NIGHT ON THE WATER
By Linda C Butler
Told by Doris Jacobson (Bryenton)
My dad, Ralph Bryenton, operated a boat service on Wekusko Lake, Manitoba, ferrying passengers from the village of Herb Lake to Hale’s Landing, the stopping-off place on the way to the train station at Wekusko. George Cann also operated a passenger service to Hale’s Landing, and on one occasion, when Dad was not able to take us, we traveled with Mr. Cann.
I was with my mother and there was one other passenger making the trip outside. Mr. Cann’s boat was powered by a wood-fired steam engine, so in addition to the usual cargo, he carried firewood for fuel. Mom took a seat in the small enclosed cabin which provided some protection from the elements, and I curled up beside her and went to sleep.
It was a long boat ride as the town of Herb Lake was eleven miles from the landing and the boat didn’t travel fast. It was late afternoon and Mr. Cann had worked all day and was tired. After a bit, with the rocking motion of the waves, he accidentally fell asleep while steering the boat. My mother and the other passenger also slept. When Mr. Cann woke, it was dark, with only the outline of the south shore visible. He was lost and Hale’s Landing was somewhere behind us.
Our situation was critical because Mr. Cann only carried enough firewood to run the steam engine from Herb Lake to Hale’s Landing, and without wood, there was no way to power the engine. Once the other passenger realized the situation, he helped Mr. Cann rip any unnecessary pieces of wood from the boat to burn and I was awaken by the noise of ripping wood as a portion of the cabin was torn away.
Fortunately, this passenger knew how to navigate by the stars and he provided direction to Mr. Cann, who steered the boat towards Hale’s Landing from our southern position.
I said my prayers silently, while the men continued their conversation about the boat’s path. My mother held me tightly and said nothing. We all knew how precarious our position was on the water; clouds could roll in and blanket the sky, leaving us in pitch darkness. If we couldn’t keep the engine running, we would drift and the boat could be lost on the rocky outcrops or reefs.
Somehow we arrived safely at the entrance to the bay leading to Hale’s Landing, and in the distance we saw a moving light. Mr. Hale was on the dock waving a lantern to guide us to harbor. He was concerned because we were so long overdue and had stood on the dock for hours waving the lantern, hoping we would see the light.
The boat was secured to the dock, and Mr. Hale reached down at the same time as my mother held me up. He pulled me out of the boat, gave me a hug and said: “You’re safe now girl.”
My mother was the next person to disembark. We now were both on the dock, grateful to be out of the boat. Mom took my hand and guided me up the pathway to the lodge. Mrs. Hale, having been alerted that we had arrived, offered us hot chocolate. I was glad to warm up and was soon given a cozy bed to sleep, while the adults enjoyed a hot meal and a strong drink.
© Linda C Butler, 2019