The King of White Otter Lake

One has to make oneself up, moment by moment. I just read this line attributed to Renaissance writer Michel de Montaigne, the great patron saint of personal essayists. It rings true, as well, in this newly crafted world of blogging. Lately I’ve queried ‘blogging’ quietly to myself while moving around in my day searching for new stories to post, aching for freshness, wanting to tempt my readers (who are my readers?) with splendid samples of thought placed within the constraints of alphabet.

So I reached for a hefty bound tome from the bookshelf: The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. It’s 800 pages long and travels from Seneca and Plutarch to Barthes, Didion and Annie Dillard. And so I put blogging to rest and read instead.

Thoughts become blog posts; snippets of eavesdropped conversations make their way inside posts too; easy conversations at the bar with friends, voice to voice, sometimes also add to the mix and to the moment. Take last night, for instance. Murphy’s Law was the bar and my friend Kerry told a story. She described a hermit’s shack she once visited in Northern Ontario called White Otter Castle. Kerry flew into Thunder Bay and then canoed to Turtle River Provincial Park, south of Ignace.

She said the castle was built in 1915 by a woodsman for his British mail order bride. But she rejected him, presumably broke his heart, and that instead he let the castle out for injured men returned from the Great War.

“He died very mysteriously two years after he finished building the castle, ” she said. “Drowned while fishing when a fish-hook caught his coat and yanked him overboard. He is buried next to the castle.”

I swallowed my Stella and returned to blog thinking, let thoughts swirl inside then woke early this morning to research this bizarre Canadian tale. Surprisingly, I didn’t find too much. Apparently Jimmy McQuat felled and cut all of the red pine logs himself, and hoisted the finished, dovetailed beams (some of them weighing as much as 1600 lbs) into place by means of simple block and tackle.

I didn’t find much about his bizarre death. I didn’t find anything about wounded soldiers holing up and healing in the castle. I only learned that Jimmy the lover became Jimmy the builder and then Jimmy the hermit. Here, recorded back in 1914 and in Jimmy’s own words, is the story about why he built this castle.  “Oh, just to fill time you know — just to fill time.”

Myth and legend. Love and loss. Moment by moment. Now I’d like to hear his girlfriend’s story.


About Nor

I'm a creative non-fiction writer, with a special interest in memoirs and obituaries--life stories, local histories with flesh & blood anecdotal details. I'm also beginning to create podcasts of people's stories and expanding their audiences. I'm a diarist, an editor, and a political activist. I live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and spend days tapping keys or staining my fingers in ink.
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