I’ve written several times about my family’s long-standing tradition of hiking and camping in the woods and the mountains. We’ve spent vacations in cabins on the shores of Minnesota lakes, we’ve been to the Absaroka mountain range in south central Montana multiple times. We camped in the sequoia forests of California where the red dirt of the forest floor never really comes out of your clothes or the tent.
The tradition had its beginnings with my grandfather Ragnvald Duesund Bergeson and the expeditions he organized for my father, Robert William Bergeson and his brothers Harold and Norman, both inside and outside of his work with the Boy Scouts of America. Some of the camping they did was close to home in Chicago, where the boys grew up. But there were fishing trips to Wisconsin and Minnesota and Scout camp Owasippe on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.
Twice he drove them up to the northern Minnesota forest that is now home to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and taught them how to paddle and navigate on the lakes. They entered the wilderness by driving along the Gunflint Trail which is nearly as far north as Canada. A caption for one of the photos of these trips indicated that they put in at Northern Light Lake about 15 miles north of Grand Marais.
Until recently I thought that Grandpa was the only adult along on these trips. I’ve always felt that was pretty gutsy of him since my dad was the oldest of the three brothers and he was only twelve at the time of their first trip. That means that Norman, the youngest was only eight. That would have been a quite a handful for one adult.
Then I came across this image.
There are two other adults in the picture and one of them, at least, appears to me to be Native American. This is clearly base camp because those tents were pretty substantial. They didn’t take them down and set them up daily! Apparently Grandpa hired a couple of folks to help him with the food and the campsite. He would take the boys out on the lake for the day to explore and fish and then he would catch a breather when they returned since someone else was doing the cooking.
The first nations people that live in northern Minnesota are Ojibwe tribes. The two guides may have lived in Grand Marais or they may have lived on the Grand Portage Reservation which is along the shore of Lake Superior about 35 miles north of Grand Marais.
I’m now really curious about who the guides were and how Ragnvald found them. Outfitters and guides are quite common in the BWCA today, but I don’t know if that was the case 90 years ago. I’m guessing that he used his Boy Scout network for recommendations and contact information, but I really don’t know. Neither my Dad nor my uncles ever talked about these adventures with me.
My dad never took me camping as a boy. I was in the Boy Scouts for a few years and did some camping then, but never anything like the stuff he did as a boy. He went on one more canoe trip in his life and that was when he led a group of young men on a church-sponsored expedition to the Boundary Waters.
I didn’t go canoeing in the Boundary Waters until after college when I did the same thing Dad did and chaperoned a group of high school students. Later, when I asked him if he would be interested in going on a canoe trip with me, he declined. He basically said that he had done all of the canoeing that he felt he needed to do in his life! Oh well.