1916 – Tom Thomson meets Orville Wright

Late Summer, 1916

It was the pail of blueberries in the bow of the canoe that caught my attention. I was surprised to see freshly-picked blueberries, I thought the season was over. In the boat there was a man accompanying the blueberries in the boat. He was a slender, balding, a few years older than me, forty-five, maybe fifty. He was wearing a blue one-piece bathing trunk. He didn’t look too confident in his style of paddling and the canoe looked precarious.

Calling over in a friendly tone, I greeted him, “You should go a bit lower in the canoe, you don’t want those blueberries dumped in the Bay.”

“I’ve had worse things happen to me.”

“I thought the berry season was over”

“That’s what I was told too. But the berries grow later on the Islands.”

I could tell from his accent he was an American. I could also tell that his uneven paddling was not from inexperience, it looked like he was limited because of an injury. If he was an American, he certainly was not a returned War veteran.

“You’d better get those blueberries back safely, they’d make a pretty good pie, maybe too.

The man smiled, “It’s not getting back safely, it’s the pie I’m worried about.” He had a wry sense of humour,“My name’s Orville”

“Mine’s Tom. Pleasure to meet you”

“What brings you to these parts?”

I knew he could tell from my accent that I was an Ontario boy. I sounded like the Georgian Bay locals. The clothes I was wearing weren’t the clothes of vacationing tourists, nor were they the clothes of locals, they were bush clothes. I had on a wool shirt, mackinaw pants. I was wearing a crushed felt hat, not the common straw hat found everywhere this time of year, and I was smoking a lumbermen’s pipe.

“I just finished work in a cottage near Go Home Bay. Installing some panels.”

“Carpenter?”

“No. Artist.”

I could tell from his eyes that I piqued his interest and he wasn’t going to let me go without an explanation. I regretted my answer. . I should have said yes. That answer would have satisfied his curiosity, and once our pleasantries were exchanges, we would go our respective ways.

“Odd to find an artist out here. You look more like a lumberman. You’ve got your gear with you. Are you travelling?”

Yes, I was travelling. My destination was Midland.

“Midland, by nightfall, I hope.”

I had started out early in the morning.  I wanted time to sketch the Giant’s Tomb along the way. But when I got underway, the day was getting late, and it was looking like I have to camp on an island for the night. That didn’t worry me, I could camp anywhere, island, river or bush.

“With this wind, you won’t make it by nightfall.” He was right.

“That’s okay, I’ll camp on an island somewhere.” That was the beauty of Georgian Bay, there were thousands, if not tens of thousands of islands here. Each was like its own different world.

“You can stay the night on my island. That’s my island over there. I just bought it.” Orville pointed to one of rocky islands in the distance. I could see a larger house, and three smaller buildings, likely cottages or sheds.

“Much obliged, but I’ll be on my way.”

“I insist that you stay the night. The place is as empty as can be. It’s just me and a broken-down pump.”

I accepted the invitation, and we paddled to the island. We pulled the boats onto the shore, and Orville helped me to bring my gear to the main house.

“You’ll have to excuse the mess, I got possession two weeks ago. I’m still unpacking.”

More to come…

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