Friday, January 15, 2010
A Bit of Obscure Canadian History
In Southern Ontario, about halfway between Sault Ste Marie and Ottawa, there were for more than 50 years two neighboring communities named Whither and Wither, the founding fathers of which were two estranged brothers. A third brother also founded a village in the area, Withee, which was located about 70 miles to the east, and which maintains a tenuous existence to this day.
The dual communities of Whither and Wither, the ruins of which you may explore if you're at all curious (you can still locate them on old maps), are located a dozen miles north of Route 17, and originated in a dispute between the two brothers, Phillipe and Augustine Gascat. Phillipe was a priest who had come to Canada from France to minister to the local Indians. This was, of course, a dying racket in the last years of the 19th century, and in time he persuaded his brother to join him in Ontario (Augustine had then only recently emigrated to Boston).
Augustine eventually agreed to do so, but was immediately disenchanted by a landscape he felt his older brother had so fraudulently depicted. Having, however, incurred considerable expense and effort to make the trek, Augustine accepted his fate, albeit with a great deal of bitterness. Early in his time in Ontario, Phillipe attempted to bolster his brother's spirits by proposing that they found a settlement together. A deal was struck with a local tribe for land, plans were drawn up, and Phillipe suggested the name Whither for the new enterprise. This Augustine readily agreed to, having as he did a poor command of the English language and thus a misguided notion of the meaning and spelling of the village's name. This misunderstanding was the result of a brief, confused consultation of a dictionary, where Augustine stumbled across the word 'wither,' grasped its meaning, and was both surprised and delighted by his brother's choice.
When, however, it eventually was made clear to him that Phillipe had something entirely different and more optimistic in mind, Augustine objected strenuously, but to no avail. An intense feud resulted in a complete estrangement --the brothers, it is said, never spoke again-- and Augustine pulled up stakes, moved eight miles west, and founded his own competing settlement, Wither.
Somewhat ironically, I suppose, Wither outlasted Whither, mainly, I'm sure, because Augustine outlived Phillipe by a dozen years. Neither village ever fared well, and failed to thrive in either the short or long term. The population of both communities topped out at around 200 in the mid-1940s.
After the death of the Gascat brothers, remaining residents attempted to consolidate what survived of the two towns and rename the single entity Withal, but nothing much came of it, and the community was almost wholly destroyed by a fire in 1959, at which point it was abandoned. Today it is merely a cluster of overgrown ruins at a lonely crossroads in the bush.