Articles

THE EDEN ISLE OF EVIL SPIRITS

DON DELAPLANTE December 1 1952
Articles

THE EDEN ISLE OF EVIL SPIRITS

DON DELAPLANTE December 1 1952

THE EDEN ISLE OF EVIL SPIRITS

DON DELAPLANTE

MANITOULIN Island, eastern Canada’s leading domicile of Indian gods and spirits, of wealthy Americans and of cattle breeders and turkey growers,

sprawls off the mountainous north shore of Lake Huron like a huge segment adrift from a jigsaw puzzle. It is the largest freshwater island in the world, a potential oil field and, according to two thousand five hundred Indians on six reserves, the spot where the world was created.

Indeed, with its majestic escarpment, splendid trees, jeweled lakes and magnificent endowment of wildlife, it looks an eminently suitable place for Creation to have occurred. It meanders along the coast of Lake Huron for one hundred miles, separated from the mainland by the sunsplashed North Channel, a busy avenue of protected waters plied by lake freighters, fishing boats, lumber tugs and millionaires’ yachts. The shoreline is so tortuously indented that early explorers thought there was a series of islands, instead of one huge one. The wandering perimeter encompasses more than a thousand square miles of hardwood and evergreen bush, fertile farmland and one hundred and eight lakes within and above the Great Lake.

This fairest isle of the east has charm, mystery, great panoramic beauty and a vital spirituality

which supersentient visitors claim they can feel in the air. In short, it has a soul. And, strangely enough, its myth of Creation is getting some partial backstopping from the National Museum of Canada and the Museum of Anthropology of the University of Michigan.

Excavations of archaeological sites at Sheguiandah, on the island’s east shore, and at Killamey, on the nearby mainland, date human habitation of the region back ten to seventeen thousand years into an era when clay pottery and birchbark canoes were still unknown. Professor Emerson F. Greenman, of Michigan, director of the Killarney research, and Tom Lee, National Museum archaeologist in charge at Sheguiandah, have uncovered clues which reveal that an early race of men moved into the Manitoulin area when the receding glacial-age ice sheet was still only fifty miles away and Lake Huron, its outlet still ice blocked, was one to two hundred feet deeper than today.

Manitoulin has an ethnic potpourri the like of which is seldom encountered anywhere. As a vacation resort it became virtually a U. S. possession when wealthy Americans discovered it by yacht and excursion steamer near the turn of the century, long before a bridge was built to the Canadian mainland at Little Current at

Witches and Indian gods rub shoulders ivith wildcatters, archaeologists, hass fishermen, Mike Pearson, Col. Bertie McCormick and ten thousand haw eaters on majestic Manitoulin

the island’s northeast tip. Canadians ignore the place as a holiday resort, but that’s all right with the local citizens, for the Americans are better-heeled anyway. Sample camp owners in the district: H. H. Timpken, roller bearing

and axle tycoon; Powel Crosley, president of Crosley Motors and owner of the Cincinnati ball club; Commander E. F. McDonald, president of Zenith Radio; Branch Rickey, president of the Brooklyn Dodgers; Roy Fruehauf, trailer

The permanent residents, who number about ten thousand, are a sturdy blue-eyed, longlimbed race who call themselves haw eaters, and who rank among the country’s most prosperous farmers. Their annual cattle sale at Little Current is the largest one-day sale in Canada, and their fine plump turkeys are renowned throughout North America.

There was a time when “haw eater” was a term of derision used by visitors from the Bruce Peninsula. Today it’s the proud badge of nativesonship. Said a businessman who has been on the island for thirty years, when describing an argument with an employee: “The first thing he said to me was I wasn’t one of them! I wasn’t a haw eater!”

The islanders regard themselves as a race

apart. Insular in outlook as well as geography, until recent years they were characterized by a magnificent indifference to what went on in the rest of the world—except perhaps American Prohibition, when sundry island sailors were alerted to the splendid business opportunity provided by the transport of rum to U. S. ports. Even today only one family in ten reads a daily paper, though two lively weeklies, the Manitoulin Expositor, of Little Current, and the Recorder, of Gore Bay, blanket the island.

