The Old Way

We’d been given the tip where it might be but we’d need a canoe to get to it. That was OK with me. I’m as comfortable in a canoe as a chrysalis in a cocoon.

We came back a few days later and paddled across, saving miles of treacherous undergrowth and black-flies. Northern Ontario could be a real challenge to navigate in the summer months. But we had to determine if the story was real. If so, some very hard work could be ahead. Steve and I pulled the canoe well up on shore and headed off in search of the rumored house. We hadn’t trudged too far before I could make out a derelict chimney above the tree line. 

So it was true. The old trapper had lived there on the other side of the lake. We were told that he was long gone now though. But that too, could be local hearsay. 

I had to wonder if we’d be looking down the barrel of an old flintlock rifle. As we approached the venerable log walls, I had to admit, it did have the look of that era. I was pleased to see the nicely matched logs that explained the wide expanse of overgrown brush around the house. Obviously, every available tree nearby had been harvested, and pines too, my favorite species for warm, tight wall-building. The dovetailed corners were expertly done. I’m sure glad we pursued this one. 

The door gave a loud screak as I pushed my way in. Great! The original floors were still intact, worn smooth from more than a century of use. An old pot-bellied stove stood in one corner. There was no evidence of a fireplace or furniture for that matter. Maybe it ended up in the stove.

I was surprised to find all of the windowpanes unbroken as well. This guy certainly took good care of the place. There was a bit of a crawl space under the floor that showed me the big sleepers, probably cedars, that carried the house. There were some remains of a few traps and some whiskey bottles under there. I think somebody else has moved in though. The nose knows. And not in the basement. No, these critters are fussy, living high on the hog. I gingerly made my way up the staircase to find the strong evidence of the family that had left us a welcoming card. Well, that can be dealt with easily enough. A thorough spray wash will clean up those boards. The coons can find themselves some other digs. At least the porcupines hadn’t been in to dine on the woodwork. I’ve lost many roof rafters and even parts of log walls to those guys.

So now what? Now we had to get some more help to disassemble the house in order to have it ready come winter. I rented a good-sized rowboat and motor for the crew and their gear. There’d be no crane to lift the logs down, that’s for sure. No, this was manpower time. We’d set up a gin pole once the roof was off and use ropes and pulleys in the time-tested method of ages past. Once each wall was tagged and numbered they’ll be taken down and laid out in separate piles for transport.

Of course, I had a plan all along. It was just a matter of using what you’ve been given. This time it was the Canadian seasons. We inspect and plan in the summer, we collect in the winter.

That’s when I gave the no-name lake a name. ‘Sleighbell Lake.’ I liked the sound of it. Yes, we were going to bring the logs out over the ice. We’re going to sleigh them out with good strong horse teams, just like they might have been used in the old days. 

Winter eventually came as usual for stage two to begin. Finding a farmer with horses was easy. He and his hearty sons were as excited as we were to do the job.

I think the sturdy ponies they hitched up were ready and willing too. For them, it was a piece of cake. In fact, the whole operation looked like a fluffy white cake topping, the logs slipping and sliding along through the snow and over the ice like a big party game.

We put some sleighbells on our lead pony (we named him Rudy) who, by the way, did not have a red nose. 

Once on the other side of the rink, the new game was on. The skid steers (mechanized) took over and loaded everything on the flatbeds for the trip back to the yard. Another great house was salvaged and will live again as a country home where it would be needed.