Mowat, Ontario-Ghost Town Connected To Possible Murder?

Mowat was a mill town that attracted residents in 1897 on the northwestern shore of Canoe Lake in western Algonquin Park. Mowat was a lumberman’s town that included all the usual stores and businesses of the early mill villages including a hospital for a town that grew to a population of more than 500, the largest town in the Park. A school opened in 1898, listing 30 pupils in attendance. But then the lumber industry entered a recession and the population dwindled to just over 200. By 1914 it was down to 150. The community continued to decline and in 1946 the school closed having only 6 pupils. Soon the trains stopped running and Mowat became a ghost of its former self. A fate all too common in Northern Ontario, including, to a lesser extent my home base.

After Mowat’s decline the Group of Seven painter, Tom Thomson painted and lived in the area. Thomson often stayed at Mowat Lodge, a tourist retreat operated by Shannon and Annie Fraser, which made use of a converted Gilmour company building. In 1917 Thomson died in Canoe Lake under mysterious circumstances after staying at the lodge. Speculation is that he was murdered. During the time Tom Thomson used Mowat as his ‘home base’ in the Park, residents there included visitors from as far away as Europe, cottagers from the United States of America, as well as from Canadian cities such as Ottawa and Toronto. The population of Mowat also included those people who serviced tourists’ needs, such as hotel operators and guides. Park staff watched over all of them, maintaining the safety of the area, and enforcing Park regulations.

Today, time and forest regrowth has reclaimed most signs of the community of Mowat, originally named in honour of Sir Oliver Mowat, Premier of Ontario from 1872 to 1896. Only a few cottage leases, old foundations, and the Tom Thomson cairn commemorating the artist’s life remain in Algonquin Park.

Next time, we’ll take a closer look at Tom Thomson himself and the influence Algonquin Park had on his paintings, as well as the circumstances surrounding his death. Did he die by misadventure or was he murdered by spies?

A Tragedy & A Mystery Resolved

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(photo credit RCMP)

I probably spend far too much time researching Canadian crime, but it’s gratifying to find a story that can bring closure – even more than fifty years later. On a foggy August morning in 1959, pilot Ray Gran and conservation officer Harold Thompson were flying from Buffalo Narrows to La Loche, Sask. Sometime during the flight, their Cessna 180 single-engine airplane went down over Peter Pond Lake. Neither were ever heard from again.

But in January of this year (2019), RCMP divers on the URT (underwater recovery team) not only recovered the men’s remains, but they also laid Canadian flags at the wreckage site. Find out why, the role that family played, as well as why they waited to dive six months after the plane was found here.

Do any unsolved stories from your part of the world stand out in your memory?

It’s Raining On My Body

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Photo by Chris Gonzalez on Pexels.com

The meteorological conditions (e.g., temperature, precipitation, and wind) at a crime scene can influence the nature and quality of all manner of evidence that is left behind. This includes the destruction or obliteration of evidence, as well as the effects of climate on body temperature and decomposition.

(The above quote is from ‘Criminal Profiling, An Introduction To Behavioural Analysis’)

And therein lies the first hurdle for my main character in ‘Body In The Bush’, Anais Quinn. A body has been found, but it’s been there for some time, and rain and wild animals have all affected it. Can she find out who it is? Facial recognition is going to have a hard time with this one…

Forensic Did You Know?

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Precautionary acts involving physical evidence are behaviors committed by an offender before, during, or after an offense that are consciously intended to confuse, hamper, or defeat investigative or forensic efforts for the purposes of concealing the identity of the perpetrator and/or his connection to the crime, or even the crime itself. They include disposal of the body, clipping victim’s fingernails or removing their teeth or fingers to prevent identification, cleaning up the blood at the scene, picking up shell casings—essentially anything that changes the visibility, location, or nature of the evidence.

And now you and I have both learned something new today!

