When I learned how to drill holes in pebbles and stones a couple of years ago I knew I was hooked. The idea of combining a love of searching and finding interesting stones on beaches with an end use, creating interesting and unusual items of bodily adornment was irresistible. I had owned a Dremel for years and hardly used it, now it is a favourite tool.
The pebbles themselves each have their own story that began millennia before they were picked up on a beach by me, and the exploration of their origin has captured my imagination and curiosity.
The stones in these creations are from the shores of Lake Huron, specifically from Sauble Beach. Sauble Beach is on the east side of Lake Huron and south of the Bruce Peninsula. It is the traditional land of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation, and slowly taken away from them in treaties that said that they “ceded” their land. Ceded always sounded to me like a reluctant action, and I think it was, they were pushed into it, but the white settlers wanted more land and their needs were triumphant.
It is likely that many of you know Sauble Beach as a summer beach destination with great distances of sand for sunbathing, building sandcastles and generally having a carefree time. Maybe you have even had a summer holiday there. I could tell from the stores that were closed for the season when I was there, that during the summer it is a very popular beach resort. The stores were full of beach wear, beach toys, gifts and other memorabilia not to mention numerous food outlets. Ice cream, hot dogs, cotton candy. However, until the day I searched for pebbles there I had not stepped foot on it. And the beach was full of amazing small, flat or slightly rounded pebbles for which the coast is renowned.
The first beach pebbles that I collected for drilling were from the Beaches area in Toronto near where I used to live. I usually collected them in the winter when my dog could run around south of the snow fence as free as a bird, or at least a dog off leash. I would bob my head between keeping an eye on her and searching the ground. At the time I had this fantasy that the stones on the shores of Lake Ontario began their life way up along the chain of the Great Lakes. That they were chunks of the Canadian Shield, which was formed during the Precambrian era which lasted until 570 million years ago. Yes, lasted until 570 million years ago. Very old rock which began as mountains and was worn down to what it is today, a shadow of its former self, by glaciers.
To go back to my fantasy, I imagined the stones being moved by the currents and worn away by rubbing against each other in the water and on the beach. I imagined them flowing over Niagara Falls, traveling down in the swift current of the Niagara River, through the mighty whirlpool in the Niagara Gorge and coming to rest at my feet on the shore of Lake Ontario so that I could pick them up. Sadly, this is probably not the case, but being eroded by water and friction against other stones is true.
Very likely the majority of the pebbles that I picked up on Sauble Beach began their life as part of much bigger rocks formed much more locally. Sauble Beach is on the west side of the Niagara Escarpment that extends from Niagara Falls, to the tip of the Bruce Peninsula. It arcs slightly east, getting quite close to Toronto as it travels north and then returns west to form the peninsula. I find the stone formations of the escarpment quite fascinating, especially as it relates to Niagara Falls and how the falls are eroded. However, I can’t talk about that here as it is not very relevant. Maybe when I make pieces from pebbles from Georgian Bay. But I digress.
When the glaciers advanced, and hit the escarpment, instead of grinding them down they went up and over them. Seems amazing to me that they went up and over as the glaciers can grind down granite and the escarpments rock layers are not nearly as strong as granite. So the west side of the escarpment, the Huron slope, and the Huron fringe, including Sauble Beach have deposits left behind by retreating glaciers. So my best guess is that the pebbles that I have made my pieces from are predominantly dolomite and granite, dumped by glaciers that retreated 17,000 years ago. Now, I would love some wonderful geologist who knows this area well to come along and correct or supplement my knowledge.
All in all, I find it a very sobering thought that the pebbles that I pick up did not just appear overnight, but have a long, ancient really, past. I am picking up geological history without really giving it a thought. It reminds me of my brother in law, Trevor, picking up a piece of ice in Iceland. It had broken away from a glacier and landed on the shore. As he picked it up he said “ancient ice”. As I said, sobering, and very thought provoking.
Talking about the ancient history of the pebbles makes me think that my own process of creating wearable pieces is short and trivial, but it too has a story. Little did I think when I got hooked on drilling pebbles and make wearable history, as I now think of it, what was involved. Everything seems so simple at the beginning. Get pebble, drill hole, make piece, present to the world. Getting ready to present these creations to the world has been as complex as it was setting up my previous businesses, whether a massage therapy clinic or a massage therapy products company. And it has been a challenge, and I must say a pleasure to do so. Re-using the hands originally created for my massage therapy practice business card gives me a sentimental thrill. Yes, business cards are still used, although brochures have been replaced by web sites. So I have to have one of them. Now I really thought that I had avoided the necessity of having a web site, but then again, I also remember looking through the window of the IBM store in the Royal Bank Plaza in downtown Toronto and looking at the desk top computers, $10,000 a pop, and thinking I would never need one of those. Now I can’t tell you how many computers I have owned.