This disregard of world events, however, didn’t stop the islanders helping to return the Minister for External Affairs, Lester B. Pearson, as member for Algoma East in 1949. The “Honorable Mike”—his soubriquet on the island —made as big a hit over the cracker barrels as at the LTN, and in the past three years has almost established himself on a haw-eater footing. Now you can get an authoritative argument on world affairs anywhere between the village store at South Bay Mouth, on the east, to the Mississagi lighthouse, on the west.

Every now and then Pearson writes homey letters from Paris, Rome, London or New York, to Earl Davis, editor of the Recorder, who places them unobtrusively in the letters-to-the-editor column near the back of Continued on page 30

Continued on page 30

The Eden Isle

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 19

the weekly. In one, Pearson said Andrei Gromyko “didn't have his heart in his work” during the -Japanese peace treaty negotiations at San Francisco. He also described how Queen Elizabeth had helped him through the steps of a square dance at Rideau Hall. Ottawa, during her tour of Canada.

Third element in the population, the Indians, lends the island that exotic touch which captivates the visitor. British authorities once designated 1 Manitoulin as the national home of the Canadian Indian and tried to get all Indians in Canada to move there. There emerged at that time one of history’s most ubiquitous native figures, the renowned Assiginack of the Golden Tongue, a strapping chieftain noted for the fact he could orate without stop from sunrise to sunset. He put across the deal which permitted white settlers on the island. Some local historians claim that two treaties written on the island—the first to get the Indians there, and the second to turn the island over to the white man—form an object lesson on how to fleece an aboriginal people. The long-winded Assiginack .figured in both deals and was rewarded by having a white man’s township named after him at the east end of the island.

Not all the Indians took the bait, however, and there exists on a peninsula of one hundred and ten thousand acres at the east end of the island the great Manitoulin Unceded Reserve which is entirely the property of eighteen hundred inhabitants. They have perhaps the most prosperous—and certainly the prettiest—reserve in the east. Its deer population is fabulous.

The Ojibway and Ottawa ancestors of Manitoulin’s Indians combined sorcery, which led to murderous violence, and charming legends of great romantic beauty. Formally, all of the natives today are Christians, yet the conviction that Manitoulin (Home of the Great Spirit) is hallowed among the places of the world has been found impossible to eradicate, j In 1945 one of the most fantastic killings in America revived the frightening side of the island's supernaturalism, j This was the rifle slaving of Alec Nahwegizik by his son Jim on the She; guiandah Reserve, after son accused j his father and his mother. Harriet, of casting the dreaded spell of the Bear! walk upon him (Maclean’s, Aug. 1, 1950 ). And in November 1951 at Gore Bay the curse was uncovered as a major factor in the murder trial of Frank Debassige. accused of slaying Levi Bob, after Bob charged that Debassige's mother and sister were witches who had used the evil enchantment to kill Bob’s brother. After eight hours’ deliberation a jury found Debassige not guilty.

The Bearwalk, most feared of Indian hexes, condemns the accursed person to death, as surely and much more terribly than the stroke of a knife, many Indians believe. Its prelude is disease and madness. Tradition says that a witch, banished from the tribe long ago, imprecated those who cast her out and caused a bear to visit the encampment at night and carry away the children. Today the spirit can manifest itself in the form of any animal, wild or domestic. It can be summoned only by a person in league with hostile devils, who spits a secret herbal mixture on the path of the accursed, the Indians say.

These ferocious manifestations of paganism are offset by the charm of I the bulk of the legendary inheritance

of the natives. Nanniboozho, Indian creator of the world, has a curious parallel with John the Baptist. Nanniboozho was merely a demi-god and he created the world as a dwelling place for one greater than he—the Gitchi Manitou. He got this started by shaping a ball of mud. which he set in spiral motion. Then he stayed around for a while to inform the Indians about Gitchi Manitou, departing at last for the Land of Souls in the sky. Red sunsets and the Northern Lights are reminders to the natives he still watches over the island.

In the Indian mind the Gitchi Manitou is a savage omnipotent being, with a lust for blood and young wives. He rules a hierarchy of lesser spirits with an iron hand. Human sacrifice used to be made to him at the foot of a great limestone cliff at West Bay, nineteen miles west of Little Current. Manitou dwelt with his wives at the summit, which towers five hundred and forty feet above lake level, while the hapless victims were slain at the base. Many Indians are still leery about visiting the cliff.

