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Drop Dead

Drop Dead

A Horrible History of Hanging in Canada
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Celebrating Confederation: Three Hangings in the First Year
Modiste Villebrun and Sophie Boisclair were desperately in love. The burly lumberjack and his paramour yearned to spend the rest of their lives together. There was just one problem. They were both married — to other people. What were they to do? They lived in the small, conservative French Catholic community of St-Zéphirin, Quebec. In 1867, divorce would have been inconceivable. The church saw to that. They just had to come up with another strategy.
They chose murder.
The first results seemed quite promising. Granted, there were some whispers in the community when Villebrun’s wife, who had reportedly been in excellent health just a few days earlier, died suddenly. The gossip came to nothing, and the lovers were emboldened to press on. Things changed radically, however, when Boisclair’s husband, François-Xavier Jutras, died soon after. To the plotters’ great misfortune, Jutras had fallen acutely ill on a few occasions prior to his death. Suffering from convulsions and abdominal and neck pains, he consulted a doctor. The physician became very, very suspicious when his patient died. An autopsy showed that Jutras’s demise had been caused by strychnine poisoning.
The lovers were accused of murdering Jutras. They were tried separately, each of them by judge and twelve-man jury, in the nearby town of Sorel. By this time, people were paying a lot more attention to Villebrun and Boisclair’s goings-on. As the Crown attorney said in his opening address at Villebrun’s trial: “There is no doubt that the two accused committed the crime of adultery. It does not necessarily follow that a person who forgets God’s commandment ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’ will forget the one that says ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ but when you are on the downward slope of vice, you do not know where you will end up.”
The trial took ten days, but the jury needed only five minutes to find Villebrun guilty of murder. And the only possible sentence was death by hanging.
Then it was Boisclair’s turn. She, too, was found guilty, but before the judge could pronounce her penalty, she dropped a bombshell.
“Sir,” she told the clerk of the court, “I do not want the sentence of death to be delivered at the present time, because I am pregnant.” Sure enough, as was customary, a specially convened jury of married women and a court-appointed doctor examined her and confirmed her pregnancy.
As Jeffrey Pfeifer and Kenneth Leyton-Brown point out in Death by Rope: An Anthology of Canadian Executions, the two murderers should have been executed together, which might have led to a reprieve for both of them until after the child was born. In the end, Villebrun’s execution went ahead as planned, and on May 3, 1867, he was led to the scaffold alone. Ten thousand people turned up at his public execution. In a weird twist, Boisclair also witnessed the event, albeit reluctantly. The window of her cell overlooked the square where the gallows had been set up.
The British parliament passed the British North America Act creating the Dominion of Canada in March 1867. Even though this execution took place two months before actual Confederation, it is, somewhat confusingly, officially listed as the first hanging in the new nation.
Boisclair escaped the noose. When her baby was born several months later, her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment on the recommendation of the minister of justice. She was locked away for twenty years in the Kingston Penitentiary in Ontario.
Sophie Boisclair was described by a surgeon as “of unsound mind” when she was finally released into the care of her son in 1887. Time has fogged so many details of these early cases, but how tempting it is to speculate that this was the same child whose birth had rescued her from the gallows in 1867.

