Emma and the Williams farm at Bloomfield, 6 of 12

Late winter and  smoke and steam curl from the sugar shanty behind the Williams house. Photo by Justin Williams
Late winter and smoke and steam curl from the sugar shanty behind the Williams house. Photo by Justin Williams


“The woods, barren of leaves, wrapped themselves around the house like a worn and frayed mother.”(page 12 of Emma Field, Book One).

While Caleb and the men of the district cleared the land that sloped to Trout Creek, they left a stand of 2 acres of sugar maples immediately to the west and the north-west of the house built in 1840. To this day that woods provides a wind-break against the prevailing winds. It is possible to stand in the still air on the porch of the house and see the tree-tops in the distance swaying to-and-fro.

The woods provided the family until 1927 with a source of sweetness in the form of maple syrup and maple sugar. Then, during the Second World War when sugar was rationed, the sap shanty was used for another six years. About 1977 my brothers bought used buckets and spiles and boiled for a number of years. Now my nephew proudly bottles the amber sweetness under his own label, “Justin’s Maple Syrup”.

The woods have also long been a magical place for many of the neighbourhood children (and cousins!) to play and build forts.

Thanks to The Great Lakes for moderating the temperatures enough to make the sap flow consistently and thanks to the early Williams family for leaving the mighty maples in place for future generations to enjoy!

“Snow was smacking like little kisses against the schoolhouse window…” (page 15 of Emma Field, Book One).

A log school-house was also built to the east of the Williams house. Caleb served as a trustee for the school.

Emma and the Williams farm at Bloomfield, 5 of 12

My dad, Robert Williams, now 78, sitting on the porch of the original brick house built by Caleb and Gloranah.
My dad, Robert Williams, now 78, sitting on the porch of the original brick house built by Caleb and Gloranah.


By 1840 Caleb and Gloranah were prosperous enough to build a larger brick house to the east of the log cabin that had served them so well. Bricks were supplied from the Kendall Brothers brickyard in Bloomfield. Pine was most likely sawn at one of the two sawmills below the farm on Trout Creek. The house had all of the essentials of the day including a beehive bakeoven, as well as an outhouse tacked onto the north wall of the woodhouse. In inclement weather the family didn’t have to brave storms on their way to the little building. In the kitchen was a dumb-waiter, a kind of elevator with shelves on pulleys which carried food to the cool of the cellar and acted like a refrigerator. This is the house described on page 12 of Emma Field , Book One as dignified and sturdy. The old log cabin became a pigpen.

Toward the end of Book One, Gloranah Williams gives Emma a jar of potato water which she wraps in a cream-coloured woolen blanket. That blanket is on display at the Prince Edward County Museum, Picton.

Emma and the Williams farm at Bloomfield, 4 of 12

Patten Rail Fences made from cedar cut when the land was first cleared.
Patten Rail Fences made from cedar cut when the land was first cleared.

If, as the saying goes, “good fences make good neighbours”, the Williams’ have always had both. The first fences to be erected were patten-rail, made of cedar so resilient to the weather, the rails can remain in fine shape for centuries.

Caleb and Gloranah’s neighbours to the east were John and Mehetebel Cooper. John was a son of Obadiah Cooper who came to Prince Edward from Dutchess County, New York in 1802. He was a relative of Fennemore Cooper of Coppertown, New York, the author of “The Last of the Mohicans”. Obadiah fought in the War of 1812-1814 and his flint-lock rifle was used in “the killing of the last bear in The County.”* It was considered such an important rifle that a member of the Williams family purchased it several generations later.

I relayed the details of the shooting in Emma Field, Book One…with one major mistake pointed out to me just this past spring…what the heck was a non-polar bear doing out of hibernation on Christmas Day?


*Merton Yarwood Williams’s The Samuel Williams – Jemima Platt Family

Emma and the Williams farm at Bloomfield, 3 of 12

The farm was purchased for Caleb Williams in the summer of 1814.
The farm was purchased for Caleb Williams in the summer of 1814.

