For 11 years the little Ottawa Valley town of Eganville has played host to the Bonnechere Literary Festival. The moving spirit (there is always a moving spirit for these things) is a Force of Nature called Doyne Ahearn. She contacts you, tells you just how remote her Festival is (about 5 hours from Toronto) and how they can’t really afford to pay anything, but you can stay with her and Frank in their big log house and get to know the Ottawa Valley, including nearby Foymount, the highest inhabited town in Ontario.
How can you say no?
Well, I tried, just as others such as Nino Ricci before me had tried, but Doyne wore me down. Not the summer of 2012? OK, we’ll put you down for 2013.
So Jane and I planned an anti-clockwise sweep, first up to Peterborough, then to Marmora and the gold-rush country near Madoc, then via Bannockburn (!) up to Bancroft , then sidling north and east to Cormac, near Eganville.
Our arrival at the famous log cabin coincided with the descent of amazingly thick clouds of flies, but Doyne and Frank soon introduced us to the joys of “bug suits”, and we were able to go swimming off a raft moored in the bug-free middle of a lake, Lake Doyne. The raft, by the way, was reached by means of a circulating rope ferry system, the rope pulled by Jane or me as keen, bug-suited Charons.
A fine dinner was followed by a tour of the Valley, far from the county seat of Renfrew, the boyhood home of Robertson Davies. In Eaganville we learned about “the Catholic side “ of town, as it was in the old days (and as late as the 1920s Orange-Catholic hostilities were so fierce that the military came in “with cannon”, we were told, to keep the opponents to their own side of the Bonnechere River that divides the town). In these saner times we saw the fine old Museum, and the Library, which the Literary Festival helps to maintain.
Late in the day “extreme weather” took over. Rain fell in sheets, thunder rolled and lightning flashed. The pre-show dinner at the best restaurant in town was shaping up well, with our mouth-watering orders taken by the friendly waitress when everything went black . The power was off.
It stayed off, and dinner was cancelled. Show time approached. Since my show was due to take place in a windowless church basement, the lack of power was fatal. For safety reasons we would not be allowed in the dark basement.
With 30 minutes to the show, it was time for plan B. I suggested that with the thunderstorm rain now gone we could bring chairs out to the parking lot and I could do the show there, in the open air. We had started to bring the chairs out when the lights went on…and, after some heart-stopping flickers, they stayed on.
And the show went on!
We all had fun, and a few books were sold. Doyne told me that we attracted the very first standing ovation the Festival had seen in its eleven years; I could get to like the experience, especially when Jane joins in. And I was very pleased to receive a fine original painting, entitled “The Storyteller”! Local delicacies made up a very welcome “gift pack”.
When we got back to Doyne and Frank’s place, the power was off there, so we went quietly to bed. And the next day, after a lavish breakfast, we set off for the long ride through Algonquin Park, armed with Frank’s fascinating book on the subject. As my father’s son, who grew up around saw-mills, I found the Logging Museum a constant delight. And then, after Algonquin Park, via Huntsville, Rosseau and Foot’s Bay, we were back at beloved Loon Island, the cottage on Lake Joseph owned by our good friends, Hope and Phil, who live next door. After four days of swimming (why do they put the navigation buoy we swim around further out in the lake each year?), canoeing, rowing the skiff, cruising the lake admiring the moon and stars, and gathering buckets (oh, all right, cups) of the world’s best blueberries, it was time to head south to Barrie and Toronto, after almost 900 Ontario kilometres.
Not a bad way to spend a summer.