Last Sunday my husband and I decided to drive to a favorite spot just to see if and how the St. Jacob’s Farmers’ Market might be open. We really just wanted a drive up through Mennonite country where some of my ancestors lived. After we checked out the market–yes, it was open but in a diminished sort of way–we drove further northeast to a place that is a remarkable piece of Ontario history–the West Montrose Covered Bridge.
We had to ask the two couples who had settled for a chat in front of this sign to move so that we could read it (in this time of Covid, you see), but they were most cooperative.
For those who love historical romance I’ve put The Loyalist’s Wife into this Giveaway! (even though my book is really historical fiction.) You’ll love it! Check out all the books included at the link access icon below.
Contest is from June 8-June 17.
Another contest I’ve entered with The Man Behind the Marathons: How Ron Calhoun Helped Terry Fox and Other Heroes Make Millions for Charity is the Inspirational and Non-Fiction contest run by BookSweeps from
June 21-July 1.
There will be beautiful graphics coming soon but I wanted to give you an early heads-up. Watch my Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages for more info on June 21. Meanwhile enjoy your reading!
A few years ago I was asked to take part in a Doors Open event in lovely Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. The museum there was one of the spots on the tour where I joined other authors with books about the area. The delightful Barbara Nattress was one of those authors and she now has a second book featuring the history of Niagara through her fictional characters.
Today we welcome Barbara to introduce both of her books which feature ghosts, history, young love, and the Niagara area. Welcome, Barbara!
Ghosts of The Past
War is never a good event. The families suffer. The countryside suffers. The soldiers suffer. The life everyone knew never returns.
The War of 1812 between the United States and the United Kingdom was no different. Many innocent people were killed only because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Niagara Peninsula was an area of concentrated fighting because of its proximity to both Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. The town of Newark at the mouth of the Niagara River was home to many Loyalists who had settled there during the Revolutionary War. In 1813, the town was burned to the ground by the American soldiers as local residents watched. Feelings and opinions about the Americans were cut and dried. You were either with them or against them.
These Loyalists had left the life in America behind and had to start over again clearing land and establishing a home. For many it was the second time they had done this. Others were business men and merchants and were not accustomed to pioneer life.
A number of years ago my great aunt decided to research and write the family history. She discovered her ancestors had come from Holland in the late 1600’s and settled along the banks of Lake Champlain. As disputes over taxes by the British escalated into the revolutionary war the Van Every family moved to Syracuse and later Albany. Being loyal to the British was not a wise choice in 1774. Finally in 1778 with the patriarch of the family in jail, the rest of the family crossed the river and landed in what is now Queenston.
The family stayed loyal to the British, helped run raids for food with Butler’s Rangers, and kept watch for American troops crossing the river terrorizing pioneers. For these services the Van Every family were awarded settlement land along the Niagara River. In 1799 they were endowed with the honorific United Empire Loyalist. When the opportunity arose for my husband and I to move to Niagara on the Lake and become the owners of a Bed and Breakfast, I kept many stories and ideas in my mind that later would become part of the Loyalist House books.
Dreams in the Mist, takes place during the War of 1812 and tells of a family living along the Niagara River. Patrols of British soldiers regularly traveled up and down the river. While families were always on alert for American patrols crossing the river, life went on as normally as possible on the farms. Men continued tending animals and crops, women tended the gardens and kept the household running smoothly. Children played games and helped with chores and teenagers fell in love with boys and girls on the next farm.
The story also tells of a couple looking to start a new chapter in their life after retirement and takes place in the present and in the Niagara area. As luck would have it, they purchase the home along the river where our Loyalist family resided during the War of 1812. It is now a Bed and Breakfast aptly named Loyalist House B&B. Our Hosts Marilee and Phillip are enthusiastic B&B owners, knowledgeable about the history of the area and of the homes.
I used the idea of weaving past and present together to create the story of these two families whose lives intertwine. What a perfect setting to have a ghost living in your home. Niagara-on-the-Lake is noted as being the most haunted place in all of Canada.
This excerpt from Dreams in the Mist tells of Hannah and her boyfriend Peter meeting secretly along the river. Peter’s family have decided to move back to the American side as they feel the Americans should take over this area. Hannah’s family are staunch supporters of the British.
