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August 4, 2019

Down at the beach

Welcome to Dave Dale's Small Town Thotz Column for A Bit of the Bay Magazine. This one recalls teenage years at the beach in Capreol, ON before finding a North Bay angle.

This story isn't about North Bay, per se, but you'll get my drift by the end of it.

A recent post on the Memories of Capreol Facebook Group got me thinking about my teenage years down at the beach.

One of the best ages was when I was 14 years old in 1979. The world wasn’t spinning fast enough for me and the Vermillion River just happened to flow a calming kind of slow.

Down at the beach four summers in a row, that’s where I ended up every sunny day and sometimes when it rained too.

I've been reading the A Bit of the Bay Facebook Group posts for a couple years now, can't add much after only three decades in the North Bay area. Still an outsider and not even a resident living way out in Corbeil. But I’m sure people from North Bay have similar memories of their own teenage swimming holes. Please share yours by emailing [email protected] and it will start a whole new story.

Here’s mine from four decades ago, with the little train town of Capreol making an impact Gr. 7 to 11, a formative period no doubt.

The Capreol beach was a lot of things, a place to relax or find trouble, to be with girls and to avoid them. You learned lessons and forgot about time.

One night, during a lightning storm, we swam underwater to see each other light up with a flash (not recommended for reason not obvious to us at the time). It was worth it for her underwater kiss.

Capreol Beach 1979, when the spring board was still attached to the island. I was shooting with a 110 back then.
Capreol Beach 1979, when the spring board was still attached to the island. I was shooting with a 110 back then.

The beach rivaled the hours spent at the twin-pad arena, ski hill and ball fields.

It was a great place to swim. There was a sandy bottom bordered by weeds and squishy goo. You could catch a lot of crayfish at night, sometimes a catfish, the odd bass or pike. One of the best features was a long dock jutting toward a fair-size island about 50 feet away. It was a rite of passage to swim out that far and there was a spring board as a reward with lots of rounded rock to dry in the sun. The horse flies made sure you jumped in sooner than later.

Kids young and old lined up 10 or more deep for hours each day to show off their best cannon balls, can openers and flips.

It was a blast trying to drown someone who was struggling on their first trip to the island or coming back half-lunged from a jump or dive.

We called it fun.

All along the town side of the river there were shade trees and grassy stretches buffering the street. I remember a bear hunter from Ohio paddling to the shore, his kill no bigger than a big dog as I recall thinking it was anit-climatic to see.

There was a fork in the river downstream with a big rocky island covered in trees. You could cross by wading through some light rapids to reach rough trails to diving spots above deep enough holes. One was called Elephant and another Buffalo, both a challenge, and there was Baby Elephant further down across from the gravel road. I didn’t like heights much and liked dropping through the air into the water even less. My jumps were more to prove a point and not look chicken.

Check out the fantastic painting by Bob Michelutti below entitled Baby Elephant Rock (a link to his Facebook page is HERE).

Bob Michelutti's Baby Elephant Rock, from the Capreol collection.
Bob Michelutti's Baby Elephant Rock, from the Capreol collection.

I did love swimming, though, and those years in the Vermillion River made me feel confident to swim anywhere else.

It’s true. The Capreol beach isn’t what it used to be, the spring board is gone (liability concerns, some say), the dock is gone. And a lot of the trees were cut down with a berm created after bad flood years.

Some say it’s less than it was and I understand where they are coming from. But it looked not so bad last year during the 100th anniversary celebration. I took a pic from the walkway before the Saturday night festivities (see top photo).

It still seems like an alright alternative to nothing. I hope the kids learn to swim and feel the sand between their toes while they’re doing it.

Those memories are worth holding onto and the years something to ponder. We were luckier than we knew back then. Nobody was shooting from the treeline with automatic weapons, that's for sure. 

There's a lot of badness going on, sometimes it hits close to home. And there's obviously a lot of work and collaboration that has to be done to change things for the better.

Until then, it's essential to balance things out and look for a positive light. And I noticed North Bay did a good thing at one of its beaches by making it more accessible to all walks of life ... and some that roll. A special mat was installed last week to give people in wheelchairs and other mobility challenges access to Lake Nipissing.

And that's the way it should be. Because when it all boils down, one of the most valuable treasures in North Bay is the sunset and the young people growing up here. Best to give them every possible chance to know there's something valuable just outside their door.

Here's a Facebook pic of Dave Innes and partner Lynn Boissonneault enjoying the view at Marathon Beach.

The Wheelz to the Water mat at Marathon Beach in North Bay. Photo from the Facebook page for 2020 Paralympic athlete hopeful Dave Innes.
The Wheelz to the Water mat at Marathon Beach in North Bay. Photo from the Facebook page for 2020 Paralympic athlete hopeful Dave Innes.

"Super easy to wheel on...this is a great addition to our city," Innis said about the Wheelz to the Water in his post Aug. 2. (Media coverage about the mat is HERE)

Check out Innes's 2020 Paralympics Journey on his Facebook page HERE and his North Bay Sports Hall of Fame award story HERE.

Reader comment on story:

Hi Dave
I enjoyed your article about swimming memories.  I grew up in the west end of Sudbury, and a few hundred meters from the end of our street was a spring fed pond about 100 meters across that we called the Sand Pit.  It was formerly an INCO gravel pit that had flooded and many of the local kids preferred to swim there in spite of the "no trespassing signs".  Most parents didn't want us to go there because there were no lifeguards.  So rumours abounded of quicksand and kids getting sucked into the pump house and worse of all young girls were told that only bad boys went there.  Boys therefore went there because it was worth the risk of getting sucked into the imaginary quicksand or the pump house, in order to meet some bad girls.  It was a great place to spend much of the summer and all kids from the west end fondly remember swimming there in the cold clean spring fed water.

Bob Michelutti  

Small Town Thotz by Dave Dale

Share your swimming memories or any other story by emailing: [email protected]


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