Four months short of his seventeenth birthday, Caleb Williams was “set down” on land that is still in the Williams family 200 years later. He had some supplies, his axe, a gun and doubtlessly a tent. The land sloped away to the south for a quarter of a mile to a beautiful stream of clear water which still flows southwesterly into West Lake. The soil was brown and loamy with barely a stone (and that is a big, big deal to farmers!). Caleb erected a log cabin before he began the arduous work of clearing fields with the help of his neighbours and a “negro (sic) servant”, who family records report, was at the time of his death “buried at the foot of the Dutchess (apple) orchard .”*

Gloranah Young was the daughter of United Empire Loyalists and a granddaughter of the founder of the lovely White Chapel (the first Methodist Church in Prince Edward County). For a little 19th –century steaminess the family history book says, “during one of Caleb’s visits to the Red Grange (no idea what that is!) Caleb found Gorahnah operating the dash (butter) churn. He suggested that she could come home with him to make his butter. She accepted.” The two were married May 3rd, 1820 and lived out the rest of their days on the farm they homesteaded.

*Merton Yarwood Williams’s The Samuel Williams – Jemima Platt Family

Emma and the Williams farm at Bloomfield, 2 of 12

Cup and Saucer owned by Jemima Platt Williams, 1776-1853, settler on the shores of West Lake, within view of the sand dunes.
Cup and Saucer owned by Jemima Platt Williams, 1776-1853, settler on the shores of West Lake, within view of the sand dunes.

Samuel Williams came to Canada from the United States in 1784. Along with other United Empire Loyalist he began clearing land in what his grandson later reported as “howling wilderness”. In October of 1792 he married Jemima Platt, also from New York State, and they settled within sight of the “lovely Sand Banks which were shaded at the top by spruce and willow, rising at one point to a height of 125 feet above West Lake”*. The couple were to have 13 children, 3 of whom they settled on bush farms before Samuel died at the age of 55. Caleb was one of those three sons and the maple, beech, butternut and elm covered land he was given was located a mile south-east of the fledgling Quaker settlement of Bloomfield.

*taken from Merton Yarwood Williams’s The Samuel Williams and Jemima Platt Family.

Emma and the Williams Farm at Bloomfield, 1 of 12

The former West Lake (Quaker) Boarding School is located near the Williams farm at Bloomfield.
The former West Lake (Quaker) Boarding School is located near the Williams farm at Bloomfield.

My burning desire to write a novel (which became “novels”) about a young woman growing up amongst the Quakers came to me as I was walking out of the former West Lake Boarding School in the fall of 1998. I had no need to write about my family, who for 200 years had lived not far from there. However, one day as I was merrily writing, John Williams (1830-1915) appeared strolling along the main street of Bloomfield. I had been using a family history book to anchor the events in Emma’s life in the time period and had read about the many accomplishments of the young man. I really didn’t want to build him into the story and certainly didn’t want to use his name, but no matter how much I tried to write him out, he wouldn’t go.

John Platt Williams II was the second generation of Williams’ on the farm located on a ridge just east of Bloomfield, Ontario. My nephew, Justin Williams, is the 8th generation and this year marks the 200th year our family has worked its land. Out of love for it and respect for the Williams’ who lived in Emma Field’s time I will write blogs about the farm over the remainder of the month.

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Good Relations – with the whole kit and caboodle, 10 of 10

Goose 4 4 14 With sincere thanks to Michael Chokomoolin for his generosity in loaning me this series of paintings.
Goose 4 4 14
With sincere thanks to Michael Chokomoolin for his generosity in loaning me this series of paintings.

The last words of this series go to two people I respect greatly. The one you already know. The other is a beautiful, grace and spirit- filled aboriginal healer.

From Francesca Mason-Boring in “Notes from the Indigenous Field”:
Technology is defined in Mirriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th Edition, as the practical application of knowledge. The aboriginal tradition of meeting/healing in a circle, smudging, the concept of healing coming from within nurtured by nature, and the concept of enlisting ancestors to assist in healing are among a host of tribal technologies.
We are all connected to the universal indigenous. We all come from the cave. We all have morphogenetic (as Rupert Sheldrake’s term) access to our own ancestors who were indigenous, and we all have the option to be indigenous, which simply means coming from and connected to the land, creation, and the authentic feminine.
And from Martin Luther King Jr.:
We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made.

