** To birders, it is heaven, with eagles and ospreys, but those who want to see moose, deer and bears won't be disappointed. And you can also fish. **
Third in a series on lake country getaways in Ontario and Michigan. By Douglas McArthur The Northern Ontario bush is sprinkled with fishing camps. And then there's Errington's Wilderness Islands Resort.
Albert (Abby) Errington belongs to a new generation of camp operators who believe there is more to northern tourism than a bunch of the boys getting together to catch a few fish and down a few beers. Fishing is still the cornerstone activity at the lodge that Abby's parents, Albert Sr. and Rose Errington, bought in 1975. But with Abby and his wife, Doris, now in control, the guest list has become heavy on couples and families, and the range of pursuits has broadened to include hiking, animal observation, bird-watching and general nature appreciation.
Few resorts in Ontario are better suited to capitalize on the growing interest in ecotourism. Located 330 kilometres north of Sault Ste. Marie, Errington's sits within the 700,000-hectare Chapleau Game Preserve, which the Ontario government claims is the largest wildlife sanctuary in the world. Sightings of bears, moose, beavers, bald and golden eagles, ducks, osprey and loons are all but guaranteed. While some logging and mining is allowed in the preserve, well out of sight of the resort, there has been no hunting or trapping since 1925.
The resort setting, on two connected islands in 37-kilometre-long Lake Wabatongushi, has a pristine beauty. And the main lodge and scattered log accommodation units have just the right balance of rustic charm and modern conveniences to provide a true wilderness experience without the rough edges.
Abby was 15 when his parents took over what was then a standard-issue fishing camp. Albert Sr. built new furniture. His son took on the role of chief lumberjack and carpenter, gradually tearing down the original rustic cabins and replacing them with sturdy log buildings. Stained a honey yellow, the peeled spruce and pine logs exude a warm glow in the forest setting.
There is no question that the resort is isolated and that is part of its appeal. Guests who are short on time and long on money can fly in by float plane from Hawk Junction near Wawa, landing on the lake outside the lodge. But the way to really appreciate the remote setting is to arrive by the Algoma Central Railway.
Sit back and enjoy the atmosphere. This is a time-warp train trip from an era when punctuality took second place to serving the people along the track. This train stops anywhere for anyone. That philosophy is so unusual these days that rail buffs come from around the world to revel in the sense of nostalgia.
Passengers climb on and off at small communities, isolated cabins, vacation cottages and hiking trails, moving their packsacks, canoes, tents, groceries, four-wheelers and building materials in and out of the baggage car as they come and go. Some people flag down the train merely to hand over letters that need to get to a post office.
The Algoma Central Railway milk-run train - final destination, Hearst - will pull out of Sault Ste. Marie at least four mornings a week this year, heading north through a landscape of trees, lakes and rocks. Vacationers who prefer to drive can catch the train farther north at Hawk Junction.
The most dramatic scenery is in the Agawa Canyon where sheer granite walls rise on both sides of the track. The best views are from the open- air observation platform at the rear.
Somewhere in late afternoon - nobody worries about the timetable - the northbound train will deposit guests at a roofed-over stop in the middle of nowhere where the sign reads Mile 206. Abby Errington should be waiting with a boat to provide the 15-minute transfer to the resort.
Just as guests can choose to arrive by float plane or train, they can have their pick of a number of vacation experiences. The eight cabins, each with fully-equipped kitchen and its own motorboat moored at the dock, are ideal for those who want to cook, fish and explore on their own. Six smaller units, in a motel-style building with a shared veranda, accommodate those who take their meals at the main lodge.
If you want the luxury of your own cottage with the convenience of table-service meals, that, too, can be arranged. And guests who feel uncomfortable operating a boat on their own can pay extra to hire a guide.
For the time being, there are even some rustic cabins for those who want the traditional boys, beer and bonding experience. Located a short boat ride from the main lodge at Heritage Island Camp, they belong to a separate resort that Errington's purchased last year. Eventually, Abby plans to upgrade the site to cater to couples, particularly newlyweds. The first two honeymoon cabins will open there this summer.
A typical two-bedroom cabin at Errington's comes with a spacious living room and dining room, a kitchenette with fridge, stove, sink and table and a wood stove that gets a lot of use even in peak summer. This is the North after all. At Lake Wabatongushi, the last spring snow can fall in early July and the first one of autumn in late August.
