Breaking Barriers: Day Four

Tom Hainey Swims Across Quetico Park – Day Four

After the storm had passed, the weather looked stable. Today was the swim across the big, open expanse of Pickerel Lake. If the wind picked up, this could be a difficult day. It started out cloudy and fairly calm and there was just a light wind when they paddled Tom back to Emerald Island where he had ended his swim the previous afternoon. As they paddled, Tom got a little chilled, but when they reached their destination, Tom quickly slipped into the water and began to swim. It was expected that the exertion of swimming would warm Tom up, but the cold water of Pickerel Lake, noticeably colder than the smaller and shallower Jesse and Maria Lakes from the morning before, didn’t allow that to happen.
Dr. Vlaar talked to Tom and he felt that Tom was showing signs of hypothermia. They radioed ahead to other members of the team that Tom was cold and that they needed to get to a campsite and get a fire going. They reached the campsite where they agreed to meet just as the sun was coming out. Canoes converged and they started a fire, got Tom out of his wet suit, wrapped him in a sleeping bag and brought him hot tea. Hot Gatorade was next on the menu. Warming by a big fire, wrapped in a sleeping bag and drinking hot Gatorade in August in a wilderness park is not an experience many have had. Tom remembers that moment, but he especially cherishes being surrounded by caring friends and family.
From here, Pickerel Lake funnels down towards “the Pines” and the only decision the navigator had to make was which side of a couple of islands to go on. As they were paddling down this stretch, they met a couple of canoes who waved them over and asked what a person was doing swimming out in the middle of Pickerel Lake. Albert Clement told them that the swimmer had been yammering away all morning long and just wouldn’t shut up. When they had as much as they could stand, they threw him in the lake and told him to swim to shore. Albert told the startled canoeists that the swimmer had a long way to go to get to the next island but they were confident he would make it. The canoeists were amazed, scratched their heads and paddled off.

It remained calm as Tom swam down this open stretch of Pickerel Lake. The weather had been exceptionally kind. Except for the brief storm the previous evening it had been unusually calm and warm. They arrived at ‘the Pines’ at 1:30. Since it was only about six km to their destination at French Lake, it was only a two hour swim away at Tom’s average pace. They could have easily kept going and finished the swim. Since the ceremony to mark Tom’s arrival was set for the next day at 11:30 a.m., they stopped.

“The Pines” is situated on a magnificent beach backed by large red and white pine. Archaeologists have found evidence that people have used this site since the end of the last Ice Age. A long, west facing sand beach with flat areas to camp under large pines – it’s no wonder that Paleo-Indians, voyageurs, park rangers, poachers and canoeists have camped on this beach. It is also not surprising that there were people camped there when Tom swam to the site. Fortunately, the 300 metre long beach has more than one campsite and they were able to find a place to camp.

This was the first chance that the team had to really relax and the sense of what they had accomplished began to sink in. Family and friends from Atikokan paddled out and brought fresh food. They had eaten well on the trip, but the thick steaks and corn on the cob brought from town was gratefully accepted. Tom had arranged for white, nylon jackets with the logo for the swim to be brought to the campsite and he presented one to each member of the crew. The swim was almost complete, the pressure was off, and they enjoyed a leisurely evening in Quetico Park.

Continue Reading:
Breaking Barriers: Tom Hainey Swims Across Quetico Park – Day Five


This article – written twenty years after the swim – was made possible by the co-operation of the Hainey family and by members of Tom’s swim support group. They provided valuable background information and supplied insights and stories about the trip. Special mention has to go to Mike McKinnon who not only wrote articles for the Atikokan Progress but also wrote a very informative commemorative edition of the paper after the completion of the trip. This is not just the story of a personal triumph but also of how the Atikokan community came together in support of this swim. The ‘Breaking the Barrier’ swim is an important part of Quetico’s history and it is noteworthy that this is Quetico’s 100th Anniversary as a Provincial Park.

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