East Wawanosh native contributes to "150 Stories" - July 20, 2017
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Tom Cull, an East Wawanosh native, is one of 150 Ontarians who told their stories as part of 150 Stories, a special book compiled by the office of the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario to help mark Canada’s sesquicentennial this year.
Cull is a professor of creative writing at the University of Western Ontario, where he also serves as the Poet Laureate for the City of London. His recollection in the book is number 34 and his story is told alongside Ontarians like Gordon Lightfoot, Bobby Orr and Roberta Bondar, Canadian gold medalists Penny Oleksiak and Donovan Bailey and bestselling author Joseph Boyden.
Cull’s story recalls memories of bush parties, the smell of fresh-cut hay and listening to the radio at the family’s kitchen table in the winter, hoping to hear that classes at East Wawanosh Public School had been cancelled for the day.
The writer also questions the naming of his home township in his piece, saying that as a youth “Wawanosh” meant his township. He had no idea that it referred to a man with the first name of Joshua who was an “Ojibwa Chief... who fought for the Crown in the War of 1812.”
In an interview with The Citizen, Cull said that when he was first contacted about contributing to the project, it only took him a day or two to finalize his submission.
Cull said he gave the piece to his partner, Miriam Love, also a writer, who he calls his “first and best” editor and he sent it off to those compiling the book. He had no idea whether his piece would even be selected for publication.
The book features pieces of writing from 150 Ontarians, asking them to reflect on their idea of home in association with growing up in Ontario. Cull said those putting the book together asked that the reflections be 150 words or less.
When Cull was asked to contribute a piece for the book, he said that the key word he honed in on was “home”, which has been a running theme in much of his poetry over the years.
In light of Canada celebrating its 150th anniversary, Cull said, he began reflecting on the province’s First Nations communities and the history in that community, knowing that it goes much farther back than 150 years.
Cull said that the history of Canada’s First Nations communities, for him, wasn’t taught in schools, which he felt was a failing of the country’s education system. The history of First Nations peoples, he said, is important for all Canadians to know, especially in a time when the Truth and Reconciliation Committee and its work is such a prominent part of the country’s narrative in 2017.
“We need to know more about that,” Cull said. “That’s why I wanted to get a more comprehensive understanding of where I came from.”
Cull said that the knowledge of the land on which Huron County now sits and the stewards of that land reach back much further than 150 years and it’s important that young residents understand that.
He said that while his story, which is accompanied by a photograph of Auburn’s Ball’s Bridge in the winter taken by Central Huron Secondary School teacher Conrad Kuiper, is the book’s only one from Huron County, it shouldn’t be viewed as speaking for the region.
Cull took a very personal approach to writing his piece and he said it likely doesn’t represent the experiences of all Huron County residents growing up in the area. Like any writer, however, if his piece does connect with people and readers can relate to some of the experiences he’s recounted, he says that would be great.
Speaking on the subject of home, Cull said that this summer has represented somewhat of a homecoming for him and his family thanks to a number of marquee events throughout the community.
Cull was in Belgrave just a few weeks ago to be part of the opening ceremonies for the East Wawanosh 150th anniversary. He read his 150 Stories piece to those in attendance and recounted memories of growing up on Lot 33, Concession 8 of East Wawanosh Township years ago.
He said he has an important and personal relationship with returning for the anniversary as it was his father George who was the chair of the 125th anniversary. Cull saw first hand just how much work goes into planning an event of that scale and George, in many ways, is Cull’s model for community involvement and volunteerism, he said, so it was important to be a part of the event.
Not only was Cull part of the opening ceremonies, but the anniversary was very much a reunion for his family, as many cousins and extended family members returned to the area for the weekend. This is in addition to Cull’s brother, Andrew, who has returned from the Maritimes to work at the Blyth Festival as a production manager for the 2017 season.
Complimentary copies of 150 Stories are available to those who tour the Legislative Building at Queen’s Park in Toronto and a number of copies were provided by East Wawanosh native and Huron-Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson at the East Wawanosh 150th anniversary.