excerpt from The Great Lakes Storm of 1913 - Canada's Worst Forgotten Disaster - 

... Farther from shore, unseen by anyone, some of the worlds’ finest ships rolled over or broke up. Large American lake freighters like the Isaac M. Scott and the Charles S. Price, capsized, throwing their shouting sailors into the freezing waters. American sister ships Argus and Hydrus, carrying 24 men each, sank somewhere on Lake Huron during that weekend storm. The Canadian vessel Wexford, a sturdy Scottish built ship having survived many long years on the oceans of the world, sank just offshore of Goderich.  Her horn was heard blowing a distress signal in the early hours of Monday morning; a cry for help which could not be answered by anyone on shore. In various places on Lake Huron, sailors in many unlucky vessels prepared themselves for the end. Not only would many of their bodies be lost in the waters, but most of the ships that carried them down would become unknown wrecks in an unconcerned lake.  The James Carruthers, that proud new Canadian ship, went to the bottom somewhere north of Goderich, taking the lives of twenty-two crew members with her.  It was barely a half year since her unlucky launch and now she rested in an unmarked grave...


Excerpt from Leaving Fletchville 

... I don’t often see my dad real angry but he can get that way sometimes. The summer I was ten dad took me with him in his truck. We were at a truck stop in Saskatchewan. Near Saskatoon. The people there knew him. One of the waitresses had a blotchy birthmark on her face, like a big red stain all across her cheek. It looked pretty bad but she was nice. Dad knew her by name, Dorothy or Doria or something, and she knew him and called him Stan. She served us pancakes and gave me a free coke. We were just finishing when a guy sitting at the bar complained.

“These eggs are too runny. I can’t eat this snot,” – only he didn’t say snot.

“I’ll get the cook to do them a little more,” Dorothy or Doria said.

“Yeah, and make it snappy,” he said. 

“The cook is busy right now,” said the waitress, “If you wait a few minutes…”

“Now don’t get all red in the face at me now, Dearie, but I want my eggs done right.”  The waitress slowly put a hand to her red blotch and tears came to her eyes.  

It got pretty quiet in that restaurant. My dad stood up and told me to wait in the truck. I pretended to go but I waited by the door to see what he would do. He went up to the man and put his big left hand on the man’s shoulder and his fingers tightened. Dad picked up the man’s plate of eggs with his right hand and held it near the man’s face. He leaned down and whispered something that nobody else could hear. The guy turned to look at him and went white. The guy called the waitress over and apologized to her. All the while dad was standing with his hand on this guy’s shoulder and his other hand holding the plate.

Dad would do things like that – teach people manners and so on.  Nobody messes with him.  


From Hill Spirit III   THE CANOE TRIP

You wake before dawn. You bring only a thermos of fresh brewed coffee because all else is packed. The car and the canoe on the roof are speckled with dew. Everything is ready. You drive north on deserted roads, leaving the thick city smells behind. The air gets cleaner, cooler. The coffee in your travel mug is better than on commuting days. When you stop for gas you pull on the straps holding the canoe. It doesn’t budge and you smile. Perfect. Your clothes are old and warm and comfortable and you have dressed in layers. The outer layer, a fisherman’s vest, has lots of pockets for a pocket knife, matches, canoe route map, duct tape, and some repair wire. Wallet and watch are already safe in the zippered pocket.

You arrive as the park office opens for the morning. There are few cars at the parking lot.

“Any bottles or cans?” she asks.



Your few supplies are in plastic bags and reusable containers. You show her on the map where you will be going.

“Any bears?”

“Not lately,” she replies.

You untie the canoe and carefully lift one side up and slide it toward you. The Styrofoam blocks make strange squealing noises as you slide the vessel outward and then lift it onto your shoulders. As you lower it to the water, ripples spread silently outward on the glass flat surface.

A kingfisher darts from tree to tree. Mist rises farther out, little vapor persons appearing and circling and vanishing again, revealing warmer water out there. You arrange your packs carefully and load in an extra paddle and an extra lifejacket. J stroke, straight stroke, J-stroke, straight stroke; a pattern develops and the rhythm sets in. With conscious effort the paddle does not touch the gunnels or make any extra sound.

Silently gliding through the water you disturb nothing, yet see all. You pass a loon who alternates between watching you warily and peering underwater like a child peeking under blankets. Suddenly he is off, slipping roundly beneath the water after an unseen fish. The sun slowly warms the lake surface. Ripples form and sparkle like fields of new cut diamonds out on the lake ahead of you... 

  Listen to an interview of René and a reading of his work on a radio interview.   

/photos/custom/Word on the Hills Feb 19 Rene Schmidt E402 S1.mp3