Missinaba County: Conversation I

These are the townships of Missinaba County, beginning with Mariposa Township, the focus of our interest, and spiralling out from there. Roll the names off your tongue and savour their sonority. Granted, some are more poetical than others, but taken together they ring a fine, hearty middle-Ontario change:

Mariposa … Eldon … Fenelon … Ops … Manvers … Cartwright … Reach … Brock … Thorah … Mara … Rama … Ryde … Longford … Digby … Laxton … Bexley … Carden … Dalton

In Ontario a township, as you probably know, is primally an artifact of surveying, and hence often sternly rectangular, except in those places where Nature and the authorities overcame the rectilinear pipe-dreams of the surveyors and allowed the boundaries to be traced by the shores of lakes or the courses of streams or rivers, as in Thorah, Mara, Rama, Cartright, and Mariposa, also Laxton and Bexley as conventionally defined. Missinaba County, however, a seething cauldron of unconventional definition, has allowed Laxton and Bexley to annex a portion of Somerville Township, and Torah, Mara and Rama to extend their jurisdictions out into the waters, in order to restore a semblance of rectilinearity to the shape of the County, bringing it into line with its neighbours to the east.

When I asked my host what area was thus encompassed, he replied: “Well, it might be a million acres, or it might not — a bit more maybe, or a bit less — it’s hard to say.” Josh Smith, you will recall, in the course of his election campaign in 1911, displayed the same insouciance in the presence of statistics. I was pleased to find that the old traditions lingered.

I did some quick calculations in my head. “So that would be about 4,000 square kilometres.”

“It might be,” agreed my host, “it very well might be, especially if I had any kind of an idea of what a square kilometre looks like.”

“It looks like about 250 acres.”

“Hm. Well, of course, when you think about it, or even if you don’t very much, what that looks like is going to depend on where it is. In Missinaba County it might look like good land, or it might look like rough land, or it might look like bush land, or it might look like rock land, or it might look like water, or it might look like some kind of a swampy mixture. It’s hard to say.”

“Bush land, scrub land, Cashel Township and Wallaston, Elzevir, McClure and Dunganon, green lands of Weslemkoon Lake, where a man might have some idea of what beauty is, and none deny him for miles,” I quoted.

“That’s east of here,” said my host. “The north part of Missinaba would be a bit like that, but down here, we got good land. What is it your poet calls it — ‘the fat south, with inches of black soil on Earth’s round belly’? That’s us, that’s Mariposa, apart from the swamps.”

“And how many residents?”

“Well now, it’s hard to say. In Mariposa maybe eight thousand, maybe more, maybe less. In the whole of Missinaba, maybe ten times that, maybe twelve. Call it a hundred thousand, more or less. It’s hard to say. It can depend on what you mean by a resident. Now you take Jacob down the road. He grows nothing but crops, and as soon as they’re in the bin he’s gone for the winter. Is he a resident the same way we are, that live here all the time? Or is he a seasonal, like the cottagers? The census says he’s a resident. Or what about the professor, who built that funny big place down by the lake and employs two men and a woman to look after it for him, and a contractor and crew every so often to build some more. The census says he’s not, but the truth is, he’s almost a local industry. He spends a darn sight more money around here than Jacob does, that’s for sure, and knows a lot more people. I’d say he’s a resident, but the census wouldn’t agree with me. When people move around so much, it’s hard to say who’s a resident of where. And maybe it doesn’t much matter.”

“How come you know so much about the census?”

“My wife’s a census-taker, has been for years. Actually, she’s a supervisor now. She knows all about it, and explains some of it to me. And we got high-speed internet out here. They publish all the tables, and I read them. I don’t necessarily take much stock in them, but I read them. Maybe I understand what they say, maybe I don’t. It’s hard to say.”

I am not yet sure how much conversation is possible when it’s hard to say. I look forward to finding out.

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