The History Keepers

Old photos in a bin

Researching the murders of William and Charlie Bryan took me many places, both physically and virtually, that are dedicated to the preservation of our collective history. Peripherally, I was aware these places existed, but I had never really found myself in a position where I needed to avail myself of their services.

As a writer, I do a lot of research. So much so that barely a day goes by when I'm not looking up facts, tracking down documents, or trying to find an expert willing to talk with me about whatever topic I'm investigating. For the most part that research is done by phone or email or by way of online searches through websites and databases.

Indeed, much of the research for The Haweaters began online. Armed with all-important names and dates relating to the killings, I was able to track down transcripts for the murder trials of George and Laban Amer at the Archives of Ontario. Later I was successful in locating records pertaining to the appeals of the Amers' convictions at Library & Archives Canada (LAC). LAC also supplied census data as well as birth, marriage, and death records. Had I not been able to locate all of these records, this novel would never have gotten off the ground.

But there were limits to what I could do remotely. In addition to the cache of data I was able to access online, there were other documents that were harder to get my hands on. The land sale records of the Manitowaning Agency, for instance, contained excellent insights into when each of the settlers arrived on Manitoulin Island and what their financial realities may have been during the time they resided in Tehkummah. Those records were housed in thick, bound, mildly disintegrating books containing thousands of entries, the majority of which were of no interest to me. The only way to locate the handful that were directly related to the settlers I was researching was to go to Ottawa and spend hours in a reading room at LAC sifting through a sea of entries I wasn't interested in looking for the few I was.

Early in my research, I discovered there is no shortage of historical societies and museums on Manitoulin Island dedicated to preserving the histories of those early settlers. I also discovered that remotely accessing those organizations was going to be next to impossible. So I travelled to the island and searched through countless non-digitized records by hand. A lot of invaluable information was found that way.

Also invaluable were the many books that have been written on the history of Manitoulin Island. I've listed them on the Recommended Reading page for anyone who wants to learn more about Manitoulin Island's past.

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.