Ethan “Saxey” Allen was an ex-convict originally from Detroit, Michigan. The Detroit Post described him as “a hard character … always found with bad associates” and “rather notorious as a rough and a gambler.” He became the leader of a four-man gang that robbed banks and plundered businesses along the Canadian shore of Lake Ontario, always one step ahead of the frustrated police.
The Allen Gang’s luck ran out in the early hours of September 22, 1867; so did that of Cornelius Driscoll. Driscoll, employed for twenty-four years at the Morton Brewery and Distillery in Kingston, Ontario, had started working as their night watchman just two weeks previously.
The gang broke into Morton’s with sledgehammers and crowbars in search of $2,500, which they knew was locked away in the safe. When Driscoll came to investigate the noise, Allen killed him with a sledgehammer. Early the following morning, a local resident found the dead man lying in the distillery yard, and the hunt was on. The gang members fled with their loot, but they were tracked down and arrested in a hotel in Watertown, New York.
The criminals were brought back to Kingston and tried at the Frontenac County Court House. Allen was convicted of murder, although the jury added a recommendation for mercy. The judge did not share the jurors’ merciful sentiments, informing Allen that he held out no hope for pardon. Two of Allen’s accomplices got nine- and ten-year sentences in the Kingston Penitentiary for manslaughter.
The Detroit Post said at the time that the murder “was one of the most cold blooded and brutal affairs of the kind on record,” but it does look as though Allen had a change of heart before he went to the gallows at the Frontenac County Gaol behind the courthouse on December 11. Asked by the sheriff if he had anything to say, he replied: “No, nothing at all. Only I hope that my fate will be a warning to others.” He refused to have the customary black hood (called a “cap”) pulled over his head and, as the hangman pulled the bolt, he said “Lord, have mercy on me,” before dropping to his death.
Legend tells of a ghost that stalked the Morton Brewery and Distillery for many years thereafter. The spirit of Cornelius Driscoll, the watchman who was bludgeoned to death on that September night in 1867, continued to patrol the hallways, checking all the locks.

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Deep Water Dream

Deep Water Dream

A Medical Voyage of Discovery in Rural Northern Ontario
also available: eBook Paperback
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Section One
WABANONG / wah-buh-noong / Spirit Keeper of the East

Chapter 1: Baptism, 1973


“Abinoojii.” “To be lifted up” is a better explanation than “child,” which is another translation. An Anishinaabe phrase from Wikwemikong, a community that is home to three languages, Bea Shawanda spoke it firmly. She was directing me, as a child, to find my own inner strength for what was ahead. This simple but powerful expression said to her lovingly by the family, Sophie and Eli, who raised her was now said by Bea to me, “Child. You will be lifted up.” She was trying to prepare me to go up north.

But Bea still had questions.

“Why do you think we should let you help us? What gifts are you bringing to us? I am the bridge between the people and you coming to us to help. I need to explain you to the Chiefs. If we bring in non-Native resources, like you in health and social services, we have to help you bridge.” She spoke angrily.

I felt threatened. I had never been up north, in isolated First Nations’ communities. I knew nothing about these communities. I had met Bea when I was volunteering with her group in Toronto, working with homeless Indigenous people. She had asked me to help with Grand Council Treaty No. 9, a new Indigenous organization representing the northern half of the province of Ontario, in Canada. Its goal was to set up a First Nations paramedic training program for a group of OjiCree communities in the Windigo Tribal Council, north of Sioux Lookout, in northwestern Ontario, and to set up alternatives to jail for addicted youth. She had invited me to this Chiefs’ Conference in Thunder Bay to start meeting the people I would be working with. It was true. What gifts did I bring?

We were in our hotel room. I was rocking one of Bea’s kids, Maheengun, in my arms, swaying rhythmically and pretending not to feel worried about my inexperience. I kept my face neutral and left the hotel room, still rocking Maheengun. Pint-size dynamo (maybe five feet?) Bea still argued forcefully beside me, asking me about my commitment as we took the elevator to the large conference room on the ground floor.

I looked across the room and shook my head, tossing my dark blond hair loosely over my shoulders. There was one other non-Indigenous person there, a good-looking, dark-haired guy with a moustache. I couldn’t help but notice him. He wore a green plaid Viyella shirt with brown corduroy pants and closed-toe wooden clogs. He nodded at me, unsmiling, from the other side of the large, smoke-filled room, as a confusion of voices — Cree, OjiCree, English — hummed through the haze. He seemed totally unfazed by the chaos. I had no idea I was staring at my future husband.


I had started off as a physical anthropology student at the University of Toronto planning to study primates in Gibraltar in the summer. Instead, I switched to social anthropology and had sessions that looked at various ethnic minority cultures around the world. One day, a guest lecturer, a Cree leader, spoke of the symptoms of the pain of his people, violent and accidental deaths, drinking, and drugs, babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome. I went up to him after the lecture. “Is there anything I can do to help?” He looked down at me, grinning broadly. “We actually don’t need your kind of help. But if you’re serious, call Bea Shawanda. She lives in Toronto. She is the new head of the Treaty No. 9 health program. But I am pretty sure we don’t need more anthropologists. Ever thought of becoming a doctor? That would be more helpful to us. Till we train more of our own.”

