Otter Lake Cottagers Association

Memories Of Camp Otter Life: By Doug Webster

Went back to an old photo album and actually the year of that reunion at the farm was 1985 and not the mid 70s, so this this year marks 25 years since I was last at the lake.  Way too long.  I think back to the years I was at camp…..55 to 60 or thereabouts and we’re talking 50 years since I was last at camp.  I am attending my 50th high school reunion in Buffalo this summer so it was during the summer after my graduation from there and before I went away to college that was my final year at the camp as a counselor.  One of the photos in that album I pulled out is one of those ledger books the camp had at the end of each summer and campers would all sign their names and a few notes in them.   As I recall, the books tended to cover several years, so you could open them up and go back over the time period.  The one in the picture I took showed dates of 1957 and my entry in the book.

Several of us at the reunion that summer came around the lake and, at the invitation of various property owners, walked around the old camp property.  It was at that point that one of the cottage owners came out with that particular ledger.  Apparently it had been left in the main lodge or one of the owner’s cabins and retrieved by the new owners when they bought their portion of the camp property.  Have you talked with other Association members to see if any of them have any of those ledgers?  Would love to look through them again some day if possible and as I said, I would hope that whoever has them might consider donating them to the Dorset Museum for the long term if they have not already done so.

In the days I was there there were hardly any cabins on the lake and those that were tended to be down toward the far end of the lake from the camp….generally where I gather your cottage is located.  How long have you had your place and has it always been in your family?  The only road ran up from Dorset to the top of the hill at the Crewson Farm and then wound around the end of the lake at the junction with Little Otter and then on around where the entrance road to the camp was located.  The main road continued on north to what we called Hardwood Lake in those days.  There were no structures on Rocky Point and as I say only a couple of cottages at the far end of the lake.

A big day for us was when we were able to walk into town, usually after paddling across the lake to Crewson’s to cut the distance.  We’d go in to Clayton’s Store and there was a second store across the bridge on the inlet.  An often told tale in our family was the time my younger brother walked into town, bought a melon at one of the two stores and then walked across the bridge and sold it to the other one for a five cent profit (he later went into crisis communication for the oil industry and somehow that story seems to fit with that path.)

We’d often set out for Algonquin directly from camp, going over portages via Little Otter over to Kawagama, or up the road to Hardwood and the via Fletcher or Wolf Lake and into the Park via Smoke Lake, Canoe, the Otterslides and up into Burnt Root, Big Trout and Cedar…long trips and pretty primitive too.  Food mostly in cans, packs were Duluth canvas sacks with tumpline straps to help ease the weight, sleeping bags were an older breed…bulky and not synthetic fabrics… tents…generally tarps which we slept out on, or in bad weather, stretched over two canoes lying on the ground and crawled underneath.  We prided ourselves on covering portages non-stop and in some cases that could be an endurance contest, particularly with some of the monster carries or over really muddy stretches.  And if you were on an earlier season trip before the first cold snap night, the mosquitoes could be awful.  I remember one night joining a camp mate in taking one of our canoes from the campsite, paddling out into the middle of the lake we were camped on and then lying down in the bottom of the canoe to sleep away from the bugs.  We bumped into the shore a couple of times during the night and had to paddle back out to the middle, but it did provide some relief.  On rainy days when you were portaging the bugs loved to come under the canoes to keep dry while they gnawed on you and with the canoe on your shoulders you were restricted in your ability to do much.  We lathered on bug dope but that often ran into your eyes with the sweat.

Lunches were often peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Kool Aid….we’d mix the PB and J together for compactness and sandwiches could vary widely in terms of how much you got of either ingredient.  The first guy out of the canoe at lunchtime had the task of making a big pot of Kool Aid….with sugar and lake water, but one lunchtime, he mistakenly grabbed the salt instead, and in a raging thirst, got about half a cup of it down before he realized what he had done.

It is beautiful country up there and we saw a lot of it in pretty pristine conditions.  Some how we survived summers on our own in the woods at a relatively young age and came out the better for it all.  Great memories of a wonderful time in our lives.  It is now a long time ago and a lot has changed, but in our memories, we haven’t been gone that long.  Those of us who have gotten together for reunions in the years since recall sessions when two people who hadn’t seen each other in 40 years began talking as if they were just resuming a conversation halted yesterday.

Do you collections of camp memorabilia include a brochure the Rogers put together to help promote the place to prospective families.  It included a photo of a young boy standing on the shore playing a trumpet.  The museum might have a copy, but there were lots of photos of camp and camp activities and I am in one or two of them.  Those would be fun to scan and put up on your site if you have them or the brochure can be located.