HOPE, THE MISSING HOMING PIGEON
'All Creatures Big And Small'
My great grandfather William Danard, on my mother's side, founded the Oliphant Camper's Church in 1906. He founded several churches in western Ontario around Georgian Bay during his ministry. All denominations are welcome guests each Sunday at the 10 a.m. service during July and August. The clanging of the bell hurries up the tardy and annoys the lay-in-beds.
Sam didn't let my mother know he wanted to go to church.
Oliphant was going places in the 1880's over a hundred years ago. It was going to be the hub, the port on Lake Huron for shipping timber and farm produce from the Bruce Peninsula to the east and to the west. The Town had been surveyed and the plot of Oliphant was registered. Many cottages were built before the influx of industry. The expected development never came; the railway came instead to Wiarton across the peninsula on Georgian Bay (Famous for Wiarton Willy, the weather groundhog and arch rival to the American Tuxnawanee Phil). Oliphant remained 'cottage country', a summer retreat.
My mother told me the story about Sam. I was only six when her dog died. He was a clever dog who decided he was going to church.
My mother, Dorothy, was late and nearly every pew in the 70-seat church was taken. The first Sunday in August can be hot with temperatures in the 30's. The windows and doors are left open to catch the little wind and help reduce the heat that always builds up during the hour service.
Dorothy found a seat in the first pew, directly under the pulpit. Maybe if she had been in the back out of sight of the door, Sam might have changed his mind. The minister welcomed everyone and made all feel comfortable.
Sam arrived a few minutes after Dorothy. He stood at the door peering in. She noticed him when a little girl started to gesticulate to her brother. Sam had not seen where Dorothy was, just yet. Then he made his presence known. She tried to ignore him. The minister turned and looked at Sam, then cleared his throat and increased the strength and loudness of his voice.
Dorothy signaled Sam to be quiet; her arm action caught his attention. He beamed with happiness. He had discovered where his mistress had gone.
Sam was a mongrel with dachshund and corgi breeding and was a four year old at the time. His annoying barks of impatience at the door turned into a soft and persistent series of 'woofs'.
My mother said she was too embarrassed to get up during the sermon and walk to the door in front of the whole congregation. There was no time to develop a strategy because Sam came into the church. He walked over to Dorothy. The voice of the minister suddenly lost his tenor as his eyes followed Sam coming across the floor in front of him.
The little girl and boy tried to pet him, but Sam wanted his mistress and no one else. Sam sat down beside Dorothy and she stroked his ears. Sam seemed satisfied and then lay at her feet.
The minister looked relieved and continued his sermon. Dorothy just hoped that Sam would fall asleep like the two men seated in the second and third rows. Unfortunately Sam had other ideas.
For the next ten minutes he was quiet, and then he became restless after the singing of the hymn. He decided to explore and before Dorothy could grab him, he walked up to the pulpit and started to sniff. My mother said she held her breath and tried to gain his attention without making everyone know that it was her dog. She could feel everyone's eyes focusing on her back. Sam ignored her attempts to coax him to her. It was at this stage that she started to pray, "Oh Lord, please keep him from lifting his leg." She didn't want him to anoint anything. The congregation held its breath. Maybe it was the presence of the bee that made Sam recant. He was deathly afraid of bees or anything that buzzes. He either ran away or attacked. This time he scurried over to Dorothy for protection.
The service continued. Sam sniffed the collection plate and let it pass. The minister in closing made reference to 'all creatures big and small' and then the service was finished.
"What a well behaved dog!" an elderly woman cooed. Similar comments were made as Dorothy and Sam left the church.
The minister shook her hand and asked, "Will we see you both next Sunday?"
So Oliphant has been a special place ever since I was born and it's one of the most pleasant places on earth. North at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula at Tobermory skin divers come from all around the world to explore the hundreds of shipwrecks that dot the bottom and have become part of the history of the Great Lakes. Here is the clearest freshwater in the world.