Lake Winnipeg

I almost drowned one spring day in Lake Winnipeg off the shore of Camp Arnes, Manitoba, when I was 15 years old.

Camp Arnes is a huge Bible mission located 10 miles north of Gimli, Manitoba, 70 miles north of Winnipeg. It runs its own programs, but also rents the facility out to other organizations like schools and the Government of Manitoba. It is a huge success started by my Uncle Abe Kroeker, Dave Redekop and a few others.

Right after the first camp buildings were put up shortly after World War II, including the dining hall, the chapel and cabins for boys and girls, my uncle, Mr. Redekop and my Dad built private cabins off to the side of the camp property. I went to Bible camp the first two weeks in July and then spent the rest of the summer in our cabin.

The previous summer I had learned how to row a boat and loved it. I was out on the lake a lot when the water was calm.

Fall and winter came and passed.

The following spring in May, when the lake was still very cold from a late thaw, my Dad took a carful of people from Winnipeg to Camp Arnes to give the chapel a second coat of paint, a job left undone the previous summer.

I went along.

The adults were working up on ladders and I was left to fend for myself.

There was a rowboat on shore with oars.

I pulled the heavy wooden boat to the water’s edge, pushed it in and pinned the oars into the locks on each side.

The water was mirror calm close to shore, but ripples further out showed there to be a brisk offshore breeze. The second I hit the ripples, the wind turned my boat broadside and blew it out toward the middle of that wide open lake.

I had learned how to row, but my teenage arms were no match for Lake Winnipeg in this predicament.

I had also learned a year ago (in calm warm water) that you could get behind a boat and push it along with your legs and feet.

Wearing just shorts and a t-shirt, I jumped into the freezing water and tried to maneuver the boat toward shore. But the boat went further out. I realized I was not going to get back to shore without help.

My Dad and the others were watching on shore, horrified.

I stood up in the boat and hollered: “Get a motor boat!” That would be from the pier in the Town of Arnes two miles north.

But my Dad, listening to me shout in the wind, understood me to be saying “There’s water in the boat.” Panicked, he jumped in the car and drove to Arnes to find a fisherman who would rescue me.

I was tired and extremely cold. All I could do was wait.

Then it came.

The fisherman sidled by with his powerful vessel, tied a rope from my bow to his stern and hauled my boat back to shore. Thankfully, he had a big nautical jacket I put on to get warm.

We arrived at camp. Normally my Dad would have been livid, but this time he just gave back the fisherman’s jacket, wrapped me in his own warm spring coat and said nothing.

My escapade had stopped everything, so painting the chapel would have to wait until another day. Everyone just wanted to go home.

Throughout this ordeal I never once thought I would drown, and I was not scared, just cold.

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