Mud, Muskeg & Mosquitoes
The Life and Legacy of a Northern Ontario Pioneer
by Diane Armstrong
This historically factual creative non-fiction book concerns a remarkable woman who married and moved to ‘New Ontario’ in 1907 to become an outstanding community member, one of the first women elected to a School Board in Ontario, and mother to eight children. She was also the author's grandmother. More than mere history, this story recounts the difficulties with the mud, muskeg, mosquitoes and many other situations she dealt with to become a part of our history here in north-eastern Ontario. Diane Armstrong has taken her years of writing, researching and interviewing skills to write this compelling and factual account of her grandmother's life as it coincides with the development of the T&NO Railway in Northern Ontario and we share her life in great detail from 1900 to 1942.
In the format of a journal written through the eyes of Juliette Rose Ann Dawson Bélanger, the lady known as ‘Dollie’ comes to life and brings with her, a unique view of what it was like in the early days of ‘New’ Ontario.
Excerpt from the Introduction:
While much has been written about the men who opened up Northern Ontario, very little has been told of the women who bore their children, cooked their meals and tried to bring education and culture to the dense forests and swamps of the Precambrian Shield.
Rose Ann Dawson Bélanger was one of those women. She also happened to be my grandmother. Throughout my life, I learned stories about her and I came to know her as a remarkable, well-educated, strong and opinionated woman. …
Her story is of a comfortable life transitioned from a vibrant city in Quebec, through a 36-year marriage to a railway man, travelling across Canada, and finally to the wilds of Northern Ontario at a time when the railway played an important role in the beginnings of the lumbering and mining industries.
My paternal grandmother, born Juliette Rose Ann Dawson in 1876, in Lévis, Quebec, was a tiny, 4′11″ fireball. She was officially known as Rose Ann, but because of her small stature, she was called ‘Dollie’ all of her life.
Foreword written by Len Gillis, Timmins. The extensive postscript and index will make this book valuable to researchers and readers for a very long time to come.
Also available in northern Ontario from McDonald's Pharmacy, and the Timmins Museum -NEC in Timmins; Chat Noir Books in New Liskeard. Available from most Canadian library wholesalers.
Available As EBook here $12.95
Responses to Mud, Muskeg & Mosquitoes
Diane [your book] was an absolute delight to read. Although I am familiar with a lot of the history and development of the north, I have never read anything that gave me a personal intimate insight through the eyes of a real person who lived it. It was amazing. I am left with one over-riding question. HOW. How on earth did people (women especially) do all they did each and every day to keep home and hearth together---and still have time to be active and effective in their communities. I just can't get over the energy and enthusiasm your grandmother had--and how she was so involved and kept herself so informed, while trying to cope with everything from the hardships of life without electricity, to the death of babies, often having to get through it all without her husband by her side.
There she was even cutting up old tablecloths and designing a new cut-work embroidery table cloth for herself. HOW is the question. How was there energy and motivation left after tucking all the kids into bed. And I loved the bit about how they finally just stopped rolling the piano back and forth, and finally left it in the baggage room. Without your book I would never have seen so many of the very human aspects hidden in our history. Amazing to think they lived in the railway station!
I'm pretty sure I have seen the brick school house in Elk lake--during the early 1970s when scouting out film sites for CFCL and the Texas-Gulf documentaries I made with Helmut Twardowski. To think your grandmother was the driving force--astounding. And, your grandmother's thoughts on seeing not only the people wandering in shock after the great fire, but also the cows--just too poignant--as though I was right there. Diane you have given everyone in the north a great gift with this book.
"As a person who was born and raised in Northern Ontario and who lived for years in Quebec, I am so glad that Diane Armstrong (née Belanger) has directed her writing skills to recording the life of her paternal grandmother, Rose Ann Belanger (née Dawson). She has chosen to do this through the eyes of her grandmother by using the diary format which, in my opinion, was a good decision.
As the wife of J.O. Belanger, a railroad man, she moved many times to locations in Quebec, Alberta and Ontario. Probably the most significant move was when she and her piano left Quebec for Dane in Northern Ontario where her life among the "Mud, Muskeg & Mosquitoes" began in a log cabin. From there it was on to Latchford, Elk Lake and finally, Haileybury. What a legacy this lady, tiny in stature but powerful in character, has left for her descendents!!"