 

(Fact above attributed to the textbook, ‘Criminal Profiling, Fourth Edition’)

What Can Anthropology Teach Authors?

tourist attraction of a place

Photo by Kong Ruksiam on Pexels.com

Cultural Anthropology is the study of human cultures, beliefs, practices, values, ideas, technologies, economies and other domains of social and cognitive organization, and it has a lot to teach authors. This occurred to me the other day while I was knitting. To understand, you need a little background.

I, along with a friend, manage a group of crafters that have wonderful imaginations. We imagine that we are all students at Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft & Wizardry, a la Harry Potter and Hogwarts. Hogwarts creator, J.K Rowling, invented Ilvermorny, but she’s never said much about it, leaving us free to take our version of the school in wonderful new directions. On Ravelry (an enormous crafting-oriented website), there are other “schools” that are magic and crafting related, but we’ve taken our Ilvermorny in a direction that none of them have. We’re injecting a lot of realist education theories and practises into Ilvermorny. The one that concerns us today is the concept of “Majors”.

For those who may not know, a Major is simply a specific subject that students can specialize in while aspiring to a degree. At Ilvermorny, one of the five degrees that our students can pursue is a ‘Cultural Anthropologist Specialty’. The Majors program is a pet project of mine, so I’ve spent a lot of time putting it together. As I worked, anthropology began to look more and more interesting. So naturally, I fell down the internet rabbit hole, as we sometimes do. When I came up for air and coffee, I was struck with the realization that this field was what I could see myself doing in an alternate universe, you know if family dynamics, money, education and all kinds of other barriers weren’t in play. Friends, I honestly got chills.

So what does this have to do with my opening statement? I’m a writer, one stuck in countless edits and rewrites, but a writer all the same. So after I emerged from that rabbit hole, I got to wondering…what does the field have to offer writers? Further, can one study anthropology without the cost? The answer to my first question is easier than to the second. Writers, most especially in speculative fiction, create entire cultures. Those that are more easily visualized are the ones more developed in the writer’s mind, the ones with an economy, religion, social structure, and so on. Instead of relying on twenty or a hundred questions, we writers could learn a lot from anthropological studies already done. In my case, that means that my characters on New Olympus are currently in need of some more culture. Like, a lot more. It’s not really fair to compare a culture only developed within a few hundred years to an indigenous culture thousands of years in the making, but in a side by side comparison, I can see where my New Olympians are lacking. So I begin to get an idea of what I need to study in anthropology to bring my New Olympians more fully to life. To begin to bring them to the level of Tolkien’s ancient races of Elves and Hobbits. And isn’t that what many speculative fiction writers quest for? To create characters that will be remembered a hundred years from now alongside Tolkien’s? Well…it is for me.

 

Next time, what can I learn from comparison? Quite a lot apparently!

Teachings From The Muskrat

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Excerpt:

In the Anishinabe Re-Creation story re-told by Anishnabe storyteller Basil Johnston in his work Ojibway Heritage, there has been a great flood and most life on Earth has perished, with the exception of birds and water creatures. Sky-Woman survives and comes to rest on the back of a great turtle. She asks the water creatures to bring her soil from the bottom of the waters so that she may use it to make new land. The water animals (the beaver, the marten, the loon) all try to help her and fail. Finally, Muskrat volunteers, much to the scorn of the others. Though ridiculed, Muskrat, the most humble of the water creatures, is determined to help. So he dives down while the animals and sky-woman wait.

“They waited for the muskrat to emerge as empty-handed as they had done. Time passed. Smiles turned to worried frowns. The small hope that each had nurtured for the success of the muskrat turned into despair. When the waiting creatures had given up, the muskrat floated to the surface more dead than alive, but he clutched in his paws a small morsel of soil.” Basil Johnston

The muskrat has a great deal to teach us about ourselves. As I read the piece that you can find here (Muskrat Magazine), I could see myself writing a modern short story, with Muskrat as the main character, teaching us all how we should strive to embody the sacred teachings. Read the article, and let me know what you think in the comments below.