Hannah was sitting behind the bushes by the river bank, waiting for Peter. She had managed to get out of the house without anyone seeing her, but it had been close. The waiting part of these rendezvous was always the worst as Hannah worried that Peter might be seen and would have to turn back before they met. Hannah stepped out of the bushes just as Peter reached the dock. In the dark silent night , they embraced, glad that the meeting was finally here. They returned to the bushes to talk about how their friendship could continue despite the war.
“Where do you keep all the letters we are exchanging?” asked Peter.
Hannah told him she kept them in her pocket or under her pillow at night for now, but she had been looking for a hiding place where no one would look. …She told Peter she would continue to look the next day for a safe place to keep the letters, where only she might think to look.
“How are we going to see each other if your family moves across the river?” asked Hannah. …
Peter hadn’t asked Hannah to marry him, but he took both her hands and asked if she would marry him after this disagreement between the two countries was settled. Hannah of course said yes and asked Peter how long he thought that might be. Of course he didn’t know the answer to that but hoped it would be maybe a year….
Peter continued to tell her how he thought they could meet at the river. It would be more difficult as there would be no way to get letters to each other, and they would have to be careful as now he was considered the enemy on this side of the river. He thought for the rest of the summer and the fall they could meet on the fifth day of the month at midnight by the dock. They would only wait half an hour for the other person to show up…. One last kiss and a long embrace and they separated. Peter rowed back up the river along the shore while Hannah watched, tears streaming down her face.
It soon becomes apparent that Loyalist house is also home to a former resident, now a ghost. Hannah, a teenage ghost resides in the attic and interactions with B&B guests often results in difficult situations for the present day owners. Marilee is determined to discover more about the home and who this ghost is. Should she tell the guests about the ghost? Why is the ghost still here? What happened to her family? And why is there so much sobbing and crying coming from the attic?
Hannah’s Search is the sequel to Dreams in the Mist and follows Hannah as she searches for her family and her fiancé during the war. Unaware she is a ghost, she discovers she has powers to see what goes on in her home but not leave the house. Her Father is conscripted by the British and her mother and siblings leave to find a safe place. She often ventures down into the house only to find it has changed into something she can not understand. Often there are strangely dressed people wandering around the bedrooms .
Marilee is still trying to discover who this ghost is and secretly discovers she can sometimes see what this ghost is up to in her dreams. Marilee can almost predict if it will be a night of peace or if the noises in the attic will disturb everyone. The ghostly encounters often erupt into scary but hilarious situations. Can you imagine five women booking into the B&B with the intention of finding and photographing the ghost?
Will Marilee and her friend be able to find out who Hannah is and what happened to her family? Will Marilee be able to communicate to Hannah that she is safe in the attic? Will Hannah finally realize she is a ghost and be able to move on? How much furniture will be destroyed before the situation is resolved?
In this excerpt from Hannah’s Search, Hannah is quite concerned as she watches her parents prepare to leave the farm. She hears her Father tell her mother that she must walk across country for several days with the two children to his brother’s farm as it is not safe to stay here anymore. Hannah’s father will likely have to join the British troops in the area.
Hannah was terribly anxious. She flitted about the house both day and night trying to keep a watch on her family. She saw her mother packing things in a small case and making those dry biscuits that she did not like, so she knew they were planning on leaving. One night when her family were asleep, she crept into the room where the case was and unpacked all the things her mother had put in. The next morning, she saw her mother sigh and repack the clothes. When she looked closer, she noticed her mother had tears in her eyes.
On some of her trips downstairs, Hannah was puzzled by what she saw. There were things happening in what she thought was their kitchen, but people dressed in odd garments were working at very strange pieces of equipment that she had never seen before. The odd thing about it was they were doing something with food that she recognized. It was though she was drifting between different societies. One she had known and loved, and the other beyond her imagination. The strangers never seemed to bother with her, except every once in awhile someone would stop what they were doing and stare in her direction as though they had heard a noise.
The War of 1812 was a pivotal point in defining Canada as a nation. Men stood side by side defending the country to keep the values in which they believed. Over the years other wars forced men and today women to again fight and die to keep those same values. These ghosts of the past stand together as heroes and should never be forgotten.
