Robin Hilborn's career has included periods as a federal information officer for National Historic Parks in Quebec City, a legal secretary in Toronto and webmaster of Family Helper web site.
In 1999 he retired to Southampton, Ont., where he wrote the local history Southampton Vignettes (2010), based on his research for the town's 150th anniversary in 2008.
Mr. Hilborn helped excavate the wreck of the General Hunter at Southampton Beach in May 2004. He has volunteered at the Reading Room of the Bruce County Archives since 2005 and serves on the executive of the Bruce County Historical Society and on the steering committee of the Bruce County Heritage Documentary Project.
He lives in Southampton with his wife Heather Wallace.
Heart of the Great Lakes: Lake Huron and the Saugeen to 1850 covers how mapmakers defined the shape of Lake Huron, how Métis fur traders fought the Hudson's Bay Company at the mouth of the Saugeen, how the Saugeen Ojibway welcomed Methodist missionaries and how they struggled with commercial fisherman at the Fishing Islands.
It's a follow-up book for Southampton author Robin Hilborn, who published the local history Southampton Vignettes in 2010.
Hilborn says he is happy he has finally finished it. "It's personally satisfying, not only to see the culmination of five years' work, but also because I think I've made a real contribution to local history." The part on the fur trade describes the nine posts of the Hudson's Bay Company on Lake Huron and the competition of the Saugeen post with the "lone-wolf" free traders from Goderich.
After telling the story of the fur traders, missionaries and fishermen, Hilborn said he "had to conclude that, while we appreciate the efforts of our ancestors, 150 years ago, in carving homesteads out of the forests of the Queen's Bush, the cost was dear. As settlers cleared land for farms, habitats disappeared for beaver and deer. The trees of the Bruce Peninsula fell to the lumber companies. Commercial fishing at the Fishing Islands destroyed the fish stocks. And the Ojibway, who had managed these resources for centuries, found their land and resources largely gone, with precious little recompense."
Hilborn said the most fun was unearthing the untold story of Alexander McGregor of Goderich, who started commercial exploitation of the Fishing Islands fishery in 1831 and managed to acquire four wives.
Interestingly, the Dictionary of Canadian Biography qualifies Alexander McGregor as "a respected trader and fisherman". In fact, as Hilborn tells it, in the 1830s McGregor squatted on Ojibway land and illegally fished in Ojibway waters, all the while ignoring government warnings that he was breaking the law. He left his wife in Goderich and took three Ojibway wives, each one the daughter of a chief.
Hilborn said he wondered if the DCB would accept a revised description of McGregor: "squatter, poacher and polygamist".
Heart of the Great Lakes is hardcover, 214 pages and $40, from from Robin Hilborn at www.familyhelper.net/huron or from the Bruce County Museum gift shop in Southampton ON. The book includes an index and a bibliography of 230 entries. ISBN 978-0-9809468-7-1.
How to order
To order Heart of the Great Lakes, print (or copy out) the form below, fill in and mail with your cheque to:
Box 1203, Southampton ON N0H 2L0
Please send me ___ copies of Heart of the Great Lakes ($40 each).
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Also on sale (plus tax) at the Gift Shop, Bruce County Museum, Southampton