The Narrative in Nature

I was very excited to hear that Claire Campbell was going to be the first speaker in the Professional Development Series at Western on September 19th, as her first book, Shaped by the West Wind, was written about a subject I myself am very passionate about, that of the history of Georgian Bay. Having grown up in the small town of Penetanguishene (note location on map below), a love for the bay was developed from an early age through visits to the beaches of Tiny, boating around the islands of Beausoliel, Beckwith and Giants Tomb, and walking the 10 minutes from my house to the waters edge to take in the beauty and serenity it offered (while tossing the stick for the dogs).

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Claire’s presentation didn’t disappoint as it confirmed her love for history and the environment. She stated that the landscape is the backdrop to human endeavour, which is extremely true for Georgian Bay and the numerous visitors to its shores over the years. Claire also exclaimed during the questioning period of her presentation, that the best work that historians produce, is that of a topic they are drawn to be interested in. Adding that you will see the connections that come out of the case studies.

Along with my passion for the subject, it is evident the love in others for the Bay and the feelings it produces. This is clear through the art that has been produced over the years, including that of the Group of Seven. While conducting research for the Township of Tiny on their shores, I found out that two members painted at the beaches, including A.Y Jackson and Franz Johnston. While talking with the Stewart family, who have a cottage on the 11th Concession, I found out that A.Y Jackson was a frequent visitor to their cottage; as Walter Stewart was involved with the Toronto art scene at the time, and the kids referred to him as uncle Alex. Some of Jackson’s paintings now in the McMichael Gallery were donated by the Stewart family. Franz Johnston’s love for the area was evident with his establishment of an art camp at Balm Beach in the 1930s. Other works by members include Fred Varley and his famous work “Stormy Weather,” painted in 1921.

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This passion for depicting Georgian Bay continues today, through painting, pottery and clothing. The annual Art on the Rocks at Cognashene brings together cottagers to share this love. It is not just through art though that this passion is seen, but through the stories that have been past on from generations to generations amongst the cottagers on their experiences on the bay and the first comings to the location. This is the part I am exceptionally interested in, gathering these stories and putting together the cottaging histories of the bay. This also includes the early resorts that operated on the bay and the ships that transported visitors to the early.

Much of this information is fragmented between museums and archives in the areas, cottage associations and personal histories. This is where the limits of digitalization are reached for my particular interest, as it is a more regional area in Ontario. Also through volunteering at the Huronia Museum in Midland, it was made evident that there is not sufficient funding to digitalize collections, thus when donated primary sources come in, they become almost lost to the public in the collections storage.

In the future I want to uncover more history of Georgian Bay and compile it for future lovers of the region. Claire’s book lays a great foundation of the environmental affects to the bay; how it was formed, the early explorers and artists to the area. She states in her introduction, “Our reaction to Georgian Bay reveals our ideas about nature, but at the same time, the landscape itself shapes these ideas.” (p.2) The bay has definitely shaped my ideas about nature and the connection it fosters with memories. While visiting my boyfriend’s cottage on summer weekends,  I have noticed the great love and influence of the bay through his grandfather, as he sits in his Muskoka chair every evening staring into the sunset as he has done for many years and the happiness and peace that is displayed on his face as he watches the sun come down on the rocks, pines and ripples on the bay.

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