History Day 2018 explores the Birth of Kagawong and revisits the Dodge tragedy

KAGAWONG—History Day in Kagawong has been a popular summer sojourn on Manitoulin for many years, and this year the series of lectures and multimedia presentations will focus on two streams. The first portion focusses on the early days of the settlement as a timber town and the town’s founders, the Henry brothers, and the town’s early settlers and the second portion on the tragic tale of the death of Daniel Dodge of which this year marks the 80th anniversary.

Back in the days when timber was king a pair of hardy entrepreneurs ventured to the frontier’s edge seeking to expand their fledgling empire onto the shores of Manitoulin, bringing with them 12 equally robust settlers and skilled workers to establish a mill on the banks of the Kagawong River. It was a quest that was to come to a tragic end in 1882, when both brothers ended in a watery grave when both of the Henry brothers were drowned in two steamship wrecks that occurred just a few months apart; Robert aboard the Manitoulin in May and William four months later in September aboard the Manitoulin.

“The story of the Henry brothers, who founded Kagawong back in the late 1800s, is really a story we are looking forward to sharing,” said museum curator Rick Nelson. “It’s a great story and our museum committee members Dianne Fraser and Sabine Huege have been putting in a lot of hours getting it ready.”

“One of the speakers at this year’s History Night is the great, great granddaughter of William Henry,” said Ms. Fraser. “One of William’s sons grew up to be premier of Ontario from 1930 to 1934.” A testimonial letter about William Henry, written by his son and requested by Billings Reeve Austin Hunt in 1957 is part of the museum’s permanent collection and will be featured at History Night.

William Henry

The life and times of the original settlers of the region will come to life in a multi-media presentation that will feature their original words, as gleaned from journals and diaries, and local musicians such as Lyle and Darrel Dewar will intersperse the conversation with the top 40 hits of the 1870s and 1880s and, thanks to the hard work of volunteers, the baked items popular during that epoch will also be featured to connect to the period with every sense.

The story of Luc Chatreau, an early French Canadian settler in the region whose happenstance meeting with the Henry brothers had drawn the brothers up north in search of the rich timber stands to be found here, will also come to life. In fact, thanks to living links to those hardy souls such as Peter Gordon, Ethel Newburn, Candy Tracy and Don Lloyd those attending History Night will learn a great deal about what it was like to be an early pioneer on Manitoulin Island.

Robert Henry

In the second part of the History Day presentation, John Van Etten, son of Laurine Dodge (Daniel Dodge’s wife) from her third marriage, will be on hand as one of the VIPs (but not speaking) said Mr. Nelson. “Also Roger Weber, the News 4 NBC affiliate reporter who created a documentary about the Dodge tragedy,” he said. “He will be talking about his interest from the Detroit angle.”

History Day in Kagawong will again take place at the Park Centre in Kagawong on August 9 with a matinee at 3:30 pm and an evening session starting at 7:30 pm. Admission is free, but donations to the Old Mill Heritage Site Museum are gratefully accepted.