Every Autumn the shutters on the Jimmy Robinson Duck Lodge are thrown open, the dust cleared from where it settled the past few months and for a few weeks every fall, the lodge comes to life again. Any stray squirrels who might have found their way inside during the past year are shooed away and the lodge again fills with people, their laughter and voices echoing through the once empty spaces.
Hunters gather for their yearly sojourn to the lodge; fathers, grandfathers and sons, hunting partners that only see each other a couple times a year, painters, writers and lovers of nature alike.
If the lodge could be compared to a banked bed of coals that lies glowing but dormant, the hunters and staff who come every year would be the powerful bellows that bring the flames to light again.
The real life of the lodge is not the building itself, but the people who go there. The Metis families that proudly work there every year, supporting the lodge with their innate knowledge of the Delta Marsh and area that has been passed down through generations of their family, knowledge that isn't simply learned, but is ingrained. Their wooden handmade marsh boats that are made with skills passed on from father to son, are not just merely boats for duck hunting, but literally a cultural artisanal treasure.
Rare is the opportunity to hunt with guides who not only have been guiding in the same area and with the same lodge for years and years, but even rarer still is the fact that the guides at Jimmy Robinson's are all from the same family and that guiding is a time-honored family tradition.
Alfred Lavalle, shown below, is the patriarch of the family and is the father of two more guides working at the lodge. We had the pleasure of getting to hunt with him our last day with his group of hunters. His quiet exterior belies decades of knowledge about the area and a passion for hunting and helping others learn.
His son Billy – far left- also guides at the lodge for the season as well.
His other son Al, was our guide for two days of hunting. Al is an active RCMP officer working out of Winnipeg, Manitoba who takes the time off work every fall to continue his family's tradition of guiding at the lodge. The committment and love of what he does is just simply incredible,. If you asked me to come up with another person who takes time off yearly to continue on their family traditions in such a manner, I fear I would come up empty-handed.
Getting to know Al as we did over two days, I can truly say we were fortunate to have such an exceptional guide for our first duck hunting experience.
BJ, (brown sweatshirt) who was our guide on Day two, also works in Winnipeg yet comes out in the fall to guide with his Dad (Billy) and his Uncle Al, continuing on the strong tradition. BJ is expecting his first child, a daughter, soon and will most certainly be passing on his love of hunting and guiding to her as well.Five generations of the family have been guiding duck hunters, so perhaps his daughter is going to be the sixth.
Nick (far left) is also Billy's son and active guide.
Last but not least, Darryl (right) is part of another family that plays an active role at the lodge. He is related to “Goose” who heads up the plucking shack at the lodge and Margaret, who works in the kitchen of the lodge as well.
There's these beautiful ladies of the kitchen again and from my point of view, these ladies are the ones who really keep the lodge running. I helped out at my Uncle's hunting lodge when I was younger and let me tell you, the kitchen is the hardest part. You are up earlier than anyone else at camp. You are cooking for a large group of people, three meals a day, packing lunches, making thermos upon thermos full of coffee, hot chocolate or tea.
From left to right: Karen, Marlene. Margaret and Samantha.
While the guides and the families may be the backbone of the lodge, manager Dave Reese is the strength that keeps everything going. It became very apparent over the course of three days how much not only the lodge and its history means to him, but the families that the lodge employs yearly as well. Many times he mentioned how the lodge wouldn't be the experience it was and exist in its current state if he didn't have such amazing families that came every year to work there. In this day and age, such an emotional business attitude is almost frowned upon, however Dave is wise enough to know that the reason the lodge is the pinnacle experience in duck hunting is because emotional attachments are inevitably formed.
It becomes comparable to a visit to see your extended family for some, visiting once a year at a reunion type gathering where everyone catches up with each other, hunt ducks and spend three days enjoying each other's company. So within that comes the continuity of excellent staff and that feeling of family that has people coming back year after year.
The hunters I met were familiar with all the guides and their family members. Indeed, I have a family tree of the guiding families drawn up by a father and son duo, Bill and John, who have come every year to the lodge for a very long time, and thus know the family members like they are their own.
The lodge is rife with traditions, as one would expect from a place that has hosted movie stars and royalty. Goose's plucking shack has been around since 1961 and countless people have been asked to sign the door when they drop off ducks. The door is simply covered in names, attesting to how many people love to take part in traditions such as this.
I was more than happy to oblige and carry on the tradition.
Another tradition was one of Darryl's, having hunters sign his Dad's old duck box. We added our signatures to the box as Kinny tried to steal away in the back of my truck and come home to Alberta with us.
While the duck hunting was superb and there's hardly anywhere in the world that can compare, it's the experience of everything at the lodge that has me wanting to go back. Indeed, I've already informed my Dad that we are taking him with us next fall and after seeing all of our pictures, he can't wait to go.
It will be like visiting family again when we go. Family that you don't get to see that often, yet spend the year anticipating the time you are going to spend with them.
I'd like to thank Travel Manitoba and Dave Reese for having my sister and I out to the lodge this year, what an incredible experience it was. We had the time of our lives and can't wait to make this a family tradition of our own.