A Lifetime of Friendships
By the late 80s, I had lived in Aylmer, Lindsay, London, Truro Nova Scotia and back in Aylmer again. After the experience in Nova Scotia, I was determined to get involved in the community and thus began to volunteer to coach minor hockey. I was still playing at the time and through hockey, met several friends that had similar aspirations to mine. In fact many of my closest relationships in life have evolved from sports – particularly hockey.
Around 1990, several of those friends had developed a passion for deer hunting and started discussing the possibility of forming a group to hunt in northern Ontario. I was playing old-timers hockey and coaching a travelling team with Russ Wiltsie and Dave Beynon, when they approached me to see if I would be interested in joining their group. Despite not being infatuated with hunting at my dad’s camp, this sounded interesting. I would be hunting with guys I had a lot in common with and could see the possibility of owning a share in a cottage/camp, that my family could enjoy throughout the year – not just a week of hunting in November. It would be an affordable option that at the time, I would not have been able to do on my own. So I agreed to be part of the group.
The initial group included Chuck Davis, a painter and decorator by trade. There was Dale Beringer, a HydroOne lineman and Russ Wiltsie, co-owner of Wiltsie Truck Bodies. Larry Woolley was a dairy farmer and operated a barn and silo building business. Len Jones operated a tobacco farm and farm chemical business. Dave Beynon was an operations manager in a factory in Ingersoll. I was working for Bell Canada at the time as an operations manager out of London.
We started searching for a property that would serve both as a camp and a family cottage. Our initial search took us to the Magnetawan River, north of Parry Sound. We went as a group to look, but it wasn’t quite what we were looking for.
As luck would have it, Dave Beynon worked with a gentleman named John Cook in Ingersoll and through conversation they discussed a mutual love of hunting. John had a cottage north of Parry Sound, near Port Loring, in a place called Lost Channel. John invited Dave, Russ and Larry to hunt with him in the fall of 1990. The following year John allowed the bigger group to come as well and the future started to take shape.
The chemistry was obvious. We had a great group of guys that shared a love of sports, life and family. It was clear that we could tackle anything without adversity and share laughs over almost any topic, big or small, trivial or serious.
The following year, while staying at John’s cabin, we were cutting firewood and discussing the empty lot next to John’s. It was apparently for sale and seemingly fit our needs. We knew the territory and the deer population at the time was okay, if not robust.
As fate would have it, Dave cut his hand while sharpening a chainsaw and needed stitches. Larry was going to take him to the Dr in Port Loring to get repairs. Since they would be in town anyway, on a whim it was suggested they visit a real estate office and see how much the property next door was listed for. By the end of the day, Dave had several stitches and we owned a piece of property for the princely sum of $13000. We now had less than $2000 each invested and a lifetime of memories yet to come.
Over the course of the next 12 months, a design was developed, and a plan underway to build a cabin on our new property on Ranger Bay. Soon we would be known as the Ranger Bay Boys.
In the spring of 1993, 2 things happened to change my life dramatically.
Construction was to begin the last weekend in April. About a couple of weeks earlier, my father suffered a massive stroke and was on life support. Sadly he succumbed to the damage the stroke had inflicted and would be buried the weekend we were to begin construction. It would be one of the few work weekends I would miss in the next 30 years. I regret that Dad never lived long enough to see it. He would have loved it. I missed out on a lot of memories with him as a result – and so did his grandchildren.
We would build the cabin ourselves. While I didn’t personally have any experience in construction, Russ had built a couple of houses for his family and Larry was a builder by trade. We were in good hands. What an adventure this would turn into.
Over the course of the next couple of years, we built a 2 story, 4 bedroom cottage overlooking Ranger Bay, on the Pickerel River system on Lake Kawigimog. It was built as a hunt camp, but morphed into a cottage that our families enjoyed many times over the summer months. Never an argument among us, we timeshared the summer weeks and spent countless hours together as a group building, fishing, hunting, repairing, laughing and playing cards.
