Category Archives: Missinaba County

Smith, Bagshaw, Drone, Pepperleigh, and the Politics of Mariposa

I was pleased to be sitting once more with my host in the bar of his hotel. I had finished my evening’s work and had come in, according to now-established custom, to enjoy his company and stories over a late glass of scotch.

“So,” I said, after a few sips, “we have Josh Smith, dead from being a member of Parliament, and Hector and Zena Smith (née Pepperleigh and relict of Pupkin) and descendants at Smith’s Hotel, and Peter Pupkin, dead from the war, and Peter Junior, rich from lawyering and land development, and … how did you get all these stories, by the way?”

“From my mother. Her father was Mallory Tompkins, the Times-Herald man in Leacock’s day, and a prominent Liberal. He married Miss Lawson, the high-school teacher. Grandfather Tompkins knew everybody’s stories, the ones they printed in the newspaper, and the ones they didn’t. He told them to my mother, who loved that kind of thing, and she told them to me. You get them the way I got them, maybe a little ornamented, maybe not. What difference does it make?”

“So Smith was elected in 1911, and lasted how long?”

“Until 1920. There was going to be a by-election, but the general election of 1921 pushed it aside.”

“And who was elected then?”

“That was a surprise. It was Edward Drone, still defiantly Independent. He didn’t try to run during the war, being a staunch imperialist at heart, but did in 1921, and pulled it off. Drone and Honesty. People were ready for that, after the war and all the death and corruption. They turned on the old parties, or at least enough of them did.”

“How long did Drone last?”

“Not long. He joined the Progressive Party and ran again in 1925 and 1926, but lost to the Conservative both times. The Liberals didn’t get back in again until 1935.

“Bagshaw would have been too old by then. What happened to him?”

“He retired to his farm where he and his wife lived to a ripe old age off the avails of his years in Parliament, surrounded by their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and well loved by a host of neighbours and friends. No gathering in Mariposa was complete without John Henry and his Ottawa stories, which improved with every telling as the years rolled on. He finally died laughing at the age of ninety-eight when they made Mackenzie King prime minister for the third time. His wife followed a few days later. They were a grand old couple, and completely devoted.”

“Judge Pepperleigh must have been a happy man, all those Conservative years.”

“He was a piece of work, that old guy, and as he got older he he just got crazier and more corrupt. And his son Neil, who was killed in South Africa, he was plain vicious, but as Leacock says, the Judge never saw that, although the boy’s mother did. Mrs. Pepperleigh was a decent and kind old lady, and a pillar of the church. How she put up with that old tyrant for all those years remains a mystery. Maybe there was no way out for her. That happened in those days. She must have loved him to start with, maybe she kept on. Maybe the church was her escape. But Miss Spiffkins wasn’t the only one in town who thought she had a hard row. It was notable that when Zena took over the hotel, old Martha spent a lot of time there, helping look after the grandchildren. She never abandoned the Judge, but my mother said she knew very well what he was. When he died there were no tears, not from her, not from Zena, not from anyone.”

“It sounds as if Mariposa was a lot more complicated than Stephen Leacock said it was.”

“More complicated than he ever saw, but then, he didn’t live here. He was just a cottager. He knew a few people, but he never knew the place. To know the place, he would have had to live here, be here all year round. He saw a few things on the surface, and thought they were the depths. He was a great talker, but he wasn’t a great listener, at least, so my mother said.”

“Can you give me an example?”

“Sure. He was here in the summer of 1911, in the run-up to the election, and saw Josh Smith pomping around the place and trying to manipulate the voters. He thought that was funny. And then when Smith won, he thought the voters must have fallen for Smith’s tricks. But they didn’t. Smith was an illiterate saloon-keeper, not really fit for the job, and everybody knew it. But they didn’t like the Reciprocity agreement, they were tired of Laurier, and they thought he and Bagshaw were both too old. Smith was the Conservative candidate, and that was the way they wanted to vote. But it was a long way from unanimous. Then in 1917 there was the conscription issue, and people around here wanted to support the government, no matter what. Mind you, my mother heard all this from her father, who was a Liberal through and through. But he also knew everybody, and talked to everybody. Who knows what the real story was?”

Who indeed. Not Stephen Leacock, it seems clear.

Advertisements

Missinaba County: Conversation II

When I got back to Mariposa after my holiday jaunt, I found my host as genial as ever, and quite pleased with himself.

“I been busy,” he said, after shaking me warmly by the hand and wishing me a happy new year, which I reciprocated with equal feeling. “When the snow started coming I fired up the old byte-box and tried to answer some of those questions you put to me when last we talked.

I was interested, and said so.

“It turns out that the population of Missinaba County is 88,500 people, and the area is 895,000 acres, or, as this fancy calculator my wife got me for Christmas assures me, 3,600 square kilometres, if anybody cares, which I doubt they do. People don’t farm in square kilometres, they farm in acres, and a few who like to sit on the cutting edge may do it in hectares. I suppose 3,600 square kilometres is some number of hectares, but I haven’t bothered to figure it out.”

“That would be 360,000,” I suggested.

“How about that! Anyway, I broke these figures down for our newly amalgamated townships, so we can see how it all fits together. Here in Mariposa, with the town and township put together, we got 17,200 people in 77,500 acres, or 142 people per square mile. Ain’t that something!”

