Flash Back Fridays
ARTHUR STEWART – 1981
THE BOAT DOCK: Tales of a Scotsman, a guitar and a special place
I was known as ‘Art the Scotsman’ I was in Calgary doing a second degree at the University. After a wrangle with Immigration Canada, I had a practicum at Strathcona in the spring of 1981. I knew Jim Boulding by reputation and felt a little trepidation at our first encounter, as he showed me around the site.
The first words he ever said to me, jabbing the air with the stem of his pipe were immortalized in my mind:
“Stewart, when you’re here at Strathcona Lodge, we’re gonna put you in touch with some God-damned classy people – and over a little while some of their class is gonna rub off on you. But sooner or later big fella, you gotta develop some God- damned class of your own!”
Jim was, for me Sir Edmund Hillary and John Wayne rolled into one – an authentic outdoorsman, tough as old boots, with a flavour of ‘likeable rogue’ about him. I was slow to learn that Jim did not appreciate you letting him walk all over you (as would have been easy) – but rather admired people who stood up for themselves and stuck to their guns, as I would discover later that spring.
My first week was hectic enough with a busy school group from Nanaimo. I had rappelled them out of the top floor of the administration building (as you do with school groups) using a brand new climbing rope, only to discover, to my horror, that a laundry van ran over the rope ends! I raced down the stairs to remonstrate with the face beneath the baseball cap behind the wheel, yelling at the top of my lungs “WHAT A DISGRRRRRRACEFUL PIECE OF DRRRRRRRRRIVING!!!!!!!!!!! JUST EXACTLY WHEN DO YOU PROPOSE SITTING YOUR TEST?” Of course it was my fault for not ensuring the rope ends were not on the path (which vehicles could use, though I’d not seen any there), but I persisted. “DID YOU RUN OVER THE ROPE DELIBERATELY, OR SHOULD I ADD SHORT-SIGHTEDNESS TO YOUR LIST OF INCOMPETENCIES?” The white van duly departed in a cloud of dust and expletives. What I had not appreciated after the van driver escaped my wrath, was that Jim had witnessed the exchange from his ‘quarters’ on the ground level, and no doubt had a good chuckle. A couple of weeks later, a different side of my character was revealed by a river trip led by Jamie Boulding. We had a sphincter-tightening journey down the Gold River – a roller coaster of white water and emotional turbulence. While Jamie, Laurie and Dave were whooping as they surfed big standing waves, I was trying unsuccessfully to stay in my boat. Later we gathered on the boat dock for a sing song under the stars. The combination of music, company and time proved to be a good recipe for recovery. It was the natural gathering place to ease the transition from work to rest, day to night.
A couple of weeks later there were four float planes moored to the dock. They were fishermen from south of the border. I remember Jim passing on his fishing guide tips, Myrna organizing a special banquet, and a few of us being encouraged to sing for our guests. “Just remember,” Jim said, “These guys may not be quite your type, but they’re your bread and butter”. Hmmm. Bread and butter….now there is a thought. Myrna had created the best catering of any outdoor facility I have ever witnessed. Replete, with a sumptuous banquet which went far beyond any description in words, we played into the night, appreciated by our guests, with a campfire, candles flickering in jars, and the stars overhead for company.
However, appreciation was not exactly the sentiments expressed by another individual a week later when the boat dock threatened to migrate across Upper Campbell Lake during a violent gale. We had a full house, with school groups, fishermen from Wisconsin and an influx of mine workers from Eastern Canada. The gravity of the situation was all too apparent when I returned from Swan Bay with my group, with lines of people, vehicles and equipment radiating out from the dock in all directions, as it was battered by a violent swell. Jim stood in the back of a pick up truck, barking orders. When he yelled “pull”, we would all pull, to try to position the dock exactly where it needed to be to make it secure. Now Jim was perhaps too close to the action, or beginning to lose his eyesight, but on seeing one burly, but reluctant guy, yelled “GET THE HELL INTO THE GODDAMMNED WATER AND PULL, WHILE I’M STILL IN A GOOD MOOD!!” Amidst protestations from Woody, Jamie and others, the man slowly did as he was told. Jim and some of the rest of us were later to discover that this was not the maintenance worker from Quebec he suspected, but one of the five star fishing guests who had paid several hundred dollars a day for this privilege! With the dock finally secure, Jim ate a large slice of humble pie, apologizing to our guest, much to the delight of most of the staff who had arranged to be around to witness the encounter later that evening.
I recall one time after the day’s work was done, thinking about having a nap, reading a book or picking up my guitar, when the building shuddered. It had been a mild earth tremor, and at the 4th floor of the building, I had felt it more. As a precaution I grabbed my guitar and headed down to the boat dock, where Terry was already in full song singing ‘The Coho Flash Silver’. It was only when some of the gang laid down in genuine tiredness, did we notice something mysterious and wonderful. The northern lights were out – dancing in curtains of green and waves of red. The boat dock was the place to be that night – and we all felt like citizens of the universe, gazing heavenward with gentle music wafting on the night air, and the water lapping at the dock. For me, the boat dock was the centrepiece of much of our laughter, songs and memories.
Arthur lives with his wife Ann, and daughters Amy (7) and Jenna (5) out- side Aberdeen, Scotland, where he is a researcher at the Robert Gordon University.