Amen, Francesca! Amen, Rev. King!
OH CANADA, our home ON native land…

Good Relations – The Land, 9 of 10

Wolf 11 12 by Michael Chokomoolin
Wolf 11 12 by Michael Chokomoolin

Have you ever heard of Crash Course? It’s an online, rapid-fire lecture delivered on topics as enormous as world history. Here goes a mini refresher crash course on today’s topic – Good Relations and the Land.
1534 Jacques Cartier arrives on the east coast of Canada. He parks a cross bearing the words “Long Live the King of France”. He meets Haudenosaunee (Iroquis) Chief Donnacona and takes his two sons back to France. There they were wined and dined and made the centre of interest.
Cartier returns with the young men, visits the Haudenosaunee settlements of Stadacona (Quebec City ) and Hochelega (Montreal) population 1,000. Cartier stays the winter. Haudenosaunee get sick. Smallpox? French get sick with scurvy. Haudenosaunee boil cedar leaves to provide Vitamin C. Cartier’s men kidnap 9 people including Chief Donnacona and leave for France. All but one dies. Remaining one does not return to Canada.
Cartier returns with 1,500 settlers. Haudenosaunee are not happy to see them! Iroquois aligned themselves with the Dutch and British to the south.
1608 Samuel de Champlain establishes a settlement at Quebec City. The Haudenosaunee throughout the St. Lawrence River are nowhere to be seen. Disease? War? Moved south? Champlain aligns the French with the Wendat (Huron) to secure the fur trade and defeat the Iroquois.
Enter the time period Joseph Boyden writes about in The Orenda! War. Savagery. Bloodshed. But hold on a minute! Bruce G. Trigger writes in Natives and Newcomers, “There is little evidence of warfare between Hurons and 5 Nations Iroquois in prehistoric times.”
Here’s the crash course of the crash course:
Wendat and Haudenosaunee not at war. European comes, offends and harms Haudenosaunee, then settles many people on Haudenosaunee land. Eighty years later another European comes. No Haudenosaunee to be found. French secure fur trade with Wendats. Wendat and Haudenosaunee south of the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence River fight viciously!!

John Ralston Saul says this: “We don’t know what to do with the least palatable part of the settler story. We wanted the land. It belonged to someone else. We took it.” Hm. And I would add, we also made enemies of people formerly at peace and then turned around and called them savages! Holy Smokes – have we got some work to do before we can be considered good relations!

Good Relations – Education, 8 of 10

Wolf 9 11 by Michael Chokomoolin
Wolf 9 11 by Michael Chokomoolin

If what I wrote about on June 26th is true and transgenerational trauma happens whenever horrific events of one generation impact future generations, wouldn’t it make sense that First Nations, Métis and Inuit of this country should have a profound distrust for the education system that turned their ancestors into strangers in their own families? And if “perpetrators” can pass guilt and shame to their descendents, wouldn’t it make sense that the authorities in this country would unconsciously mould an education system that is inequitable to the Aboriginal members of our Canadian family?

I have heard one aboriginal leader say that residential school gave him a ticket to a better life. It provided the only means he had of acquiring a good education. What was true for him was not true for many of Canada’s past and current Aboriginal students.

A few quick facts:

-33% of on-reserve high school students graduate each year. In contrast, the eastern Ontario school board where I teach is aiming for a 90% graduation rate.

-The federal government which is solely responsible for financing aboriginal education, only funds aboriginal students two-thirds of the average funding per student that the provinces provide to other schools.

-19% percent of on-reserve schools in Alberta and Saskatchewan have irregular power and water – some reserves have no school at all.

-And this is the big opportunity for the future of Canada: 28% of the Aboriginal population is under the age of 14. Canada’s Aboriginal population, increased by 20.1% from 2006 to 2011, while the non-Aboriginal population increased by 5.2% in the same period. It behoves all of us to give our Aboriginal children every opportunity available to every other child.