I left, making room for the throng of mostly female students crowding around him, being charmed by his smiles and tanned coppery-skinned good looks.

I took his advice. I did look up Bea Shawanda and worked with her for several months. I met her kids, Byron, Elizabeth, and the baby Maheengun. Bea invited me to prepare to go farther north. And I applied to medical school. So I was there, in Thunder Bay, at the Treaty No. 9 Chiefs’ Conference, at her invitation from a few weeks earlier. At the conference for the Chiefs the sessions moved slowly, with translation back and forth between Cree, OjiCree, and English. About ten of the one hundred people in the smoky room were women. The men were all clean-shaven, except for that white guy with the moustache. A few wore beaded deerskin jackets. I was trying to take in every detail. I kept Maheengun in my arms, as Bea was busy building relationships and camaraderie, laughing with the Chiefs, engaging them with her ideas for social programs, drug and alcohol worker training, and a paramedic program. Abinoojii. Did I have the skills to rise to this challenge?

I survived that first difficult week. Back in Toronto, Bea and I met at her home. Bea explained: you need to be confident that you have skills to share with us. You need to know that people may be angry with you as a non-Native person helping us. “I needed to see how you would react. What you’d do if people in the communities say challenging things to you. You will not be working for the white world. You will not be staying with the teachers or at the nursing station. You’ll be living and travelling with our people. Our people have a lot of anger with the white world. I, myself, had bad experiences in the residential schools. I went to school when I was four and a half. These schools were used as orphanages. It was there I first experienced violence. My mom had died when I was two, and I was adopted within my family. I worked through those difficult years by becoming an activist. That was part of the healing process for me.”

Bea looked up at me, a novel experience as I am only 5 feet 4 inches tall myself. She had had tuberculosis in her spine as a kid. She spent months in the TB sanatorium. She remembers feeling frightened of the janitors. She couldn’t walk for a while and was told she could never have kids. She proved the doctors wrong and had borne the children she was raising. She sure was raising me in a new world, too.

“I think you’ll be okay because you are working for us. I was taught that in the first five years, a child receives what they need, including courage of heart. Abinoojii. I hope it is the same in your culture. You should have the strength you will need.”

I “passed.” Bea and the chiefs had agreed I could travel and work as a volunteer for Treaty No. 9. My travel expenses were paid and were extensive as most of the communities are fly-in.

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Blue Monday

Blue Monday

The Expos, the Dodgers, and the Home Run That Changed Everything
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Chapter 1: Expos Sign Williams, Pursue Jackson

When the rubble of the Expos’ disastrous 1976 season had settled, team president John McHale and sidekick Jim Fanning didn’t look that far in searching for a new manager. Career minor-league manager Karl Kuehl had been a disaster in 1976, and McHale said it was a mistake to have fired Gene Mauch, who managed the team from 1969 through 1975.

So where did the Expos cast their eyes? To a former Toronto Triple-A Maple Leafs skipper, who had been manager of the Boston Red Sox in 1967 to 1969, of the Oakland A’s that won three consecutive championships from 1972 to 1974, and then of the California Angels in 1975 and ’76.

Dick Williams was considered a turnaround maestro. He guided the Maple Leafs to two consecutive International League titles in 1965 and 1966 and took the Red Sox “Impossible Dream“ team led by Carl Yastrzemski to the 1967 World Series before they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals. He had spunk and didn’t care if he ruffled a player’s feelings.

Fanning and McHale were familiar with Williams because he had been the Expos’ third-base coach under Mauch in 1970, a brief respite for Williams after he was let go by the Red Sox following the 1969 season. When he joined the Expos in 1970, Williams had sat back and retooled his thinking strategies while watching the tactician Mauch — that is, when he wasn’t hitting fungoes before games or flashing signals to runners and batters during them. The Montreal job gave him a different perspective on managing.

So when Williams left the Angels after his stint with them ended in 1976, Williams called the Expos and asked that he be given the job. He didn’t wait for the Expos to approach him. That’s how aggressive he was. He felt confident that he would be hired, and he was.