While pricing the pieces I used the same process using excel spread sheets to calculate the total cost of all the components and the time involved in every process. Each pebble is washed, drilled, washed again, polished using a museum quality wax, and then assembled. And of course the stones have a shape all their own. It takes a lot of trying out combinations to get one that satisfies, that give me that feeling in my solar plexus that says yes, this is it. After all that, and the piece is made, it has to be photographed and measured and written about. I am still struggling with the photography, not a natural environment for me. Then I had to think about how I was going to ship the items. The boxes were finally ordered and are ready. And I had not anticipated all of the minute details that goes into creating a web page. The blog page had been set up professionally by Linn Farley Oyen in Toronto before I began my travels, but now it needed to be expanded for my creations to an outlet to release them to the world. I have enjoyed the process, working with the multi-talented Kelly Laing, and by the time you are reading this it will be complete and launched, and when I have something new to offer I hope it will be a much simpler process to do so, and that I will be able to do it without having my hand held every step of the way.
Thinking about how the indigenous people of this area, the Saugeen Ojibway, were pushed onto and smaller amounts of land until there are now two small reservations and restricted fishing rights made me think about this in a larger context. Here in Canada there was a concerted effort to kill indigenous people, and if not all of them, then their culture. The children were taken from their families where they lived a traditional lifestyle, trapping, fishing etc and put in residential schools, largely run by religious orders, forbidden to use their language. They often did not see their families for many years, if they did not die at the school, so family life and traditions were completely disrupted. In the sixties was the famous Sixties Scoop, where children were removed from their parents and adopted by non-indigenous families, against their or their families wills. Horrific actions that have taken place in my lifetime. So much damage. Now, however, there is resurgence in first nations peoples reclaiming their language, traditions and culture and building on it. The languages were almost lost, but now they are being spoken and taught again. It made me think of my own original country, England and Great Britain and what is going on there. Growing up, Gaelic was almost a lost language, almost treated as quaint. Now it is thriving, and the Gaelic culture is being nurtured, taught and celebrated both in the original Gaelic countries, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Isle of Man, Cornwall and Brittany, and in the diaspora. Ireland has made Gaelic its second official language. The 2011 Canadian census found there were 7,195 speakers of “Gaelic languages”, 1,365 of them in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward island, mainly Scottish Gaelic. Thank goodness for Wikipedia to be able to confirm knowledge that is vague in my brain.
In Britain, successive successful invaders imposed their language and culture on the population. It amuses me that we are called Anglo Saxon as the Angles probably came from the Angelne peninsula, part of the Jutland peninsula, today northeast Germany, Schleswig-Holstein. And the Saxons came from the south Jutland peninsula, Westfalia, Lower Saxony. (https://about-history.com/history-of-the-saxons-and-angles/)
And that is only part of the British heritage, before the Angles and Saxons there were the Romans, and mixed in with this morass were the marauding Vikings, and the rule by the Danes. And the final successful invasion, the Normans, from Normandy in 1066. Each invader imposing their own language and culture. The winner takes all. And who knows who I have forgotten, picts, for one, and Queen Boudicca, the Celtic queen of the Iceni tribe who tried to defeat the Romans. There is a wonderful statue of her on her chariot across from the Houses of Parliament in London, but no postcards of her that I could find, only punks with mohawks.
The Romans, I know, had a clever trick of relating a local god or goddess to one of their own. They would give them a double name for a period of time, mollifying the locals, and then eventually dropping the local god. So the Celtic goddess Sulis, of the hot springs in Bath, became Minerva over time.
So we Brits, and Europeans in general, are not of a single bloodline, we are mongrels, a common term for mixed breed dogs when I was growing up, from all over the world as people now immigrate from the four corners of the planet. How a round planet has four corners I am not sure. I have a suspicion that although there is some mixed blood in indigenous people and some European blood thrown in occasionally that they will have a much less mixed up genome than most Europeans. But I am not recommending 23 and me testing to find out. And I may be wrong.
Language and culture are important to us, and with the resurgence of both in Great Britain, there is a growing desire to break it apart. The Scottish people will probably have another referendum, there are rumblings in Wales, Ireland is getting antsy again. Soon it may not be Great Britain, but four different countries, and so history rolls into the future.
Phew, that was a long one. I hope you enjoy perusing my creations. 10% of the sales of these pieces will be donated to the following charities:
The Women’s Centre Grey Bruce Inc. https://www.thewomenscentre.org
David Suzuki Foundation https://davidsuzuki.org/
Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides https://www.dogguides.com/
Doctors Without Borders https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/
I will update the amounts donated as I make sales and send these pieces out into the world.