There was a Peter, Paul and Mary song in the sixties “Blowin’ in the Wind” that stated “When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?” I think the ghosts of the past may still be singing this song today.
I hope you will enjoy reading both these books as much as I have enjoyed writing them. When I finished the books I almost felt a loss as I was no longer in touch with my characters. I often wonder what Marilee could do next?
On my website you will see a few quotes from various readers about my Loyalist trilogy and I’d like to talk about one of those today. A friend of mine knows a lot about history in general and much more about the Rebellion history of Norwich; she and I spent time bicycling around that area many years ago with our young mothers’ group. No matter where we went this friend would point out places and tell the history. It was all fascinating.
With The Loyalist Legacy, I brought the Garners into my part of Ontario. I was very careful about my facts. When my friend wrote me the comment below I was so pleased I just had to put it up on my website:
“I was delighted with the way you handled the Norwich Rebellion in the last Loyalist book, Elaine, and have heard many positive comments about it.” Marie A.
I feel historical fiction can have lots of fiction in it but the details of actual history just have to be correct. Marie checked my facts as I’d written them and I checked over and over with reference books as well.
The fiction comes with adding fictional characters, places, details, and events. I remembered my daughter talking about a house where she cleaned for an old lady. One day the lady moved the kitchen table and pulled back a rug to reveal a door in the floor. She pulled it up and asked my daughter to go down and retrieve something for her. Beth took one look at the deep, dark hole with a rickety ladder leading down into the abyss and visions of that door slamming down over her flashed through her mind. My normally very compliant daughter just was not going down there. That scene was still in my mind when I wrote the story of two black former slaves at the time of the Rebellion of 1837. You’ll find that story near the end of The Loyalist Legacy.
The Garner family in the Loyalist trilogy are fictional even though they are based on and often named for my ancestors. I’ve had to decide what they might have looked like but draw on things I know about my father’s family to flesh them out. Someone has a widow’s peak and someone else has a prominent chin dimple. These family traits helped me give character to the fictional family. I’m not sure anyone in my family has ever said anything about the resemblance to my dad but it’s been fun for me.
I know my father told a story of a native woman coming to visit one of my ancestors, leaving her papoose on the porch while the two talked inside, and the child being carried off by a wild animal–bear or lynx, I’m not sure, as my cousin told me two different versions of the story. I decided to use the lynx because of the sly nature of cats and, believe it or not, the appeal of a lynx’s strange pointed tufts on its ear tips.
In the second book of the trilogy, The Loyalist’s Luck, I brought in the historical fact of the burning of Newark (present-day Niagara-on-the-Lake) but I also added a wonderfully sad story I discovered in my research. The residents had been given one hour to retrieve what they could from their homes before the Americans burned the town. This was in December, 1813, a very cold and snowy time of year in the Niagara peninsula. I found a story of an old lady, sick and unable to leave her bed, who was carried out into the street to watch as the Canadian Volunteers (siding with the Americans) burned her house to the ground. Through that old lady I was able to make my readers feel the absolute pain of war.
Another decision that just seemed to push itself into my mind was having Robert Garner, fictional brother of William, decide to sever off small sections of his land right where the present-day village of Thorndale is located, north of London, Ontario. Interestingly a relative of mine named Robert Garner did donate that land in the second part of the nineteenth century for municipal purposes and today there are playing fields and community buildings there. My niece’s house is actually located on the land donated by our relative. This has little to do with the plot of the book or even with the characters but it helped me add a layer of feeling that otherwise might not have been there as Robert suffered through his wife’s illness. I hope it helps my readers empathize with these characters who could very well have been real.
We never really know what facts or nuances from our own past will pop up in our writing. For me they are most pleasing. They make the story really my own. No one else could have written what I’ve written. There is an extra layer of richness that I feel each and every time I read from my work for audiences near and far. And there’s a connection to my family and my memories. If only history in school could have been taught from the point of view of the people involved instead of the memorize-the-six-reasons-for-whatever method.
Click on the books below for great historical stories:
This has been a particularly busy week for me and probably for all of my readers. We are living in exciting times but occasionally we run out of time. That happened to me this week so first and foremost I apologize to my readers for being late with my blog post.
