Manitoulin History

What's in a Name

Bishop's Barn, Manitoulin Island

I knew when I gave my historical novel the title of The Haweaters that I was saddling it with a term that most Canadians are unlikely to have heard of before, but I was convinced that it was the correct title for my book, so I went with it even knowing that I would have some explaining to do when the book eventually hit bookstores.

She Said What?


Ellen Sim is one of the more enigmatic characters to appear in The Haweaters. A sworn deposition she gave in Manitowaning on June 28, 1877 about the deaths of William and Charles Bryan at the hands of her boss and his son is recorded in the "Murder on the Manitoulin" pamphlet put out by the Manitoulin District History and Genealogy Society in February 1993.

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.

The Amazing Thing About Research

single rose lying on pages torn from a book

It's amazing how much research goes into the writing of a historical novel and there were times, I can now happily confess, when it seemed endless. Facts needed to be checked, historical documents needed to be foraged, and context needed to be nailed down. Failing to do so would be at my peril, yes, but it would also be to the detriment of the story and that was really what was most important.

Farming 19th Century Style

Heavy horse team pulling hay wagon

I had to learn a lot of things about life in the late 19th century in order to get into the mindset of the real-life people who populate The Haweaters. But the one thing I didn't have to learn was how land was farmed in those long ago days before tractors had been invented, industrializing the landscape and becoming so ubiquitous it's hard now to imagine a rural landscape in which those roaring metal beasts don't churn away all day and most of the night during the harvests.

Getting to Know Eleanor Bryan

Eleanor Bryan in old age

leanor Boyce Bryan was born in Iowa in 1832 and moved to Upper Canada with her family as a child. Somewhere around 1849, when Eleanor would have been roughly 17, she became the second wife of William Bryan (a fact not mentioned in The Haweaters for a variety of reasons) and soon gave birth to her first child, Harriet (Hattie). Hattie was promptly followed by several more children, including Charles (Charlie), Caroline (Carrie), William Bryan Jr., Abel, Clara Ann (Annie), and Arthur.

What Became of Arthur Bryan?

Arthur Bryan family portrait

Arthur Bryan was born in Erin, ON in 1869 and moved with his family to Tehkummah in 1874 at the age of five. In 1877, he joined 33 neighbourhood children ranging in age from 4 to 15 in becoming the first students at the freshly minted log schoolhouse S.S. No. 1 (locally known as Blue Jay School House) just a few lots down from his family's homestead. Other students that first year included the children of Sam Sloan and Andrew Porter.

Nothing Says Family Quite Like a Subpoena

Criminal Subpoena

Above is a copy of the subpoena ordering Eleanor Bryan, her son Arthur, and her son-in-law William Skippen to appear in court in Sault Ste. Marie. Although the subpoena appears to suggest that all three would be required to testify, only one of them actually does, and in doing so, Arthur Bryan gives some of the most damning testimony of the trial.


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.