Lake of the Woods Museum Newsletter
Vol. 14 No. 4 – Winter 2004

by John Royle


In 1946, writer John Royle embarked on a memorable week aboard the Grace Anne II. In this account, he relates what he describes as a novel, unique, intriguing experience.

Said the Wall Street broker: We are going to have fun, aren’t we?

He said it hopefully, tentatively. He genuinely wondered if the long trip from New York, the expense and bother of it all, would be rewarded with a week’s real enjoyment.

We had fun alright. We had fun, plain and fancy. For a week, we shared a novel, unique, intriguing experience, and stockbroker Fred F. Alexandre, partner in the brokerage firm of Gude Winmill & Co., said when it was over, he had never in his life had such fun.

The setting would have done very will for a whodunit novel. There was a New York broker and his friend, a retired New York importer. There was a young honeymooning couple, a young wife taking a week’s holiday from the demands and distractions of her brood, and a writer fellow (yours truly). Later in the week, the party was joined by a second honeymooning couple.

We were embarking on a week’s pleasure and fishing cruise aboard the luxury yacht the Grace Anne II. The cruise on beautiful Lake of the Woods was billed Adventures Unlimited. The title hit the nail smack on the head. It was a week of high adventure.

Sunday evening, Grace Anne II swung smoothly away from her pier and purred though the narrow channel that forms the southern entrance to Kenora harbour. We had had a squall and chilly winds were blowing, but the guests stayed on deck to watch the town slip past with its red-roofed buildings and emerald lawns sweeping down to the water’s edge.

We looked south to see island-dotted Lake of the Woods. Handsome summer homes could be glimpsed through the trees that covered many of the islands. Some of the isles were dots on the glistening surface of the lake, some stretched to the horizon and could not be told from mainland peninsulas that robed the lake on our left hand.

In half an hour, we swung sharply to the left and passed through a narrow channel we had not seen until we came on it. This was Devil’s Gap, where in times long ago, the Indians attributed supernatural powers to a huge face-shaped rock that overhangs the passage on the left bank.

In deference to the ancient Indian legend, the devil rock is today kept freshly painted. There are the horns, flaming eyes, the forked tongue. We reacted in typical tourist fashion… our cameras clicked busily. Moments later, we passed through a second narrow passage on which stands Devil’s Gap Lodge, famed Canadian Pacific Railway hotel.

The Grace Anne II slid through lake waters broken into a thousand glistening waves. The blood red sun sank behind verdant islands. Red tinted the western sky, and flecked the waters of the azure lake. Nobody on the Grace Anne II paid much attention… dinner was being served.

The success of Dickens’ novels had been partly attributed to the vast deal of clattering of knives and forks that permeates them. The same can be said of our cruise on Grace Anne II. Meal times were occasions awaited with fond anticipation, invariably they produced some mouth-watering surprise – some rare delicacy such as Lake Winnipeg goldeye, Lake of the Woods blueberry pie, old Ontario cheese. There was no raw camping about this. A deferential steward provided near-perfect service. All this for a solid week when the appetite was sharpened by the lake’s fresh breezes and the exertion of trolling and casting.

Ralph M. Erwin, wealthy Winnipeg restauranteur, purchased the yacht last spring from the Forlong family, for whom she was originally built. Adventures Unlimited cruises over the past summer had, to September 1, delighted more than 300 persons, including a large majority of Americans who came to enjoy an all-expense cruise in complete comfort in ideal fishing and hunting country.

This was the only cruise of its type available in this part of Canada. Summer camps ring the Lake of the Woods, attracting thousands of fishermen and vacationists, both men and women, each year. The Grace Anne II enjoys the advantage of being able to roam the whole lake at will, seeking out the best fishing spots, one at a time, getting to choice fishing areas that cannot be easily reached from any camps.

… Bright and early Monday morning, the launches, light Pioneer boats built by Pratt Marine & Mfg. Co. of Winnipeg, and very sound and seaworthy boats, pulled away from the mother boat to try the shores of Andrew Bay, some 30 miles below Kenora, for tiger muskies, northern pike, and bass.

… Morning and afternoon for the entire week, the launches, each containing two guests and a guide, went off to the fishing grounds. At night, the mother boat would move from one rich fishing area to another.

Appointments of the Grace Anne II took the eyes of the guests. Built more than a decade ago by Ditchburn Boats Ltd. of Orillia, Ont., she originally cost some $85,000. Her decks were of 1-1/2 inch solid Philippine mahogany. Her panelling and joint work were of beautiful Honduras mahogany. She had chrome-plated fittings, including her cleats and chocks. Her accommodations hit a high peak of luxuriousness. She had electric lights. There were bathrooms with hot and cold running water in larger cabins. There were pianos, phonographs, radios, numerous over-stuffed chairs and settees, oriental rugs, beds where one sank into spring-filled mattresses. There was even a library, including autographed copies and first editions.

Algae was thick in the lake water through last summer, and the word around the lake was that fishing was poor. But everyone of our party caught his or her quota. Biggest catch was an 18-20 pound northern, hauled in by T.F. Martin, retired New York importer.

In the course of fishing, members of the party had a close-up view of Canadian big game in its native surroundings. A huge bull moose came into view on one of the islands as he watched a cow and a calf swimming below. When he spied the fishing launches approaching, he hustled down into the water and shooed the cow and the calf back into the bush. One buck deer went swimming at the same spot each afternoon. Bear tracks were seen.

Outdoor activities included hiking on some of the islands and trap shooting on deck. Evenings were spent swapping yarns, playing games, singing.

All was not entirely song and laughter. It was considered tragic when one of the guests broke a bottle of finest scotch he had in his suitcase. His clothing, films, and books were drenched with liquor. For the rest of the voyage, his cabin and his clothing smelled strongly, but not unpleasantly.

The highlight came Friday evening when Claude A. Cossey, chief engineer and manager, and Jim Sweet, the captain, were joint hosts at the captain’s party. Leonard Thornton, the chef, turned life-of-the-party and staged a dramatic programme using guests as members of the cast. Every mealtime had been the occasion for endless kidding and uproarious laughter. The Friday night party was a terrific howl from start to finish.

Adventures Unlimited cruises will be conducted aboard the Grace Anne II again next year. Present plans are, if arrangements can be made, to include a cocktail bar and a number of other additional services to those given this year.

My fellow guests for that memorable week this year included in addition to Messrs. Alexandre and Martin, Mrs. A.E. Nelson (Winnipeg), Mr. and Mrs. J. Eric Fache (Winnipeg), and Mr. and Mrs. Robert Hayner (St. Paul, New Mexico).

Crew members included Stan Siver, steward; and Robert Budd, Johnny Smith, and Erwin Villeneuve, guides.

Did you know?

During the Second World War German prisoners of war were brought to the Lake of the Woods area to cut wood for the local mills.  Many of the prisoners enjoyed their time in the Canadian wilderness, and a number of them immigrated to Canada when the war ended.