For a long time, Graham just stared at it. He said that his father had often joked that if he had to go, he hoped it would be right after a good winter ski down Mount Tremblant. “This, I have to think, would have been his second choice – if it had to be.”
For the better part of two hours, as their guides looked on, the son, grandsons and great-grandson of Blair Fraser worked with a trowel and a small amount of ready-mix cement to provide a solid new base, and then, as discreetly as possible, to cover the work with natural stones from the area.
“Did that guy ever think about how many lives might have been saved by this cross?” Mr. Chester wondered aloud. “How many people came here to scout the rapids and saw this and decided maybe it might be a wise idea to portage instead?”
Graham, understandably, became sentimental: His father, he said, used to say “that he didn’t know anyone who took so much pleasure out of the things that he did badly. After he died people often wrote about him as if he were an expert canoeist, but he wasn’t. He always described himself as the drudge labour on the trips. He was a fundamentally modest man.
“The last conversation I had with him, he said, ‘Don’t think I’ve been a success. I became a journalist because I didn’t have the imagination to do anything else.’ It was fundamentally not true, because he was extremely successful … but he had none of the professional arrogance that many journalists tend to assume – that they are somehow better people than the people that they write about.
“I always felt that it was a gift that he was as modest and self-deprecating and supportive as he was, and at the same time did the things that he loved … and set such high standards, which I try to live up to.”
When it was done, the four Frasers gathered in a group hug in a long silence.
When Graham finally spoke, it was with a broken voice: “Until now, I’ve been following in his footsteps. From now on, we’ll be going where he wasn’t able.”
The words proved prophetic just one day later when, with the end of the journey coming into sight, Graham went over the gunwales and into the fast water that, 45 years ago, had taken his father’s life.
“My foot was caught under the seat,” he said as he changed into dry clothes on the shore of the Petawawa River. “And as I was hitting the water with both feet caught under the seat, I thought, ‘Well, this may be the way that it ends.’ ”
And then he paused, smiling, satisfied: “But it ended happily.” Mission accomplished.