Castaway Culture: on my desert island

Sharon Taylor with some rental canoes

When I was first asked to write about what items of culture I would need on a desert island – items that would sustain me – I thought I would have a hard time picking out those items. Then I realized that culture for me is what evokes memories of past events.

My first introduction to culture that provided me with a profound moment came when I was a small child. My Dad, Fred Schweig, was close to the people who ran Madonna House in Combermere. It was the early 1960s and many of the young people who lived there were involved in social change. One evening my Dad, my Mom and me went to hear some music there. Father Mike sang, “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan. I can still remember the glow from the setting sun in the window behind him and the profound words he sang,

How many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn’t see?

To my young mind those words must have come from God because they were being sung by a religious figure. Culture and art can deeply impact us on so many levels Therefore on this island I would want my old iPod Shuffle to listen to the music.

Another cultural moment happened in 1967. I became aware of my Canadian heritage and how our nation came to be. Being Canadian meant the building of a railroad to bring all the vast colonies together. Gordon Lightfoot wrote the Canadian Railroad Trilogy,

When the green dark forest was too silent to be real

How Canada came together was summed up in one song. To remind me of home, I would need that song on my iPod.

From a truly selfish point of view I would need another item: one of the paintings by my aunt, Esther Schweig, to remind me of home. For those of you who do not know, my Aunt Esther was born in Combermere into a large family called Yantha. As a small child I remember her painting. Apparently, A.Y. Jackson and other painters from the Group of Seven used to come to my grandfather’s farm to paint. I cannot say I remember the faces, but I do remember men in big coats with rubber boots and easels climbing the hills around the barns. They inspired her to take up painting and although some might have laughed and said it was a waste of her time, I think painting made her happy.


Painting by Esther Schweig

Those who enjoy culture, music, art, poetry and novels need these past times to sustain them. Culture itself must be sustained by each of us keeping an open mind and allowing ourselves to participate.

About the author: Sharon Taylor grew up in the Valley. For over 30 years she and her husband, Eric, have owned and operated Barry’s Bay Outfitters in the Madawaska Valley.

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