Turning Things Around on Remote Reserves

Within the next few days I expect my son will be marking the end of the school year with the grand burning of a semester’s worth of notes. (As a teacher it makes me cringe. As a former child it makes me infinitely happy!) His burning will be happening at the very time that over 4,000 aboriginal children, mostly on fly-in reserves, will begin oiling their mental cogs with six weeks of fun learning activities led by counsellors in The Lieutenant Governor’s Aboriginal Summer Literacy Camps.

Taka Hoy and Katie Armstrong, both university students and counsellors with the program, spoke at the launch of Emma Field, Book Three last fall. The pictures they showed of children laughing, baking and sporting “pig snout” masks as they read one of Robert Munsch’s books were pictures of children experiencing the full joy of learning!

The distance between literacy (and joy!) and mental health, and literacy (and joy!) and school success is a short one. Says David Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, “Where the literacy camps have been in operation, both the dropout rates and the suicide rate is much lower.”

Rebuilding the trust in Aboriginal children and throwing open the doors to a brighter future –I’m all over it!


All funding for these camps is raised by the office of the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario and held in trust by Frontier College : www.frontiercollege.ca

Good Relations – The Earth, 7 of 10

Turtle 2 23 14 by Michael Chokomoolin
Turtle 2 23 14 by Michael Chokomoolin

In Emma Field, Book Three, Randall Pierce comes to his grandmother to ask her to teach him The Thanksgiving Address which is offered every significant gathering of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois). Orenda Pierce relays to him the steps in the address which offer thanks to the many and varied parts of creation that support life. In acknowledging the kinship with the natural world, she weaves together the prayer which acknowledges the sacred web of life and the peace and harmony that can be found in doing so.

Imagine that! Imagine if the morning announcements in every classroom in Canada began with “We give thanks for…the sun, the waters, the plants…”. Imagine if in The House of Commons and every board room across the country men and women paused before beginning their work of the day to acknowledge the sacredness of the very air we breathe and soil on which we walk! Don’ t you think we’d be making different decisions? Don’t you think it would be much easier to be in good relations with one another and the natural world?

The offerings of thanksgiving in Haudenosaunee culture are not just reserved for the start of significant events. The continual cycle of thanksgiving follows the change of seasons and the ripening of crops in ceremonies that give thanks to what has already been provided as staple foods. The Maple Dance in March gives thanks for the ‘sweet water’ of maple sap. The Thunder Dance of April gives thanks for the arrival of spring rains. The Sun Dance of May, the warming of the earth by the sun, the Seed Blessing or Planting Dance for the three staples of corn, squash and beans. All year long there is a continual cycle of thanksgiving for the gifts of creation.

And imagine that! Our holiday of Thanksgiving seems to give us pause to consider the bountiful harvests we enjoy, but imagine if we also paused to appreciate and give thanks for the many berries that grow on Canadian soil, the sap that flows through the awakening maples and the corn that is pollinated each summer. Such a simple, grace-filled act could do no harm and would perhaps give us the moment to consider how intricately connected we are to the fruits of the land – the land we are systematically and dare I say deliberately destroying!

In 1977 the Haudenosaunee Council offered a message about their people and beliefs to the rest of the world through a United Nations conference. The document was called A Basic Call to Consciousness: The Haudenosaunee Address to the Western World and was a call to the “consciousness of the sacred web of life in the universe.”

“In the beginning, we were told that the human beings who
walk about the Earth have been provided with all the things
necessary for life. We were instructed to carry a love for
one another, and to show a great respect for all the beings
of this Earth. We are shown that our life exists with the tree
life, that our well-being depends on the well-being of the
Vegetable Life, that we are close relatives of the four- legged beings.
In our ways, spiritual consciousness is the highest form of politics.”

A spiritual connection to all living things that pervades all aspects of our lives and culture here in Canada – wouldn’t that be a fine thing to uphold? Wouldn’t it be a fine thing to bind us all together?