Manitou old roadNo longer passable by car, the highway at the east end of Manitou Lake has been taken over by shore birds. It makes an excellent place to observe the lake’s flying residents.
I had been in the rooms before. Things seemed familiar—identical even to my memories from 16 years before. Paintings, wallpaper, furniture and even the light in the windows seemed unaltered. But I was astonished by the change I found elsewhere in the resort community of Manitou Beach.
Sixteen years earlier we had stayed at Serenic View Bed & Breakfast—I have forgotten its original name—and wondered if the top drawer of the dresser would work as a bassinet for our newborn son. After a few moments of hearty laughter we opted to tuck him between us in the covers. Then we constructed a nest in a suitcase and settled for a markedly warm night in September. We stayed again when he was two and his sister was the newborn. The indoor mineral waters were endlessly fascinating for them.
Both are now much too big for a bassinet and on this visit to the healing waters of Manitou, I had left my family at home. My stopover in the resort village coincided with the task of writing a eulogy. Memory was very much on my mind.
I made my way into the village from the Yellowhead Highway at near dark, trusting a memory that turned out to be faulty. The “old” highway that swooped around the east end of the lake and came directly into the village centre had been submerged under rising lake water. A series of detours left me disoriented. Rain fell heavily by the time I found that my lodging was behind the golf course, not in front of it as I thought.
I am, by inclination, a breakfast eater. It seems to me a reasonable payoff for abandoning the comfort of sleep. Rita Austin and Hans Weckert recently purchased Serenic View B&B and breakfast there is everything I would do for myself if I took the time. From their enclosed deck, the breadth of the lake is entirely visible. The view overlooks cabins down to the shore and takes in the open pastures of the other side.
Despite the heavy rain, the open fields of the opposite shore looked appealing. They looked quiet. I was also a little curious to see Manitou from there. Things were very different with the high lake level and I wanted to see it in its entirety.
Crocuses were emerging and the first green grass shoots were flooding the meadows. It was quiet on the north-eastern shore. Only the wind churned up noises. I stumbled on a shed antler and was recalled to the work that hummed at the back of my mind, a eulogy for my father I would read four days later. Was a discarded antler a metaphor in some way relevant to my dad? I carried it with me and set aside the thought that, with weird ideas like that popping into my head, perhaps eulogy-writing was too great a challenge.
Indeed, the village of Manitou had changed. My lasting impressions from the place many years before had been of long beaches, jubilantly painted benches and swing sets, and the most clever solar-heated shower for swimmers I had ever seen. There were trees. There was some kind of concession that sold the food you’d eat nowhere else but at the beach.
The new Manitou Beach still possessed these things. But they lay behind a winding berm of earth and stone—a protective apron that kept the healing waters rightfully contained. And the beach was simply gone. According to village administrator, Beverley Laird, the water started rising in 2007 and 2008. The protective berm was constructed in March of 2011. “Not everyone was happy with the berm,” she said, “but we have to adapt to what the lake does.”
The berm, and the erasure of the beach, have done nothing to cool development of the village. New homes have been springing up quickly. The village has been busy creating new shoreline areas for visitors and the berm is scheduled to be beautified with grass and trees in the summer of 2012.
“Some say this is part of a 50-year cycle,” said Laird. “In another 30 years the water might recede and the beach will be back.” For now, the pelicans, gulls, and myriad other shorebirds have claimed the wave-washed highway at the lakes east end as their own.
You’ll notice this is called ‘Danceland’ not ‘Drinkland’,” observed the wry Marcel Poupart, bartender at the legendary dance hall on the Manitou Beach waterfront. On Saturday nights, the cavernous building is lit up with reams of lights and vibrates with music from a period when going out to dance was a priority. Poupart’s joke was for a newcomer to the hall. If you stand or sit while the music is playing, someone will ask you out onto the floor.
If the memories of Manitou Beach are going to be preserved anywhere, it should be at Danceland. It is a living memory. “This,” said Poupart, “is the only place where a band can play a chautese and people know how to dance it.” It is a tribute to something that is gone, but clearly not gone. The dance hall days of the 1930s have been overtaken by something else, but at Danceland they still play out every weekend.
“Dancing will never die,” said owner Millie Strueby. “The young people of today are dancing differently from what we have here. But dancing goes on.”
Poupart, with a sagacity known only to bartenders, observed that Danceland is like a ship. “Everybody gets to the bilge pumps,” he said. It is both literal—the rising lake waters mean that two pumps go day and night to keep the building’s substructure dry—and metaphorical. The dance hall is heaped with stories that compound every night the band plays. Grandchildren of people who met and fell in love at Danceland return in homage to long-gone grandparents. Couples travel great distances to experience the romance of a horse-hair dance floor and add it to their own narrative.
“You know,” Poupart said, “the building is said to have been constructed like a musical instrument. That’s why it sounds so good in here. In the summer, it’s like you’re on a cruise ship. You look out the windows and you see the water and the sails on the boats going by.”
It would have been easy to get wistful speaking with Poupart. The hall is a place where memories are not only kept alive, but kept in a state of dynamism and newness. Quite a miracle.
I left the hall and returned to my room. In speaking further with Rita Austin, it turned out that the wallpaper and paintings I was so certain were the same as they had been 16 years earlier had, in fact, been changed. Almost everything had changed.
In coming to Manitou Beach I had been looking for something I had fondly recalled that would be unchanged. That would have been, I thought, the right kind of space in which to write a eulogy. But memories are not like photographs.
Photographs only record change at the most superficial level—the re-ordering of physical things like lake water and buildings. Memories are composites of things that photographs have no capacity to hold. Memories are the recollection of what change feels like at every moment. A eulogy is like that. It is the recollection of change, how change was shared with another person, and how that makes you feel.
I left Manitou Beach in sunlight, the lake in near stillness. The memories from 16 years before changed, renewed in ways I won’t know until the next time.
The task that hummed in the back of my mind was working quietly. It’s all right, I thought. I think I have this one.
The author’s father, Robert Graeme Hughes, passed away April 9, 2012, while this story was being researched.