Manitoulin History

The Haweaters would not have been possible without an enormous amount of research, much of which didn't end up getting used in the book. So I had a choice to make: I could either let all of that information languish in bankers boxes or I could put it online for everyone to see. If you happen to be interested in Canadian history or 19th century murders, this is your lucky day.

Eleanor Bryan

Eleanor Bryan in old age

Eleanor Boyce Bryan was born in Iowa in 1832 and moved to Upper Canada with her family as a child. Somewhere around 1849, when Eleanor would have been roughly 17, she became the second wife of William Bryan (a fact not mentioned in The Haweaters for a variety of reasons) and soon gave birth to her first child, Harriet (Hattie). Hattie was promptly followed by several more children, including Charles (Charlie), Caroline (Carrie), William Bryan Jr., Abel, Clara Ann (Annie), and Arthur.

Arthur Bryan

Arthur Bryan family portrait

Arthur Bryan was born in Erin, ON in 1869 and moved with his family to Tehkummah in 1874 at the age of five. In 1877, he joined 33 neighbourhood children ranging in age from 4 to 15 in becoming the first students at the freshly minted log schoolhouse S.S. No. 1 (locally known as Blue Jay School House) just a few lots down from his family's homestead. Other students that first year included the children of Sam Sloan and Andrew Porter.

Criminal Subpoena

Criminal Subpoena

Above is a copy of the subpoena ordering Eleanor Bryan, her son Arthur, and her son-in-law William Skippen to appear in court in Sault Ste. Marie. Although the subpoena appears to suggest that all three would be required to testify, only one of them actually does, and in doing so, Arthur Bryan gives some of the most damning testimony of the trial.

The Scene of the Crime

Crime scene drawing showing Porter and Bryan homes

This crime scene drawing was used at the trials of George and Laban Amer in an effort to illustrate for the presiding judge and jurors several key details relating to the murder. I think we can fairly safely say that it is not to scale nor is it terribly well labelled. I don't know who added the typewritten descriptions and therefore have no idea whether any of the information contained in those descriptions is accurate.

Wanted: Laban Amer

Wanted Poster Laban Amer

This real-life wanted poster was printed in Sault Ste. Marie shortly after the murders of William Bryan and Charles Bryan when a local constable who had been tasked with arresting George Amer and his son Laban informed the crown attorney for Algoma that Laban Amer was nowhere to be found. The young man didn't stay missing for long. By June 30th, just four days following the murders, he would be spotted by two neighbours hiding in the woods north of the Amer homestead and would turn himself in.

Through the Years

Murder on the Manitoulin pamphlet

My introduction to the Bryan murders came in the form of a pamphlet given to me by my mother, who in turn got it from her mother. This pamphlet, entitled Murder on the Manitoulin, was published in February 1993 as part of the "Through the Years" series put out by the Manitoulin District History & Genealogy Society. It is a glorious hodgepodge of information, including:

Working Like a Bee

Neighbours gathered at a chopping bee.

(Photo credit: Library and Archives Canada/PA-051552)

What do you do when there's more work on tap for a single day than a family can reasonably be expected to do in a month and the consequences of even a minor delay could spell disaster? If this was the late 19th century in Ontario, the answer would be simple: You hold a work bee and invite all of your neighbours to participate. And chances are they would knowing that the next time they found themselves in a similar predicament you would do the same for them.

What Exactly is a Melodeon?

Crumpled Sheet Music on Piano Keyboard

(Photo credit: Phil Henry | Unsplash)

Somewhere in the midst of researching The Haweaters I stumbled across a list of the dozen or so manufacturers that were operating in Owen Sound around the time the Amer family were living there in the mid-1860s. That list included many of the sorts of businesses you'd expect to find in a burgeoning 19th century Ontario port city -- tanneries, potash works, foundries -- as well as a curious entry for Sloane’s Melodeon Factory.

How Did Settlers Make Bread?

Sourdough bread

(Photo credit: Wesual Click | Unsplash)

One of the questions that bugged me from an early point in the development of The Haweaters had to do with baking and specifically how those early European settlers to Manitoulin Island made leavened products like breads, cakes, and cookies when they had limited access to conventional leaveners such as yeast, baking powder or baking soda.


Based on the real-life 1877 killings of two members of one family by two members of another, The Haweaters brings to life some of Manitoulin’s earliest European settlers as they struggle against nature, poverty, and each other in a collective quest to leave their dubious pasts behind them and attain the prosperity they know they deserve in this rugged wilderness community. Learn more.