keeping a burned out Players cigarette hanging from his lips while speaking a deeply anglicized Ontario accent barely comprehendible to landlubber Yanks from far away A-Hiya. Colin had been both resort manager and our personal fishing guide for those many visits to Manitoulin that Keith and I had so enjoyed over a quarter of a century earlier.

So it's no surprise that midway between Sault Sainte Marie and Sudbury, I decided to exit the Trans Canada Highway, to discover the land route to Manitoulin Island, and to see what had happened to a long remembered establishment called Dawson's Resort and its legendary people. I yearned to once again hear Colin's throaty brogue, to taste once more of Mrs. Dawson's Cherry Pie, to lie and laugh about the fish we caught, the camaraderie of drinking beer with real men and cheating at poker whenever possible. But memory betrays us. For what I didn't know was that the end of this journey would bring pain, delight, renewal and introspection about the events and the people of my own life.

After an overnight stay at a Super 8 motel in Sudbury, morning again came to the eastern sky. Soon I set about finding my way to Manitoulin's fabled Lake Kagawong and reliving dreams of warm days, cold nights, good friends and Colin's endless stories of fish and the frailties of the human experience.

It took well over an hour before I arrived at the rustic rotating bridge that separates the long and twisty causeway that connects the outside world to Manitoulin Island and the village of Little Current. Every hour, on the hour, every day of the year, the swinging bridge at Little Current is repositioned to allow passage of watercraft and sailing vessels to and from Manitoulin's north channel. I found myself second car in line waiting for the rotating bridge to reopen to roadway traffic. It was, in many ways, one of the longest fifteen minutes in my life. When the bridge was once again open to road traffic, I crossed into Little Current where I stopped at the Manitoulin Information Centre. Three I inquired about Dawson Resort -- was it still open? The young woman behind the counter opened a gigantic book, moistening her index finger from time to time as she eagerly thumbed through the pages. After a while she looked up from the book. "Yes," she said with a friendly smile, "Dawson's is still open for business. Shall I ring them up?"

It took less than an hour to find my way along roads no longer familiar, toward a place indelibly etched into the receding reaches of my memory. When I passed the tiny village of Spring Bay on Ontario road 542, I turned north on Perivale Road toward Lake Kagawong. Much had changed on Manitoulin since my last visit in the 1970's -- for roads that were rough and dusty in my memories were now relatively smooth and paved. At the end of the Perivale road I turned right. The way was becoming familiar as I raced along lake Kagawong's southern shoreline.

At the last bend, exactly where it had always been, I found yesterday. It was wonderful. Nothing had changed. Time had stood still for over a quarter of a century. I was home again, if only for a fleeting moment.

The Bear's Den

Mrs. Dawson was shocked when I suddenly appeared on her front porch. Neither her smiling face nor my name was forgotten for we instantly called one another by name. She knew I was the man who had always come to the island by plane -- and for the most part did so in the last two weeks of August, or early September. I was exactly on schedule, she noted, for It was August 23rd. I reminded her that I was also the man who most fancied her tart Cherry pie -- with its richly larded crust and sweet filling. She remembered that as well, and smiled broadly as we shared moments from another lifetime. Many years had passed since we had last spoken, but memory easily yields up the good times so our conversation was sparkled with smiles and shared through warm eyes.

Time moves on. The passing years are fleeting for mortals, whether they relive the past or forget it. But time does not forgive. The bell cannot be un-rung, or unlived moments made real. Myrtle Dawson had bad news -- news I dreaded hearing. Colin Montgomery, the man fishermen and hunters at Dawson's Resort had come to know so well in my youth, had died in 1982. Mrs. Dawson related his passing calmly, her own sorrow at his passing slowly creeping across her face. Colin had passed away, she told me, after a series of heart attacks. Myrtle Dawson, and her husband Jim, had visited Colin and his wife at the hospital several times after the first attack, but shortly after returning home from the hospital one afternoon, he suffered another. Then it was over. Although Colin had only moments before been telling one of his stories, no doubt laughing out loud at the punch line, time had run out. The Anglicized brogue, ruddy face and dangling Players were gone forever.

Since then, Myrtle Dawson and her husband have been running their rustic fishing camp without the man of many stories and ruddy wizened face. She knew Dawson's resort wouldn't be the same after Colin's passing -- but we said nothing of it. Besides, the people visiting her Manitoulin hide-away today didn't know Colin, had never heard his raspy voice, tried to decipher his speech, or endured one too many of his bawdy stories. Today's visitors to camp are poorer for having missed that era, but each of us must make our own memories.

