by Ken S. Kristjanson, September 2012 (first printed in The Interlake Spectator)
My Afi told me that when he was a teenager in the early 1890s, he would go to Willow Point Marsh with a group of boys in the late fall each year. They took an 1848 Royal Danish Army musket that Afiâ’s foster father, Hannes Jonsson, had brought with him from Iceland. (My cousin Eddie in Vancouver still has the gun). The story goes that they would camp over night at Willow Point near the White Rock where the original settlers landed. As the canvasbacks rafted up, they would load the musket with lead shot. Afi said the recoil left you with a bruised shoulder for weeks. They would harvest more than 20 canvasbacks with every shot ” that’s how many ducks there were. They would them dress them out and with sideline rope, knot their heads together, then struggle the three miles back to town. They had a ready buyer in Hannesson Brothers, who were the leading Merchants at the time. He said they received something like 5 cents a duck for their catch – a fortune at the time.
Willow Point is now called Willow Island – this birth place of New Iceland was always a magnet for us boys. We could only imagine the hardships faced by our forefathers as they trudged ashore in a foreign land on a cold October day long ago. Just like when Afi was a boy, we always went duck hunting there on Thanksgiving. Before I was 16 I went with the older boys but on this cool October day I was 17 and heading out on my own.
A touch of frost had made the trees the color of the rainbow. I had walked the two miles from our home in the south end of Gimli and I was deep in thought as I approached the marsh. Suddenly a drake mallard jumped up squawking 40 feet in front of me. Instinct took over and up came my borrowed, single shot 10 gauge with the weak firing pin. The pin was so weak that an elastic cut from a car’s inner tube was stretched from the trigger guard to the hammer. Thanks to the fortified pin, down went the mallard. Now to retrieve my game bird. In my excitement, I marched directly into the marsh and promptly stepped in a muskrat hole. Ice cold water right up to my waist but I still retrieved my duck.
My mother had insisted that I take an extra pair of socks with me, although a change of socks was not going to do the trick that day. As I looked for a place to sit down, I spotted some driftwood from a three day Nor-Easter some weeks earlier. A goodly amount of wood was piled high and dry on the shore and in no time I had a fire going and I took my soaking clothes off to dry.
As I was warming up, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a movement near where I had placed the duck. I reached automatically for my borrowed shot gun and I saw a beautiful black Mink taking off with my game bird. He was totally fearless – hauling the duck down the beach full speed toward where he had made a lair in the mud bank. I raised the gun to fire a warning shot and scare him off but as I pulled back the trigger to cock the gun, the rubber band that supported the firing pin snapped. As I was buck naked from the waist down, I was not about to argue with a sharp clawed mink. This likely escapee from one of the numerous mink ranches in the area was no doubt was hungry and clearly determined. After getting dressed and putting out the fire I decided to just head for home. Determined to bring more rubber rings the next time . Or better get my own 12 gauge shot gun.
Over the years there were many more Thanksgiving duck hunts. Some were good, some so-so. But I like to think that for one particular mink in a mud bank on a cold beach south of Gimli, October 1953 was the best Thanksgiving ever.