Oral history study documents pre-park life in northern Ontario

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Photo of Wakami Lake log drive in northern Ontario, early 1930s.
The photo, courtesy of the late Alton Morse, appears
in my report “The Human History of Wakami Lake.”

After graduating in History at the University of British Columbia, I worked as an oral historian in northern Ontario for the Ministry of Natural Resources.My job was to document the human history of Wakami Lake Provincial Park.

It was wonderful to meet rugged men and women who had forged livelihoods in the challenging bush of Canada’s north.It was fascinating to interview old trappers, loggers, and prospectors and to document stories about horse logging and life in the bush in the 1930s and ’40s.

I talked to men who thought nothing of carving their own paddle if they needed one or making their own snowshoes. I heard tales of a foul-mouthed blacksmith who could create much-needed horseshoes on the spot in the backwoods.

I interviewed a retired fire spotter who pored over forests from an open-air plane in search of flames. I learned about forest fires and how German POWs in northern Ontario, put to work in logging camps, were popular with local women at weekly dances.

Besides writing weekly history articles for The Chapleau Sentinel, I wrote material for the park interpretive programs. Through theatrical reenactments, we brought the region’s characters of old to life, inviting campers to “meet” them on an evening walk in the woods. That work was fun. My research also provided background material and helped identify artifacts for the park’s outdoor museum.

My report The History of Wakami Lake Provincial Park, which includes excerpts from oral history interviews, appears on the website of the Chapleau Public Library.

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