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Bringing Back Ice Fishing…

Tim Jowett is a dedicated fisherman.

In the summer, he likes nothing more than heading out to try his luck on one of the region’s many lakes or on the St. Lawrence River. When winter sets in and most anglers are packing up their gear for the season, Jowett’s just getting started with one of his favorite winter pastimes: ice fishing.

Jowett spends his summers on the river as an island attendant at St. Lawrence Islands National Park (SLINP).

“I enjoy working in the outdoors most of all,” says Jowett. “It’s the little things that make your day, like the squawk of a blue heron standing on a point, or a friendly wave from a boater.”


In winter, things haven’t changed much. Jowett is a year-round river devotee, and this year he’ll mix work and pleasure when St. Lawrence Islands National Park hosts a family fishing derby on Saturday, Feb. 19 (2011) as part of the Front of Yonge Winter Festival.

Jowett will be helping participants set up their fishing holes and offer tips that come from more than 30 seasons of ice fishing. He brings to the event an enthusiasm that carries over from his earliest experiences as a child trying out the sport.

“It’s seeing the flag standing straight up and running to it, wondering if it’s that giant, elusive one on the line,” says Jowett. “It’s that anticipation that I love -- not knowing what’s under the ice.”

Jowett fishes on a number of local lakes, but he makes time to revisit the St. Lawrence in winter.

“The ice can be unpredictable, but there are still plenty of places to fish on the river,” says Jowett.

The event this year brings back the tradition of ice fishing derbies at Mallorytown Landing. Bud Andress, a retired park warden, recalls a series of cold winters in the 80’s when the ice was thick and an encampment of fishing shacks would sprout up at the landing, with fishermen already in place when the tournament was held in February. There were as many as 20 shacks there at one time, adding a vivid shot of color to the winter landscape.

“Driving east on the parkway, you’d round the curve near Vanston Road and see all those colorful shacks – red, yellow, a whole range of colors out on the point,” says Andress. “That’s how cold it was and how popular fishing was.”

During the derby, old hands and beginners alike would be out on the ice, joined by some well-known local characters. The late Con Darling would tour around the derby in his clown costume with his trademark chicken in a baby carriage.

“I can remember him trying to push it on the ice and snow,” says Andress. “He’d be pushing and pushing that thing, and the kids would start laughing. He’d say, ‘What are you looking at?’ and then hand them some candy.”

Sheila Birtch, another park employee, remembers her own children setting up some temporary shelters for a day of fun on the icy river.

“We’d get a big cardboard box and that would be their ‘fishing shack’ for the day. They just loved it,” says Birtch.

The fishing derby is part of a larger community effort to bring some fun to the coldest days of winter. This is the second year of the Front of Yonge Winter Festival, and festival organizer Amy Neuman says its growing, with more than 15 local organizations involved in mounting the event and an expected 600 participants this year.

Neuman says the winter festival was something the township had looked at doing for some time, “but they didn’t have a spearhead to take the lead … so here I am. I’m very proud of every organization and community member who volunteers their time to make this a great festival.”

Front of Yonge firefighters will be helping out at the derby, providing a canteen at Mallorytown Landing where participants can warm up and get a snack before heading back out on the ice. The derby at the landing is one of many events offered in and around Mallorytown during the festival. Participants can take part in horse-drawn wagon rides, skating, toboggan rides, snowshoe races and other, less traditional activities like snolf -- mini-putt in the snow.

St. Lawrence Islands National Park will also offer free guided snowshoe hikes on the day of the derby. Hikes will start at the Mallorytown Landing Visitor Centre at 9:30 am and 1:00 pm and last approximately 90 minutes. Snowshoes will be provided but, to ensure availability, pre-registration is recommended. The fishing derby runs from 8 a.m. to noon on Feb. 19.

For more information on winter events at St. Lawrence Islands National Park, please contact the park by telephone at 613-923-5261 or by email at

By Kim Robinson, St. Lawrence Islands National Park

Kim Robinson has worked in interpretation for Parks Canada since 1997. For many years she worked at National Historic Sites in Eastern Ontario -- Fort Wellington, the Rideau Canal and Laurier House -- but she's made the switch to National Parks and is on staff at  St. Lawrence Islands National Park. Before joining Parks Canada, Kim spent a few years as a journalist writing for a weekly newspaper, the Winchester Press.

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