Aikens History Spotlight: Growing up at Aikens
Apr. 18, 2019
It’s a life only a handful of people on the planet can truly understand. You live in paradise but never leave “the office,” with endless work and endless fishing both at your fingertips. You’re living in nature, but the outside world – the world beyond your lake, lodge and home – are secluded from you for months at a time. It’s the life of a family fly-in fishing lodge.
Chris Lavergne is on the short list of people who have lived that life and know it first-hand. He was just a boy when his parents bought rustic Aikens Lake Lodge, as it was called then, from owner and float plane pilot Arthur Gaffray in 1974. For a decade and a half Aikens was Chris’ home every May to September and, as Aikens has a way of doing, it has remained a part of his life ever since.
We’re proud of both our family and Aikens history – the two are intertwined – and so we caught up with Chris to hear his perspective on life at the lodge and share another piece of our story with Aikens friends and guests.
“Growing up at Aikens Lake was different for me than for most other kids my age in the sense that it was like being at summer camp, but for a couple months instead of just a couple weeks,” said Chris, who now lives in St. Norbert with his wife, Michelle, and their children Joseé and Riel.
Chris’ father, Gerry, ran the lodge with his partner Antoine Frechette. Chris’s mom helped with guest bookings and the hiring of staff, while his older brother Marc was the lodge manager for several years and both his sisters, Roxane and Liette, worked in the kitchen and in housekeeping in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
“The best part of growing up Aikens? It’s tough to say. From all the float plane rides to all the family shorelunches to playing ping-pong with the many visiting canoeists, there’s a lot to choose from. But the best part of growing up at Aikens was, of course, anything and everything fishing.”
Chris benefitted from living at the lodge before he was really old enough to help with daily tasks (although that changed in his parents’ final years of owning the lodge!). That meant lots of time to explore, play and fish in the wonderful playground that is Atitaki Provincial Park.
“I loved playing with my dog on the front beach,” said Chris, highlighting another unique experience that makes others envious when they imagine what life would be like growing up in such a surreal setting. For most people, those early “boy-and-his-dog” memories occur at a local park or in the backyard of a residential neighborhood. For Chris, they came on a pristine beach in the midst a boreal forest.
Another great benefit to growing up at the lodge, of course, was tremendous access to excellent fishing.
“When I was really young, my dad would take me early morning fishing, mostly to the Honey Hole. I would also fish a LOT off the dock, catching jumbo perch, a few pike, and the odd turtle,” Chris recalled. “Then, when I was about 10 or 11 years old, I got to fishing in my own boat, a 16 footer complete with a 9.9-hp Evinrude motor. At first, I explored every nook and cranny in the Back Bay before eventually getting out onto the big lake as I got older.”
That experience helped Chris develop into an extremely accomplished angler. After leaving Aikens Lake as a full-time guide after the 1998 season, he worked as a Manitoba Conservation Officer for two next summers while going to university. Then he was hired by an aquatic environment consulting company in Winnipeg, first as a fisheries technician then eventually a fisheries biologist. Some 18 years later, that’s where he’s at.
“Chris was (and still is) a very technical and precise fisherman who can pluck fish out of any condition on the lake,” said Pit. “He knows the biology of the lake and of each species inside and out. He still comes up every summer to help out as a contract guide and it is very cool to see him pass some of his knowledge down to new generations of guides.”
While not identical, the similarities between their unique childhoods is not lost on Pit.
“Chris grew up a lot like I did at Aikens. He was even younger when his parents had the lodge, but they sold it to my parents when Chris was in his teens and he ended up working for my dad for many years as a guide, eventually becoming head guide for two years in 1996 and 1997,” Pit said. “He is a few years older than me, so we always had a healthy rivalry on the lake.”
Although Chris didn’t have many rivals or peers around at Aikens, his family provided ample opportunities to keep him engaged.
“I honestly can’t remember there being any kind of social issue spending my teenage years at Aikens Lake during the summer months,” Chris said. “Yes, it sucked to be away from my friends during most of the summer, but there were times when a friend would be flown in for the weekend. This included one of my best hockey buddies, who stayed the better parts of two summers at the lake when we were 13 and 14 years old. I can’t speak for what people might’ve thought about my family’s lifestyle, but I can say that whenever any of my friends made the trip up, they always said they loved the place and wanted to come back.”
Chris relates to those sentiments. “Aikens is a special place,” he said. “It definitely makes up a big part of our family history.”
In turn, Chris and the Lavergnes make up a big part of Aikens’ history.
“Even though his parents sold the lodge when he was younger, Chris has been able to keep it in his life for decades,” Pit said. “He is a big part of the Aikens Family.”
Click here to learn more about Aikens Lake history.
Click here to see where other past Aikens staff members are today.