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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Celebrating the Irish

The philosophy of 100 Mile Finds embodies community, and reminds me of how pioneer settlements of early Ontario became villages, and often grew into prosperous towns and cities. It was the presence and cooperation of local mills, businessmen, craftsmen, and surrounding farms that allowed this evolution. Farmers no longer had to carry heavy sacks of grain twenty or more miles through the bush to the nearest mill, and could barter butter for bonnets at the general store, or eggs for nails from the blacksmith. Or grain for barrels of whiskey from the local distillery, but that’s another story!

My hometown of Lindsay was, to a large extent, settled by Irish immigrants in the 1830s -  by that I mean that they had to hack a clearing out of the primeval forests, and struggle to survive in the primitive, inhospitable “backwoods” of Upper Canada. The trees that they cut down were squared into logs and used to build their first homes. House-raising “bees” were common, involving all the neighbours from miles around, who could literally erect a cabin in one day - fueled by free food and whiskey. But even the best of these dwellings were bitterly cold in winter. One “gentlewoman” wrote in a letter home that the temperature in her bedroom was 3 degrees Fahrenheit (-16 C)! Water froze in jugs set in front of fireplaces - which had to be kept burning for cooking throughout the blistering hot and humid summers as well.

But there were also plentiful fish in the lakes and rivers that belonged to no one, unlike in the “Old Country”. Migrating birds were sometimes so thick in the skies that they could be picked off from the settlers’ front steps, and indeed, the passenger pigeon, which once travelled in flocks of up to 2 billion birds, became extinct by 1914. Deer and moose and other wild game were there for the taking, and land was often free to those willing to clear it. For those who had the stamina of mind, body, and spirit to survive, it was indeed a land of opportunity.

You can get a sense of these early communities by visiting living museums Like Black Creek Pioneer Village in Toronto, or Lang Pioneer Village near Peterborough.

You can also travel to the past through the pages of my novel, A Place To Call Home, which is based on the history of Lindsay, and celebrates those intrepid pioneers. Here’s what Writer's Digest Magazine had to say about it:
"A Place To Call Home is a gripping and fascinating saga about an Irish family's immigration to Canada and the building and founding of the [fictional] Ontario town called Launston Mills. Wills masterfully traces the development of the town, told through the eyes of Irish immigrant, Rowena, and her son, Keir. The historical facts were flawlessly researched, but rather than it reading like a series of facts, Wills peopled the book with vivid and very real characters whose experiences captivate the reader. .... An exceptionally well-told story... A Place To Call Home offers a delightful glimpse into Canada's past, told through characters who come to life and jump off the page."

Gabriele Wills also has "The Summer Before the Storm", "Elusive Dawn" and "Moon Hall" available for sale on 100 mile finds in her store Mindshadows

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