Every so often weather, timing, and friends align for a perfect, carefree weekend. This past weekend was spent on a 20-foot-tall deck coming out of a giant rock face over the lake. The hill behind us was covered in beautiful pine trees and lined with soft, brilliant green moss.
We drank Sierra Nevada Pale Ales that I had to special order from the store (Canada is a bit behind on the craft beer scene) and jumped off the edge of the deck to the cool water below. We ate PB&J sandwiches and floated for hours to beat the 90-degree heat.
We even went tubing, which I haven’t done since I was in middle school. The guys pushed it to the limit, whipping across the lake and inevitably flying out of the tubes. I went for more of a scenic tour of the islands.
We boated past my favourite rundown cabin on White Horse Island. I first visited that cabin in the winter when we drove across the frozen lake to check it out. The two-room home is missing pieces from the roof and leaning precariously to one side. After a year of speculation about its former inhabitant, I decided that it was time to find out who lived there.
My first stop was the local museum where I learned that his name was Cliff Harvey. A search of his name on their computer database revealed photos of a white-bearded man almost always with a collie by his side.
Harvey came to Red Lake in 1926 as a prospector in search of gold. He lived on his claim in the bush for more than 14 years before he moved to his cabin on White Horse Island.
“The story is that a wild horse used to live here—it could have been white—I don’t know, but anyways, it was a horse so big that it could jump across to the mainland. But I doubt it that’s true,” Harvey once told a census taker who came by his cabin.
Harvey, his dog, and a few bears were the only occupants of the island. He never gave up on his search for gold, which kept him busy every day well into his 80s.
“If I’m not out on my claim before the sun comes over the hill, I’m late.”
Though he passed away a long time ago, his cabin is still holding on—just barely. The story goes that residents on the mainland were made aware of Harvey's death because of the constant barking of his dog echoing across the water.
This morning as I stepped out the front door, whistling to Daisy to get her butt out of bed, I imagined a young Cliff Harvey calling to his collie as he went out the cabin door for another day of sifting for gold.
The past never seems quite so far away in this town.
Cliff Harvey photos provided by the Red Lake Regional Heritage Centre