Memories of My Summer of 1969 at the Canoe Base
Alan Abrahamson

The following is my story of the summer of '69 at the Region Seven Canoe Base.  Affectionately called "The Canoe Base" as if there was only one canoe base in the Boy Scouts. 

I arrived to the base a couple of days early from my scheduled reporting date, as that is when my ride could take me up north.  But I was welcomed with open arms and a list of chores to do to get the base ready for the summer.  After a few peaceful days of cleaning, painting, and cleaning some more we got a few days of rest.  Ah yes I remember it well, all of us party trainers got to go on a four day canoe trip, led by the voyageur trainers.

On our first day of the trip we got up at the crack of dawn, learned to cook bacon and eggs, and pack our equipment.  We then went to the quartermaster shed got our canoes and paddles.  We walked the canoes in the water to campsite #1 where we got to do a swim test, practice canoe strokes until we were blue in the face, and learned to tip our canoes over in beautiful White Sand Lake.  Actually considering Northern Wisconsin in the middle of June warms up to about 50 degrees and we're talking morning yet maybe it was the water that made our faces turn blue.

Finally the anticipated moment, as we're off.  Paddling out on White Sand Lake to our first portage, not the easy one at the En Dah Win resort, but the hard one before the resort.  Through a make shift trail that hasn't seen any one on it except for last years party trainers a year before.  Up the hill and watch out for the falling rocks that the persons in front dislodged.  Then across the road, down the hill, and back into the water for our first outpost campsite. 

Here we were treated to the Voyageur trainers setting up camp.  But then they took it all back down again, why you ask?  Because it was then our turn to reset it back up again and again and again until we got it right several times, plus tell how to do it at the same time.

It was then back into the water for more canoe practice, strokes and swamping.  By this time the water had warmed up some as we're talking in the afternoon and a smaller lake.  Actually the bath did seem to be needed after a hard day of work.  After a fine supper of dehydrated food, we got to reset up camp again.

Well darkness fell and I would like to say we got to sit around the campfire and sing.  But, in the tradition of the canoe base, fires were used for cooking and then put out.  So instead of singing words it was more like snoring out of tune for us all.

Ah I remember dreaming and then a sudden stop as morning broke.  At least I think it was morning, all I remember it was too dark to tell.  After praises to the cook and complaints to the dishwashers we got to take camp down, load up the canoes and paddle to the other end of the lake where we got to practice our portaging skills again.

Yep, half the crew carrying the canoes and the half of the crew carrying two packs each.  One in front and one in back.  I was told this was for balance, I guess this way if we were to fall we would only go to one side or the other.

Back into the water on the other side of the trail and we got to canoe to our campsite.  At the risk of being redundant we got to set up camp, take it down and reset up camp again and again and again, plus get to say how and what we are doing.

From that point on it was more canoe practice, supper, dishes, more canoe practice, and one more time setting up camp.  Actually I would have rather just slept out under the stars instead of setting up camp again so we could snore out of tune another night.

Well morning came again.  At least it did sometime after we were up for awhile.  After breakfast we got to take down camp, pack our gear, and load up the canoes.  Across the lake to our next portage, into the next lake and we got to repeat yesterday again.  The only thing different other than the dehydrated menu choice was the fact that putting up camp was needed, as in that liquid sunshine I'd bet my sweat socks that there was some white flakes.

Well as morning came to us all, we got to repeat the day before.  Yea you're right, breakfast, take down camp, load the canoes, paddle across the lake, onto the portage trail back into the next lake.

I think I lost count as the days blended into each other I can't remember if we are now back at the base or we had another day out.  Anyway, we were back at the base by Saturday, and after putting away all of the gear we were treated to a sauna.  At least I think it was suppose to be a treat.  I know they said something about they didn't want us to catch a cold and they wanted us to get our voices back as we were training again the next day.  At least this time the training was different instead of doing it under the watchful eye and guided ear of the voyageur trainers, we got to do it for real with 14-17 year old kids, who hung on our every word as though it was gospel.   

