‘You always went away from his shack as happy as can be. He never raised his voice. We never saw him out of sorts.” Those are the childhood memories of people who visited the Keewatin, Ontario resident known as Happy Jack. Jack Whitmore came to Keewatin in 1891, worked there for 33 years and died in 1940. Children who knew him say he was fond of cats and although he never talked about his past or his personal life he was affable, well informed about community events, and always willing to listen to the young people who dropped by his simple dirt-floor home that had neither running water or electricity.
This week Tuesday I hiked the Mink Bay Wetland Trail in northern Ontario. It has been nicknamed Happy Jack’s Trail in memory of a rather mysterious man who lived along its route. In summer Jack worked in a heading factory which made the tops and bottoms of flour barrels, but in winter he just hung out at his shack. He was a well educated man and students who struggled with math sought his help. But no one knew where he had been born, where his relatives were, or how he had landed up in Keewatin. There was speculation he was from a wealthy family in England and had been banished to Canada for some misdeeds- but no one ever asked him and the truth about his past died with him.
I didn’t see Happy Jack’s shack as I hiked the trail named after him and I didn’t see a mink either, even though I was on the Mink Bay trail. I did see many other things of interest and beauty. My hiking companions were my sister Kaaren, her husband Ken and my husband Dave. Kaaren and Dave are looking at the map to figure out if we have strayed from the trail outlined on the hiking brochure published by the city of Kenora. The sky scattered with downy clouds drew my attention repeatedly. After years of living in Hong Kong where the atmosphere is usually dull and gray the bright blue Ontario horizon beguiled me.
My sister and her husband have a cottage at Louise Lake near Kenora and we were spending a few days visiting them. Tuesday we woke to a chilly morning and decided a hike might be a better option than lake sports or swimming. The Mink Bay Trail runs along a wetlands/ boreal forest area- a combination eco-zone. A wetland gets its name from the fact that its soil is damp for most of the year and so certain kinds of plants and animals live there that might not live anywhere else. The term ‘boreal forest’ is unique to Canada and describes the coniferous woodlands flung like a green shawl across the shoulders of North America.
On our boreal forest/ wetlands hike we saw……………… bees, wildflowers, a unique wooden bridge, wild cranberry trees, water lilies, Canada geese, a driftwood garden, bulrushes, a waterfall, a reflection
What next? I’d like to do more hiking here in my home and native land. The scenery is very different than that of the European and Asian countries I visited during my six years in Hong Kong, but the Canadian landscape has a beauty all its own.