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