Gramma Dot's Island - Wilderness North

Gramma Dot’s Island

On behalf of my father, Jim, and myself, I first want to thank you for your hospitality during our visit to Miminiska Lodge last week.  We sincerely enjoyed our fishing trip.  You should be very proud of the facility you manage and the people who you chose to work at Miminiska.  A very special thanks for encouraging us to speak about my grandmother and the significance that my father and I share with her memory at Miminiska. You had asked for more insight on our story and the island we call “Gramma Dot’s Island”.  I can share the following….

Our first trip to Miminiska was in 2007.  My father and I flew on a float plane from Thunder Bay to Miminiska on August 15th – arriving at mid-morning. The staff fed us breakfast, prepared our boat, and packed us a lunch.  We were on the water with a guide named “Thomas” by about 10:45 AM.  He took us to the north shore of Wottom Bay and showed us the jigging techniques that he likes to use in these waters. It took us about 10 minutes to catch our first walleye.  It was at that moment we noticed a boat that was approaching from the north.  It was one of the dock hands who was sent out to inform us that my father’s mother, my grandmother, “Gramma Dot”, had died that morning.  We returned to the lodge and made arrangements to travel home. The staff arranged transport on a float plane to Fort Hope where we were able to connect on a commercial flight to Thunder Bay that evening.

My father and I returned to Miminiska the following year – arriving August 14, 2008.  On the first day we decided to join the group at Shore Lunch Island for lunch. But on the second day, we decided to pack a shore lunch kit of our own and find a landing somewhere on the lake where we would build a fire, fillet our catch, and have our own shore lunch. It’s great experience – but it does require you to catch at least 4 good size walleye in the morning.

We worked the shores of Church Island and then made several stops as we moved westward through The Narrows. We caught nothing. By about 10:45AM, we had made our way further west to a small island at the mouth of Long Bay. The wind was from the north and we decided to drift and jig on the eastern side of the island. We made several passes without any luck. Not even a bite. With no fish in the boat we began to doubt whether we would have fish for our shore lunch (perhaps just potatoes and beans). We took a final pass and everything changed. Within 10 minutes we had landed 4 perfect sized walleye in our boat – exactly what we needed for our shore lunch. Why the fish began striking so abruptly we did not know.  But they stopped just as abruptly. We tried a few more passes and conceded that the hole had gone dry again. As we sat quietly for a few minutes hoping for the one additional fish that did not come, I asked my dad what date it was.  It was August 15th. The time was 11:15AM – nearly one year to the minute that we learned of my Grandmother’s death. Neither one of us had spoken about her up to that point on the trip. We sat in silence for a few more minutes. And then I told my dad “I think Gramma Dot just bought us lunch”.

From that day on, we referred to that island as “Gramma Dot’s Island”.  It’s a reference point for us as we fish the West Arm and the Walleye Mine. But it has also been a subtle memory of my grandmother. On each return trip to Miminiska, we have always made a point to fish the waters around that island – but to this day, we have never caught another fish. It’s a reminder that the 4 walleye that Gramma Dot gave us for lunch that day was something special.

My grandmother’s name was Dorothy. She was born January 16, 1915 in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This part of Michigan is rural and heavily forested and the people who live there have always had a deep connection with the outdoors. Her family had very few luxuries and very little money. She learned at a young age to be strong and resourceful to survive. Her flower and vegetable gardens covered her yard, she gathered wild fruits and berries, canned everything imaginable, sewed her own cloths, hunted small game and deer, and even raised chickens. And she loved to fish. To her, all of this was natural. She loved the outdoors and would have fit in perfectly at Miminiska!

She also had a softer side with a warm radiance, infectious laugh, and inviting smile.  Everyone wanted to be around her.  Even the children in her neighborhood called her Gramma Dot. She saw the best in everyone she encountered and gave everyone her best.  Everything she did was with enthusiasm and a positive attitude.

We often teased Gramma Dot about her wine making capabilities.  She could make wine out of just about anything. One of her favorites was dandelion wine (yes, she would make wine out of weeds!). It was classic Gramma Dot – and it was exactly how she lived her life. No matter what she faced, she made it into something better. By most accounts, her life was difficult with numerous challenges every step of the way. She had a lot of “weeds” in her life. But she also had the gift of enduring optimism and determination to deal with the weeds that life gave her. And that’s the inheritance she left with her family.

When my father and I came for Sunday morning breakfast we found a large slate on our table; painted were the words “Gramma Dot’s Island”. The staff had made that for us as a marker to be placed on the island. It was a generous and kind act that meant a lot to my father and I. We packed the stone in our boat and set out to place it prominently on the island. Our first stop was Church Island where we set the stone on the altar and asked the Resident for a proper blessing. We then stopped at the entry to the narrows and were rewarded with the largest stringer of walleye we had ever collected at Miminiska (my dad says it was because we went to church beforehand). Upon arriving at Gramma Dot’s Island we circled twice and concluded that the best place to mount the stone was on a rock ledge on the northern face of the island. It is located roughly at the center of the north shore at about 3 meters above the water line.  A petrified pine log lies 5 meters to the east. The marker faces slightly northwest towards the summer sunset.

The small island at the mouth of Long Bay is a very unassuming island.  Soft on one shore.  Rock solid on the other. Petite and often underestimated. Frugal with its fish. It’s a perfect expression of the dear woman we call Gramma Dot.

We sincerely hope that those who visit Miminiska, and those who live in this region, see her marker and the name of this island as a tribute to a rare woman who changed the lives of everyone she met – and a woman who had an amazing respect for the type of outdoors reminiscent of the Miminiska region.

Warm regards,

Jim and Tom L.

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