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The Speculations of Jefferson Thorpe: Continued

I said to my host one evening: “There are some things that bother me about Leacock’s story of Jefferson Thorpe. Do you know the rest of it?”

“Some of it, for sure. What bothers you?”

“Two things, primarily: There’s the statement that Thorpe was made to pay back Johnson’s five hundred dollars. Johnson was his neighbour, and his investment partner. How did he come to pull a stunt like that and get away with it? If the story is told right, Johnson himself made the decision to put his money into Cuban lands. How did he come to think that Thorpe should pay him back?”

“He didn’t think any such thing. It was all Jeff Thorpe’s idea. He knew he’d done a stupid thing, and was sad that his friend had got caught in the machinery. So he said he’d pay him back. Johnson tried to talk him out of it, but Thorpe wouldn’t budge. And he did pay him back. It took a while, but he did it. And Johnson gave the money to Myra, Jeff’s daughter, because she was a victim too. Johnson said to my grandfather: ‘I blame myself, you know. I’m in the horse business, which is full of crooked people. Buyer beware every day. I should have known that Cuban thing was crooked. Jeff’s my friend, and I let him down. But he insisted on paying me back. So I gave the money to Myra, so she could go to drama  school.’ Which she did, although she never really made a go of it as an actress. Desire and good looks and training are one thing, talent’s another. She came back here after a few years, but that’s a long story.”

“Did Thorpe recover?” I asked.

“Very well. He told my grandfather not long after the debacle the he was doing just fine. For twenty-five years he had shaved faces and cut hair and his wife had raised chickens and sold eggs. Then for six months he was rich. Then the money was gone and he went on shaving faces and cutting hair, and his wife went on raising chickens and selling eggs, just like before, holding their own. In fact, they both did better afterwards, even while they were paying off Johnson, because Jeff worked longer hours, and his wife got more chickens. People were sorry for them, so they went to his barbershop, and bought their eggs from her. But that had consequences too. There were four barbers in Mariposa before then, and two other chicken barns. One each went out of business afterwards. A place like Mariposa only needs so many haircuts, and so many eggs. What’s the other thing that bothers you?”

“It’s the way Leacock treats Thorpe’s womenfolk. His wife doesn’t even get a name, she’s just The Woman. And how does Leacock know that Myra gave up her acting dream so easily. He says she didn’t care, but I bet she did.”

“Of course she did,” said my host. “She just didn’t want her Dad to feel bad. Of course she cared. And then Johnson came along and made it possible. Jeff Thorpe never knew how that was done, that it was really his money. Myra told him she got a scholarship. A Whisker-and-Egg Scholarship channelled through a horse barn.  Pretty funny, but then that’s Mariposa.

“Stephen Leacock was a bit funny about women, you know. He liked them, and he didn’t like them. You’ll notice that he never lets them speak for themselves, not in Sunshine Sketches at any rate. He speaks for them, and they say what he thinks they should say, whether they actually said it or not. If you think he was a bit careless with Myra Thorpe’s point of view, just take a good look at the job he did on Zena Pepperleigh. It’ll make your hair stand straight up on end.”

“Tell me more!” I said eagerly.

“Not tonight. I’m neglecting my other customers.”

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Missinaba County in the Changing Face of Ontario

The Archives of Ontario, bless their hearts, have re-produced a set of maps from the Economic Atlas of Ontario / Atlas Économique de l’Ontario (W. G. Dean, Editor/ Directeur; G. J. Mathews, Cartographer/ Cartographe Printed 1969 by University of Toronto Press for the Government of Ontario) showing the Changing Fact of Ontario, and in particular, those showing “The Evolution of the District and County System 1788-1899”, which you may find at http://www.archives.gov.on.ca/en/maps/textdocs/ontario-districts-maps.aspx#districts_1882.

This splendid resource makes it possible to show the gradual emergence of Missinaba County and its 18 townships, a testimony to the endurance and skill of 19th Century surveyors, the rigours of whose profession we can only imagine nowadays.

Let us take a moment to imagine. Their task was to draw straight lines across the entire face of the land, dividing it, in defiance of its myriad folds, undulations, indentations, lakes, ponds, swamps, and all the irregularities of Nature, into an essentially rectangular grid of townships, concessions and lots, the lot being the fundamental unit of settlement. People lived on lots, and still do. Legions of surveyors completed this task for the entire area of southern Ontario in a little over one hundred years, in spite of weather, biting flies, natural hazards, and all the other hardships of a life camped out in the bush. They were a hardy breed, and they went everywhere, taking notes along the way, enabling organized settlement, and leaving an invaluable record of the land as it was in its aboriginal state.

By the end of the 19th Century surveyors had created a tessilature that survives to the present day and is one of our most enduring pioneer artifacts, a part of our built heritage that is unlikely to be erased as long as people occupy the land. It looked, in the large, like this:

1899b

If you click on this you get a larger picture, which opens in a new window. The darkened area lying east of Lake Simcoe is Missinaba County, a fabled place. You see what I mean when I speak of it as part of “middle-Ontario”. The lines mark the boundaries of townships.

The following eight maps show how the tesselature evolved from its beginnings in the late 18th Century, when settlement began:

1882b

1851b

1845b

1838b

1826b

1798b

1792b

1788b

So there you have the provincial context for the evolution of Missinaba County, before it leaped into literary prominence in the early 1900’s. A lot happened before then, and a lot happened afterwards, and it’s still happening. Stephen Leacock has given us a brief snapshot of one short era, A fuller account is long overdue. And now it’s happening. We’ll begin at the beginning, go on to the end, and then stop.

I am grateful to the Archives of Ontario for making these maps available.