Getting to Know Earl Robson

The more I know about Earl Robson, the more I like him.

Earl was a cousin of Grandma Wallace. His sister, Lena Robson Smith, was also a friend of hers. Shortly before Lena died, she asked my grandmother if she would publish a book of stories that Earl had written. So my grandmother did, and called it “Memories of Lake Erie Shores”.

Now that I’m finished transcribing A History of Rochester Township into the computer, I’m starting on Memories. I’ve just started, but am already enchanted by this charming man. He was born in 1881 to Thomas Robson and Mary Ann Foster (it’s through the Foster side that we are related .. Mary Ann was Great Great Grandpa James White Foster’s sister).

Here’s just a little bit about Earl and his family.

There were four of us boys, each so different, yet all so much alike. When we fell out of the family high chair, we climbed into a boat. Herm, the oldest boy, took to the lake in his teens. I can hear again the clank, clank of the windlass as the singing sailors caged the schooner Eliza Allen out from the old Wigle dock, carrying my big brother away.

When I bawled, the captain’s grey-haired wife put her arm over the young man’s shoulder and called back “we’ll take good care of him.” Herm died at the age of 26, leaving behind medals awarded him in recognition of services on the lake.

Aubrey, the second, moved like a cat in the open boat. He could shin a spar or ride a pitching quarterdeck like an elusive shadow. On water or land he had the instincts and habits of an Indian. Aub could sleep soundly under a tree in the density of the South Woods, with a wildcat screaming and circling him. He got the name “Kanoochee” after an Indian he followed. He has not yet gotten over his wandering ways. He died in 1965, age 90.

Fred came in third, one of the finest physiques turned out by Leamington. He was tall, powerful and could be rough, but behind it all were the finest of principles. He quit the lakes to become a prospector in the north country. I have heard the late Dr. Albert Foster say that a better all-round man never went to Cobalt. He died at 35 on the Mexican border.

I myself brought up the tail end, a sort of kid brother, a “leave over”. The romance of the schooner days had begun to wane when I became fledged. Only occasionally the fine, majestic fore and aft rigged vessels put into Wigle’s dock (opposite the old lighthouse) for cargoes of grain, moulding sand and small woods – railroad ties, bolts, staves etc. The rustling timber days were over. The old “Dew Drop Inn” Tavern burnt down, the lime kiln and huge granary closed up. Dockmen, timber hewers, teamsters, rafters and sailors disappeared. Houses for the dressing and curing of fish gradually quit the shore. the little port became a dot on the shore line, all but forgotten by the big, rapidly growing world outside. Like the other boys, I wanted to learn something about the big world which the sailors had yarned into my ears. I left home at 19.

As a boy I must have been something of a joke to my older brothers. I read books, was socialistic in my ranting and very much of a temperance crank. While the other boys weathered the gales in the treacherous waters, I was obsessed with a notion (like John Knox) of saving them from themselves. I smile when I recall their tolerance, good nature and jesting. They took to calling me Phys (Fizz)

And since I have rambled on so long on family boredom, may I go a little further and tell of the father, a first native, who gave much to build a road to the lakeshore, and who gave outright, another road across the lakefront of his farm for the convenience of the public. Tom, the lakeman was not an ordinary outdoor man. In his day he was considered to be well educated. His devout Baptist mother had, from childhood, schooled him for the ministry. A few old Baptists will remember our devout Aunt Mary Malott. She was a sister to my father. So too was Aunt Belle, the wife of Wesley Morse and grandmother to Elmer Selkirk, our town clerk. Uncle Kit, the singer with the celestial voice was an only brother.

More stories from Lake Erie shores to come … typing out these stories is not a chore. I’v savouring every word … Earl was a fine writer …

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Posted on February 7, 2012, in Essex County Families, Memories of Lake Erie Shores and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Earl was a VERY fine writer. I am enjoying these posts a great deal.

    • Thanks Victoria. And every story is better than the last. There’s this thing I do … I fall in love with writers. These days I’ve been falling in love with DEAD writers. First, the poet, Raymond Knister, who I did the piece for CBC Radio about (and to think he lived just next door). Now I think he may have a challenger for my affections … I am loving the time I am spending with Mr. Robson. I don’t have a picture so I can only imagine what he looks like. I wish I could find a time warp someday so I could go back in time and meet both of these men.

      And I doubt that Fred “the finest physique that Leamington ever turned out”, would have been my type. Even though “a better all-round man never went to Cobalt”. Love those lines. Love Earl’s colourful, lively writing.

  2. Victoria, I too fall in love with writers and their charming way with words. Earl is indeed a very fine writer.

    Just wanted you to know that your radio piece on Raymond Knister inspired me to take everything Knister-related out of the U of Windsor library. Plus I conducted a whole lot of online research in secondary sources. Knister managed to capture the essence of rural southwestern Ontario in a way that had not been done up to that time, and I doubt whether it’s been done as well since.

    It strikes me that Earl too has that ability to evoke a time and place in his writing.

    • I wonder how many other writers Essex County has had who have mostly been unnoticed. And there are many fine writers whose works have been noticed too. I’ve sometimes thought it would be good to have a literary map of Essex County, much like there are literary tours and maps of England. Much smaller in scope but just as interesting.

      I’m happy that my piece inspired you to look up Raymond’s writing … it is too good to be forgotten. I am very very glad that the main Raymond Knister archive is at McMaster University , just down the road from where I live. His daughter Imogen left it to Mac, likely because she was raised in Port Dover, and that’s close to Hamilton. It is an amazing experience to go read his letters and manuscripts in their original form, in his own handwriting and on his own typewriter. There are many family letters there too .. some of which were written from aunts and uncles in Ruscomb (his parents moved to Cedar Springs by the time he was in university, but he did return to visit family there .. he spent some time back in Ruscomb in 1926, which was just after he came back from Chicago)

      Victoria College at UofT also has part of his collection.

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