Williams was given a five-year contract. Hiring Williams was the beginning of the rejuvenation of the Expos after a 55–107 season in 1976.

“Dick was a known manager. He was feisty and we weren’t a feisty club,” ex-team owner Charles Bronfman said in 2017.

McHale figured Williams would light a fire under his charges much like he did with the Boston, Oakland, and California squads, which were known to have a few players who would fight on occasion with each other or almost come to blows with Williams himself.

The attempted remodelling of the Expos didn’t stop with Williams. McHale went so far as to try to entice superstar free agent Reggie Jackson to come to Montreal. Jackson had been one of Williams’s players in Oakland and the two helped steer the A’s to glory. Jackson had spent the 1976 season with the Baltimore Orioles, a brief stopover during his splendid career.

“Reggie was available,” former Expos secretary-treasurer Harry Renaud recalled. “He was such a superstar. We flew him into Montreal. We organized a reception for him — the whole weekend. We met with the media, the pooh-bahs, including the mayor, Jean Drapeau.

“Reggie was late. He came down to the stadium and arrived with an entourage; a bunch of them came in a trailer. There were all these hangers-on. It was a travel party. I couldn’t figure that out. They were all smoking dope. It was kind of strange with his stature. We had such a big party at Charles’s place. There were about 50 people involved.

“The party ended on a Saturday night,” Renaud said. “Reggie departed very suddenly. Next thing, he just up and left. There were no goodbyes. That was the end of the story.”

The next night, Jackson and Bronfman’s close friend Leo Kolber, a member of the team’s board of directors, tried to hammer out a deal. McHale and Kolber offered Jackson a five-year deal for just under $5 million.

Apparently, Jackson came to the meeting looking and feeling like death warmed over. “Reggie had a terrible hangover,” Kolber said. “He needed a hair of the dog.”

Rather than seeking another alcoholic drink, Jackson looked at Kolber’s son Jonathan and said, “Hey, kid, make me a milkshake, but it has to have eggs in it.”

Jackson also met with the media while he was in Montreal and said he was very interested in the Expos, especially since he knew Williams from their days in Oakland. Williams even took Jackson on a tour of Olympic Stadium as it was being prepped for the Expos’ first season there in 1977.

“I want to know if these gentlemen want to build a contender. There’s a lot more than signing for a lot of money,” Jackson told the reporters surrounding him. “If Dick Williams hadn’t been here, I wouldn’t be here. People tell me that you have the most beautiful girls in the world here.”

The enthusiasm both sides showed prompted Bronfman to tell the media, “I think we are pretty much in agreement on fundamentals.”

As one of the game’s biggest stars, Jackson was also drawing a lot of interest at that time from the Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, and San Diego Padres.

Ultimately, Jackson accepted a much less lucrative deal with the Yankees: five years for about $3 million plus a Rolls-Royce.

As Renaud said, there are different versions as to why Jackson spurned the Expos. “It had something to do with crossing the border. He was held up by customs at the border. Apparently, he had an unregistered gun. Phone calls were made to Marc Lalonde, the minister of justice, and Reggie was allowed into the country,” Renaud added.

One report suggested that he was held up at the airport in Ottawa, not at Montreal’s Dorval Airport, because some marijuana was found in his clothes. Another report said Jackson was simply upset that customs people were rummaging through his clothes, period. McHale had told reporters that he and other team officials discussed Jackson’s drug case and came away satisfied that he was “not a historical user of drugs” and that he had talked things over with the police. No charges were laid.


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Falling for London


“This … is London.”
— Edward R. Murrow

Murrow was the prototype for a foreign correspondent. From a distance, his heyday during the war seems hopelessly romantic. Under fire with the rest of London, living intensely, drinking, smoking, working all hours. He drank with Churchill and romanced the PM’s daughter-in-law. His resonant voice and powerful words evoked all the life-and-death drama of a struggle for existence. His brow seemed permanently furrowed in passionate commitment to his calling.

What young broadcast reporter would not want to be Murrow?

Many apply, but few are called.

After more than twenty years of local and national TV reporting in Canada, I had thought my time had passed. Overlooked several times for foreign postings, I was resigned to a comfortable and largely satisfying job covering the Ontario legislature, complete with my own modest, no-budget, political affairs talk show, which had won a few awards.

