Jason towing the canoe in the mist and waves on Michael’s Bay, Manitoulin Island

Updated (Oct 2017): Following Sea will be published by Turnstone Press in Spring 2019

Every summer, Jason and I head north to Ontario’s Manitoulin Island, the largest freshwater island in the world. We spend whatever time we can: a week, a few days, a fortnight. So far we’ve been staying in Tehkummah at Watson’s Camp, a friendly, quiet spot where we rent a wee cabin and try to swim every day in the greeny-blue water of Lake Manitou.

I love it there. Partially because it’s the kind-of a place where you can buy local smoked trout at the supermarket and pop into somebody’s farm on the way home to buy Northern sweet corn. Partially because the wide hay fields and cedar snake fences and views of Georgian Bay and smaller inland lakes are beautiful. But also because it’s a bit of a family spot.

Around 1865, my great-great grandfather John Wilson Chisholm arrived on island to build barrels to hold salted fish harvested near South Baymouth. He went on to man a lighthouse out on Michael’s Point, a spindly jut of stony limestone land. His lantern showed ships the way into the once booming town of Michael’s Bay where the saw-mills did a steady business carving up all the grand old pines and fat cedars into shingles and lathe.

Since I’m working on a book of poetry about this set of ancestors, our travels this summer involved a lot of research. We started our summer tripping in Jordan Village, Ontario, just east of where my great-great-grandfather and his wife, Margaret, started out. They made their way north, following the Niagara Escarpment to the town of Malta, near Southhampton, which was wiped out by a swamp fire, before continuing on to the island where they eventually died.

At the South Baymouth Museum, I found a small article from the Manitoulin Expositor about my great-great-grandfather, dated September 20, 1879. It was about the lush plum tree he was able to grow in his orchard – “37 Lombard plums in a distance of seven inches.” No wonder, I thought. He started out in Niagara. The land becomes real with this type of wandering. With clear, solid roots.