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Shooting for the Stars

The evening of March 4, 2004 I walked northward along Highway #2. I was walking towards the Spruce Home Trail Riders Arena. I wasn’t the only one walking; I had joined several others. We, after carefully parking our cars on the shoulder of the highway, had to walk as the parking lot around the Arena was full.

I cannot remember if the sky above us was clear that evening, but if it had been, a northern star constellation would have been emerging – a constellation named The Big Dipper.  The man whose celebration of life so many of us were gathering to attend had created another Big Dipper. It was not a constellation in the sky; rather it was a marvellous structure, worthy of being a star, and it had entertained multitudes of music and dance lovers. That man’s name was Llewellyn (Llew) David Bell.

Llew was born December 3, 1934 in Prince Albert. His life was not long in years, but the music, the dancing, the fun and the memories he brought to so many made his life itself a true celebration.

Llew and family members created The Cottonpickers in the early 1950’s. The Cottonpickers were a band that would and could ‘play music anyway you like it.’ And people liked it in droves.

In 1964 Lew moved to Christopher Lake, and shortly after that Llew, his wife Dolores, his sister Bev, and his mother Jennie made the decision to buy waterfront property and named it - Bell’s Beach. 

The whole intent of the development Llew and family undertook at Bell’s Beach was to provide a place for recreation, eating, dancing, and just plain fun for all.

In my previous two columns I traced some of the history of the Cottonpickers’ band. This time I will speak of – the Big Dipper.

As Bev Stewart, Llew’s sister, related to me recently, “The Dipper was a fantastic place – just way ahead of its time.”

Llew’s wife, Dolores, called the The Big Dipper, “A truly unique creation.”

However, it was a creation that took years of dreaming, planning, investment, and hard, demanding work by all involved to make the dream come true.

First came the purchase of the beach property, a gamble that demanded the acceptance of much risk. The beach itself and the access road to the beach demanded extensive upgrading. But none of these challenges prevented a slow but determined creation of a dream – The Big Dipper itself.

It did not happen overnight. The Cottonpicker band performed in many places, but especially at McIntosh Point on Emma Lake. The growing popularity of the band allowed for and created the basis for the future planning at Bell’s Beach – and that planning always contained a great deal of creativity- creativity full of colour. 

First came the Flame Room, a dining and dancing establishment that could hold 60+ patrons. The red and orange decor made the name -Flame Room – a reality.

But behind this blaze of colour were hours and hours of work. First the construction, a ground floor with washrooms, showers, and laundromat, then the finished main floor, then the cooking (the majority of which was done by wife Dolores), then the serving (most of which was done by band members themselves, led by sister Bev), then the playing – playing until the guests went home, and not a minute before, and then the clean up, and not just the dishes, but all necessary janitorial work required therein. 

Obviously, there were nights a tired, very tired, band went to bed.

But the dream continued to grow. The Flame Room was expanded until it was there – The Big Dipper itself – opening finally  in 1975 and holding not 60+ but a capacity well over 300, with the inevitable increased work.   

Words are hard to find that can do justice to The Dipper. It was truly a fantastic and unique place. 

Therefore I will include a picture of the Big Dipper here. In the next column, I will attempt to elaborate on that picture, and outline a few stories that will give substance to what The Dipper and surrounding beach created.

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