As I approached my midfifties, it seemed that my next move would be into public relations — perhaps making a bit more money than my journalism career had ever offered.

I would think sometimes that maybe it was time to grow up and get a real job before some new boss young enough to be my kid called me into his office to advise that he did not like my face on TV anymore and was calling security to escort me to the door.

Then the lightning bolt struck.

In early 2011 our London correspondent departed in favour of an anchor job back home. Do I apply one more time, I wondered?

“Go ahead,” said Isabella. “Don’t let me stop you.”

For as long as we had been together she had known I wanted to live and report from abroad, with London my top choice. She had never liked it, never wanted it, but equally did not wish to be my obstacle.

When I announced that I was going to Kosovo for a week in 1999 to report on the aftermath of the war, she wept fearful tears when I left for the airport.

When it seemed I was headed to Pakistan in the weeks after 9/11, she was inconsolable. As it turned out I never went anyway.

That was all before we had Julia. She was now in Grade 1, attached to her friends and her nanny. We had a circle of close friends and relatives. Isabella had a job she loved, producing and directing an online design show. We had just committed to a major kitchen renovation, adding enormously to our debt, but finally finishing off our house.

Life was pretty good.

I sat at my desk at Queen’s Park, staring off through the window. My stomach contracted.

Should I do this? If I get it, how will we do it? Am I just too old for this? Time to grow up and get a real job? Fuck it. Not going to get it anyway. Give it one more chance and then give it up.

I applied, pouring my heart into the email to the show’s producers, just as I had for so many other jobs before where I came close but missed.

The job interview was by phone, with me sitting in a deserted hallway of the legislature on a quiet day when most of the politicians were away. They asked me how I would get into Libya to cover the civil war.

“Well, I would just go to the border and start asking people for advice,” I said confidently.

I had absolutely no bloody idea how I would ever get into Libya if the time ever came. And Isabella would certainly hit the roof if I ever tried.

The producers were kind and genial. I respected and liked them both. But this felt different from all the job interviews I had had before — all those times when I knew I came close but was not the choice.

They clearly wanted someone younger, more ready to go into war zones. Someone more conversant with Twitter (I would tweet once a week to a tiny list of followers to advise them of the subject of my talk show). That’s it, game over, I thought. In a way, it was a relief. At least I tried.


A federal election was looming and I was angling to turn my provincial program into a national talk show during the campaign. But I was about to be banished to an early morning Sunday time slot that would make it impractical.

The producer who did the London job interview was among the executives I was lobbying to win a Saturday evening time. He sent an email asking me to give him a call. It was mid-March 2011.

“Hi. So, do you think we can find a time for this show?” I asked when he picked up.

“Well, we’re going to take it off your hands because I want to send you to London.”

A beat. I was the speechless broadcaster.

“Well … uh … good thing I’m sitting down,” I finally mumbled.

“I feel really good about this decision,” he said. “I’ve advised the vice-president and your boss that I’m making the offer and frankly they were both surprised, but also happy for you.”

Naturally they were surprised. I’m the one who never got these jobs.

My head was spinning. I looked out the window that overlooked the front lawn of the legislature from our fourth-floor perch. The red-tailed hawk that nested in the tree at our level was ripping apart a small animal that had made the mistake of straying into its territory.

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Chapter One

Hannah’s parents would not let her go to town. It was barely a town anyway, Timmins. It was so far from Toronto that her friends would ask her, “Didja see Santa?” every time she came home. Timmins was essentially a crappy mall, a hospital, and a bus station. At eight, she hadn’t cared; at ten, she couldn’t go to town without an adult; at fourteen, she couldn’t go because —

“Hannah,” called her father. He stood by the woodpile, removing his mitts and pulling a hatchet from his belt loop. “Give me a hand?”

She went over and helped him lift the tarp that covered the kindling. It was birch kindling, the kind that smelled sharp and tangy when it burned, but the tarp had ripped overnight and now the wood was soaked and useless. Hannah looked up at the chimney stack that rose over the cabin. There was no smoke, but she could see waves of heat rising off the brick mouth. That meant the fire was burning well and they wouldn’t need kindling.

