Once Upon a Time: ‘Ancestors and Poetry’


Anne C.E. Kastner, a retired school teacher in Wiarton, has written how a local poet was inspired by growing up on the beautiful Bruce Peninsula. John Tyndall’s first book of poetry was listed by the Literary Journal as one of the ten best small-press poetry books of 1976. Here is part of her account of his family history.

Thirteen poems telling of the beauties of midnight shores, pitcher plants, reefs and wild paintbrush, have been written by John Tyndall, a descendant of the Mathews and Tyndall families, pioneers of the Bruce Peninsula. Since John’s poetic inspiration stems from his love of the land settled by his ancestors, I became interested in his background.


One branch of his ancestral line arrived in Pennsylvania in 1737. Facing discrimination for not supporting the American colonists’ cause, that family migrated in 1805 to Upper Canada. In 1858, later descendants arrived by boat from Owen Sound to settle in Colpoy’s Bay. One maternal ancestor, Mark Mathews, a photographer by trade, but a dreamer by nature, experimented with solar heat and house design. One example of his concept of a split level home still stands on the corner of Taylor and Mary streets in Wiarton. In 1873, he installed the town’s first telegraph system in his home. For the next 54 years his wife, Christianna, operated it. Their son, Burton, opened the Wiarton Bakery in 1921 and operated it until his retirement in 1948.

On John Tyndall’s paternal side, his great-grandparents, Thomas and Mary (Christian) Tyndall, left Palmerston to farm 200 acres at Barrow Bay in the Township of Eastnor in the 1870s. Their son and daughter-in-law, Arthur and Lillian Tyndall, moved from Dyer’s Bay to Wiarton in the 1930s. Their grandson and future poet, John, a graduate of the University of Western Ontario, spent most of his summers at his parents’ cottage ( Guy and Helen Tyndall) at Oliphant. From there, he roamed the Peninsula writing of the clouds, flowers and shores his ancestors knew so well. No doubt these ancestors paused at times from their work to marvel at the scarlet and blue of flowers and the majesty of rock.

We wonder if they, like the poet, saw the cup of the pitcherplant as a “sacrificial well” or ancient rocks as “spilt by laughing winter” or did it take a century to form into poetic description, what lay in their hearts? Thirteen Poems from the Bruce Peninsula by John Tyndall was published in 1974 by Pikadilly Press in London, Ont. The author resides in London.