Manitoulin History

When Is a Road Not a Road?

Crime scene drawing showing Porter and Bryan homes

This crime scene drawing was used at the trials of George and Laban Amer in an effort to illustrate for the presiding judge and jurors several key details relating to the murder. I think we can fairly safely say that it is not to scale nor is it terribly well labelled. I don't know who added the typewritten descriptions and therefore have no idea whether any of the information contained in those descriptions is accurate.

A Boyish Almost Feminine Appearance

Wanted Poster Laban Amer

This real-life wanted poster was printed in Sault Ste. Marie shortly after the murders of William Bryan and Charles Bryan when a local constable who had been tasked with arresting George Amer and his son Laban informed the crown attorney for Algoma that Laban Amer was nowhere to be found. The young man didn't stay missing for long. By June 30th, just four days following the murders, he would be spotted by two neighbours hiding in the woods north of the Amer homestead and would turn himself in.

A Glorious Hodgepodge of Information

Murder on the Manitoulin pamphlet

My introduction to the Bryan murders came in the form of a pamphlet given to me by my mother, who in turn got it from her mother. This pamphlet, entitled Murder on the Manitoulin, was published in February 1993 as part of the "Through the Years" series put out by the Manitoulin District History & Genealogy Society. It is a glorious hodgepodge of information.

The Proton Murder of 1861

Paper files in an archive

Why did George Amer kill William and Charles Bryan and what made him think he could get away with it? It seemed like an important question to answer and the more I studied the trial transcripts, the more I came to believe that the violence that exploded on that hot June night in 1877 was premeditated and that Amer's actions in the hours, days, and weeks following the murders were part of a calculated effort to shape reality into what he needed it to be in order to get away with the cold blooded murders of his neighbours.

To Bee or Not To Bee

Neighbours gathered at a chopping bee.

What do you do when there's more work on tap for a single day than a family can reasonably be expected to do in a month and the consequences of even a minor delay could spell disaster? If this was the late 19th century in Ontario, the answer would be simple: You hold a work bee and invite all of your neighbours to participate. And chances are they would knowing that the next time they found themselves in a similar predicament you would do the same for them.

Sloane’s Melodeon Factory

Crumpled Sheet Music on Piano Keyboard

Somewhere in the midst of researching The Haweaters I stumbled across a list of the dozen or so manufacturers that were operating in Owen Sound around the time the Amer family were living there in the mid-1860s. That list included many of the sorts of businesses you'd expect to find in a burgeoning 19th century Ontario port city -- tanneries, potash works, foundries -- as well as a curious entry for Sloane’s Melodeon Factory.

Baking Bread Like a Pioneer

Sourdough bread

One of the questions that bugged me from an early point in the development of The Haweaters had to do with baking and specifically how those early European settlers to Manitoulin Island made leavened products like breads, cakes, and cookies when they had limited access to conventional leaveners such as yeast, baking powder or baking soda.

All Guns Are Not Created Equal

Drawing of Beaumont-Adams Revolver

One thing that was clear from the outset was that a handgun figured prominently in the murders of William and Charles Bryan and yet nowhere in the court documents is the make and model of that gun ever specified. To make things more interesting, the trial transcripts contain conflicting witness testimony over whether the murder weapon fired bullets or balls. In the mid-1870s, it could have been either.

The Picture Worth a Thousand Words

Credit: Alexander Henderson / Library and Archives Canada / PA-149763

When imagining what life might have been like on Manitoulin Island in 1877, I found it helpful to surround myself with photographs that dated roughly to that era, some of which were taken on the island, but most of which were discovered in books or archives dedicated to preserving images from mid-to-late 19th century rural Ontario.


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.