Letter to the editor
Re: Les Green’s column ‘While pedalling around ‘my’ Island Park
My dear Portage friend, Auna Brown, has sent me a copy of Les Green’s Aug. 8 2017 article ‘While pedalling around ‘my’ Island Park’. I read it with a smile and a little lump in my throat as Mr. Lemiski was my dad.
My purpose in writing is to give you some of my memories of those idyllic days on Crescent Lake on Island Park.
No, Dad never did make a fortune from his canoe and row boat concession, but he did become very rich in the friends that he made doing that fun job that he loved over the 40 years he was on Crescent Lake. Mike, or “Lime” as he was known to so many people, started the boat rental business with eight rowboats in the 40s. The dock then was a small raft anchored to the shore and you got to it via a foot wide plank that bounced a bit when you walked on it. As a little girl, I used to run at top speed across that plank much to the horror of all the ladies who were certain I would end up in the water!
Sundays at the park helping my Dad was what I loved – untying the canoes, helping to pull them up on shore, tying up life jackets, sweeping the dock and bringing a picnic supper for my busy Dad. The dock was bigger by this time since Dad, with City and bank to make it more stable, and the narrow plank was replaced by steps. Canoe rentals were 50 cents an hour, lessons and advice were free, and when your time was up, or if the weather started to look nasty, Dad used to smack a paddle on the water, like a beaver, to catch paddlers’ attention. In his pocket he kept a small notebook with the number of the boat you rented, as well as the time.
Weekends were the busiest days with folks from Winnipeg and Brandon and locals in their Sunday best coming all the way to Portage to rent a canoe or boat for a day’s outing. Many marriage proposals were made while out paddling. I only remember two or three times that Dad had to jump in a canoe and rescue someone who was not able to row back in. A few canoes were ‘accidentally’ tipped over to scare the girls, or to just cool off on a hot summer day. The bottom of Crescent Lake must hold many wallets, watches, shoes, glasses and cameras.
The canoes and boats were stored off season on racks in my parents garden but I recall Mounties coming to our house to use the boats for searches. They were rented out to Americans who came up to duck hunt. In the winter Dad’s heated garage became a workshop to make canoes and paddles and do repairs. I can still smell cedar and resin whenever I think of him. For Canada’s 100th, Dad built a birch bark canoe and when the Centennial Voyageurs came to Island Park with their huge canoes, it held pride of place in the lineup of boats. When the Boy Scout Jamboree was held in Portage, the scouts used all of Dad’s canoes for their races across the lake... what excitement that was.
Today I live on Vancouver Island and volunteer as an Ambassador at our Comox Valley Airport. When I meet a fellow Manitoban travelling through, I mention that Portage is home and talk gets around to Island Park... and several people have told me that they have fond memories of renting a boat or canoe from my Dad.
Dad spent the last part of his life living in the apartments overlooking Crescent Lake and enjoyed every moment. He, like you, called it ‘my’ Island Park. And like you, he would love the changes and how beautiful it all is today.
So Mr. Green, the next time you are at Island Park and enjoying the view, please sit on my Dad’s bench situated where his canoes used to be. The plaque on his bench reads “Remembering Mike ‘Lime’ Lemiski – Island Park Boatman – May you always paddle with the wind at your back.”
-Valerie Little (nee Lemiski)