The Recluse of Johnson Lake

There's an interesting story to accompany this photo that was taken at a lake within Banff National Park.  Lake Johnson has a several mile (or kilometer, if we're being Canadian correct!) loop trail.  While the weather was calling for rain and it looked like rain clouds were gathering in the distance, we decided to risk it and trudged off into the wooded trail.  Literally the moment we got back to the car later on, a torrential downpour broke.  As we started on the trail, at first there were a lot of people at the shoreline right off the parking lot, swimming in the lake and doing stand-up paddleboarding, which made it hard to take photos.  Before long, though, we were fairly isolated on the trail that weaved into the forest and then out to the shoreline around the perimeter of the lake.  After a while of the quiet and solitude of the forest, we came across a couple with four dogs (yes, evidently our Canadian doppelgangers).  They asked if we were from out of town (a safe bet, camera in tow in full tourist regalia) and let us know that a little further down the path, a smaller trail would veer off into the woods and if we followed it, we'd find the abode of a former recluse.  Cool, we thought, and how friendly.  We continued along and a short while later passed a couple of women, the only other people we'd pass during the remainder of the loop trail, who also asked if we were from out of the area and informed us of the recluse's house.  What had seemed friendly the first time now almost seemed like a trap for luring tourists into the woods and felt a tad creepy.  

I have an active imagination and can creep myself out about things pretty easily.  For anyone who knows me and knows that I honestly have gotten freaked out about sharks while swimming in a swimming pool, this fact is a given.  My husband and I had been joking about Bigfoot while on our hike and that combined with strangers telling us of an abandoned house led to me being thoroughly creeped out by the time we came upon the house.  

A small plaque at the site made if feel a little more on the up-and-up.  A little.  Coming across a desolate, isolated house with an odd history easily lends to a ghostly feeling even in broad daylight.  The light streaming through the gaping maws of the open windows created a lot of shadows and the sense that someone could be sitting inside without anyone ever knowing.

According to the plaque, Billy Carver built the house in or around 1910 and lived there as a recluse for nearly three decades.  He originally built half of the house, creating the second half as an addition later.  Apparently his one acquaintance would bring him provisions to supplement everything that he otherwise provided for himself.  Some local boys came across him in the cabin accidentally in 1937 and found him in failing health.  He was thereby removed and taken to a home for the elderly where he later died.

There are echoes of a Canadian Thoreau.  Of course sans the transcendentalism and writing and the knowing when to call it quits and reintegrate into society makes the two men, separated by some sixty years, very different.  There is something about the idea of living in a cabin on a lake in isolation that is appealing and romantic and makes me wonder how I would fare in such a situation (probably not very well).  But when just the bare bones remain as in the case of this cabin and with the passage of time and knowing the end of the story, makes the reality seem desolate, isolating, and creepy.

Lindsey McCarty