“We’ll need more kindling,” said her dad.

“Why? The fire’s already going. It hasn’t been out since we got here.”

Hannah’s father looked at her with his Learning Face. That was what her younger sister Kelli called it, the Learning Face. It was a seriously annoying face. “What if we need a fire outside, to smoke fish?” he said.


“What if we want to use the wood oven?”

“What if we need to make smoke signals?” said Hannah sarcastically.

“Hannah, don’t be smart,” said her father. “Look, I’m going to show you something.”

He dropped the tarp, hooked the hatchet onto his belt, and put his snowshoes back on, stuffing his mitts in his pocket. She could see the nametag, “G. Williams,” that was sewn inside of them; hers said “H. Williams.”

Hannah was already wearing her snowshoes, so she followed his wider tracks easily as he moved to the edge of the clearing where their cabin sat, past the tarpedover snowmobile and the SUV. They hadn’t brought the other vehicle; it was a car and would never have made it down the back roads to get here. Even in the summer, they always brought the four-wheel-drive vehicle. Her parents called this place “camp.” When she was younger, Hannah had fooled some of her friends by saying that she went “to camp” for almost every school vacation, but then stupid Kelli had blabbed and then everyone knew that it was just a cottage — a three-room, dingy cottage with an outhouse in the backyard, on the edge of a smelly pond.

They wended their way through the bush until they came to a little stand of poplar trees with a few frozen yellow leaves still clinging to them, almost hidden in the bigger, bushier arms of the blue spruce and waxy green hemlock. Her father looked up into the branches of the poplar. “These should work.” He reached up with one hand and grabbed a branch, and with the other he loosed his hatchet and chopped the branch off. He held up the iced-over poplar branch, and Hannah noticed the nicks on his red knuckles. Her dad loved to work outdoors without gloves. “Can you burn this?” he asked.

Hannah rolled her eyes. “No, it’s green wood. And it’s wet. I’m not ten, dad.”

“That’s right,” replied her father, “you’re fourteen going on forty. But sometimes you have to make do with less, right?”

Hannah shrugged.

He knelt down and placed the branch on the flat part of his snowshoe, holding it on its end with one hand. “In the winter, all wood is wet — on the outside.” With the other hand he brought up the hatchet and quickly made a series of downward motions on the sides of the branch until the bark bristled out like a skinny, grey-green porcupine.

“Instant kindling,” he said.

“Great. Is there an instant travelling stick, too, so I can go back home?”

“You never know out here,” he said. When he had his Learning Face on, Hannah knew, it was hard to get him to do anything but talk about the bush.

“I’m cold, and it’s lunchtime,” she said.

“Okay.” He stood and brushed the snow off his coat, turning his head to the line of clouds that were being pulled toward them by grey, pouting tendrils. “Smells like another storm, eh?”

Hannah let her breath out loudly, but didn’t reply.

They trooped back. The last two days had been warm and humid, but last night the temperature had dropped so quickly that the wet snow had chunked back into ice and broken through many of their tarps, and even Nook’s doghouse. Hannah and Kelli had spent all morning scraping ice and snow off the porch, the woodshed, the cars, the doghouses, and the outhouse steps to see what damage had been done. The snowmobile tarp was also ripped, and a chunk of falling ice had broken the gas line. Fixing it was tomorrow’s job. Hannah had volunteered for that one, mostly because it meant she could drive into town with her father to go to the hardware store.

They removed their snowshoes and propped them against the dogsled in the cold porch that separated the front door of the house from the elements. There were two more dogsleds behind the cabin, as well. The one on the porch was very small and was called a kicksled. The two behind the cabin were trail sleds, much longer and heavier.

Hannah’s dad put the green kindling in the big woodbox just outside the door. The box slid from the cold outer porch to the inside of the cabin, right through the wall. The opening was protected by a thick piece of yellow plastic that swung inward, like a doggy door.

When they went inside, Hannah slapped a sodden woodchip-covered glove onto the counter that separated the kitchen area from the rest of the main room and stooped to undo the laces of her boots. From the doorway to the bedroom she shared with her sister came Kelli’s voice. “Illegal manoeuvre! Illegal manoeuvre!”

