The gales of November

The first gale of November tore through Toronto last night, ripping the last leaves from the trees and depositing a thin crust of snow on everything as it passed. As I lay snug in my bed under my warm Swedish duvet from Ikea I listened to the wind roaring through the pine trees that line the golf course next to my home, and thought of the sailors on the Great Lakes still sailing between our inland ports with cargoes of grain and ore.

November is the month when many of Canada’s worst Great Lakes maritime disasters occur. I still think of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald, one of our mightiest lake carriers, overtaken by a monster wave in Lake Superior and sent instantly to the bottom with 49 lives snuffed out as a result. Gordon Lightfoot, one of our best known folk singers wrote a haunting song called The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald that somehow finds its way to the air waves each November to remind us that our treasured inland lake paradises can also be a graveyard for unsuspecting souls.

November also brings the Hunter’s Moon. My beloved son-in-law Arastou is a hunter. I’m not particularly fond of that activity myself, preferring my wildlife wild and free. But I have come to realize that sincere hunters often contribute as much as they take, and that the good ones hunt not just for meat for the table, but also to conserve our wildlife. They do not kill indiscriminately.

What they contribute is seen at our cottage. Arastou and his hunting pal Dave between them have set out nearly a dozen wildlife cameras, and what they have revealed has astonished even me. Our cottage is only a few hundred miles north of Toronto, on the shores of Geaorgian Bay, overlookinmg Christian Island at the southwest end of the bay, not far from Wasaga Beach. It sits on a bluff overlooking the bay that in itself tells a story.

In prehistoric times that bluff was once the shore of Georgian Bay itself. It’s 400 feet high, and that tells you just how much water it must have held back then. The area is also historic in nature. In recent time it was first visited by Champlain when he was exploring what he called “The Great Sweetwater Sea.” He held a mass at Caraghoa, not far from our cottage, in 1615.

The cottage lies in the Township of Tiny, so named by Governor Simcoe’s wife, an intrepid female adventurer who, with her husband, the first governor of Upper Canada, named three of the townships in Simcoe County Tiny, Tay, and Floss, after her three pet dogs.

The area was also home to the Huron Indians. The Jesuits had established a mission to the Hurons in the 1600s called Ste. Marie Among the Hurons. They tried to christianize the natives, but were repelled by the Iroquois who had been enemies of the Hurons for many years.

Why? It was all about trade. The Hurons separated the Iroquois from a tribe of Indians known as the Tobacco Indians. Tobacco was like cocoa orl gold today. The Hurons controlled the trade.

As a result, two of the Jesuits–Brothers Breboeuf and Lalement were killed by the Iroquois, who drove the Hurons from their land to their last stand on Christian Island. There they established Fort Ste. Marie II, but it was not to last.
The last Hurons left the area headed for Montreal to the site where their descendants still live today. I have no proof, but I suspect a lot of this happened in November.

A footnote to this is that Ste. Marie Among the Hurons is the setting for what today is known as The Huron Chistmas Carol. It begins: “‘Twas in the moon of wintertime, when all the birds had fled/ That mighty Gitchee Manitou sent angel choirs instead”, and is a haunting carol about the birth of Christ told for natives who knew nothing at all about christianity. No matter how youi feel about converting natives, the carol evokes the sacred nature of the birth of Jesus, whose country was so far from Huronia it beggars the mind.

When you think of the distances the Hurons travelled to escape their enemies, ed, it must have been a terrifying migration. But those Indians were used to using the Georgian Bay waterways as their highway, so what to us might seem like a stupendous journey to them must have seemed ordinary.

But back to the hunting. Arastou often hunts with a crossbow. He is very good at it, and very, very careful about how he hunts. He has built himself a blind up a tree in the forest near where he has, in the summer, set out a salt lick. That may seem like a dirty trick, but animals need salt, and it preserves many more than are killed.

And actually there are not that many killed. Occasionally Arastou bags a wild turkey. Once he bagged a stag. But I suspect he just likes sitting up in his blind, whether in rain or snow, appreciating the silence and the freshness of the atmosphere. He often needs a break from the pressure of his job, which is to keep the entire bus fleet of North York on the road so peoole can get too work on time.

He and his friend Dave’s cameras have revealed an astonishing plethora of wildlife in what is actually a semi-settled area. His cameras have revealed a family of black bears, a female, a half grown cub, and a big male who all come to take their share of the salt lick. There are foxes, coyotes, and hordes of wild turkeys, which have only been introduced into the area recently. There was even a ful-grown moose captured byu his lenses, something very unusual this far south.

There are many white-tailed deer, and Arastou spotted a ten-point buck on his recent November expedition. One of the most amusing episodes he filmed was of the male bear stamping his foot and trying to drive off a porcupine attempting to monopolize the salt lick. He has evben filmed a wolf with his cameras, as well as pheasants and owls.

I have vacationed on Georgian Bay since I have been 20, and never seen the amount of wildlife that I know are around the cottage. I realize now that animals are not stupid. They watch us more closely that we watch them. They are instinctively clever, and do not blindly walk into the sights of a hunter’s bow or gun. I used to be dead set against any hunting of any kind, but Arastou has shown me a different kind of hunter, and frankly, I applaud his avocation. He is doing more for wild animals by simply showing us how they exist than any hunter is doing by taking meat. As long as that continues to be the case, I will support his pursuit.

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