True Story: The Night at Sturgeon Narrows

Here is the full account of Attila Ray Dabasi’s terrifying night in the Canadian wilderness:

When I first started gathering accounts about strange happening in the woods, there was one name that kept coming up: Sturgeon Narrows, a spit of land deep in Canada’s Quetico.

In one story, campers were almost struck by lightning as they arrived. That night, they set their water bottles out, and in the morning they had all been moved to the other side of the tent. Trees had fallen in a triangle around the tent, with the exception of one that still had a yellow rain jacket on it. In another, Dan Liljedahl, a Camp Widjiwagan counselor, arrived at Sturgeon Narrows with his campers. After dark they heard a banging across the water, which turned out to be three canoes paddling toward their site. They waited for them to pass, but instead, they stopped at Liljedahl’s site, set up tents right next to theirs and barely said a word. Then they started a giant bonfire, Liljedahl wrote, “like you have at the cabin getting rid of dead wood, and they start dancing and chanting … men and women. It all felt very ritualistic. The guys and I eventually fell into an uneasy sleep. I woke up early, got everyone up and we left.”

But there was one story everyone mentioned, which involved longtime Widjiwagan camper and counselor Attila Ray Dabasi. I contacted Dabasi, and over a period of several weeks he sent me the story as he remembered it. His tentmate was Michael Phillips, then 13, who is now a lawyer in Milwaukee and the former legal counsel for the Wisconsin Education Association Council.

The two hadn’t spoken since the 1970s, but when I contacted Phillips he confirmed that Dabasi’s version was essentially as he remembered it. All these years later, both of them are unsettled to think back on that night, during a 17-day trip in the Quetico with three other teens and led by a counselor, when something terrifying and unexplained happened outside Dabasi and Phillips’ tent.

The Night at Sturgeon Narrows By Attila Ray Dabasi

Many years ago, when I was a teenager, I had the good fortune to have been introduced to a YMCA camp named Widjiwagan, based out of Ely, Minn., near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. The camp specialized in wilderness canoe trips that introduced 13- to 18-year-olds to wilderness settings throughout Canada as well as the Boundary Waters.

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