Anderson: Part lodge, part museum in Manitoba

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 20, 2013 - 12:12 AM

The Sports Afield Duck Club’s history is as colorful as its founder, Jimmy Robinson. There are stories of the rich and famous within these walls — and on them.

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David Reese of River Falls, Wis., is manager of the famed Sports Afield Duck Club on Delta Marsh, Manitoba. Founded by the late Jimmy Robinson, the camp was visited over the years by some of the biggest names in entertainment, business and politics, including such luminaries as Ernest Hemingway, Clark Gable, Babe Ruth and Barron Hilton.

Photo: Photos by Dennis Anderson • danderson@startribune.com,

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– Everything is as it always was, here at the Sports Afield Duck Club, founded by Jimmy Robinson.

Framed photos of famous and not-so-famous duck hunters line the club’s walls, along with vintage artwork and cabinets full of wooden duck calls, and fading posters of hunters raising their guns in advance of winged fowl banking toward decoys on cold mornings.

And through a narrow, winding hallway, behind the big gathering room with a fireplace … that’s where Jimmy’s guests played gin rummy after dinner. And told stories.

From Jimmy’s “Bull Cans of the Delta”:

Wife Clara and Edith were busy closing up the camp for the season and Walt Bush and I were the only hunters left. Outside the clamor of the Arctic wind made us smugly content to be safely inside by a glowing stove and occasionally sampling the aroma of roast canvasback wafted in from the kitchen.

Then, even the wind seemed still by comparison with the human juggernaut that burst through the door of our hunting hack. Walt even dropped his gin rummy hand to stare at the intruder.

“Cheemy, da big bull seelver cans are here!” It was Rod Ducharme, the giant, black-thatched French Canadian from nearby St. Ambroise.

“What’s here? I’m sleeping in the morning.”

“Seelver cans, Cheemy. Da big bulls. I tol’ ya about dem. Ya said t’ be sure t’ let ya know if dey come or ya break my neck. I come here as fast as my truck go.”

Jimmy is Jimmy Robinson, born in 1897 in Kent, Minn., and died in 1986 in the Twin Cities. Diminutive and given to gab, Jimmy was a legend while alive, and remains one in death. He wrote for Sports Afield magazine, raised millions of dollars for waterfowl conservation, was a friend of luminaries coast to coast, and spent no hour as an adult, whatever the season, not thinking of waterfowl.

This was particularly true at his duck camp here on Delta Marsh, about an hour’s drive northwest of Winnipeg.

Jimmy founded his original camp in 1935 in an old farmhouse near Portage Creek, toward the marsh’s west end, before replacing it with the current structure in the village of St. Ambroise in 1958.

This second location allowed Jimmy’s French Canadian guides better access to both the east and west ends of Delta, which measures some 50 miles long, and up to 4 miles across.

That Jimmy became pals with Ernest Hemingway, Clark Gable, Robert Stack, Annie Oakley, Babe Ruth and hotel magnate Barron Hilton, among other notables, might seem surprising, given his small-town roots.

But in his day, trapshooting and particularly skeet shooting were sports that conveyed a particular social status, and Jimmy, through his writings, largely controlled who was celebrated in those sports and who was picked for national shooting honors. So his stories in Sports Afield were closely followed, and his favor curried.

In addition, by all accounts, he was a great guy.

A letter Hemingway sent to Jimmy, datelined Cuba, April 11, 1957:

There’s been no current in the Gulf Stream here so fish haven’t run and I’ve been working hard. Take good care of yourself Jimmy and give our best to Clara. Mary was sorry to miss you both in Minneapolis. She had no time for anything except be with her mother. I’d love to get out and shoot with you and Homer Clark if we aren’t in Africa. Will keep in touch. Best always. Your friend, Papa.

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  • Built in 1958, the current lodge of the Sports Afield Duck Club remains largely unchanged. Founder Jimmy Robinson of the Twin Cities was a trap and skeet writer for Sports Afield magazine.

  • Cleaning ducks at the Sports Afield Duck Club can be an all-afternoon affair for as many as five people. In some families living in or near St. Ambroise, Manitoba, multiple generations have worked at the club.

  • Jimmy Robinson founded his first duck club on Delta Marsh in 1935, later opening a club at its present location in St. Ambroise, Manitoba, in 1958.

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