MCGREGOR BAY – A decades-old message in a bottle has resurfaced in the northern waters of Georgian Bay not far from where it was launched in the 1990s, bringing back a flood of memories and forming a new connection between the sender and the person who made the discovery.
“I always thought it was gone and had disappeared. When I heard it came up I bawled my eyes out. It’s crazy just to have the memories come back of the lodge where we launched it,” said message sender Michelle Blake.
Some 28 years ago, Ms. Blake and her father Phil Blake were living at Okeechobee Lodge near Frazer Point near the waters of Baie Fine. The family had just recently moved north from their Oakville home and would eventually settle on Manitoulin.
The bottle was launched around this time of year, during the ice break-up, when properties such as Okeechobee Lodge were not accessible because the ice was too thin to support a snowmachine and the waters had not yet opened up for the boating season.
It can understandably be a rather dull time of year when recreational activities are limited and personal contact with the outside world comes to a stop. Pastimes, then, are the fun you can make with whatever tools you have available.
For Mr. Blake and his four-year-old daughter, that happened to be a piece of paper, a pen, some tape and a plastic ginger ale bottle.
Neither of them was able to recall exactly what the note said but it was a message that contained Ms. Blake’s name and contact information as well as instructions for the finder to add their own name and send it back out into the world.
“We could only throw it out at the front of the lodge. At that time, I recall there were large ice chunks on the lake, so we left it on an iceberg to go wherever the wind took it,” said Mr. Blake.
As it would turn out, the winds and currents did not take the bottle very far from its launch point to its retrieval point almost three decades later on Hiawatha Island.
This season was Laurie Masters’ first winter spent at her Hiawatha Island home from ice-up through break-up. Last spring when the water opened up, she had worked to pull debris such as deadheads and trash from the waterway so that boaters and other water users would not be impeded by the winter debris.
This year, since she was already on an island in the area, she could start earlier with walking along the icy shorelines to clear up old dock sections that had broken loose. She noted a fair amount of garbage along Hiawatha Island and vowed to return the next day with a trash bag to clean up the litter.
An old pop bottle was lying on the shore. It caught her eye because it appeared to be in relatively good condition for a piece of litter.
“I saw something in it and thought, ‘that’s odd, how could there be paper in an empty bottle?’ I picked it up and saw that it was rolled up tightly with an old twist tie, and realized that it was probably a message in a bottle,” said Ms. Masters.
She took it home and plucked the note from its resting place. The bottle had a small crack but the contents were dry when she found it. As she grasped the old twist-tie it fell apart in her fingers, allowing her to open up the note.
Time was not kind to the paper which was deeply faded. A few words were still faintly legible and they confirmed that it was indeed a message in a bottle. There were instructions to write Ms. Blake a letter and a post office box in Little Current, as well as for the finder to write their name and send it back out.
“When it said ‘please send me a letter,’ that made me think it was sent a while ago, otherwise it would have said call or text me,” said Ms. Masters with a laugh.
Although she thought of completing the other part of the message, to write her name and send it back into the world, she decided to wait until she contacted the original sender.
Ms. Masters consulted this newspaper’s Big Red Telephone Book and promptly called the wrong Blake in Little Current, although they gave some suggestions of other Blakes to try. Ms. Masters then thought of posting it on Facebook in the hopes that the larger network would be able to help track it down.
“It was probably only a minute after I posted it that someone tagged (Ms. Blake). We started talking a bit on Messenger and she told me her part of the story. When I asked if she wanted me to set it loose or get it back to her, she asked me to send it back,” said Ms. Masters.
Although the meetup will not be happening any time soon due to the ongoing COVID-19 physical distancing requirements and the fact that Hiawatha Island still has quite some time before the waters are opened up, a plan is in the works.
“When I think back to Michelle as a four-year-old, throwing it out on the ice, I thought about how if I had done that how excited I would be. I’m pleased she can think back on her good memories at Okeechobee Lodge and to know that I’m helping to bring a piece of that back is very special,” said Ms. Masters.
Ms. Blake said she would certainly consider putting out another bottle like the previous one, but that she wanted to keep the original for her memories. Though, she added, perhaps something other than plastic might make a better vessel.
“I have a child of my own who’s going to be one year old next week, so maybe this is a tradition we can start,” said Ms. Blake.
For Ms. Masters, who helps to beautify her area each season by cleaning up litter and other debris, this episode has taught her that she needs to look closely when picking up trash—after all, one can never predict what treasures might truly be there.