Lakes in decline

I stopped down at the bait and tackle shop near the beach at Sandy Lake, Man., looking for some spade fuses for the boat. Sorry, the proprietor said, he didn’t have any.

And he also let me know that at the end of this season, he would be shutting down operations. He might reopen in a few years, when his grandson is older and more able to help out in running the place.

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I don’t do much in the way of fishing, so I haven’t spent much money there. But I am sad to see it go.

When we first came to Sandy Lake six years ago I noted there was a closed ice cream shop near the beach. Last year this gentleman put considerable effort into renovating it and opening his bait and tackle shop. But the lack of sales and lack of age for the grandson meant it would close. And while he sold ice cream treats, the public beach never teemed with people, despite the numerous seasonal campgrounds in Sandy Lake.

For me, it was a bright spot, as my experience has been that most of the lakes I’ve been to over the years have been in a general slow state of decline. It could be just my limited experience. Maybe things are improving elsewhere, simply not in the places I have frequented.

Here at Sandy Lake, the hardware store is for sale and has been for years. I fear this may be its last season. That would be horrendous for us, because as any cabin owner knows there is no end to maintenance. We’ve yet to start a year without fixing burst pipes. But the owner wants to retire, and with no buyer, that might be it.

The sub shop closed as well a few years ago. The bar/restaurant has long been for sale. The golf course just sold. The convenience store relocated and became a diner, but their hours are reduced and they’re done by 4 p.m.

One of the unique things about this little primarily Ukrainian-ancestry hamlet/beach resort (they have a Ukrainian museum) was The Barking Moose, a little cappuccino shop, in one of those really old buildings on Main Street that’s probably 100 years old. It was a wonderful treat, but after several years, they, too, couldn’t make a go of it, and shut down two years ago.

This seems to be the case at many places I’ve been. As a kid, we frequented Crystal Lake, a small pond of a lake north of Canora that’s so small, it doesn’t appear on most maps. We used to go to the south beach, which at one point held the moniker of “Johnny’s Beach.” That’s where I failed yellow in swimming lessons five times.

Across the lake, on the north side, was “Black’s Beach.” I’ve only been there a couple times. It closed many years ago, and the last time I was there, it was largely grown in. Maybe things have changed since then. I don’t know.

On the east side of Jackfish Lake, north of North Battleford, is the resort village of Cochin. When I was a teenager in Yorkton, I remember listening to Saskatoon’s CKOM radio (when it played music, not John Gormley). One of the frequent commercials was a take off of the Kentucky Headhunter’s song, Dumas Walker. The commercial went, “Let’s all go…. Down to Cochin Lighthouse.”

I was always fascinated by the concept of this place – a bar you could pull up to by taking your boat down the river through Cochin from Jackfish Lake. It sounded like a happening place. But by the time we ended up living in North Battleford in 1998, and going to Jackfish a little after that, it was a shadow of its former self. Indeed, much of Cochin seemed to have been past its heyday.

I don’t know why this is, but it seems to me that a lot of lakes are past their heyday. Is it rural depopulation? Perhaps the rise of glamping (glamorous camping in real fancy campers) means more people spend time in their spanky accommodations? Cabins used to be just shacks. Now, most are second homes, so maybe lake people today are more included to hang out at their own cabin than use the common facilities. Saskatchewan put a big effort into expanding the campsites at provincial parks. Did they steal people from the private lake facilities?

I am willing to admit I could be totally wrong about this. Maybe some places are growing and expanding, with big crowds of happy customers flush with vitality.

I’m just not seeing it.

© Copyright 2018 Estevan Mercury

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