Maggie Toner has lived
a widely varied life, working at everything from clerical work to dog
grooming and working at Michael's Craft Store. But thirty years was
spent as a professional accountant for both large and small companies.
She finally created a company using her beloved draft horses for hauling
a carriage for weddings and special events, and for Cosplay photography.
She lives with her husband and mother-in-law, her dog, two cats and four
horses near Canada's capital of Ottawa.
Maggie has set us in a
couple of story excerpts from her book from the Canadian portion...
The book is about Four
Brothers living in Orkney, Northern Scotland in the Iron Age who die
violent deaths almost simultaneously. This powerful event ties them
together through four more lifetimes, set in; Roy Bridge, Scotland;
Lismore, Ireland; The Canadian Colonies during the building of the
Rideau Canal by Irish and Scottish masons and labourers; and
Fredericton, New Brunswick during the 20th Century. With each life they
support and push each others development. Follow along through time and
wonder: Who were you before you were you?
As we rode, I asked
Sherrif to tell me about himself, to pass the time. He rode ahead of me
and as he spoke I watched the brown hair that curled out from under the
brim of his hat. At our meeting, I had been impressed with how handsome
he was. He was the sort of man that all men really want to be:
confident, charming, but with an abundance of common sense.
He told me he had walked for two
weeks to get to the port of Leith, and there he had bought passage in
steerage on a Brig named Skum. He said he chose it because it meant the
foam of the sea, and he liked that. He said he arrived in Quebec City on
May 18, 1820. I laughed and told him I had arrived on nearly the same
date but in 1828.
He disembarked at Quebec, and
started working odd jobs, sometimes two or three at a time. He was a
horse groom for a wealthy Frenchman, he cleaned latrines, and he cut
down trees. But then he happened on a job with a stonemason. There he
learned the masonís trade. He proved a quick study and when the old man
died, he worked his way west and to Kingston. There he met Haggart, his
partner who hailed from Perth. For my enlightenment, he explained that
Perth was on a river system that fed back up from the Rideau River.
His story told me a great deal
about him. He was ambitious, in the way that people believe ambition is
a virtue and an aim in itself. It was clear to me that he was honorable,
but only as honorable as would fit between the narrow confines of his
values. Anyone who did not share those values simply did not merit
consideration. He reminded me of someone, but I couldnít identify who.
Perhaps it was someone from home.
The stone for the weir and the
lock came from the quarry down the same road we had travelled to see the
farmers. It ran up past the farms and across the main path to Kingston,
such as it was. The blocks were rough-hewn there and brought down to our
work site by oxen. Masons then refined the shape of the blocks. The big
Shire horse lifted the block using a block and tackle, and the block was
laid in its place in the wall being constructed. At the moment, that
construction was focused on the construction of the weir, which had just
begun and would take the better part of a year and a half.
The weir was an overflow channel
to run to on one side of the lock. In the spring, the lock might be
overrun by ice and flotsam, and so the weir was provided to lower the
level behind the lock when necessary. It would be completed first to
accommodate the flow of water while the lock itself was being built.
On the day after Sherrif left, I
was in camp rather than out on patrol so I saw my first delivery of
blocks by oxen pulling a big heavy wagon. Oxen were used because they
were more powerful than and not as valuable as horses. There were
fifteen or twenty small and five large blocks on the wagon, and they
were lifted off with the help of the big gelding. For him this was easy
work, but it was an invaluable aid to the men who were moving the
stones. Small ones they could do on their own, but some of the large
stones were two feet wide and high by three deep. These were the head
stones that buttressed the oncoming water where it would split between
the weir and the lock. I helped with the unloading and setting the
stones to be fine milled. By the end of the day, I was exhausted.
Over coffee the next morning,
Willow and I were devouring another excellent scone and Haggart sat
looking pensive. "Have you ever thought of getting married?" he said.
I looked at him in surprise and
said "I was very nearly engaged once, but it didnít work out. You?"
"Aye, there is a girl I like the
looks of. Sheís bonny for sure. Sheís clever too, and sensible. A good
seamstress. And she has a real green thumb. She is very young, but I
donít think thatís an impediment."
"Are you looking for a bride or
hiring a housekeeper!" I responded.
"Well I think itís important to
be detached from these things. I want to build the best foundation, you
know. I want children and a productive life. I want to build those
things with someone who shares my outlook."
I looked at him. "I suppose, if
you are building a dynasty." I thought of my own parents when I said
this. I was sometimes surprised they had ever managed to produce
children, so distanced were they from one another.
In the evening it was still
terribly hot. I took Willow to the laundry with me, where I washed my
shirt and gave her a cool bath as well. Out of the dusk came a man on
horseback. I stood there with my naked chest and looked at him in
"Iím looking for Mr. Haggart
sir." His face was sweaty, and although he should have been red in the
face from the warmth, he was white as a sheet. As I stood there looking
at him, he fell from his horse.
I shouted and three soldiers ran
to my aid. We freed one of the shanties and turned it into an infirmary,
since the man was obviously ill. Haggart having been summoned was there
quickly. He touched the man on the shoulder and asked "You have a
message for me?"
The man rolled his eyes in
Haggartís direction and said "Itís Sherrif sir."
"What about Sherrif?"
"Heís dead sir." And with that
the man became unconscious. He died three days later.
Haggart was utterly
thunderstruck. Why Sherrif had been taken so quickly was a mystery, but
there were prior stories about men merely canoeing through certain lakes
and becoming deathly ill. It didnít matter to Haggart. He settled into a
dark mood that lasted for weeks.
And so began our first "sickly
1 Men began almost to drop in their tracks. They suffered aches and
pains and fever, feeling cold and sometimes shaking. But that is where
the similarity ended. If a man had any pre-existing illness, a cold, a
toothache, any kind of infection, the fever made it worse. Most
recovered, but some did not. We tried to bury them as fast as we could,
because we did not know how the malaise was spread. There was a small
burying ground up the hill where Chaffee and a small group of others
were buried. We used pieces of stone from the works to serve as head and
foot stones, and we buried several in one grave.
We placed wooden crosses with
the names of those buried. There are those who have come after who
assert that we simply dumped them in the ground and did nothing to mark
their passing. They are wrong. Itís just that the wooden crosses, like
the people whose lives they commemorated, eventually wasted away and
At the worst of it, there were
only three or four men well enough to care for the sick. Mrs. Chaffee
cared for the sick as well, stopping only to be sick herself for four
days, and to recover her strength for a week. Her baby, fortunately, did
not get sick.
Haggart, at a loss as he was
with the death of his friend and partner, barely functioned for a few
days and then became sick himself. I feared he might not rally, but then
I was finally able to feed him a thin soup. Within a week he was up and
visiting the sick, administering water and soup. Fortunately we had not
much rain during the month of August, and the ill could be moved outside
to enjoy the fresh air while they recovered.
I was very lucky. Whether
because of my relative youth, my fitness or my strength, although I did
get sick, I recovered within three days, and regained my strength
By the end of August, the men
were back to work and Haggart and I were able to take stock of our
supplies and the men we had left to feed.
Haggartís men dug the trenches
where the water would flow with pickaxes and shovels. The stone and slag
they dug up was carried away in a wooden wheelbarrow and emptied into a
stone boat hitched to the horses. When it was full the load would be
towed away and emptied onto a part of the bank being built up for docks.
This was backbreaking work, and Haggart exhorted his men to ever greater
heights of productivity with his own enthusiasm, and with occasional
treats he cooked on his fire and in a makeshift oven as reward. His
talent for efficiency and enthusiasm were known throughout the canal
works, until Chaffeeís was simply referred to as "Haggartís Job".
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