Manitoulin History

The Significance of Letter Writing in the 1870s

Old letters and reading glasses

It can't be underestimated just how valuable written correspondence was to society and individuals in the 1870s, which is why I included a passage in The Haweaters in which Anne Amer scours a letter she's received from an old friend in Owen Sound, attempting to wring every ounce of information from what appears on the page and what she believes to be written between the lines.

Why Manitoulin Residents are Known as Haweaters

The Cup and Saucer Trail, Manitoulin

When I gave my historical novel its title, I realized that I was saddling it with a name that wouldn't be familiar to most Canadians, but I called it The Haweaters anyway because, well, that's who the book is about.

But the name does require some explanation.

'Haweaters' is a nickname given to the inhabitants of northern Ontario's Manitoulin Island and springs from the socio-cultural dynamics of the region that testify to the profound historical relationship between the island and its earliest permanent European inhabitants.

The Impact of Alcohol on Families in 19th Century Ontario

Old dirty bottles

It was difficult to write about the murders of my ancestors on Manitoulin Island in the late 19th century without acknowledging the role that alcohol likely played in the tragedy.

During the 1870s, Ontario underwent a period of rapid socio-economic transformation brought on by industrialization and urbanization that seemed to know no bounds. Against this backdrop, the over-consumption of alcohol started to emerge as a significant concern within society, one that had far-reaching impacts on families and communities.

The Geologic History of Manitoulin Island

Landscape near Hilly Grove on Manitoulin Island

(Photo: Landscape around Hilly Grove, Manitoulin Island. Photo by Vanessa Farnsworth.)

Located in Lake Huron, Manitoulin Island has a complex geologic history that dates back billions of years.

The island is part of the Canadian Shield, one of the oldest and most stable geological regions in the world and was formed over a billion years ago by a combination of volcanic activity and tectonic shifts that led to the creation of ancient granite and gneiss rocks that together form the island's foundation.

When A Boom Goes Bust

Restored 1853 Cabin Grey County

(Photo: Restored 1853 Grey County cabin located at Moreston Heritage Village in Owen Sound. Courtesy of Grey Roots Museum & Archives.)

When adult males of British heritage were granted 50-acre parcels of rich farmland along Garafraxa Road in the 1850s, they quickly put down roots, building homes, clearing woodlands, growing commercial crops, and establishing communities in the previously under-populated region that stretches from Guelph to Owen Sound. Many of the communities birthed during that time continue to flourish to this day.

And Nothing But The Truth

Sault Ste. Marie Courthouse c. 1910

(Photo: Sault Ste. Marie jail and courthouse c. 1910. Photo by E.T. White. Courtesy of the Toronto Public Library Digital Archives.)

"Upon this evidence I am not clearly satisfied that Charles Bryan was sensible of impending dissolution and I therefore excluded the declaration made to this witness and to the witness Benjamin Boyer. "

Getting Current

Harrrowsmith Winter 2021/2022 magazine cover

I have to confess that during periods when I'm immersed in writing or spending long hours on the road interacting with readers, I have a tendency to not update my website as often as I would like and, despite my best intentions, the information can sometimes get a bit dated.

I'm slowly but persistently catching up.


Based on the real-life 1877 killings of William and Charles Bryan by their neighbours, The Haweaters brings to life some of Manitoulin’s earliest European settlers as they struggle against nature, poverty, and each other in a collective quest to leave their dubious pasts behind them and attain prosperity in this rugged wilderness community. Learn more.