Dawson's may not have changed physically, but it will never be the same. Maybe the road is paved, and Mrs. Dawson a few years older, but little else had changed at the rustic camp just round the bend at the end of the road. Except for the passing of Colin -- who had become a friend to Keith and me, and so many others all those years gone before. Alas the cottages at Dawson's are now housekeeping units. There are no more fisherman's lunches to take onto a foggy lake at the edge of dawn. No more heavy dinners cooked on a wood stove. No more cherry pie, either.

My visit with Myrtle Dawson wasn't that long -- especially for someone who had been absent for over twenty five summers. When she asked where I had gone -- why I hadn't returned -- I mumbled something about being busy, going to California -- all the easy excuses -- but she needed no explanation. She had already moved on, and so must I.

As I prepared to leave, Myrtle gave me a copy of Dawson's 2001 resort brochure -- and enthusiastically pointed out where she had handwritten her new email address. I understood. Email is for people who get busy, move away and return too late for the party. It was all too soon time for me to leave again. I shot video of camp so Keith and I might relive good days and revisit old friends.

I returned to Dawson's Kagawong Resort -- to search for yesterday, but it was not there. Kansas is in our hearts and minds and far away from Oz. As we age we become rich in memories, for our lives are filled with moments and people who matter -- and we are all the richer for having known and shared life's joys and sorrows with them as well.

Later that afternoon, I arrived at South Baymouth on the southeastern shore of Manitoulin -- perhaps 25 miles away from Dawson's. There I would board the 5:50 Ferry to Tobermory. When at last the Ferry returned, and all the waiting cars and passengers had been boarded, the Chi-Cheemaun slowly pulled away from my youth. Our route would be southeast across Lake Huron -- for a two hour trip back to the 21st century. Even with perhaps 170 cars, trucks, vans, trailers and motor homes on the vehicle decks, the 3 to 4 foot waves in the Georgian Bay channel caused the Chi-Cheemaun to heave through the waters. I observed our crossing on my GPS and regaled fellow passengers about our 18 mile per hour speed and position as we made our way toward the Bruce Peninsula.

The Tobermory ferry traverses an imaginary line that separates the main body of Lake Huron from beautiful Georgian Bay. Along the way the ferry passes Fitzwilliam Island on the left and the elegant white lighthouse on the northern tip of Cove Island on the right. It was dusk when we landed at Tobermory. Firmly back in the 21st century, I sped along Ontario route 6 toward Toronto where I would spend the night.

The next morning, upon finding the day foggy and overcast, it was clear that my plans to videograph Niagara Falls was out of the question for perhaps two days. It was time to go home. The visit to Dawson's, and the camaraderie and fishing at Camp Bemis were both meaningful events. For the first time in two weeks I thought of home, of people I missed, and why I had had moved back to Columbus from the west. Columbus is home -- and it's where my roots reach deep into the Ohio Earth as well.

This trip changed me in many ways. I loved fishing with Keith -- and spending our days and nights in long and splendid conversations about days that were -- and days that are yet to be. We spoke of women and philosophy -- and how little we really understood either. We also spoke of adventure, commitment, honor and missed opportunity -- for Keith and I had taken dramatically different routes in life. And yet here we were, still fishing together over 50 years after we first met at University School. Old friends are valuable, for they are at once kindred spirits and mile markers of our passage as well. Keith and I share many mile markers -- as do so many of my former classmates and playmates of yesteryear.

But this journey turned adventure also reminded me how much I love Canada -- and how much I enjoy Canadians, for their colorful language, their friendly ways, and their tolerance for their arrogant and oftimes hurried visitors from the south. Over the years, I have crossed all of Canada by VIA rail along the trail linking Paris-like Montreal and Londonesque Vancouver. So have I traversed the Trans Canada highway to visit my holdings in Calgary. But I enjoyed this Canadian odyssey most of all -- for it was very much a voyage of discovery and renewal in the soft twilight of life.

Join us on Manitoulin Island for a great Canadian Vacation and Family Hot Spot in Northern Ontario Canada

Dawson Resort
Manitoulin Island Ontario

1420 Perivale Road East
Spring Bay, Ontario
P0P 2B0 Canada

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Phone us 705 377-4515

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