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Mystical Manitoulin

In moments of extreme duress, people often direct their entire focus toward thoughts of their loved ones and feel an overwhelming need to be with them鈥攅ven if that requires transcending physical limitations.

Let鈥檚 explore this compelling concept with the following mystical anecdotes. Both readers share stories of century-old railway tragedies in Northern Ontario, which occurred only two years apart. But even more significantly, they both demonstrate the incredible determination and power of the human mind, will or spirit.

When we most need to be with our loved ones, especially in our darkest moments, can we make it happen through the sheer power of mind over matter? The following shared stories testify to this incredible possibility and are a reminder that perhaps nothing is impossible:

by Dorah L. Williams

COVID has been part of our collective consciousness for over four years, and we have all experienced its effect on society. But over a century ago, after struggling through 鈥淭he Great War,鈥 the world was hit with something much worse. And, as with all life-and-death situations, the fortitude of the survivors was incredible.聽

The following shared experiences, from the descendants of those who persevered through that period, illustrate the horror of that virus鈥 impact on everyone in its path, but also the awe-inspiring resilience of the human spirit in even the severest of situations:

The Spanish Flu

鈥淚t was 1918, and tens of millions of people worldwide would die from a deadly virus known as the Spanish Flu.

In what is still considered a big event on the Labrador coast, a supply ship brought winter supplies to the communities. But the ship also carried one sick crew member, and despite warnings from the missionaries, the elated Inuit poured on board as they had done twice yearly for more than a century. Within days, Inuit lacking any resistance to this disease began falling.

For three months, a young girl named Martha barely moved from her home, eating hardtack and drinking melted snow. So many died about her that the few remaining Moravian priests who maintained the outpost had given up trying to collect the bodies. Instead, they sought refuge from the winter, huddled inside a few meagre buildings. 

Martha鈥檚 grandparents lay dead beside her. The sled dogs, wild with hunger, dragged their bodies away. There was a dog that looked after her, remembered Martha. When there would be too many dogs in the doorway, fighting, this dog used to stay close to her, keeping the others away.

Martha was found and almost shot by men, killing off the dogs. Only 129 of nearly 500 Inuit in Okak and the nearby community of Hebron survived the winter.

Further south on the North Shore of the St. Lawrence was a little community of fishermen called Mutton Bay. They were also infected by the same supply ship.

This is my father-in-law鈥檚 documented story from when he was a young man of seventeen:

鈥淎ll summer, I went from house to house fetching water, bringing in firewood and helping to dig graves.

We also had to bring food to the sleigh dogs, who were put on an island in the bay for the summer, as they were too dangerous to leave in the community. All this kept those still in good shape busy, as so many were sick.

One day, I did not feel so good and went home. I remember thinking as I hung up my coat, 鈥淲ell, me son, you will not be wearing this coat again for a long time.鈥 And passed out. I thought I was going to die, and so did my family.

When I wasn鈥檛 out of it, they would spoon-feed me, and my two brothers would make me walk across the room, both holding me up.

At dawn, my father and brothers would head out to the fishing grounds and would not get back until dark. While they were gone, I kept drifting in and out of consciousness. 

Suddenly, I found myself hovering over my father鈥檚 boat, watching them as they struggled to retrieve the catch boat that had broken loose from the main boat as it headed to a rocky reef. The catch boat carried their fishing gear and cod trap. It was worth $12,000 in 1918. A lifetime of work to pay for it. But they fought and got a line on her. 

It was dangerous business. I saw it all.

When they came home, the first thing they did was check up on me to see if I was awake. Before they had a chance to tell me what happened, I told them I saw it all right from my bed. They had to believe me as what I told them was exactly what happened.鈥

Against All Odds

鈥淢y late mother was born during the epidemic over a century ago and naturally had no actual memory of her birth. But she had often been told about the events surrounding her early arrival, and she passed that family history on to me. She was a no-nonsense woman, and if she said this happened as it was told to her, then I鈥檓 sure it did.

Her birth was very unexpected, being more than two months early. But her family always said that the timing of her early arrival must have been 鈥渄ue to Divine Providence.鈥 

Because you see, as she was so prematurely coming into the world, her father was feared to be leaving it. He was gravely ill with that influenza and wasn鈥檛 expected to live long enough to meet his new baby, who wasn鈥檛 due to be born for quite a while yet.

Her pregnant mother was unable to be with him as he was quarantined in his mother鈥檚 home, with only her there to tend to him. He was delirious with fever and didn鈥檛 know his wife had gone into labour two months early, as he lay close to death miles away from her. 

His mother didn鈥檛 tell him about the birth. The baby was so premature and not expected to survive, and if his death was as near as it seemed, my grandmother wanted it to be as peaceful for him as possible.

Finally, though, when his end seemed all but certain, he opened his eyes and smiled at his mother, who sat by his bed, holding his hand and praying.

鈥淪he鈥檚 like a wee doll but covered in so much hair!鈥 he said, describing the new baby he had just seen, to his mother鈥檚 astonishment. 

When she asked how he knew,  he explained. He thought he was dying and wanted to see his wife one last time. The next thing he knew, he found himself back in his home and looking right at her. He watched her cradling their tiny newborn baby in her arms as she lay propped up in the bed, crying. He described the others who came in and out of the room; some were also crying, and he repeated the conversations he overheard (later confirmed to be true). 

My mother was extremely small at birth and had poorly developed eyesight and a lifelong asthma condition. But she was tough as nails and sure beat the odds of such a premature baby鈥檚 survival rate in those days. Her father fought successfully for his own life, too, against the killer flu that claimed so many. He later would simply explain that he saw he could not leave his family at a time like that, so he didn鈥檛.

That hair covering most of her tiny body did not remain for too long, and a family portrait taken a couple of years later showed her as a small but very happy toddler, sitting on her beaming father鈥檚 knee. She was his namesake, christened the feminine version of his name. Throughout her life, though, she was always known as 鈥淒olly,鈥 her father鈥檚 pet name for her. 

So, did my grandfather have an out-of-body experience when he was at death鈥檚 door?

Everything he claimed to hear and see that day was later verified by those there, and my mother鈥檚 tiny body, covered in that temporary hair (medically known as lanugo), looked exactly as he described. I鈥檝e seen her first photograph taken not long after her birth. Her appearance was somewhat startling, so his shocked description of her small size and abundance of hair was very accurate!鈥

Out-of-body experiences have been documented throughout history. Many families likely have their own accounts that demonstrate the deep connection between loved ones, especially during times of extreme duress. These stories illustrate that our most profound connections aren鈥檛 limited by the physical realm and can provide the comfort and strength needed during such challenging times.

Many thanks to those who shared their stories for this column of Mystical Manitoulin!  

Article written by

Expositor Staff
Expositor Staff
Published online by The Manitoulin Expositor web staff