“Calm down, dork,” said Hannah. “It’s just a glove.”

“Unacceptable use of outdoor clothing!” Kelli ran in, snatched the glove off the counter, clambered up a folding stepladder, and placed it neatly on the glove dryer that hung above the big pot-belly wood stove in the centre of the cabin.

“Kelli,” said their mother, “calm down. George,” she continued, “put some wood in the stove, please.”

Hannah’s dad took two pieces of maple from the woodbox, opened the belly of the wood stove, and put them in. Kelli’s exuberance had woken Sencha and Bogey from their napping spot by the couch, and the two house dogs ran over to greet Hannah and her father as though they had been gone for years. They kept a respectful distance from the hot cast-iron stove.

The two dogs were as opposite as could be. Sencha was a Dalmatian, but she had brown spots instead of black ones, and she shed on everything — pretty little white hairs that somehow corkscrewed into anything that wasn’t Teflon-coated. Her ears sat high on her head and she watched everything with bright hazel eyes, investigating every sound or movement, no matter how small, with her gaze or with her nose, depending on how comfortable she was. Hannah’s mom called her “Little Jane Austen.”

Bogey, on the other hand, was square and big and had two coats of thick fur: an oily outer layer of beautiful dark brown, and a dry underlay of rust-coloured kinks that kept him warm even when he jumped into the cold pond to chase tennis balls or ducks, or just because he was a Labrador retriever and needed to remind everyone of that fact.

“Bogey, get down!” said Hannah, pushing him away. The big dog dropped back to the floor, his tail still wagging. Hannah’s dad gave him some rough pats on his flanks, and the Lab nearly toppled him over, pressing into his legs like a cat. Sencha went back to her warm bed near the stove, lying down with an assortment of grumbles.

Kelli, still near the gloves, looked suspiciously at the bottoms of her sister’s legs. “Are your pants wet? You should go change.”

“You should shut up,” retorted Hannah. “The floor’s already wet from Lab slobber.”

“Ha-neul,” said her mother from the kitchen, “respect your sister.”

Kelli, safely behind the wood stove and out of sight of her mother, stuck her tongue out at Hannah.

“Let’s eat!” said her father, pulling out a chair from the kitchen table.

The table was so old and so ugly: the top was faded pink plastic with a terrible pattern of gold-speckled stars and rough metal edging. The chairs were a horrible flaky silver with plastic seats and no padding. Hannah hated the chairs, the table, and the ruined edges of all her sweaters from sitting at it.

“Set the table, girls,” said her mother.

“I’ve been outside helping with chores!” complained Hannah.

Her mother did not say anything, just kept stirring the large aluminum pot on the ancient propane stove in the kitchen. Kelli slipped from her chair. Sighing, so did Hannah.

Kelli smiled widely, wobbling under the weight of the heavy crockery. She loved it when everyone pitched in and did things together. She put down the stack of dishes and divvied them up, racing around the table to the far side and back again with a single plate each time.

“You’re gonna slip and fall,” said Hannah.

“Kelli, stop running,” scolded their mother. “Hannah, stop needling. George, we need salt and pepper.”

Hannah’s dad laughed and sprang up. “Probably not pepper, but I’ll get them both anyway.”

He got them and also grabbed the bread that sat under a tea towel — a sort of cornbread with eggs and bacon baked right into it. He broke the bread into big pieces with one egg in each, and put a piece on each plate. “I’m going to Jeb’s tomorrow,” he said as he added butter to the top of the egg. “The weather’s supposed to turn later this week, so I want to get over there before we’re stuck under another four feet of snow — that always makes us want to hibernate, eh, Mina?” He grinned at his wife.

“Maybe you should call first and make sure she’s ready for visitors,” she said.

Hannah’s dad grunted. “Scott’s there right now, and it looks like she’s getting better, so it should be fine.”

Scott and his sister Jeb and Hannah’s father had all grown up together in Timmins. When Jeb had decided to sell part of her land and build a new house much farther down the road, Hannah’s father had bought it — which was why they were now the proud owners of a shack in the middle of nowhere instead of a real cottage by a lake in Huntsville or Lake of Bays, like everyone else.

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