In The Islander: Coming of Age in the Apostle Islands, Bob Dahl describes growing up on Sand Island, the fifth largest in the Lake Superior archipelago. The book has more than one hundred photos, some of them over a century old. They accompany ten stories, nineteen recipes, five maps, and Bob’s mother’s shopping list for wintering on a northern island three miles from shore in the 1930s.
Born into a fishing family in 1942, Bob was the youngest of five siblings. Carl Sr. and Alma Dahl gave their children free rein throughout Sand Island’s East Bay once chores were finished. Childhood for the Dahl kids was one of adventure. With pristine blue water at their doorstep, they explored the bay on pole-propelled rafts built with their own hands. Their dad’s fishing tug, the Egersund, was strictly off-limits for play, as were the working docks. On land, the siblings investigated abandoned buildings and little-used trails that connected immigrant East Bay villagers who had fished the unpredictable Great Lake since the 1870s.
The book’s lead story is a historical rendition of the steamship Sevona wrecked on the Sand Island Shoal in early September 1905, as seen from the viewpoint of the islanders, some of whom were Bob’s relatives.
Other stories introduce us to island residents and visitors contemporaneous to Bob's time. Chapter topics include an Independence Day get-together, lake rafting, three-day storms, and an unexpected overnight in the Sand Island Light. A few stories transport us to the city of Bayfield—gateway to the Apostles—where Bob attended school. In his teens and early twenties, he worked summers at Sand Island’s southern tip, called Shaw Point. “A Stroll Down the East Bay Road” acquaints us with former islanders from East Bay to the Point, and we experience the memories of those who lived near the mile-long road.
The East Bay community no longer exists, but its history resonates in The Islander, written with in-depth knowledge of island life, a bit of humor, and an abiding respect.
About the Author
Bob Dahl belongs to an old Sand Island family.
His great-grandfather Peter Hansen and great-grandmother Dorthea Fordelsdatter married in Norway and immigrated to the United States in the 1890s. They ultimately made a home on remote Sand Island, twelve miles as the crow flies from Bayfield, Wisconsin. They chose the westernmost major island in what is now known as the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. They had a daughter and a son: Christina and Fred.
Bob’s great-grandfather Jacob Johnson and great-grandmother Louisa Johansen both emigrated from Norway, married in the U.S., and settled on Sand Island. Their daughter Agnetta married Fred Hansen. Agnetta and Fred’s daughter Alma, Bob’s mother, was the fifth of their six children, who were all born on the island.
Bob’s grandmother Constance Ingebrigtsen and his grandfather Harold Dahl, having settled on Sand Island as fisher-farmers in the early 1900s, had two sons: Melvin and Carl, Bob’s father. Alma Hansen and Carl Dahl, both island-raised, married on the island and made their living as commercial fishers. Their children were also island-raised, with Bob the last of five.
Born in December 1942, Bob was less than a month old when his parents took him over the ice to their home in Sand Island’s East Bay, where he spent the first two years of his life and large parts of every year thereafter until his early twenties.
The author began writing about his adventures on Sand Island in 1964. He currently lives in Florida and makes annual visits to Sand Island, the Apostle Islands, and Bayfield, Wisconsin, still home to his family and friends. Bob said, “I still consider this area of Wisconsin my home.”
“The blended Hansen-Dahl family’s port-of-call was East Bay from the 1890s to the early 1970s. Author Bob Dahl’s parents were raised in the island’s vibrant fishing community, as was Bob toward the end of the population’s tenure. This book captures a lifestyle unique to the hearty souls who called the Apostle Islands their home. An important part of island life was devoted to family: socials, dances, card games, and campfires. Storytelling was a highlight. Knowing at some point the old stories passed to him, Bob carefully documented the rich history.”
ROBERT J. NELSON
Author of Apostle Islanders: The People & Culture
“One day in the late 1940s, I joined my mother, and we walked the East Bay Road north to the Dahl residence where we purchased fresh fish from their daily catch. Right then, I marveled at how Bob and his brothers and sisters navigated their home turf, and it emboldened me to do the same. Sand Island ranks among the most influential parts of my life. I’ve since learned how unique my childhood experience was. My two brothers and I absorbed so many lessons.”
Member of a Historic Sand Island Family
Ten percent of sales from The Islander are donated to the Apostle Islands Historic Preservation Conservancy, a non-profit dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the many historic properties and cultural landscapes in the Apostle Islands region of northern Wisconsin.