Literary Manitoulin has long since come of age

When a community can write about itself, it has come of age.

Nearly 40 years ago, when The Expositor Office christened the front part of its office building in downtown Little Current as Print Shop Books, there were no local books in print.

That was in 1979 and Print Shop Books stocked its shelves primarily with paperback titles it sourced through Penguin Books. Penguin is a large, international publishing business and its catalogue of books was distinct from the bestsellers available, for example, at local pharmacies.

And so it went for many years, with Print Shop Books accessing its stock from Penguin and other big-name publishers.

But then, about 25 years ago, things began to change.

Shelley Pearen of Ottawa (but with Manitoulin Island roots) published ‘Exploring Manitoulin’ and it was and remains an ongoing seller as it combines details of travelling around Manitoulin Island with bits of history.

The book is currently in its third printing by its publisher the University of Toronto Press and is deemed by them to be a best seller.

Since then, Ms. Pearen has also written the unique ‘Four Voices’ that details the signing of the 1862 Manitoulin Island Treaty from the perspective of four different actual historical characters, all of whom were associated with the event.

She has also written scholarly articles and produces useful articles for this newspaper on a regular basis that give an historical context to current events as they unfold on Manitoulin and elsewhere for both First Nations people and those of European ancestry.

Around this same time, Jack McQuarrie, the former publisher of the Recorder in Gore Bay, became a prolific Manitoulin Island historian and produced at least a dozen books on a range of history topics.

People were starting to write about what they knew and after nearly 150 years (more than that now) of First Nations people living side-by-side with the European settlers and their descendants, there was a lot to know.

As time has passed, the same bookshelves at The Expositor Office that have comprised Print Shop Books since 1979 are now filled almost exclusively with books about or pertaining to Manitoulin Island.

They are books of history, of poetry, of photographs, coffee table books, novels set on this Island.

This phenomenon came into sharp focus during the past two weeks when two new books appeared.

One was written about in last week’s newspaper: it is a deceptively simple book about gardening and is written by former Ice Lake (and now Billings) farmer (and gardener) Ed Burt.

It is titled ‘My Journey in the Garden’ and subtitled ‘Ed Burt’s Way of Growing Food’ and it is a very practical guide for gardeners, novice or veterans. It’s also a fascinating read as Mr. Burt includes growing lore passed on to him by his grandparents.

The other new Manitoulin Island book is titled ‘Michael’s Bay: The Rise and Fall of Manitoulin Island’s Forgotten Town’ and is written by Derek Russell, a man whose roots are in Tehkummah and who now lives and works in Toronto.

But, like Ed Burt, Shelley Pearen, Cecil King, Margo Little, Sandy McGillivray, the Manitoulin Genealogy Club, Jan McQuay, Bill Caesar, Jake Doherty, Tom Peltier (whose Bearwalker novel predated all of these), Merdick McFarlane, Bonnie Kogos, Paula Mallea, Kate Thompson, Marion Seabrook, Alanis King, Ann Carson, Margaret Derry and all the countless others who have things they want to put down on paper for posterity, Derek Russell has diligently researched the history of what was, in its day, Manitoulin’s largest and busiest community.

From a literary standpoint, Manitoulin Island has certainly come of age. There is a rich tapestry of collected history and wisdom to draw on and it is predictable that this publishing avalanche, now that it is well underway, will continue infinitely.