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The goose is great but there's so much more in Wawa

This week, Back Roads talks about Wawa’s Heritage Doors – portals to our past that take us beyond the goose

Opening a door can lead through and into another adventure. Wawa has been a destination because of the Wawa Goose but now there is a long list of unique free-standing doors located throughout the area.

Yes, they look like door frames with a difference and you don’t have to knock. Some of the doors are in popular tourist locations and some are on the back roads.

There is a new book to complement the experience.

The author of Wawa’s Heritage Doors – Portals to our Past is Johanna Rowe, a lifetime resident of Wawa.

Her passion for local history was first nurtured by her Grandmother at their family cottage on the banks of Wawa’s Michipicoten River. Since completing her history degree at Laurentian University in 1990 she has been studying, researching and sharing her passion for Wawa’s cultural history through several books. She completed the pictorial part of the door project with the help of artist Heather Sinnott, a former resident of Michipicoten Harbour and now Goulais River. 

“Heather’s true passion seems to have been found in the images she creates along Superior’s north shore,” says Rowe.

“Wawa’s Heritage Doors are a truly and creative way to combine history and art in a visually attractive cultural display," Rowe said. “The doors are quite popular. I am always seeing folks exploring the images and text when I am driving by the Tourist Information Centre and other locations throughout the municipality.

"I have received some feedback from descendants of Angus and Louisa Bethune who were pleased to know their distinguished ancestors were included in this unique project and are looking forward to visiting their doors someday soon.”

The Bethune name holds iconic significance in the Canadian story which includes fur traders, native Canadian wives, explorers, people of science and education, and a legendary doctor (Dr. Norman Bethune) who is beloved by China.

For the author, the door project and has meant bringing back to life some of the extraordinary people who have played their role in the many cultures and layers of stories found in the Wawa area and along the eastern shoreline of Lake Superior.

“I'd like to think I have had a hand in acknowledging those that have come and left their mark before us.”

Here are a couple of door examples.

Glenn Gould was a Canadian classical pianist. He was one of the best-known and most celebrated pianists of the 20th century and was renowned as an interpreter of the keyboard works of Johann Sebastian Bach.

“To Glenn Gould aficionados, 2012 was an extremely special year. It marked the 80th anniversary of Mr. Gould's birth and the 30th anniversary of his death. Recirculated documentaries and video excerpts on the internet renewed interest in this fascinating Canadian, and lo and behold his connection with Wawa was revisited," Rowe said. "What better way to celebrate Wawa's bond to this internationally renowned pianist and documentarian than with his very own Heritage Door."

"With the eye of a true artist, Heather skillfully depicts the fascination Glenn Gould had for Scenic High Falls and the audible images and emotions that seemed to flow through his soul while he enjoys conducting the watery display before him.”

See the Back Roads Bill Village Media story.

Highway 17 was not completed until 1960 and Wawa was the connecting point. It was known as the “Big Gap” too rugged and inaccessible. It required four Wawa residents to persuade the government, through a media stunt to carry on with the project.

“Whenever I drive that rugged and dramatic stretch of highway between Wawa and Sault Ste. Marie, I cannot help but think of the infamous Trek," Rowe said.

The door describes the journey of four Wawa residents of diverse ages and backgrounds, walking the long, arduous and roadless section of coastline on the east shore of Lake Superior where highway construction seemed to be stalled.

“The irony of it all? They were doing something they all loved to do be in the bush, likely foraging as they went, enjoying the magnificence of the land and using the skills they had honed and developed as a necessity of life in Northern Algoma," said Rowe. "Not a bad gig...and the highway did eventually go through!”

One of her favourite doors depicts Louisa MacKenzie Bethune.

“I think Heather Sinnott did an exceptional job of portraying this indigenous woman who for me represents some of the untold stories of those people who were integral to the lives and development of settlement in remote regions of the country," Rowe said. "Her door sits at the start of a meandering trail that takes you to a tiny cemetery where Louisa rests across the river from the fur trading post where she lived.”

Wawa’s Heritage Doors – Portals to our Past is dedicated to the late Lori Johnson who was a driving force behind many of Wawa’s contemporary tourism initiatives.

“I think about her often," said Rowe. "The Wawa tourism department is still lost without her and as a director on the Wawa Economic Development Corporation Board we have decided to assist the town with running the Tourist Info Centre and coming up with a strategic plan moving forward.”

Rowe’s next book will be on the career of A.Y. Jackson. The artist is featured on one of the many heritage doors in Wawa. He was one of the original Group of Seven painters. It's getting closer to be being published with many of his paintings and sketches of the north shore of Lake Superior, says the author. 

“Walk where A.Y. Jackson walked, sit where Jackson sat and see what Jackson saw," Rowe said. "Accompanied by friends and fellow explorers, he created over 100 sketches and paintings depicting the Lake Superior landscape from Batchawana Bay to Pukaskwa between 1955 and 1966. Many of Jackson's Wawa sketches were painted in the vicinity of Sandy Beach.”

Maybe we should all paint our doors.

The Wawa Goose is among the most photographed monuments in North America. After the 'selfie', go and open one of the many heritage doors, there will be more photos -- yours to discover.

The best place to secure a copy of Wawa’s Heritage Doors – Portals to our Past is online here under the heritage doors tab.


Bill Steer

About the Author: Bill Steer

Back Roads Bill Steer is an avid outdoorsman and is founder of the Canadian Ecology Centre
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