KAGAWONG—The decision to hold a matinee presentation of the Old Mill Heritage Centre’s popular History Night after it was standing room only last year, thus making it into a ‘History Day,’ seemed inspired by the time the audience had taken their seats for the afternoon event.
The afternoon presentation began with an introduction by sponsor Manitoulin Expositor representative Michael Erskine, who noted that the Griffon and its fate have providing the paper with an endless source of popular stories. “This is really one story that, as we say in the newspaper industry, ‘has legs’,” he said. Mr. Erskine congratulated Billings’ museum curator Rick Nelson and the museum committee for all of the hard work that they have put into making History Day a resounding success before formally introducing Mr. Nelson to the podium.
Mr. Nelson, in his turn, also lauded the work of the museum committee and made special note of the presence of author Buck Longhurst, who had supplied many of the artifacts on display at the back of the hall at the Kagawong Park Centre. Mr. Nelson also thanked the Dutch embassy in Ottawa and their consulate in Toronto for providing artifacts for the display before introducing the afternoon’s keynote speakers Great Lakes shipwreck authors and Griffon researchers Chris Kohl and Joan Forsberg to provide a presentation on the history and significance of the wreck and the strong connection of Manitoulin Island and its claim to be the final resting place of a significant portion of the remains of the first decked vessel to ply all of the waters of the Great Lakes.
In the evening session, Manitoulin Publishing owner Rick McCutcheon provided the introduction, including a brief history of the significance of the wreck to Manitoulin Island. “When Billings’ museum director Rick Nelson called me in the spring to ask me if the paper would like to sponsor this year’s History Day, and when he told me the principle theme was going to be “where is the wreck of the Griffon?,’ there was no question that we would be involved for the Griffon, from a news perspective, is one of those gifts that keeps on giving,” he said. “The Expositor and the Recorder have published countless stories on the historic ship’s remains possible local provenance for at least the past 95 years, and people here still read them.”
Mr. McCutcheon went on to reference the 400th anniversary of explorer Samuel de Champlain’s visit to the region in 1615 and the accomplishments of his fellow explorer Robert de LaSalle, a French adventurer and businessman who built the Griffon for the purposes of expanding trade and dominating the Great Lakes for the French king.
Mr. McCutcheon explored the different attitudes towards colonization we have today and those of his childhood. “Old attitudes die hard,” he said, noting how the legacy of colonialism led to the residential schools and, like the Griffon, have led to an endless supply of stories but unlike the fascinating mystery of that tale are “tempered with sadness and melancholy rather than romanticism.”
The second halves of the two History Day presentations consisted of a screening of a video production of the museum that highlighted the stories of two Manitoulin Island residents whose perspectives on the war were those of liberator from the skies and insurgent on the ground.
The video, produced by the Old Mill Heritage Centre and directed by Mr. Nelson, tells the story of Dutch resistance member Dennis Zylstra and RAF bomber pilot Don Freeborn, both deceased. Mr. Freeborn was shot down and wounded in his efforts, while Mr. Zylstra lost family members to the occupying Nazi forces. The video was filled with pathos, drama and emotion as the stories of both men were relayed, in their own words, onscreen.
Mr. Kohl’s and Ms. Forsberg’s book ‘The Wreck of the Griffon: The Greatest Mystery of the Great Lakes’ is available at the Expositor’s bookstore in Little Current, as well as many of the other books written by the couple, including autograph copies of the Griffon book the popular ‘The Great Lakes Diver’s Guide,’ ‘The Christmas Tree Ship’ and ‘Titanic” The Great Lakes Connections’.”