It's against this bizarre background that the islanders do their farming and sailing and the Americans fish what they claim are the best bass waters in the world. Little Current, population fourteen hundred, is the island’s largest town and its unofficial capital, though Gore Bay, forty miles west (population 700;, is the judicial seat. Manitowaning village, nineteen miles southeast of Little Current, was the site of the first white settlement in 1838. Today it is

headquarters for Indian agent Ross Johnston, a wise-eyed native son who exercises a wide and intelligent influence among his charges. The RCMP has a detachment there and there’s a small Indian hospital, too. In Indian, Manitowaning means Den of the Spirit. The Indians say that Gitchi Manitou had a tunnel from Manitowaning Bay to South Bay, three miles distant, to avoid making an arduous portage between the north and south sides of the island.

It’s in this area, and in the Unceded Reserve just to the east, that a hunt for oil has been going on since 1862, four years after it was discovered at Titusville, Pa. The stampede started when someone noticed that two mineral springs were mentioned in the Jesuit Relations concerning early mission work on the island. That rush didn’t uncover much, nor did two others later, but drilling continues sporadically today, and many islanders think all of them will get rich one day out of oil.

One well was brought in at the rate of four or five barrels a day, then water seepage interrupted the flow. One crew of drillers abandoned their equipment and fled when Indians on the .warpath descended on their camp after a driller got frisky with a native woman. But crude so far found on Manitoulin has been of excellent grade, with little sulphur content.

Picturesque Little Current is claimed to be the busiest port, per capita, on the Great Lakes. The town nestles in a valley where the North Channel is only twelve hundred feet wide, its narrowest point. During July the half

mile of waterfront is packed with yachts, tail-sailed racers and snubnosed diesel craft. Following the Port Huron-Mackinac Island Race and the Chicago Mackinac Island Race, as many as thirty are moored at once, as yachtsmen cruise before going home. Big freighters unload coal at the CPR docks opposite the town, depositing three quarters of a million tons there each summer for smelters in the Sudbury nickel area. Here the waters of Georgian Bay meet those of Lake Huron and a current, sometimes as fast as seven miles an hour, alternates back and forth, according to prevailing winds. Hence the town’s name.

A unique swing bridge, which carries both trains and autos along a single traffic lane, connects with the mainland. Built in 1914 for train traffic it was paved for cars in 1945. When the stoplights at the ends of the bridge flare red, a motorist cranes his neck to see whether it’s a lake freighter which has precedence or a train from Sudbury.

Grant Turner, a Progressive Conservative who opposed Mike Pearson in the last federal election, is proprietor of the island’s largest store, owner of its largest telephone system and official greeter of visiting sailors. His grandfather, Isaac, built a store in competition with a Hudson’s BayCompanypost in 1879. His father, Byron, founded the telephone company in 1892. Grant is a quiet-spoken man who foresees the day when the town will become a shipbuilding centre, and perhaps a base for grain elevators. That’s because the port is open all

Although the number of Americans on the island swells to about twelve thousand in midsummer, the islanders don't take kindly to promoters who grasp Manitoulin’s immense tourist possibilities and build lavish establishments. The islanders reason that sort of thing should be reserved for them.

Some of the one hundred and fifty resorts are open far into the autumn, for Manitoulin offers some of the finest deer hunting in the east. About seventeen hundred animals are bagged each fall. During the rest of the year they’re a traffic hazard on the island roads. Last year Mayor Frank Priddle of Gore Baydeclared a public holidayon the third day of the hunt to permit townspeople to hustle out for their deer before the visitors made it difficult. But it’s an open secret that many Manitoulinites have their deer shot and hanging in the trees before the season opens, and are only waiting for the opening before appearing in public with them. Officials at the Ontario Lands and Forests head office at Sudbury regard nabbing an islander with an illegal deer as quite t feat. The clannishness of the people makes infor-

mation almost impossible to obtain; alerts concerning the whereabouts of the game warden are said to flash regularly along the rural telephone

The industrious island farmers have created several co-operatives which are outstanding in Canada. Largest of these is the livestock co-op which stages the annual cattle sale on a plateau above the town of Little Current. Hundreds of buyers from eastern Canada and the U. S. flock there each September to grab up carload lots of fine shorthorns. Last year 2,543 head sold for §681,502.61. However. this is only a fraction of the island's annual income from the sale

Some of the farms are immense by eastern standards, running to more than a thousand acres. For a week before the sale the roads to Little Current are blocked with the plump beasts as white and Indian farmers drive them to the pens.

