Denny Scott Editorial - History of 'Fury' Should Be Taught
If you’re not familiar with Fury, one of the plays being debuted at this year’s Blyth Festival, you really should be.
It’s a fictional story with the backdrop of the S.S. Wexford behind it, an actual ship that sank during the Great Storm of 1913. There were many ships that were either stranded or sunk during the event but I can’t remember ever being taught about it in school.
The storm, which cost more than 250 sailors and other people on the waves their lives, was something I was more or less unaware of
until I started working as a reporter. One of the first stories I wrote was about a special exhibition at the Huron County Museum
that featured artifacts recovered from the Wexford which had been lost until earlier this century.
The simplest way to explain the situation is to say that I was amazed.
I was amazed that this storm, which I hadn’t heard of, had happened so close to Goderich without it being referenced by my teachers, I was amazed that the story had gone untold for so long and I was amazed that this local tragedy had been missed in the histories I had been told.
I’m not angry, and, as a matter of fact,
I understand why the sinking of a dozen
ships and the stranding of 30 more was little more than a small blip in the history books. The storm happened just before World War I which saw people from across the area
visit foreign shores and taking part in the combat.
The S. S. Wexford, however, is a story that I think should really be covered, especially in local history classes.
The ship, which went down with all hands and more than 96,000 bushels of wheat, was very close to Goderich when it came to its final resting place and was only discovered in August of 2000.
The ship itself has an interesting history, having been completed in 1883 in Great Britain, being brought over and retrofitted in Canada and serving on the Great Lakes until the Great Storm, a November gale, claimed the ship along with 11 other ships on the great lakes.
Many of the sailors on board were from the area and the crew list features some local names that may or may not be related to modern-day Huron County residents.
Regardless of connections, the ship and the storm need to be focused on in schools.
After talking to some friends (who happen to be teachers), I found out that local history isn’t really a part of the approved curriculum so it could be difficult to make sure that every student knows about it, which I think is a horrible situation.
While we do need to learn about the history of the world, about the discovering of the Americas, the wars that have shaped the political landscape of the planet and the
history of how Canada was formed, I think that by ignoring the history that is closest to home, we do our children, and their children, a disservice.
Beyond that, we take away the opportunity for students to really be able to grasp something that they are learning about.
When I was young, I loved learning history and I loved learning about what made Canada great, but one of the things that I learned in school that will always stick with me is when, as part of a music class, I was taught Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”.
Did I like the song? Yeah, it was alright. Was there anything special about the story that made it more important than other lessons? No, not really. What made me remember it was how close it was.
Sure, Lake Superior was far from growing up on Lake Huron, but it was also a heck of a lot closer than the Charlottetown Conference or the Quebec Conference that led to Confederation.
For me, history is more interesting the closer it is, and I mean that both in terms of time and distance.
So to have this storm, which resulted in bodies washing up on shores north and south of Huron County along Lake Huron, be something I knew so very little about bothered me.
I wrote a fairly long story about the
exhibit and hoped that others would be as intrigued as I was, but in the end, failing some Canadian folk singer having a song about the Wexford, the storm, or one of the other ships, I’m afraid that without a little more information being shared at a younger age, there will be many more people like me who grow up not knowing the wealth of history that was literally a block away from my childhood home.
Fortunately, for me and dozens of other of people, the story of the S.S. Wexford and the Great Storm were told, through the Faces of the Fury event held at Blyth Community Memorial Hall last week.
The event brought members of the Great Lakes Storm of 1913 Remembrance committee, including David Yates, Paul Carroll, Kathy Pletsch and Colleen Maguire to the stage at Memorial Hall to tell what they knew about the sinking of the Wexford and the other ships and regale a large audience with tales of the sailors that were on board.
It’s only through remembering these tales that the true strength of something like the Great Lakes system can be understood.
So if you have the opportunity, look up the committee or search for the storm, the Wexford or any of the other ships mentioned and learn a little more about the history outside your backdoor. Who knows, you might find that a family member, or someone related
to a friend, was one of those ill-fated sailors aboard one of the ships lost to the witch of November.
Wouldn’t that be a story to tell?
This opinion piece first appeared in the June 4 issue of The Citizen