Corporate Director at Labrador Iron Ore Royalty Corporation
I have just had the opportunity to read Mud, Muskeg & Mosquitoes and am sending you my heartfelt thanks for this true labour of love that reflects your sincere interest in our family. Dollie came alive with your anecdotes and I really would have liked to have known and admired her. Also, the stories about my father, Maurice, were sweet and brought tears to my eyes. I find it amazing that although I knew him well for only 13 years, he had such a great effect on me with his love of family, true humanity, belief in God and sense of duty and honour. He was raised with all these qualities in the frequent moves his parents had throughout J.O.'s railway career. We can be proud of les Bélangers. The men were charming, responsible and full of fun while the women were strong, intelligent and independent. Your extensive research and understanding of the pioneering spirit of the people who settled Northern Ontario made your book a must-read for our family and other kindred souls. Mud, Muskeg & Mosquitoes was so enjoyable, I hated to turn the last page. Many thanks again.
(Granddaughter of Rose Ann Bélanger), Okotoks, AB
Hi Diane, Thank you so much for the wonderful book. The word wonderful does not do justice to this book which kept me reading continuously for 6 hours last night. I read and absorbed every word in it and then went to bed with so many thoughts about what life must have been like in those days. This is a book about a family filled with class and proper behavior and love for one another. Valorie and I have stayed in Quebec City several times and looked across the river and wondered about the little town. Now we can look again someday and recognize the family that once lived there. I just finished reading about Jacques Cartier's discovery of Quebec City and up pops your book in the mailbox. It sure set the mode for such a pleasant read. Your book goes on a special shelf reserved for only the best.
Author and Radio personality in Detroit, MI, USA
I purchased your book at the New Liskeard Fall Fair and I need to tell you how much I enjoyed it. There are so few books written by women about their life or their families lives here in the North. It was such an easy read (three hours) on a women's perspective on the development of this area. Olive MacKay Petersen wrote one about her husband's life (prospector) and her impressions of the hardships of that occupation years ago. Thank you for writing your grandmother's story. Having read so many historical books over the years, it is so refreshing to read yours in that format. I live in Swastika so am familiar with the references to the Brennan family and the Dusty brothers. My parents were married in Elk Lake so it was nice to see more of its history. Please let me know if and when you produce another book as I look forward to reading it.
Sincerely Carolyn O'Neil
(Swastika, ON historian and researcher)
Mud, Muskeg & Mosquitoes by Diane Armstrong is my Most Favourite Book I have read in many years. OUTSTANDING & ENTERTAINING HISTORY FROM FRONT COVER TO BACK.
Porsche of London (ON), Director Public Relations / Marketing
Table of Contents
7 Foreword by Len Gillis, Timmins
9 Introduction ~Searching for Truths
13 Chapter 1 Reflections
16 Chapter 2 The Courtship
22 Chapter 3 The Early Years
27 Chapter 4 On the Move
31 Chapter 5 The Promise of a New Beginning
35 Chapter 6 Mud, Muskeg and Mosquitoes
42 Chapter 7 Adapting to Pioneer Life
48 Chapter 8 Life in Dane
52 Chapter 9 We Move to Latchford
60 Chapter 10 Activities, Interests and Observations
64 Chapter 11 We Move Again
72 Chapter 12 The Early War Years
78 Chapter 13 A Year of Fires
84 Chapter 14 1918 –A Memorable Year
88 Chapter 15 Our Children Grow
92 Chapter 16 1920
95 Chapter 17 A Busy Life in Elk Lake
99 Chapter 18 My Kingdom For A School and The Big Fire
105 Chapter 19 Northern Spirit
108 Chapter 20 Our Lives in 1924
114 Chapter 21 The Busy Years
120 Chapter 22 Happiness and Satisfaction
125 Chapter 23 Epilogue
131 A Tribute to My Grandmother
133 1973 Bélanger Reunion Song
137 Explanation Of Terms Used In This Book
138 Index **Index will not appear in the ebooks; it is posted on line here for e-reader reference.