One of the reasons for my busy week is that our local library has chosen to feature three Canadian writers each week for the whole year and this is week 22, my week. The wonderful Susan let me know about this a few weeks ago but I had forgotten until I was in the library and saw the display. I’m featured with Nino Ricci and Fred Stenson, two other Canadian writers and I’m doing as much to point to Susan’s efforts for us writers as I can.
Librarian Susan Earle’s reason for undertaking this project is that we Canadians are celebrating our sesquicentennial this year. Canada morphed from being a British colony to becoming our very own country and a member of the British Commonwealth on July 1, 1867. If you do the math, we’re 150!
All this year from British Columbia to Newfoundland we are celebrating even though it’s not 150 years for every province. Some came in later. Newfoundland was not part of confederation until 1949. Nevertheless we are one proud collection of provinces and territories the sum total of which makes up our country.
Happy Birthday, Canada!
Our actual day is July 1. As my own personal celebration I offered free copies of my first book, The Loyalist’s Wife, to those who are on my special newsletter list who got here first to pick them up. I’m sorry to say those copies are now gone but you can still buy that first edition on Amazon or buy the second edition from me or on Amazon. Thanks again to all my supporters who helped me celebrate Canada 150 in this way.
This seemed a fitting way to celebrate since my Loyalist trilogy was born to tell the story of a young couple in the wilds of 1778 New York State whose lives are forever changed when he decides to join Butler’s Rangers and fight for the British and leave his wife behind on their isolated farm to try to hold on to their land. The story of the fictional Garner family moves from there through two more books to 1838 here in Ontario. I loved researching and writing this historical fiction trilogy for its riveting history and its answer to the universal question, who are we?
Of course our story would not be complete without mentioning the indigenous peoples who were here long before we Loyalists and others arrived, as my wonderful friend, Raven Murphy, has reminded me. She has encouraged her audiences to take a wider view of history. I’m happy to do that.
Here are my listings as Susan put them in her brochure:
The Loyalist’s Wife
by Elaine A. Cougler
When American colonists resort to war against Britain and her colonial attitudes, a young couple caught in the crossfire must find a way to survive.
Pioneers in the wilds of New York State, John and Lucy face a bitter separation and the fear of losing everything, even their lives, when he joins
Butler’s Rangers to fight for the King and leaves her to care for their isolated farm. As the war in the Americas ramps up, ruffians roam the colonies looking to snap up
Loyalist land. Alone, pregnant, and fearing John is dead, Lucy must fight with every weapon she has. With vivid scenes of desperation, heroism, and personal angst, Elaine Cougler takes us back to the beginnings of one great country and the planting of Loyalist seeds for another. The Loyalist’s Wife transcends the fighting between nations to show us the individual cost of such battles.
The Loyalist’s Luck
by Elaine Cougler
When the revolutionary war turns in favour of the Americans, John and Lucy flee across the Niagara River with almost nothing. They begin again in Butlersburg, a badly supplied British outpost surrounded by endless trees. He is off on a secret mission for Colonel Butler and she is left behind with her young son and pregnant once again. In the camp full of distrust, hunger, and poverty, word has seeped out that John has gone over to the American side and only two people will associate with Lucy–her friend, Nellie, who delights in telling her all the current gossip, and Sergeant Crawford, who refuses to set the record straight and clear John’s name. With vivid scenes of heartbreak and betrayal, heroism and shattered hopes, Elaine Cougler takes us into the hearts and homes of Loyalists still fighting for their beliefs, and draws
poignant scenes of families split by political borders.
The Loyalist Legacy
by Elaine Cougler
After the crushing end of the War of 1812, William and Catherine Garner find their allotted two hundred acres in Nissouri Township by following the Thames River into the wild heart of Upper Canada. The political atmosphere laced with greed and corruption threatens to undermine all of the new settlers’ hopes and plans. William knows he
cannot take his family back to Niagara but he longs to check on his parents from whom he has heard nothing for two years. Leaving Catherine and their children,
he hurries back along the Governor’s Road toward the turn-off to Fort Erie, hoping to return home in time for spring planting. With spectacular scenes of settlers recovering from the wartime catasttophes in early Ontario, Elaine Cougler shows a different kind of battle, one of ordinary people somehow finding the inner resources to shape new lives and a new country. The Loyalist Legacy delves further into the history of the Loyalists as they begin to disagree on how to deal with the injustices of the powerful “Family Compact” and on just how loyal to Britain they want to remain.
