WHITNEY – It’s not every day that you meet someone who has been leading guided hunting and fishing trips through the Algonquin Park area, as the profession of guiding has almost completely died out.
It’s once in a lifetime, then, that you meet someone like the 78-year-old Frank Kuiack who has been a guide for 70 years.
At his home in Whitney, Kuiack took time to meet with the Gazette for an exclusive interview that centered on many recurring themes of his decorated life.
Over three quarters of a century, Kuiack has seen many changes to his native area.
“I grew up across Galeairy Lake but it used to be called Long Lake when I was a kid and then it split into townships,” he remembered.
In Frank’s youth, guiding was a common profession as there were close to 120 guides in the area when he was a teenager.
Having a zest for boats and the outdoors at a young age, Kuiack became an entrepreneur very early in life.
“Out of seven boys and nine girls, I was the only one interested in guiding. At that time, we were the only family in Whitney to own boats. Americans used to come bass fishing up here because it was Ontario’s best bass lake at one time. That’s how I met a lot of customers and built up good relationships with so many of them,” he recalled.
As a child, Kuiack saw a financial opportunity in guiding and began to market himself to a lot of American customers who would come to the area to fish.
“I made more money when I was eight-years-old than my dad did working at McCrae’s Lumber Company as a foreman,” he said.
Kuiack would do a daily run on his boat to pick up essentials and do some makeshift fishing as his family lived on an island on the lake.
“We used to row under the bridge where the wood dam used to be. There used to be a sawmill and Americans would fish in Galeairy Lake or Round Lake. That’s how I got to know so many of them. I would ride the boat down to get the mail and some groceries. I’d be trolling one of those green, thick lines with bolt nuts on the bottom for sinkers,” he said.
Before spending the bulk of his career in the Algonquin Park area, he learned to guide local trips in Long Lake and other small parts of the region.
“I mostly guided around here until I was 12, because that was when I started guiding at the Highland Inn and Whitefish Lodge up at the Park. I guided out of Killarney and out of Opeongo Lodge, too. I never stopped. I used to sell frogs and worms for the fishermen to make money on the side,” he remembered.
Having recently had a book written about him called The Last Guide, Kuiack shared another publication that was written about him in 1966 by Dr. J.D. Wentzler from Muncy, Pennsylvania.
Wentzler hired Kuiack and another guide, Clayton Pabliski, to take him on a 14-day trip into the wilderness of Algonquin Park.
“He said he was sick of people and seeing patients all the time. He said ‘Take me where there are no people,’ so I did,” he added.
The book is more of a journal that was printed on a typewriter and professionally bound with black and white pictures posted throughout.
In many of the pictures, Kuiack is wearing a hardhat, which is a trick he learned to help him manage soreness that comes from hours and hours of heavy lifting.
“I used to wear a hardhat so I could distribute the weight of the canoe on my head, and not so much on my shoulders,” he noted.
After attaining his hunting license when he was at the right age, Kuiack began to guide hunting trips as well.
On these trips, he would end up carrying heavy loads of game for the hunters and would push himself to the limit, physically.
It was on a hunting trip, though, that Kuiack had a near-fatal accident while carting a massive bag of moose meat across rugged terrain in the late fall of 1969.
As it turns out, Kuiack had been carrying a 226-pound sack of meat on his back for a few miles, and during the trek, a bone from the meat had been cutting into his back, near his spine.
“I was off for about five years and I had a back operation. I slipped with a heavy pack of moose meat on my back and tore all the muscle away from my spine. That started an infection in my discs. So I went out to British Columbia to have a special operation done. I was paralyzed from the waist down for eight-and-a-half months. I didn’t think I’d ever walk again. There was so much puss built up that it cut off all my nerve system to my legs. The doctor said that if I hadn’t made it out there when I did, within another four for five days, I would have never walked again. I have four plates in my back holding me together with clips,” Kuiack noted.
Apparently, the majority of the damage was due to a stray bone within the actual moose meat that was continually scraping into Kuiack’s back and the fall aggravated his back.
Due to the severity of the injury, Kuiack and his family had to travel by train to British Columbia so that he could have emergency surgery.
“We all went out on the train. They took me to Pembroke and loaded me and the whole family – I took six kids and the wife. I got there and when the train pulled into B.C., the ambulance was waiting for me,” he said.
After the operation, Kuiack spent nearly nine months in a hospital bed recovering but was able to finally find work once he was on his feet again.
Story continues in the August 1 issue of The Valley Gazette.