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The Early Days

by: Ken Langdon
I'm not sure my memories of Sesekinika are what the Cottage Owners' Association are after since they end in the early 'fifties before the Association was even formed.  When I was invited to submit something to this web site I cross-examined the caller on the spelling of the lake as it would appear in the web site.  She must have wondered just how good my memory might be and probably started to regret having issued the invitation.  My reason for asking lay in the peculiar dichotomy displayed toward the name by the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railroad on one hand, and the His Majesty's Canadian Postal Service on the other.  The railway station favoured Sesekenika while Mrs. Ashby at the Post Office insisted on Sesekinika.  Although we liked Mrs. Ashby who was the most senior representative of the Dominon of Canada in Sesekinika, we thought the railroad probably knew where its trains were going better than the post office knew where the mail was going.  It hurts me even today to have to use the Post Office spelling to get this Email away to you.
Sometime in the middle 'thirties my parents together with the Caldbicks of Timmins bought a cottage on the island at the extreme south east corner of the lake, opposite the T&NO railway tracks. The first summer they had it I remember sleeping in a tent outside the cottage which was too small to accomodate two families.  The following autumn our parents arranged through Chis Sorensen (who owned the marina) to have the cottage extended by building a wide, screened porch around three sides of it.  The following spring my sister and brother were taken up to see the upgraded cottage
but I, as the youngest, was excluded from this trip (quite unfairly I might add).  My sister's eight year old eyes were dazzled by a pair of cut glass door knobs which were on a pair of french doors installed to open onto the new porch.  My sister's description was fulsome and from it I imagined a building somewhat similar to the Palace of Versailles but perhaps more modern.  Although she had not specifically mentioned cut glass chandeliers and twenty foot murals I nonetheless expected these when I was finally transported to the island.  My disappointment with the place lasted almost a whole day.
Our first boat was called The Haw Haw (which is maybe Cree for Leaks Like Hell - I'm not sure).  It was built in the village and was about 20 feet long with a flat bottom.  It was powered (if one can use 'powered' in this context) by a 1 horsepower Elto outboard motor of latetst technological advancement. This motor featured no dynamo - the spark for its single plug was supplied by a car battery.  The motor did not pivot.  Instead, it featured a rudder slightly smaller than the one on the Queen Elizabeth and operated by two lines than ran through pulleys on the corners of the stern.  The Haw Haw's speed with fourteen people aboard was 1.5 mph.  Empty, except for the driver, one could whiz along at nearly 2 mph.
We only suffered the ignominy of having the slowest boat on the lake for ten years or so.  Sometime in the early forties we acquired a second-hand Evinrude motor of 32 horsepower which was made of solid cast iron, was as big as a Mack Truck, and would usually go after 100 or so pulls on the massive fly wheel.  This may have been, briefly, the fastest rig on Sesekinka although it was hard to prove this because it actually ran so seldom. Anyway, the (St. Louis) Thompsons on the Big Island seemed to buy a new motor every second year and always bigger than the last.  We were quickly outclassed.
We acquired a couple of beautiful little skiffs - rowboats pointed at both ends and a delight to row.  Our fleet also included a couple of canoes and our only reliable outboard - a Johnson Workhorse 10.
When I was a teen ager I was returning from Francis Corbauld's cottage driving the big Evinrude.  For a change it had decided to start easily and run smoothly.  There was bright moonlight and the water was like a piece of plate glass.  As I rounded the point of our island I heard a funny whirr over the bellowing roar from the motor.  The next morning I went down to the boat intending to pay Ole Olson a visit at his
general store.  But when I went to wrap the starting cord around the plate on the flywheel, there it was - gone!  Why it hadn't taken my head along with it as it soared off into the night is a mystery.  "You're probably being saved for hanging," my father told me sourly.  It had only been a few years earlier when Bob Walker, John Barry and I were returning from a dance in Bourke's and managed to lose the Johnson Workhorse overboard in the middle of the channel.  We hadn't been able to retrieve that motor so my father was a bit sensitive on the subject of motors generally.
We had the southernmost 13 acres on our island so had frontage on both sides of it.  Our cottage was on a small point looking across a quarter mile of water to the railway tracks.  As kids we would run down to the diving board when we heard a train approaching and wave violently at the engineer.  He would always reward us with a nice blast from the steam whistle.  Sometimes at night he would also give a toot on the whistle - a sound as pleasant to my ears as the cry of the loons as I lay out on the porch in a snug sleeping bag with the stars glittering like ice crystals through the treetops.  It was a very sorry business when the ONR retired the steam engines in favour of the unromantic and disharmonic diesels.
The Caldbicks and Langdons rotated summer holidays, having July one year and August the following.  In the spring and fall there was no exclusivity and often both families would share the cottage, even sometimes with other guests.  One weekend we had twenty-three souls stay over.  I can't imagine where they all slept - perhaps the "Upper Cottage" was used - a small building which sometimes housed a hired couple who might work through the summer months.  In any event I've always associated Sesekinika with very happy times not only for we children but also for our parents and their friends who vastly enjoyed their weekend parties.
When I was a boy there were no bass in Sesekinika.  The five species were pickerel, pike, perch, suckers and whitefish.  The latter two were rarely seen.  On occasion we caught pike so large we suspected they might be muskelunge but I don't believe that this was ever proven.  The best pickerel fishing was right off our diving board and as a five year old I'd sit there by the hour, often with my father right behind me.  One day in May my father left me on the board while he went up to the cottage for something.  I had not yet learned to swim and, when a fish took my line I got excited and managed to fall off the diving board into deep water.  Somehow, despite the usual happy noises of a bunch of people in a small space, my father heard the splash and tore out of the cottage, down to the water and dived straight in.  He was wearing a heavy Hudson's Bay jacket and shoes and the ice had just gone off the water.  He was lucky enough to plow right into me in the dark and frigid water and, somehow, managed to get me up and onto the rock.  Firmly clasped between my legs was a bamboo pole and, on the end of the line, a half-drowned pickerel.  My father said he had never before had such trouble landing a fish. 
During the winter men from the village would come up the lake and, with great long saws with big teeth, cut blocks of ice for our ice house.  As we got older it became our job to pry these big blocks of ice out of their sawdust beds, take them down to the lake to wash them, then bring them up to the cottage where there were two iceboxes to feed.  I swear to this day that my right arm is significantly longer than my left from having hauled these big blocks using ice tongs.
I guess it's not surprising that Sesekinika Lake has always defined for me what a lake should be - that is, it should not be so large that a venturesome boy can't get to know all of it pretty well, and it must have a lot of islands.  The islands are important not just because they will offer to some a very great deal of privacy but also, more importantly, because they vastly increase the amount of shoreline a given body of water can provide.  I was very fortunate later in life when, moving to the Maritimes, I found a lake similar in size to Sesekinika and having many small islands one of which I bought.  I was stunned a few years ago when a son-in-law estimated that this little four acre island provides over a third of a mile of shoreline.  It is this factor, I believe, that makes heavily-islanded lakes so attractive for boating and canoeing.  There is so much more to see and to explore.
I'm an old man now and it is more than fifty years since I last saw Sesekinika.  But when I close my eyes at night I often trace the course of the old Haw Haw from Chris Sorensen's boat house to our cottage an hour away under the surging power of the old Elto.

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