Have you ever heard a cannon boom into the stillness? Or seen soldiers drop on a battlefield as it was in the War of 1812?
The roar of the three-pounder cannon and the white smoke clouding vision and stinging eyes are all pretty effective as you watch another re-enactment of a battle.
This time the subject was the Battle of the Longwoods between the British and the Americans in the War of 1812. If you follow the link you’ll get a longer version of this battle which took place just west of London, Ontario, on March 4, 1814. From what we saw in the re-enactment this past Sunday, the British far outnumbered the Americans but were out in the open. Many of the American soldiers were firing from the protection of the woods.
This battle didn’t last very long at all, similar to the one the re-enactors were portraying. I especially liked the announcer’s voice throughout the whole event. He explained what was happening. History came alive, especially at the end where he had us remember those who died in this battle.
My Loyalist books don’t really talk about this particular battle but I still find it enlightening and entertaining to see these past events acted out. This is so much better than memorizing the six reasons for blah, blah, blah and the list of 10 battles in blankety-blank war as I had to do in school. Audiences are surprised when I, the author of The Loyalist Trilogy about the American Revolution, The War of 1812, and the Rebellion of 1837 here in Ontario, tell them now that I absolutely hated History in school.
The difference is that I write about what happens to the ordinary people when those in power make decisions. You’ll see that in my blurb for each book here. People are the exciting part. We can all relate to them as we feel their pain in the circumstances. Here’s the cabin again, peaceful and serene.
As I approach the ten-year anniversary of the beginnings of my writing journey, I can’t help but think of some of the crazy things I’ve had to research. Of course I expected to go digging for first-person accounts of the times and for just the exact details about battles and political chicanery back in the days of the American Revolution and afterwards, but looking up how to bleed a cow or just where Carolinian forest is, well, those were surprises.
Here are some of the things I’ve had to research for my novels:
Skinning a raccoon. This description was part of the first draft of The Loyalist’s Wife as Lucy tried to hold on to her land while her husband was off fighting with the British. The account didn’t survive revision but I learned both how to do the skinning and how to write its description in an interesting fashion.
Carolinian forest. Did you know that Carolinian forest grows from the Carolinas right up into Ontario? And that some of the trees in that forest are ash, birch, chestnut, hickory, oak and walnut? I needed those notes to make sure the specific trees I mentioned actually grew where I said they did.
Battles around Niagara in the War of 1812. These were particularly bloody as the Niagara peninsula saw a lot of killing and cannonading as did the whole of Southern Ontario. As a person who grew up in Southern Ontario, I was surprised to learn the facts and wrote about them in both The Loyalist’s Luckand The Loyalist Legacy.
The Portage Road on both sides of the Niagara River. I still have visions of huge oxen pulling wagons loaded with settlers’ supplies up the hills to get to the level of Niagara Falls. Anyone who has seen those Falls or their picture knows that is a huge height and goods had to be portaged around the Falls in order to continue up the lakes on their way to settlers’ destinations.
How to bleed a dead cow. Well, I grew up on a farm so some of this I kind of knew but I still had to research just to make sure I had the facts right about the kill, the hanging of the carcass and the slicing of the neck vein in order to let the blood run out. In “olden days”, that’s where they got the blood for blood pudding and certain sausages. Doesn’t sound that appetizing to today’s readers! Lucy has to do this herself in the first book of the Loyalist Trilogy.
Uniforms for Butler’s Rangers, British soldiers, and Patriots who later became Americans. Believe me this is a huge subject with uniforms ranging from non-existent to very specific for each subsection in fighting units. The uniforms indicate far more than just the country the soldiers are fighting for. The Butler’s Rangers in my first book started out wearing their own clothes but eventually had a green coat and tan trousers. Here’s a sample of the variations.