I agreed that it was.

“Now Waterways, the big new township east of us, has 18,350 people in 103,800 acres, or 113 people per square mile, unless you lump Mariposa town in with it, as some damn fools insist on doing, and then you get 26,800 people and 63.2 per square mile, reducing Mariposa Township to 8,700 people, or 72 per square mile, making it more like South Missinaba and Simcoe Shores, if you follow me. Kirkfield and North Missinaba, the other two, now, they’re a different matter: 4,000 people for Kirkfield and a density of 23, and only 1,600 for North Missinaba, or 5 per square mile.”

My head was spinning. “So what happened to all those eighteen townships, Eldon, Fenelon, Ops and the rest?” I asked him.

“Oh, they vanished into a cloud of amalgamations, bureaucracy gone mad. Mind you, it could have been worse. The City of Missinaba, I ask you! That was a cunning piece of work done by our mayor, Jo Smith, to keep that from happening. She talked ‘em out of it, or bullied ‘em, or bribed ‘em, or blackmailed ‘em, I don’t know how it was done. All of the above, maybe. She’s a terror when roused, and she sure was roused about that. There was no way she was going to let that happen without a fight. She didn’t get all she wanted, but she did pretty well. And she kept the Mariposa name from disappearing. That’s what folks around here particularly appreciate. She’s got a lot of support.”

“She any relation to old Josh Smith, who had the hotel away back when, and was MP for Missinaba for a while?”

“Sure. She’s his great-granddaughter. Poor old Josh. He was a small-town giant, but the city was too much for him. All that booze and high life in Ottawa. It torpedoed his liver before he’d done his first term. Sad. He was a wily old bugger, and a bit disreputable, but not bad, really.”

“And all those other folks, Pupkin, Pepperleigh, Thorpe, Drone, the rest, are their stories known?”

“Sure. Stick around, and I’ll tell them to you, but not tonight. It’s late.”

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.

Re-Casting Stephen Leacock: Geography I

Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town fills the discriminating reader with the conviction that Stephen Leacock was, concerning geography, frequently (a) confused, and (b) obfuscating. Whether this was deliberate or simply the result of his habitual carelessness remains a question for scholars to contest, and will no doubt so remain as long as graduate schools persist.

For example: He would have us believe that Mariposa is a town, which it is not. It is an Ontario township lacking any town with the population he gives to his Mariposa, that is, around 5,000 people. You may find it in the bottom southwest corner of what used to be Victoria County and is now the City of Kawartha Lakes. The southern edge of Mariposa Township is formed by the north end of Scugog Lake; Highway 7 between Manilla and the curve west of Lindsay bisects Mariposa Township about half-way way up.

Depending on where they live in the township, Mariposans may be close to Lindsay, Port Perry, or Beaverton. Perhaps Leacock’s Mariposa is a composite of these three, with perhaps some others thrown in such as Uxbridge, where he taught school for a while, or Orillia, where his mother had lived and where he eventually found his beloved cottage. His Mariposa is of course widely believed to be Orillia, a belief that cannot be supported by any credible evidence.

He would have us believe that Tecumseh [sic] Township forms part of Missinaba County, in fairly close proximity to Mariposa. This is not correct. Tecumseth Township is in Simcoe County, surrounding the Town of Alliston, but his Mariposa cannot be Alliston because Leacock never lived there and the town was too small in his day. He could not possibly have been thinking of the Town of Tecumseh, because it’s away southwest in Essex County. Or could he? Some graduate student will have to figure that out. Until I see proof I will persist in the belief that Mariposa is Mariposa, that the Town of Mariposa is either a composite or completely fictitious, and that Leacock’s “Tecumseh Township” is Mariposa Township.

It is interesting to note that the mid-point of a triangle whose points are Lindsay, Beaverton and Port Perry lies pleasingly close to Mariposa Station, in the middle of Mariposa Township, half-way between Oakwood and Little Britain, its two largest villages. Simple geometry adds weight to my conviction.

Leacock’s Town of Mariposa requires a lake, which he calls Lake Wissanotti, shallow enough for a sinking paddle- or side-wheeler to settle on the bottom without hazard to its passengers. Clearly Lake Scugog would do just as well as Lake Couchiching by this criterion, or even better.

Leacock is extremely coy about the extent and boundaries of Missinaba County, which may or may not be coterminous with the electoral Riding of Missinaba. It would make perfect sense that if the Town of Mariposa is a fictitious place in Mariposa Township within striking distance of Lake Scugog, and is the political and economic centre of the region, then the rest of Missinaba County would most probably surround Mariposa Township, and would have the conventional shape and composition of counties in that part of Ontario, being more or less rectangular, long and narrow, and made up of some number of townships.

I believe, therefore, that Missinaba County could very well run from Reach, Cartright and Manvers Townships in the south, surrounding Lake Scugog, to Ryde and Longford in the north, including the eastern shorelines of Lakes Simcoe and Couchiching, making eighteen Townships in all, with Mariposa Township smack in the middle of the bottom nine where most of the people live. And so I shall assume it to be. Orillia, while not included, is a close neighbour.

The following map comes courtesy of the Ministry of Transportation (MOT), in my young days more modestly called the Department of Highways.

Missinaba