The Turkey Growers’ Association markets about twenty thousand birds a year, generally passing up Thanksgiving to bring flocks to peak for Christmas. It’s estimated that the average weight per bird has been increased two pounds in recent years by scientific farming. Eight cooperative packing depots are main-

The epitome of a good time for an islander is a turkey supper followed by a hoedown. Largest of these annual affairs is at Silverwater, near the west end of the island. Last year six hundred and seventy pounds of turkey were eaten at one sitting. Then the grandmothers sat on the sidelines with the infants on their knees as fathers and mothers danced till early in the morning.

Another major social event is the annual Sailors’ Ball at Gore Bay-. Most of the male population has at one time or another served a stint on a pleasure boat, a fishing smack, a freighter or a tug. The rafters rattle in the community hall when the ball gets into full swing.

An enthusiastic drama league has been functioning at Little Current, Manitovvaning, Gore Bay and Mindemoya for the past three years. This year a two-day festival drew seven hundred and fiftypeople. Next year it will be a three-day affair.

Samuel de Champlain was the first white man to learn of Manitoulin, when he encountered Indians from there picking blueberries at the mouth of the French River in 1615. He dubbed them Cheveux Relevés because they did their hair up in a manner “more elegant than the gentlemen of Paris.” The men went completely naked while the women compromised

' with a sort of G-string. Champlain thought they were cannibals, though they didn't seem good warriors. He may have met the Pikes, a sub-group of that era, much inferior to the Ottawas on the island.

The Iroquois raided the island in 1652 and the Manitoulin Indians fled, some to Michigan, some to the head of 1 the lakes and others all the way to the Mississippi Valley. The Pikes were the only ones to return when the Iroquois went home. Father Joseph André wrote in the Jesuit Relations that he was forced to eat his moccasins and the leather bindings off his books when the Pikes refused to give him anything to eat one winter about 1700.

For the nest hundred and twentyfive years the island's history is a curious blank. The natives say it became populated with evil spirits and the Pikes burned it end to end to disperse them, either with intent or by mistake.

No one was living there when Father Proulx led a migration of Ottawas from Michigan in 1825. These Indians had fought on the British side in the war of 1812 and were harried from their homes by vengeful American settlers. Then, about 1830, British authorities, eager to clear the Indians out of Upper Canada to make way for white settlers, thought of selling the natives the idea of making Manitoulin their national home. Some fifteen hundred Indians, spurred by the eloquence of Assiginack, agreed to the proposal at a meeting on the island in 1836. Later Governor Sir Francis Bond Head journeyed as far as the western plains urging the natives there to go to Manitoulin also. He offered education and training in the white man’s arts for all.

The colony failed miserably, though a Jesuit mission thrived. It became apparent to the bureaucrats of the day that the fertile island was far too good j a farmland to be wasted on Indians. .So, with the help of Assiginack. now hoary with age. the whites made deal to buy the island in 1862. The price was seven hundred dollars in cash. Each native was permitted to have one hundred acres, provided his plot adjoined that of another Indian and wasn’t on a stream where a white man might want to build a mill.

Assiginack’s golden words didn’t work with the Indians at the Roman Catholic mission. Counseled by the Jesuits, they turned down the proposal, then chased away some settlers who tried to establish near their reserve. A band of armed men was sent from Toronto to put down the revolt. They captured a chief named Sawamakoo and tried to handcuff a Jesuit who intervened. This brought a mass i attack from the natives, but a truce was established before anybody' got hurt. Thereafter the island was settled without incident.

Though Manitoulin's timber is second growth and small in places, the Ontario Paper Company (owned by Col. Mc! Cormick’s Chicago Tribune1 bought j large tracts at the west end and on nearby Cockbum Island a few years ago. An active reforestation program i is under way. The company grows j young trees in a nursery at Gore Bay. and gives away thousands to farmers to restore woodlots: it sponsors a junior forestry club and stages school essay competitions on conservation.

Occasionally McCormick comes to the island to inspect his holdings.

1 landing in regal style in his own fourengined plane at Gore Bay. Residents claim, however, the great man follows the pattern of the humblest tin-can i tourist: after one quick blink at the 1 woodlands he devotes himself to purI suit of the wily king-size bass, it