When Is a Road Not a Road?

Crime scene drawing showing Porter and Bryan homes

The crime scene drawing shown above 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.

Andrew Porter's home is seen on the left side of the drawing. When you consider that he and his wife had eight children by this time, it's hard to imagine how everyone fit into a building that doesn't appear to be much more than an overbuilt shed. It helps to explain why, in court testimony, mention is made of one of the older boys sleeping in the kitchen while the younger boys slept upstairs in the loft. The parents appear to have slept downstairs although it isn't really clear whether they were sleeping in a dedicated bedroom or, like their son, using part of the main living area as a makeshift sleeping area. No mention is made of where the girls slept and, if you were to go by the court transcripts alone, it almost seems as though they didn't exist.

The Bryan homestead is seen on the right side of the drawing surrounded, ironically, by several sets of fences. When you consider that the lack of a fence separating William Bryan's fields from George Amer's was a major trigger for the violence that ended in a multiple murder, it's a little jarring to discover that considerable time and effort had been put into the building and maintaining fences in close proximity to the home.

The blank area beyond the Bryan homestead is where George Amer's lots would have been located had the artist decided to draw them.

The most interesting part of this drawing, from my perspective, is the mass of stumps dividing the Porter homestead from the Bryan homestead. These stumps stretch along what appears to be a wide ditch sweeping off towards the horizon. That ditch is, in fact, the government road, which was built by logging crews who cut down endless miles of trees to a height at which they could comfortably use their axes and saws, leaving thigh high stumps that represented significant obstacles to anyone attempting to travel along that road. Those crews were under no obligation to take those stumps down to the ground or pull them out, both of which would have been costly in terms of time and labour. The main interest of the company whose men were doing the work was to harvest all of the saleable wood they could then move on down the road with little regard to whether it could be navigated by those who came after them.

There are actually two roads shown in this drawing. The second is demarcated by the hodgepodge of stumps sweeping across the bottom left of the image. If you look carefully, you'll see the outline of George Amer's truncheon in amongst those stumps, indicating to the judge and jury where the neighbours found it on the morning following the murders.

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.