Manitoulin History

Memoirs of a (Not So) Great Canadian Detective

Book cover "Memoirs of a Great Detective"

Decades ago, when I was a journalism student in southern Ontario, I was advised by an instructor that it would be perilous to accept something as fact unless it had been corroborated by at least three independent, reliable sources. As it turns out, that level of caution is just as valuable in historical research as it is in journalism.

Out of the Frying Pan

Beach Day

Heatwaves. Wildfires. Grizzlies. Mudslides. Avalanches. Floods. I came to the conclusion many years ago that there are so many things trying to kill you in the BC Interior that it's foolish to focus too strongly on any one.

In recent weeks, daytime temperatures have demolished all-time records, wildfires are increasingly raging all around me, and dehydrated bears keep stealing my watering can despite my best efforts to thwart them.

Digital Originals: Audio Recordings


I realize that we live in a multimedia world these days and that many people like to "read" books by listening to them in audio formats. So I have recorded excerpts from chapters one and three of The Haweaters as well as a brief introduction to give you an idea what the book is about.

These recordings also help me to deal with the fact that I won't be able to do readings in person for this book the way I have for the previous ones. I can thank COVID-19 and the public health restrictions that brought with it for the unexpected alteration in my promotion activities.

Farming the Unfarmable


By the second half of the 19th century, the settlement of Manitoulin Island by non-indigenous homesteaders had become inevitable. There were precious few affordable acreages left in southern Ontario by the late 1850s, a circumstance that led to a tidal wave of land speculation that pushed northward through Ontario until most of the arable land on the Bruce peninsula had fallen into private hands.

The Problem of Trees

ironwood trunk

(Photo: An ironwood tree in McLean's Park on Manitoulin Island.)

Even before Manitoulin Island was opened up for settlement by non-indigenous homesteaders in the late 1860s, there were many who made it very clear they had every intention of exploiting the island for its natural resources and the resource highest on their list was timber.

The Slow Pace of Settlement

Stump with coffee mug

Once the decision was made to open up the ceded portions of Manitoulin Island to settlement by non-indigenous families, it's safe to say things did not go to plan. Although the first lots were slated to hit the market in 1865, multiple complications led to land sales not actually beginning until 1866. Even then, there were few takers and by 1867 less than 5,000 acres had been sold. By 1870, that figure had risen to 33,000 acres, which represented just a quarter of the land that was available for purchase at the time.

A History of Fires

Pitch fork prodding fire

Fires play an important role in The Haweaters just as they have on Manitoulin Island throughout much of its history.

At several points in the island's past, large swaths of landscape have fallen victim to flames and at the time officials were contemplating opening up Manitoulin for settlement by European homesteaders in the 1860s, reports were floating around that pointed to evidence that extensive historical burns had caused large expanses of land, including much of Tehkummah (where The Haweaters is set), to be badly damaged.

Poultices Cured Pretty Much Everything

Apothecary jars

Nineteenth century medicine was an interesting topic to research in preparation for writing The Haweaters. Doctors were in short supply on Manitoulin Island in 1877, the year The Haweaters is set, and I could find reference to just one who was in permanent residence on the island. So if a settler found themselves needing medical care, they or someone close to them could have to travel significant distances, often by foot, to track down that sole doctor or wait considerable time for him to make his way to them.


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.