My parents moved us to Inlet Bay on Paudash Lake when I was less than a year old. A youth spent on the lake has served me so well. When April rolled around and the final stubborn ice fishing huts were pulled off the water or sunk, my brother and I could start salivating over a rising summer. The crocus flowers would peek through the soil and mossy carpeting would spill over the rock garden, greening up our lives. In May, the air was dewy and moist and the days were long and built for fun. I do not advise trying to swim in Paudash Lake in early May. The Lake itself isn’t yet aware that summer has arrived, even though you’re wearing your shorts and it should really know better.
Before European contact, Paudash Lake was the site of summer hunting parties of the Ojibwe people whose settlements were more westward towards Haliburton. Paudash Lake was named after Chippewa Chief George Paudash. The Lake, and a huge swath of highlands, was sold to the Government of Canada in 1818 under Treaty 20. Many families, like my own, whose many generations have called Bancroft and area home are of mixed Indigenous and European descent. I would love to have seen the Lake through the eyes of both groups of ancestors.
Maybe where they saw trapping grounds and berry bushes, I saw cliff edges to leap off and forest trails to stroll through. Where they saw shallow water to halt their canoes on the lake’s edge, I saw a place to practice synchronized swimming routines with my cousins. Where they saw narrowing of the Lake’s edges, I saw what is now Paudash Marina and a place to get ice cream. But I know we saw the same tangerine sunsets. I know we heard the same gentle plunking sound of oar in the water, water move past oar, boat streak forward. I know we connected to the same silence at night, one that the city could not offer if it tried.
The Lake embodied freedom as a young teenager. I could hike my kayak on my shoulders down the road, plunk it in the water at the Inlet Bay boat launch and get myself across the Bay in a few minutes to teach swimming lessons to the awesome knucklehead boys awaiting the day’s lessons on the other side. I could meet my friends at night on North Bay Beach and do wholesome teenager things in the moonlight.
The friends I had growing up came from the micro-regions surrounding Bancroft: Monteagle, St. Ola, Faraday, Bird’s Creek and L’Amable and even some townies. Each area still has their own secret streams, side roads, landmark trees and tricky corners. This is an area of the country where it is possible to feel part of a community but still hidden away. As a cottager, newcomer or passerby, this is a place worth a pause.