Leaving Thunder Bay, the Mind’s Eye group headed northwest along the Trans-Canada Highway (Route 17). The day’s destination was Kenora, but they made a stop at Sandbar Lake Provincial Park for canoeing and wildlife viewing. Afterward they resumed their journey as their road took them through the igneous rock outcrops of the Canadian Shield, that 3 million square mile worn-down mountain range that covers more than half of Canada. On arrival they did a walkabout viewing among other things, Husky, the Muskie, a forty-foot-high statue of a muskellunge, featured in McLeod Park. Apparently, Kenora didn’t want to be outdone by Wawa’s Canada Goose, and Frazee’s (Minnesota) turkey.
Kenora is a small city of 15,000 residents on the shores of Lake of the Woods. Today, it’s mostly a tourist town, but it began life as “Rat Portage” in 1878 when the Hudson’s Bay Company surveyed lots for a permanent settlement. The name came not from an association with pests of the genus Rattus, but rather from the muskrat, an abundant species in the area. In the early days, Rat Portage was a rail and gold mining center known for its brothels. In 1905, the town took a step toward improving its image by discarding “Rat Portage” and choosing its present name although it kept the brothels until the end of World War II.
When Laetitia found a local bar that afternoon, she arrived before most of the crowd and for a while was alone at the bar. Her chat with the bartender about the town’s history was mostly about its prostitution during the first half of the twentieth century. He prefaced what he told her by saying that the stories that circulated around town about the local brothels were always given as second- or third-hand accounts obtained from unnamed sources about unspecified people. It seems that somehow these businesses thrived without anyone in town going there or knowing anyone who did. One of the town’s famous madams was Anna Ethan. Her occupation was listed on official documents as “Social Evil Keeper.” She shared the house with six other women, each listed as a “Social Evil Inmate,” plus a cook and housekeeper. Later, the house was owned and operated by a woman named “Big Ethel” who was known for her colorful language. Using a bit of license in the pronunciation of “plethora,” Laetitia distilled the bartender’s talk into the limerick of the day.
The bartender had a plethora
Of stories about old Kenora
With dames like Big Ethel
It wasn’t a Bethel
More like that old city, Gomorrah.