Publishing Stories
Bear with me on thisThe book titled North of 7 and Proud of It! is the story of the Bancroft area of north Hastings County. The title is a playful reference to the number of north-of-HIghway-7 joshing jokes about the presumed intellectual quality of the folks in the area. At a launch party a fellow told me a story about his father and his uncle out in a boat, when they saw a bear swimming across the lake. They went over to it and teased it with a paddle. The bear became enraged and tried to climb into the boat. The two frightened men fended it off with a knife and killed it.

I asked innocently, "Why would they tease a bear from a small boat in the middle of the lake?"

The man shrugged. "I dunno. North of 7, I guess."

Orland French

The day Champlain paddled byCottagers associations sometimes create history books of their communities, and naturally they tend to be full of joyful, happy vacation experiences. When I met with the Olmstead-Jeffrey Lake Book Committee to discuss their project in the Ottawa Valley (Along the Champlain Trail), they showed me a number of pictures of canoe regattas and other boating events. Olmstead-Jeffrey Lake is one of a string of lakes near Renfrew, Ontario, that was used by voyageurs and natives to bypass rapids on the Ottawa River. Naively, I asked if anyone famous had canoed through the lake. "Just Champlain," said one of the committee members, pointing through the front window of her home. "Right down there, at the creek." Samuel de Champlain paddled through the portage route in 1613. An astrolabe found nearby was reputed to have been Champlain's but this claim has been disputed.

Orland French

Photo: Astrolabe in the collection of the Canadian Museum of Civilizatiion

Names make newsOne night I was in a small town, making a presentation to a community history book committee. I had made some remarks on the importance of getting as many families and names of people into the book as possible. Make the book extremely inclusive. This would not only make the book a more complete reference for the community, but would increase book sales. People would be more likely to buy the book if they, or a family member, were in it.

I was sitting next to a member of the local council. A younger member of the committee began to press me on this issue. Why were names so important? So I made a comparison to the local newspaper. "That's why people read your local paper," I said. "Names make news. People want to see who's in the news." The councillor frowned and looked at me rather darkly, I thought, but didn't say anything.

When I got back to my motel that evening, out of habit I picked up a copy of the local paper and scanned the front page. There was a picture of the councillor. He had been charged with impaired driving! And I was right I read the whole story. Names make news.

Orland French

This train didn't stop anywhereWhen I was a kid my parents often told me about going down to Midhurst Station near Barrie to greet the Royal Train during its tour in 1939. They waited and waited until finally the train came into sight...and roared right past without stopping. They were immensely disappointed.

Decades later, I was helping a community history book committee in West Gwillimbury prepare a book on their community. I came
across  a similar story in it. In this version, the train disappointed thousands of royal watchers in Alliston but stopped in Midhurst where the King met a mere 28 people. I challenged this story and cited my tale of family lore. They insisted their story was right. It was published.

Still later, I met a railway enthusiast who collected memorabilia from that famous 1939 Royal Tour. He dug out an official schedule and discovered that the train was not scheduled to stop at either Alliston or at Midhurst, but further along the line at Eady, to take on water.

I don't know who was right. It just goes to show that sometimes the facts are what you make them.

Orland French

Photo: Royal Train in Brockville, Ontario. Brockville Museum