By the sound of her whistle

It was noon on a hot, bright August day.

A light breeze, coming up the lake from the west, sent patches of white, fluffy cloud before it, and kicked up saucy, gently curling whitecaps in the main channel beyond the point. Here, on the lee side of the island, the water was still, save for the wake left by a daring bass bug.

An old man sat in the partial shade of the boat-house steps and filled his pipe as he watched a small boy playing on the narrow strip of sand in front of him.

Suddenly the low, hoarse note of a steamboat whistle came to them across the stillness. There was a slight hesitation in the sound—like the catch in a man’s voice when his throat is dry. The boat was beyond the islands, not yet in sight.

“There’s the Islinda” the boy said, looking up from the bridge he was building in the sand.

“How do you know it’s the Islinda” asked the old man, squinting into the sun, “and not the Empress?”

“You can tell her” said the little boy, confidently, “by the sound of her whistle.”

John Craig, By the Sound of Her Whistle (Peter Martin Associates, 1966).

So begins a lovely, personal history of the Trent waterway—a favourite of mine. Written by John Craig, illustrated in bold and simple pen-and-ink by his cousin Fred Craig, I consider this a classic both of steamboating and of Canadian history. Born in Peterborough, both cousins haunted the Kawarthas their whole lives. “At the age of three weeks I fell into the lake,” wrote John, “when grandfather, who was carrying me, missed his step on the gangplank from the Empress to our island.”

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  1. Tom Herbert
    Posted January 11, 2011 at 9:28 AM | Permalink

    I have been researching my ancestry and Francis Young of Young Point, Ontario, Canada was my great-great grandfather. I was told that a book was written about the beginnings of Young’s Point and I believe this is the book they are referring to. Do you know how I may purchase such a book? I would greatly appreciate a response. Thank you.

    Thomas S. Herbert

  2. Bruce
    Posted January 11, 2011 at 9:52 AM | Permalink

    John Craig’s book, and more recently Richard Tatley’s book Steamboating on the Trent-Severn (1978), are known to me as nautical histories of the steamboat era – though they also contain much information about the communities and industries. I would recommend watching the Advanced Book Exchange, (just search the title and author). However if you’re uncertain that the book will have the information that you need, you may wish to try an inter-library loan at your local library. Happy hunting!

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Bruce Wishart
Whimsies. Sometimes about writing.
Sometimes about folklore. Sometimes
about the sea, or life on the coast.
And sometimes not.