One of our campsites was on a large lake in Algonquin Provincial Park called Burnt Island Lake. On the particularly rainy Sunday, we entertained ourselves playing cards, sharing answers to The Complete Book of Questions, exchanging riddles, and keeping a controlled small fire going in a rusty wheelbarrow under a tarp. After some of the boys discovered several more free-standing chimneys in the forest like the one we had near the back of our campsite, wild speculation began: was it a chimney cult? We set out on a quest to follow the brown brick chimney trail. Complete stone fireplaces with towering chimneys stood a regular intervals in the forest near the coastline. A dozen or so later, they stopped. Yet even as we had bounded through the forest, a natural process of inquiry bounced around the group. Why so many fireplaces in a forest? Why so evenly spaced? Before long, we had formed a hypothesis: the fireplaces must have been attached to wooden buildings of a community where a great fire struck and burned every flammable thing to the ground. This left us with the stone chimneys and rusty metal artifacts strewn around the campsite – the underground cistern, bed frames, and wheelbarrow. We made an educated guess that this must be called Burnt Island Lake because the fire was so great that flaming pieces spread it to the island in the middle of the lake. We continued trekking through the forest hoping to leave behind all signs of ruined civilization. We admired the bouncy castle qualities of the spongy mulch of dead leaves and rotting logs giving life to a new generation of forest plants. We talked about the biological necessity of fires for healthy forests. Though kilometres away from textbooks and classrooms, we both young and old learned and experienced a great number of memorable things this long weekend.
(Further historical research upon returning home proves that our hypothesis was quite accurate. Camp Minnesing, operational from about 1913-1950s had a number of buildings and ranger cabins that burned down. Seeing the Camp Minnesing ‘relics’ on the south shore of the lake where our campsite was located is apparently a thing for camping enthusiasts.)