Tracking Down a Missing Map

Map of murder scene

When I began tracking down documents related to the Bryan murders, it fairly quickly became clear that I was going to run into difficulties locating some of the more intriguing bits of paper. One of the bits I came up short on was a hand drawing of the neighbourhood where the murders took place.

The drawing shown here was published in volume X, issue 4 of the "Through the Years" series put out by the Manitoulin District History and Genealogical Society in February 1993. It was submitted by George Skippen, but where and how he came to possess it is unknown. Although the typewritten label at the top of the drawing indicates that the map was presented at the trial of either George or Laban Amer (or both), it was not included with the trial documents housed at the Archives of Ontario, which makes it hard to authenticate. It may or may not be what it claims to be.

Regardless, the labels appear to be accurate insofar as they correctly identify which settler owned which lot. Intriguingly, the Bryan lot is listed as being owned by C. Bryan. Combing through land records at the Library and Archives Canada confirmed that lot 29 was indeed bought by Charlie Bryan in 1873 when he would have been 18 or something close to it (ages in the 19th century can be a bit slippery). I was unable to track down where Charlie would have come up with the money used to purchase the land and since mentioning that it was the son who owned the property and not the father would have added an unnecessary layer of complication into an already challenging story, I left that detail out. However, I do mention that it is Charlie who leases the back pasture to George Amer and therefore it's his responsibility to collect the lease payment from his neighbour when it comes due.

Notably, Charlie Bryan was not the original owner of this property. It was first purchased from the land agent by Samuel Murray for $41 in 1869. Murray soon sold the lot to Andrew Sproat who in turn transferred it to William Sproat for $10 in 1872. Just over a year later, on June 18, 1873, Charlie Bryan purchased the much transferred piece of land for the wildly inflated price of $115.

One of the criticisms of George Amer by his fellow settlers was that he was likely a land speculator, which made him contemptible in their eyes. But a quick trip through Manitoulin's early land records indicates that quite a few early land owners were likely snapping up land with the intent of turning a tidy profit. Several properties in Tehkummah changed hands in quick succession for suspicious amounts of money.

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.