A 50-year love affair with Lavigne


Isabel Mosseler


Lydia Demik, aged 88, has been visiting Lavigne for summer holidays for 50 years. She and her family just spent their summer vacation at Graceland Cottages, which used to be Camp Raymond in its earlier incarnation. “Yes, it was called Camp Raymond, and it was named after the oldest son of one of the previous owners,” she recounts fondly. What makes Demik come back year after year is not only the beauty of the area, but the memories she and her entire family have created during this cherished tradition. “It’s not just camp, it’s the whole area of Lavigne, the lake, and the West Bay of Lake Nipissing and, you know, just the whole feel of it. It was a real small community and as the years went on, everybody in the community knew us because we were the big Dutch family that always came every year.”

Demik is widowed now. Her husband of 60 years, Peter Demik, passed away in 2019, but the couple and their family packed in a lot of memories over those years and this summer, some of those memories were again unpacked. “I’ll tell you, my sister and her family, and our family, always went on vacations together and the men of the families, they love to fish. We were first on Rice Lake, but the fishing wasn’t all that good. So, my sister’s son, my nephew, he got in touch with the ministry (MNR) up in North Bay. He was 11 or 12 and he asked if there were any fishing camps on Lake Nipissing and they gave him a few names, one of which was Camp Raymond. My sister and her family checked it out and they went there first for a week and then we were on our second week of vacation on Rice Lake and she called. She said ‘You gotta come up here because this is the greatest place!’ So, we packed up on the Saturday morning and we drove up to Lavigne and we were also able to rent a cottage for the next week and it was like, oooh! I mean the place we left on Rice Lake had outdoor plumbing and we had to get water from the pump. We came up to Camp Raymond and they had a bathtub, inside toilets and running water! We didn’t know where the heck we landed! It was just great, and the fishing was great too!”

The family from Hamilton felt they had landed into a bit of luxury in the wilderness. “That was back in 1973,” Demik reminisces. “Things were still kind of primitive.” Over 50 years, she has seen some changes, but for her, Lavigne has maintained its charm. “Camp Raymond was actually a fishing camp; the owners were the Arbours. They had five cottages, and they were primitive, just the basics. …They bought the place in 1966 and then we were there in 1973, and then he started to redo the cottages, and he built more cottages on the land, and it ended up having 12 cottages, which is what it is today. Every year he made some improvements, for instance, microwave ovens. And then the store in Lavigne [Chez Pierre] – they had everything!” Lydia’s daughter Lianna Rietsma chimes in with more memories, “The Chipstand, the Pignon Rouge – we loved going here! And of course, there were all the kids in town, all the big families.”

Fifty years of memories is a lot, but there are a few that stand out for Lydia. “For instance, my brother-in-law (John Kamps), we’d been going about five or six years and the thing was everybody wanted to catch a muskie, and finally he caught one and he brought it back into camp and oh, there was a big hullabaloo! ‘We got a muskie!’ And everybody was taking pictures, and then he developed a heart pain. And so, he had a heart attack from all the excitement. My husband had to drive him into Sturgeon, to the hospital, and the hospital at that time was the three-story old brick building – I think it was run by the nuns and they kept him there for two weeks. And then he went by ambulance back home to Hamilton. That was quite a thing, you know. Now, of course, Sturgeon Falls has got a beautiful big West Nipissing hospital.”

Lydia’s husband Peter had his turn at fishing fame. “In ‘92 he finally caught his muskie! My son, at the time my youngest, he was 10 years old, and he was in the boat with [Peter] and my brother-in-law. Anyways, it was a 32-pound muskie and it was 51 inches long and they could barely get it into the boat. But they did bring it in. Barb Roth, who was [one of] the owners of the camp then, she called the paper. I mean, if you catch a muskie like that, that’s big news up there. So, she called the Tribune, and they sent a photographer down and [Peter] had this picture in the Tribune. I still have the copy of the paper.”

At 88, Demik has slowed down a little. She’s no longer jumping in and out of the water. “I just like to sit on the deck and watch everything and have a game of cards once in awhile,” she says. She has high praise for the new owners of what is now Graceland Cottages, as they’ve allowed the family tradition to regain some steam. Daughter Lianna says, “What happened was my mom and her sister started coming, and her brother and then my dad’s brother started coming. So, we had four families of cousins that I grew up with there. And then the cousins got married and started having kids and started renting the cottages so at some point, in the 80s and 90s, we took over the camp!”

The different families staggered their 2-week vacations so that it got spread over a whole month. “On the third week, it got so busy that some of our [family] went to the camp across the bay at Au Lys Blanc, it was called at the time.” The families would get together for happy hour, for games like Bocci, for fish fries. After a while, some of the reunions fell off, the camp closed for a while, the different families went to other camps around the lake. “My dad really wanted to go back when we heard that Graceland … were reopening the camp. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2019. But then we said “let’s go back, kind of as a memorial.” My brother and my sister and myself and my mom, we went back and rented three cottages. We really missed Lavigne because we hadn’t been for a couple of years. We’ve just now started coming back… We’re back to 8 cottages!” Lianna says this summer has been like a revival of the old gatherings. “It was kind of funny because we just realized it was our 50th year since we’ve been coming to Lavigne.”

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