Each cabin has a screened-in porch with lake view and gas barbecue. The lamps are propane and must be lighted with a match.
Breakfasts and dinners are served in the main lodge, which also houses the bar and a lounge with pool table, television, VCR and a shelf of books for borrowing and trading. Dinners are hearty but unpretentious. Soup or salad is followed by something like ribs, chicken or roast beef. Desserts are decadent. Vegetarian meals, prepared on request, are varied and imaginative.
Box lunches are available for those who want to go exploring during the day. The preferred alternative is a shore lunch. Fillets of perch and northern pike, fried potatoes and beans have never tasted so good as when Ivan Madahbee, an Ojibwa guide originally from Manitoulin Island, plays chef on an isolated island shoreline.
The fishing at Errington's is good but not the best in the North. If trophies are your only interest, you probably should look elsewhere. There are whitefish in the lake in June. Otherwise it's northern pike, walleye and perch. Abby encourages catch and release by awarding a Gentle Fisherman plaque each summer to the guest who releases the largest walleye into the lake. Any deficiencies on the fish front, however, are more than compensated for by Errington's other activities. Each morning at breakfast time, a camp worker ferries a load of food scraps to an island across the lake. Bears congregate for the feast. A telescope on the lodge porch is focused on the spot so lazy guests can watch the show. Those who want a closer view can get safely within 10 metres of the bears by boat. Moose are best sighted at twilight along the shores of Long Time No- See-Um Bay. It's common to observe a mother grazing in the water, leaving her baby half hidden on the shore.
Bird-watchers can hike with their binoculars to a platform overlooking a marsh, not far from the main lodge. Loons float on the lake close to the cabins, diving underwater for minutes at a time. The mothers give panic calls if a boat comes between them and their chicks. Eagle nests are a common sight on dead branches, and great blue herons can take off right in front of your boat. Merganser ducks and belted kingfishers are common sightings.
As part of Abby's plan to make nature accessible, the resort has cut a five-kilometre nature trail on a leased island called Timberwolf. A typical walk through stands of mature evergreen, birch and maple could produce sightings of bright yellow Wilson's warblers, chickadees, wood frogs and maybe a pileated woodpecker, the largest woodpecker in North America.
For city dwellers, part of the thrill of Errington's comes from seeing the sky without obstruction. At sunset, it can become a mottled canopy of pinks, reds and oranges. Late at night, its stars gleam like searchlights. By August, there may even be sightings of the Northern Lights. With so much else going on, fishing is often just a bonus on the side. But it will always be there. Along with the lodge, Abby inherited one unpleasant task from his father. Six of last summer's guests imbedded a fish hook into part of their anatomy, usually a hand or an arm. Abby's job was to get them out. It sort of goes with the territory.
** IF YOU GO **
Wilderness lodge Traditional fishing resort goes modern. The lodge Errington's Wilderness Lodge will be open from May 17 to Sept. 25. The minimum stay is three nights with the per-night price going down with length of stay. Prices are per person. The rate for a housekeeping unit with no meals ranges from $306 for three nights to $546 for seven nights. Housekeeping units with dinners are $396 for three nights, $756 seven nights. Accommodation with all meals included is $543 three nights, $1,064 seven nights. Rustic housekeeping units at Heritage Island Camp with no meals are $246 for three nights, $406 for seven nights.
The mailing address is Errington's Wilderness Islands Ltd., P.O. Box 22057, 44 Great Northern Rd., Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., P6B 6H4. The phone and fax numbers are (705) 946-2010 in winter, (705) 884-2215 in summer. The train The elimination of rail subsidies is likely to reduce the Algoma Central Railway passenger service to four days a week this summer. Northbound trains are tentatively scheduled to operate on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays, southbound on Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays. Advance reservations not accepted but there's always room. Snack service is available only on Saturdays and Sundays and only between Sault Ste. Marie and Eton, 193 kilometres north of the city. It is probably best to bring a lunch. The fare to Errington's is $30 one-way or $60 return from Hawk Junction, $75 one-way or $125 from Sault Ste. Marie. For information, call (705) 946-7300 or (800) 242-9287. Flying in Hawk Air will bring passengers in from Hawk Junction. One-way prices are about $144 for two people, $245 for four people, $385 for six people. Reservations: (705) 889-2250.
961040072 SAT APR.13,1996 PAGE: F7 (ILLUS) BYLINE: Douglas McArthur CLASS: Travel DATELINE: WORDS: 1737
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