Muskets and various cannons. There is no end of information on all of the weapons of the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Fascinating read when you consider these soldiers had to master intricate steps in all kinds weather and fighting conditions. I love the bit about the musket firing soldier ripping off the end of the paper tube holding the powder with his teeth, pouring in the powder, ramming it home with the ramrod, attaching the ramrod to the barrel again and finally firing. In the video no one is firing at those demonstrating. Makes a difference to how calm they might be, wouldn’t you say?
Redans and redoubts. Redoubt is the most common word and redoubts represent a fortification where soldiers were somewhat protected from approaching enemies. This is described here. I used this research in the second book of my trilogy, The Loyalist’s Luck.
Cicadas and crickets. Believe me there is a difference in the chirping times between these two but in the eight years since I sourced it out for my first book, I’ve forgotten, and I don’t have the time to do the research again. I did use the correct term in that book. There’s nothing to say that once finding the proper research and using it, you’ll remember it!
No matter what kind of book you’re writing the research will catch or destroy the reader’s interest. Make sure it’s well done.
The Loyalist’s Wife, The Loyalist’s Luck, The Loyalist Legacy
November is launch month for The Loyalist Legacy, the third in my Loyalist Trilogy and what a month it has turned out to be. Our thoughts are on our American neighbors to the south and the most vitriolic and divisive election any of us can ever remember. No matter whose side you’re on, this was a dirty fight and it was hard to see dignity and even honesty go out the window.
And it’s the time of year when we specifically remember those who served that we who have come after might live our lives in freedom.
Of course almost my every waking thought is on my book launch with personal appearances, book signings and speaking engagements, and my three-week book tour all over the Internet. Yesterday I did a newspaper interview here in my hometown after two major events on the weekend. So much fun! Meeting people who love historical fiction in general and my Loyalist trilogy in particular is pretty darn rewarding.
As I drove home after one of these events I thought about the connection between my latest book (the Loyalist Legacy), November 11th and Remembrance Day, and this pivotal American election.
Five Items to Make Us Feel Better This November
Though our history is relatively short it is full of catastrophic events which could have ended Canada. Wars, rebellions and civil disobedience are part of our past and yet here we are. My Loyalist trilogy is a testament to the efforts of individuals fighting for a good life here.
Canada suffered through the 1837 Rebellion in Upper and Lower Canada (Ontario and Quebec) yet managed to survive and become one of the best countries in which to live today. William and Catherine Garner, the real couple whose names I borrowed in The Loyalist Legacy, were there for that rebellion and survived.
Reading fiction and particularly historical fiction lets us imagine things that may have happened in the past from which our ancestors recovered. We see the strength in ordinary people when faced with disheartening and even terrifying events going on all around. We can recover.
One of the things my daughter started me writing with her is a gratitude journal. Every day we try to write 3 things for which we are grateful and it helps me to focus on the good in my life as well as have a wonderful view into just who my daughter is. We pick each other up with that journal and we remember how lucky we are.
In The Loyalist Legacy the difficulties of being settlers in an unsettled land, of fighting to save children from disease with no healthcare, and of seeing one’s neighbors divided over just how to solve political and social problems every day–those difficulties seem so much larger than ours just at this moment. There is a bigger picture. Perhaps we can all focus on it while we strive to build a better world.
Have you ever wanted to sit on the sidelines and watch history unfold before your very eyes? Or perhaps you’ve wanted to be part of it, experiencing first-hand the sweat and the swirling smoke after a firing? Well, you can do either of these things. Re-enactors are a welcoming and friendly group and one has even invited me to take part in one of their weekends, even offering to share her tent with me.
These pictures of an event at Fort Erie earlier in the season come through a bit of a circuitous route from a diligent re-enactor, Ryan, who is a member of two units. He belongs to a naval unit (Simcoe Squadron) and an infantry unit (British Indian Department). And he will be at Fanshawe Pioneer Village for Fanshawe 1812: The Invasion of Upper Canada days August 27 and 28. He has generously shared these pictures taken by Meagan Ashleigh-Moeyaert and Steve Zronik (Laughing Devil Photography). Enjoy!
And here’s Ryan keeping watch at the end of the day. Thanks so much to the photographers and to Ryan Moore who made this post possible. Be sure to see the re-enactors at Fanshawe the last weekend in August. I’ll be there!