Inaugural Jabbawong Storytelling Festival provided a summer day delight

Writers Michael Erskine and Bonnie Kogos were on hand for the inaugral Jabbawong Storytelling Festival. Ms. Kogos talked about her arrival on Manitoulin and joy of writing her Sudbury Star columns while Mr. Erskine performed a storytelling act featuring a 19th Century peddler and the story of how the term Haweater was born.

KAGAWONG—“‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves, Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.” The opening lines of the Lewis Carrol’s ‘Jabborwocky’ may have been nonsensical, but as organizer Sharon Alkenbrack explained at the opening of Billings’ Jabberwong Storytelling Festival held at the Park Centre in Kagawong, that little bit of nonsense prose inspired the festival’s name—a fusion of Jabberwocky and Kagawong.

The storytelling festival was an inspiration of the Billings’ Economic Development Committee and has been a number of years in development, slowed as have so many things by the onset of the pandemic.

The two-day festival began inside the Park Centre with a welcome by Billings Mayor Ian Anderson following Breakfast with Bonnie (Kogos). Mayor Anderson spoke of his own family’s writing efforts and his surprised reaction to the calibre of his son’s poetry at a very tender age. Mayor Anderson has penned a book of his own, focused on his family memories.

First in the lineup at the festival was ‘Manhattan Manitoulin’ author Bonnie Kogos, who spoke of her early days in Kagawong, lured to the Island by love and romance, but inspired by its people and stories to return year after year. Ms. Kogos has springboarded those stories into a 30-year career writing for the Sudbury Star.

Next up the action moved outdoors under the trees outside the Park Centre, where Manitoulin Storytelling’s Michael Erskine channelled 19th Century peddler Shawn O’Shae to regale the audience with the origin story of the name “Haweater” and the people who came to wear that appellation with pride.

Author Chuc Willson spoke of his passion for writing and went on to read from his latest book ‘The Longest Night of the People’ and a “mash up” of six of his works.

The City of Greater Sudbury’s fourth (2016-18) poet laureate, Kim Kahner was the first woman to be appointed to that role and deftly demonstrated how she came to be elevated to that position. Ms. Kahner noted that it was wonderful to hear different voices and different styles at the festival and went on to recite ‘Grace Afterwards’ from her war flowers exhibit and ‘Porthole’ from her new book ‘Emptying the Ocean.’

Indigenous author, artist and storyteller Mark Seabrook spoke of how he began journaling as a child, dabbling in poetry and his journey to becoming the published author of ‘Sun Infinity Moon.’ Mr. Seabrook went on to read an excerpt from his book ‘The Lottery Ticket.’

Retired Toronto Sun journalist Mike Strobel worked for that publication for 18 years and he now spends much of the summer at his home on Maple Point. Mr. Strobel read from his book ‘Small Miracles,’ a collection of inspiring tales of the disabled youth of Scarborough’s Variety Village. Small Miracles has raised over $2 million for programing at that amazing facility.

A concurrent barbecue was held on Saturday to raise funds for the Old Mill Heritage Centre museum. This year the museum is hosting an exhibit of the wreck of the Empress of Ireland featuring a host of relics from the wreck.

On the following Sunday, the focus shifted to youth with the professional clown Kerri Latimer leading events such as a dig for story prompts leading to the children creating their own stories.

“Our mission is to celebrate traditional and contemporary storytelling,” said Ms. Alkenbrack. “This festival offers a rich and diverse program to capture the imagination of ages. Our objective is to foster and promote the creation, enjoyment of storytelling in all forms on Manitoulin.”