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 key details relating to the murder. I think we can fairly safely say that it's not to scale nor is it terribly well labelled. I don't know who added the typewritten descriptions, but that would've been done at some later date.

Andrew Porter's home is seen on the left and 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. The Bryan homestead is seen on the right and is surrounded, somewhat ironically, by several sets of fences. 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 Porter's homestead from Bryan's. 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 working for RA Lyon and Associates, a lumbering company that had a license to harvest timber from 22 square miles in Tehkummah. Those crews were often made up of cash-strapped homesteaders who toiled through the winters to 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.

It's a strange fact that most of the roads constructed on Manitoulin at the time were largely impassable for much of the year. The stumps left by the crews were part of the problem -- there's no doubt about that -- but there were also long swampy sections, countless boulders, ungraded hills, and winding routes that severely limited their value for long-distance travel. As a result, these roads were often only used for delivering mail or critical supplies and short distance sojourns to a neighbouring homestead or the nearest mill. Such excursions were largely conducted by foot or horseback in winter or summer months when the swampy sections would either freeze up or drought-harden.

Now that you've learned to recognize that stumpy ditch as a road, I'd like to point out that 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. Construction on both of these roads would have been completed around 1871. As an added bonus, if you look carefully, you'll see the outline of George Amer's truncheon in amongst the stumps at the lower left, indicating where it was found it on the morning following the murders.

Based on the real-life 1877 killings of William and Charles Bryan by their neighbours, 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 prosperity in this rugged wilderness community. Learn more.