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A Map of Glass

June 5, 2007


Sylvia Bradley listened to Andrew speak of his forebears and his words were like a drumbeat, that she confused with the music of her own complicated, fascinating heart. In the retelling of these stories it was as if her mind had been scraped by glaciers of memories (Urquhart 2005:368-9).

Andrew Woodman was a landscape geographer, who methodically traced his ancestral roots on Timber Island on the northeastern shores of Lake Ontario (Prince Edward County) where the lake empties into the St. Lawrence River not far from Kingston. In the early 19th century Joseph Woodman was granted Timber Island by the British Crown partly in compensation for his abrupt dismissal from his commission as engineer in Ireland. His ideas of draining the bogs in Kerry County to improve the land for wheat, were met with grave misgivings. He arrived on the small island filled with humiliation and a sense of betrayal that he blamed on Ireland. Eventually in his lifetime what was once a great forest became his great fortune as timber raft after timber raft was shipped east, many eventually to England.

Sylvie was overwhelmed by grief by this paragraph1 describing a renowned scholar that she happened to read in a book Andrew had given to her. It could have been part of Andrew’s eulogy.

The country was to him a living being, developing under his eyes, and the history of its past was to be discovered from the conditions of its present . . . He could read much of the palimpset before him. He was keen to note the survivals that are the key to so much that has now disappeared but that once existed (Powell, York in Urquhart 2005:93).

Jerome McNaughton is a young Toronto conceptual artist who came to Timber Island’s remote visual artists’ retreat organized by the Arts Council for a brief period in winter.

Jerome’s work, inspired by that of Robert Smithson, used temporary and incomplete structures to rebuild spaces of memory, like fences that were ‘situations rather than structures. Like an act of God or a political uprising, they seemed to mark the boundaries of events rather than territories. And like events, he felt that these fences had come into … slow world interrupted (Urquhart 2005:16-7).

While he was there on Timber Island, Jerome found the frozen body of an elderly man whom he later learned was Andrew Woodman. Through the voice of Sylvia Bradley, Jerome listened to the Woodman generational history and is able to reconnect with his own traumatic family story.

Notes:

1. Probably Britain’s most well known historical geographer Henry Clifford Darby (1909 – 1992) whose book The Relations of History and Geography: Studies in England was published in 2002.

Bibliography

Darby, Henry Clifford. 2002. The Relations of History and Geography: Studies in England, France and the United State. Exeter: University of Exeter Press.

Smithson, Robert. 1968. “A Provisional Theory of Non-Sites.” in Flam, Jack. 1996. Robert Smithson: the Collected Writings.

Urquhart, Jane. 2005. A Map of Glass. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart.

Wynn, Graeme. 2003. “Review of H. C. Darby, The Relations of History and Geography: Studies in England, France and the United States,” H-Environment, H-Net Reviews, May, 2003. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=71971056725777.

The Relations of History and Geography

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