Feel like getting away from it all? The ‘Wild Man of Oliphant’ has some tips for you.
His name was Cummings and for several years at the end of the 19th century he lived on, naturaly, Wild Man’s Island (formerly Belmore’s Island) in the Fishing Islands off Oliphant.
One person who knew him well was Frank Belmore. Historian Bruce Krug interviewed Frank in 1953. (You can see Bruce Krug’s manuscript at the Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre, A2014.003.0547.)
Frank told Bruce that Cummings’ father had a gristmill in Goderich, but his son was jilted in love so he left Goderich and took off for the Fishing Islands. Frank Belmore’s father had a fishing dock and cabin on their island, so as a lad Frank had visited the Wild Man’s cabin often.
Cummings built himself a shanty of logs and driftwood picked up on the beach. He had a big square oil can for a stove and he had put salmon cans together end to end, which constituted a chimney.
To get around he had a dugout canoe, about 16 feet long, made from a hollowed-out log. His paddle had a blade at each end and with this he could travel very fast over the water.
How did Cummings survive year-round on an island in Lake Huron? He did some fishing, and also went ashore, helped himself to the farmers’ chickens and dug up the seed potatoes just after the farmers had planted them.
In winter he was hard up for food. He would enter farm houses, demand food and leave the farmers’ wives half scared to death. Some winters he spent on his island but usually he was sent to Walkerton jail for stealing food.
Belmore said that Cummings had a handmade sleigh and in the winter when large icebergs were formed among the islands Cummings would amuse himself by coasting down these icebergs on his sleigh and you could hear him yelling with delight. According to Belmore, Cummings seemed to have a weakness mentally and sometimes he would take crazy spells; once he could hear him shouting out on the island.
Cummings had a pair of long leather boots on his feet. These boots had been cut off quite low and were split down the front. His feet were bare and as he walked along the snow would fall into the boots and dirty lumps of hard snow would be pushed out at the back of the boot and left in his tracks.
Belmore said that Cummings was a good-looking fellow. Bruce Krug asked Belmore if Cummings drowned or what happened to him but Belmore didn’t know.
Abridged edition by Robin Hilborn for the Bruce County Historical Society