Gwen Tuinman

Novelist Speaker Advocate


Upper Canada

Julie Oakes: Historical Culinary Expert– Part 2

It’s been such a joy to discuss pioneer living with Julie Oakes, culinary expert and long-time live history enthusiast at The Pickering Museum Village east of Toronto. Part One of our interview is full of fascinating details that are finding their way into my novel. Enjoy the show notes for the equally delightful Part Two.

Please enjoy this Wellspring Podcast of Julia Oakes: Historical Culinary Expert–Part 2.

Gwen: Julie […] I’m going to ask you to finish this sentence. Each time I cross over that bridge at the Pickering Museum Village, and walk along the path that winds into the village, I…

Julie: …I feel like I’m going into the past and I feel like I’m going to have a wonderful day. Because I have to say that the days I’m able to go and just volunteer and go into the kitchen…I really like cooking on the wood stove, that’s my personal favourite. When I have a day that I can just cook on a wood stove and whole rest of the world goes away and there’s no phone, there’s no devices of any kind. But people come and chat and we talk about cooking and all kinds of things. Continue reading “Julie Oakes: Historical Culinary Expert– Part 2”

Pioneer Food Gardens and Orchards

What must food growing have been like for the earliest newcomers to Upper Canada? Many families arrived with a sack of seed and little else.This spring when we cleared more ground for planting vegetables, I thought about how much more difficult the task must have been for the earliest settlers. Before planting food, settlers first had to cut down an army of trees and remove obstacles  like roots and boulders. I certainly didn’t have to contend with such challenges. Our garden plot will generate produce to can or freeze, but nothing sufficient to sustain us until the next growing season. Plants are just beginning to yield and August is half over.

(Please enjoy this Wellspring Podcast of Pioneer Food Gardens and Orchards.) Continue reading “Pioneer Food Gardens and Orchards”

Pioneer Christmas and New Years


What better way for an author to brush up against the hardships and daily lives of pioneers, than to participate in a living history event? Before the snow flew this winter, I visited Pickering Museum Village to experience Christmas and New Years traditions as celebrated by some of the earliest settlers in our region. History was brought to life throughout the village by museum staff, volunteers, and a group of performers known as The Backwoods Players.
Continue reading “Pioneer Christmas and New Years”

Delving Deeper — Early Emigrants to North America: Trials on Departure

Migration_from_Ireland_to_the_United_States-1 lead photo

In 1830, my earliest Irish ancestors arrived Bytown, Upper Canada, now known as Ottawa, Ontario. I’ve often wondered what the experience must have been like, leaving a known country for one entirely unknown. Continue reading “Delving Deeper — Early Emigrants to North America: Trials on Departure”

A Traill in the Woods

2nd try

Catharine Parr Traill’s letters and journals are the source of much that we know today about the experience of the earliest Canadian settlers. Although she was born to a noble family in Britain, once emigrated to Upper Canada, she fell in love with the land and the way of life. She and her husband  faced many hardships and successes, each of which she documented in the detailed correspondence sent to friends and family.

(Please enjoy this Wellspring Podcast of A Traill in the Woods)

Continue reading “A Traill in the Woods”

So, I’m Irish

Irish Gwen

So, I’m Irish. More accurately, I’m about 25% Irish. My maternal grandparents’ last name was Lindsay. Although I’ve known this my whole life, it’s only been in the past year that I’ve become curious about my forefathers and mothers.

Through a popular genealogy website and some internet research, I’ve been able to learn some interesting history. The documents and history I’ve been able to uncover so far has sparked my writer’s mind. Continue reading “So, I’m Irish”

Bumpy Roads: A Canadian Tradition?

Yesterday, I awoke to a news report about the troubling condition of Toronto’s roads. The extreme cold of the holiday season followed by mild temperatures has increased the number of potholes“It’s like driving on the moon,” says one driver. Many report damage to their vehicles after plunging a wheel into the abyss.

I reflected on some recent information I’ve collected about the lives of the early settlers.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.


Travel Woes

Canadians have been complaining about state of our roads for years — over two hundred actually, give or take a decade.  Our early settlers endured miserable travel conditions.  Their lamenting is captured in correspondence shared by Charolette Gray, in her book, Canada A Portrait In Letters.

In 1834, Catharine Parr Trail  wrote from her Peterborough, Ontario home, reporting to friends and family in England, about “the badness of roads in this country, the slowness of conveyance, (and) want of proper artifices”.  Lady Durham wrote  from her Quebec City home in 1834 that she was very near “jolted to pieces” on roads travelling inland from Chauderie Falls.  George Child wrote to his mother in 1842 about travelling home after an out of town errand where  “the roads were so bad that it took from four o’clock until eleven in going 13 miles”. He stayed in a hotel and tried to continue his journey the next day. The roads were so bad he turned around and went home.

corduroy roadRoad Report

Some might think that snow and heavy winters would create the biggest impediment to transportation, but not so.  Horse drawn cutters and dog sleds across land or frozen water facilitated effective travel. A spring thaw and heavy rains created major problems for travelers.  Muddy roads resulted, exhausted horses and stuck wagon wheels.  Dry roads peppered with potholes and the remains of stumps  caused  a lot of bumping and jostling of passengers in addition to broken axels and wagon wheels. Corduroy roads, created by laying logs side by side, crossways on the road, solved some problems but created new ones such as a bumpy ride for one. Also, the logs heaved with the freezing and thawing, then eventually gave way to rot. Many preferred to travel by foot or by horseback  instead of using a wagon.

Root of the Problem

The early settlers who were awarded land grants, had a contractual obligation to build and maintain roads adjacent to their property. I’m imagining where this duty ranked in the list of survival related tasks like build a home, clear the land, or plant a crop.  Removal of trees and stumps was an onerous task in a land thick with timber.

“Pathmasters” were appointed by Upper Canada’s first parliament to oversee road development. Settlers were eventually given the option of paying a fine in lieu of performing road maintenance.


The next time I hit a bump in the road, I will draw a calming breath and be grateful that I don’t have to fix it!


Please leave a comment.  I’d love to hear from you!

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