Napoleon’s Ontario

The idea for Up North was born on this camping trip with these great friends in July 1989 in Algonquin Park. (From left: Tim Tiner, Nik Sheehan, Ben Schaub, Soonki Park-Schaub, Doug Bennet). Tim was (and is) the best naturalist and would bring a small library of guide books and pamphlets, like the one he’s holding in this photo.

What if, we thought, instead of a library of books, there was one guide book that helped not only with identification and provided key facts, but also told fascinating stories about the interaction of nature and human society, through mythology, history, even economics?

For example, we learned that the Napoleonic War had a huge effect on Ontario’s forests. When Napoleon’s forces blockaded Baltic seaports in 1806, the British had to turn to a new lumber supply for its fleet and economy. They turned to Canada and specifically the Ottawa Valley and interior, insatiable for the majestic white pines. Wood soon surpassed fur as Canada’s biggest export (page 223!).

We drafted a proposal for a book called “Napoleon’s Ontario.” Connections at Quill and Quire magazine (thanks Judy Brunsek and Ted Mumford!) led us to literary agent Jan Whitford. We had researched “how to write a non-fiction book proposal” at the library, being the days before the Internet, and must have done a reasonable job, because Jan was intrigued.

She made us re-write the proposal. Then she made us re-write the proposal again. At the third try, she agreed to represent us and shop the book around to publishers.

At some point through that process, we retired the title “Napoleon’s Ontario” and landed on something much better: Up North. But Napoleon served us well, and is fondly remembered as the working title.

The flaming marshmallow launch party remembered

May 19, 1993 at Nicholas Hoare Bookstore, by the fireplace, a young Tim and Doug deliver their thank-yous at the launch party

“Come Roast Marshmallows Over the Fire,” the invitation said. “Camping wear optional.” Thus were friends, family, contributors, supporters and collaborators invited to the launch party for Up North, thirty years ago on May 19, 1993, at the beautiful Nicholas Hoare Bookstore on Front Street West in downtown Toronto.

Almost four years after hatching the idea for the book on a canoe trip to Algonquin Park, the day had come.

Our publisher, Reed Books Canada, generously laid in snacks and beer (a second beer run was required later into the festivities). The store’s working fireplace was lit for the marshmallows. Speeches were made, many well-deserved thank-yous given. The celebration carried on.

At the fireplace, little Halley’s marshmallow was roasting. Then it caught fire. Not sure what to do, he pulled it out of the fireplace. In the crowded bookstore full of people and books and paper and fine millwork, the sugar blob flamed. Before anything else could ignite, an alert adult (Doug’s partner Nancy) was able to blow out the danger.

We believe it was the last launch party held at Nicholas Hoare Bookstore, which closed, still standing, many years later when Mr. Hoare retired.

The invitation

Fan Mail: Reading it out loud at the dinner table

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the original Up North, we are publishing some of the fan mail we received over the years. Thank you, dear readers.

Dear Tim,

Thanks so much for the copies of “Up North”! The staff are madly reading away – sometimes out loud at the dinner table.


Peter Q
Ancient Forest Exploration & Research
Powassan, Ontario

Hi Tim,

Thanks so much for your great book!
I don’t know if David told you that I worked as a biologist for many years -I also wrote a nature column for a small newspaper and conducted nature tours with school groups.
Your book is wonderful, it makes for great bedside reading.

I grew up in Richmond Hill and worked out of the Maple MNR office. As a kid I wandered over farmer’s fields and waded into ponds and streams looking for wildlife. I can’t believe how much habitat has been lost in my lifetime. The places where I saw European hares and Saw-whet owls are now massive subdivisions. (I would like to write a book on that sometime!) You have inspired me to no end, well done! (Doug too!)
Beth G


Wonderful book!!!! I don’t know what Beth wrote in her email, but I just wanted to put in my two cents… Continued success with your writing,
David F

Good Morning,
I am a huge fan of Tim Tiner and Doug Bennet and have been using Up North and Up North Again for reference and leisure reading. We also look forward to Tim’s article in every issue of Cottage Life.

Will Tim and/or Doug be publishing another book to add to their Up North series?
Thank you,
Christine G

Fan Mail: Borrowed it, had to buy it

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the original Up North, we offer a sampling of fan mail over the years…

Dear Mr. Bennet & Mr. Tiner,

I borrowed your book “Up North” from the library last week and I really enjoyed it, a wonderful book, it impressed me so much that even though I had already bought my daughter and son-in-law’s anniversary gift, I could not let them go north to their “not far from North Bay” cabin without buying them a copy. But it wasn’t easy. Smiths, Coles and several major book stores did not have it, but I found it at a bookstore in Niagara-on-the-Lake yesterday.

My only regret is that it will be too popular and never appear on the “sale” counter in book stores where I buy my books! Congratulations.

Best wishes,

Janet B.

Dear Tim, Doug and Marta,

Thank you for producing Up North. A real pleasure to read and next best thing to being there, when one is imprisoned in this horrible, stinking smegmopolis called Toronto. Keep up the good work.

Anne H.

Doug and Tim,

Just a quick not to let you know how much we have enjoyed “Up North.” Jane and I have spend happy hours trading information and trivia. Congratulations! And all good wishes for a long time on the shelves.

David B, Ottawa

The book is great! We have it out all the time when we are in the ”wilds” and so far it hasn’t let us down.

Best wishes with its continued success.

Jane T, Ottawa

More to come…

Our 30th Anniversary!

In May 1993, Up North was published. By that summer it was starting to appear on The Toronto Star’s list of national non-fiction best sellers. Thirty years later, we continue to receive stories of people who grew up with the book and loved it on their up north adventures, at the cottage, or their trip to the outhouse (yes, great bathroom reading). The updated and revised edition, The Complete Up North, remains in print and available online.

In the weeks and months ahead, we’ll publish fan mail, stories and contemporary nature sightings. It’s spring and the birds and blossoms are back. Now more than ever, we need to stay close to nature and respect and protect the ecosystems that keep us alive. We hope Up North can be a small part of your life-long enjoyment of and devotion to nature.