The Happy Islands

Author and outdoorsman Marlow Shaw describes scenes with vivid charm, evocative of an era and its direct yet poetic style of writing. His word-sketches of characters and episodes around "The Georgian Bay" create moods ranging from adventure and danger through delight to serenity.

This summer, when several Ontario provincial parks introduced Internet connections so visitors might extend their world of work and entertainment into the wilderness, their captivity to communications contrasts starkly to Shaw, a contended captive of nature. When stranded in the leeside of a Georgian Bay Island several miles from shore, roiling whitecaps all around spelling disaster if he ventured from his calm-water shelter, Shaw pulled his canoe ashore, set a fire, made himself hot chocolate, and happily settled in for however many days it would take the storm to blow itself out.

"Frailest of all crafts in which frail man ever set forth upon the waters of the world," he wrote, "the canoe is yet the one nearest perfection."

With canoe and tent, the author spent summer after summer voyaging in and out among the islands, up and down Georgian Bay's enchanting shores. Marlow Shaw's intimate portrait of human experience in the raw face of nature, and his sympathetic understanding of the spirit of the region, enrich every page of this book, as do his recognition of the beauties of these waters and his strong sense of fellowship with Georgian Bay's inhabitants.

The Happy Islands was one in a series of a dozen or so major books from McClelland & Stewart in the Twenties about "the romance, the beauty, and the charm of Canada." Others included Old Provincial Tales from Nova Scotia, Before the White Man Came, Canadian Cities of Romance, and Chez Nous (Our Old Quebec Home).

"Only a small portion, this Georgian Bay is, of America's noble heritage, the great clear-water lakes, but it is by far the most beautiful," penned Marlow Shaw in praise eight decades ago. "Its eastern and northern shores are lined with thousands of islands. They are of lichened gray granite, and set in the clearest of water; they lay hold on those who know them with a rare and powerful loveliness."

A treasure, indeed.

— Review by John Denison

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