The next day, Sunday we got to sleep in late, as our crews were not expected to arrive until 1:00pm in the afternoon.  After rising and shinning the only responsibility we had was to make sure our campsite was clean and the wood pile contained a four foot long, two foot high pile of wood.  That is squaw wood, kindling, and quarter and half split wood.

We always had to make sure the woodpile was there before the crews arrived.  For the most part the last crew to leave the campsite had to rebuild the pile before they left and when you checked you may have added a piece or two.  However, there was a strange breed of animal that lived in a different part of camp.  They were called Wood badgers, and sometimes your woodpile seemed to disappear between 11:00am and 1:00pm.  Humm, lunchtime?

The Wood badgers, were actually adult Scouters, who came to the base to live for a week at a time, getting an opportunity to camp like a boy.  The came from all over Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Illinois.  I don't know if you see the connection MI WI, didn't stand for Michigan and Wisconsin, but from the four states that made up Region 7.  Some of the earlier issues of Canoe Base patches contained those letters.
At that time, the only Region 7 Wood Badge training site was at the Canoe Base.  They did about 8 different sessions each summer.

The staff at the canoe base didn't really have much interaction with the Wood badgers, as they were off in their own world.  As the Wood badgers did all of their meal cooking over an open fire, they had wood gathers and there were times, periodically that our woodpiles disappeared, as mentioned above.

Other times we got to see the Wood badgers was on Thursday, the party trainers night off.  As we were sitting around the swamp, our place of abode, not the place where the frogs hang out we got to see groups of 6 - 8 men walking down the road, with back packs on their backs, singing something about going back to Gillwell, Happy Land, and working their ticket if they can.  With all of the canoeing and traveling I did around the area back then I never did come across a Town called Gillwell.  I have since found the happy land and have since worked my ticket several times.  Even the staffers have to work a ticket.

One other time we interacted with the Wood Badgers was this time that a gentleman by the name of John Hedquist came to the base operations.  Shortly afterwards as much staff as could be rounded up was told that there was a nuisance bear up at the Wood Badge site.  We were told that the bear was about 6'00" and 450 pounds, you know the typical size that someone reports a bear to be when ever they see one.  It came out later that the cook for one of the wood badge patrols seen the bear earlier in the day, breakfast time, and thought the best way to get rid of it was to feed it.  They again got an uninvited guest for lunch.  Well it was getting near to suppertime and the cook finally decided to tell one of the Wood Badge Staffers about this bear.

A call to the local game warden brought him out and based on the description and that fact that the bear most likely lost it's fear of man it was his decision that the bear had to be hunted.  As I alluded to earlier a bunch of us staffers were grouped together and were used to drive the woods.  The Canoe Base staffers were lined up about 10 feet apart from each other.  We walked into the woods and someone yelled to one of our staffers, not to move, as the bear was right in front of him.  I believe he was from Kansas and no he didn't run that far, but that was the last time we saw him on the hunt.    Unfortunately for the bear he wasn't the 6'00" 450 lbs variety but a small yearling.

I met John Hedquist again about 15-16 years later.  While we were talking I told him I thought I knew him from somewhere, we couldn't figure it out until the bear story came out.

Speaking of bears, I was asked one fine evening to help take the garbage to the Boulder Junction Dump.  As it was the first time I helped to take out the garbage I thought it would have been done in a class c uniform.  When I showed up behind the dining hall in blue jeans and tee shirt, I was out of place as everyone else had on their class A uniforms.  Well a quick change and we were off.  I couldn't understand why we wore class A's until I got there.  Ever see the John Candy movie The Great Outdoors.  There was a parking lot at the dump, with spectators.  They were there to watch the bears feed.  There were two or three guys in the cab of the pick-up and about 5 of us in the back.  The bears came out of the woods, just before the driver got the pick-up got stuck in the sand.  Luckily there were enough of us to push the truck out and we were off.

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