Over the years the core partners have not changed, but a couple of changes to the group added to the fun. Dave Beynon wanted out a few years after joining and moved to western Canada with his family. Dave was a great guy in the woods. He knew his way around and was an excellent shot, despite losing an eye playing hockey when he was younger. Dave has a very close family and he felt the best place for them at the time was in Saskatchewan. Soon after, they moved west.
The Ranger Bay Boys
Fortunately 2 other friends, also connected through hockey, stepped up and were interested in joining our motely crew. Bob Will was a butcher at Zehrs in St Thomas and though he was not an experienced deer hunter, he fit in immediately. Tall at 6’4” and a Sam Elliot look alike, Bob has the driest sense of humour of anyone I know. Bushy mustache prevailing, he is known to save a one liner for years for the perfect delivery – usually leaving everyone around him wondering where that came from, and subsequently in stitches.
Mike D’Angelo was a bear of a man. About 5’10”, black hair, and a smile that could melt your heart. Mike made you feel like you were the only person in the room when he talked to you. Always interested in your family and your life, he had a way of making you want to spend more time with him. Mike left a mark with whoever he met. In our case, he introduced the “Ranger Bay” hug. To this day, whenever we meet one another, it is always with a hug – no matter the place or time. There is not a day goes by that I don’t think of Mike D’Angelo – one of my favourite people of all time. He typically stood spread eagle, with his arms crossed and a beer in his hand – sometimes double fisted – surveying the room with a glint in his eye and a grin on his face. Tragically, Mike is no longer with us, but will never be forgotten!
Dale Beringer is a man’s man. He can seemingly grow a beard overnight. I never met anyone that likes to fish like Dale. He can handle a boat like no one I have ever known and is happiest when he has friends with him on the lake – any lake. He was the electrician among us, and lent his considerable expertise to wiring the camp. Methodical to a fault, he is never in a rush to complete a task, but rather fastidious in making certain it is done right. This trait spills over to cooking – particularly when cooking fish! It may take him hours and a few beers, but the result is always mouth watering. He is the MASTER!
Russ Wiltsie is the unofficial president of the group. “Walk softly and carry a big stick” was coined for him. Russ seemed to get all of the dirty jobs, dealing with any problems or difficult conversations that came up throughout the years. Multi talented, he has built several homes, and renovated several others. He was instrumental in helping design the camp and contributed in myriad other ways to the construction. Nothing seems to bother Russ – unless there is no ice for his cesare! I only saw him angry once in 30 years, when I lost his favourite lure on one of our fishing trips. He is a little sensitive about sharing his favourite things 😊
Chuck Davis brought a tenacity to the group and is known to have an opinion or 2. Slight of frame, he more than makes up for it in determination and is a crack shot. Along with Russ, Chuck likely shot more deer than just about anyone else in the camp over the years (maybe because he is easy to hide 😊). Always circumspect, Chuck explores every angle of a problem before committing to a solution. Never afraid to take on a debate, he can express his views on any topic as well as anyone. Being a painter by trade, he was instrumental in helping to stain and weather proof the cottage.
Larry Wooley, like Daniel Boone, “is a man – a big man”. Standing about 6’4 and over 250 pounds, he towers over me, making our hugs a little uncomfortable at times 😊. But if there is such a thing as a gentle giant, it is Larry. Always the first to offer help to any of the group. If there is a task to undertake, Larry is the first to volunteer. A kind soul, he would do anything for anyone.
Leonard Jones grew up with a love of hunting and is excellent in the woods. Jonesy has little difficulty expressing his views on the most recent government snafus – particularly the Liberals and would have make an excellent Conservative politician. Growing up on a tobacco farm and becoming a farmer himself, he can fix anything and always has an opinion or 2 on life in general. Len loves to visit over a cocktail and discuss life. A self styled business man, he has been very successful over the years in his chosen field and a great addition to the group.
As for my contribution, I was a “gofer”. Not expert at anything, but never one to shy away from hard work. Always happy to help and willing to tackle any problem.
One common thread among many, was our love of family. As a group, we were all proud of our kids as they grew and spread their wings. We celebrated many weddings together and supported each other through any difficult times that may have arisen. But after 30 years of comradery, we are still friends – never a serious disagreement between us over all those years.
And too many laughs to count.