Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Last Guide

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The Last Guide: A Story of Fish and Love, by Ron Corbett (230 pp., 2001, pub by Viking, the Penguin Group, Toronto, Ontario, Canada)

Ron Corbett, a columnist and feature writer for the Ottawa Citizen, met Frank Kuiack (pron. Kwe-ack) while in Algonquin Park area doing an article on wolves. In the wilderness where Frank was raised, there were few opportunities for employment. There was a chance to work felling trees for the lumber company, being a cook in a lumbering camp, working on road crews, but little chance for a real paycheck until he found a job in the mines 2,800 feet below ground. He was making more money than his Dad ever had. One day after some time off, he was returning to work. He had his ticket and sat on his duffel on the platform waiting for the bus. Later in life he would say “there are few moments of true clarity in life,” but that was one of them. He changed his bus ticket and returned to the wilderness. He’d become a full-time fishing guide.

Over the years he would gain a reputation for being one of the best. His clients returned year after year. His regulars were such people as E.B. White, author of Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web, trumpeter Al Hirt, who was so big he had to lie in the bottom of the canoe when fishing, Michael Landon, Dan Blocker, and Lorne Greene, nearly the whole cast of Bonanza, and wealthy corporate execs and professionals. Even executives from Germany, Holland, and the rest of Europe, had his home phone number and would call him of an evening to book trips. Frank knew every lake and every hole where a fish could be found. The book takes you canoeing through streams and lakes, talks fishing, has you setting up camp and spending evenings around the campfire, tells you the lore and history of the area, how it changed over the years, and about not just Frank, but several other guides as well. The fishing guide business in Algonquin nearly died in 1979 when motors where banned from boats on the lakes. Most guides quit or moved on, but Frank had rowed or paddled his clients most of the time anyhow, so he hung on. The Last Guide takes you by canoe for some of the nicest memories, and some of the biggest fish. It’s a wonderful read.

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