Have you ever just escaped your day as it wound down? Slipped the seatbelt and jumped out of the car before it stopped?
I have. Not often, it’s true, but I have. And I did just that this past Monday. The sun had slipped behind a spread of white-gray clouds and my muse went on strike. No more proofing, nor writing of guest blog posts, nor answering e-mails.
I did one more thing, though. I looked up the data on the Ross Butler museum to see if it was open and it was. Just for another hour, though.
My guy and I dashed the ten minutes to the turn off, south of Woodstock, found the narrow gravel lane and wound our way past the golf course, wonderful goldenrod and purple thistle ushering us on.
“Did we miss a turn?” my husband asked, but a house appeared and another showed in the background. We parked near it, climbed out of the car and heard a shout.
“Elaine!” It was David, son of the renowned Ross Butler and descendant of famed loyalist, Colonel John Butler.
David and I have become acquainted since my first book, The Loyalist’s Wife, came out a year and a half ago. When he came to my house to pick up a copy he told me that not only are we both descended from members of Butler’s Rangers (which I knew), but we are also related through my mother’s side of the family.
The first thing I did was apologize to him for the way I had characterized his ancestor. “I’ve made him not very nice,” I said, something I needed to do to enhance the story. And I’ve carried that into the sequel, The Loyalist’s Luck, for the same reason. “I needed to create tension,” I told David, “but I hope you understand my personal awe for the man and what he did.” David assured me he knew Butler had two sides to his character and we proceeded into the museum.
Ross Butler’s life as an artist was prolific and varied. A true pioneer he plunged his fingers into many pies. This Wikipedia article, one of many references on the Internet, lists a few of his accomplishments. He was commissioned to do paintings of standard breeds of many farm animals and I remember the paintings in my one-room schoolhouse when I was a child. His contract to do enough for all of the schools in Ontario was halted because of the second world war.
In 1953 he was invited to attend Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation as a recognition of his stature in the Commonwealth and probably partly because of his statue of the Queen on her horse which he fashioned out of butter for the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto. Even the last painting which he worked on in his eighties shows his amazing ability at rendering wildlife. He wanted to show what his farm looked like back before all the major highways and, indeed, the city of Woodstock. David’s commentary on this and other fascinating artifacts enhanced our visit. It’s always the stories, isn’t it?
So, yes. I’ve made Colonel John Butler not very nice in my books but his descendants are both nice and multi-talented. Thanks for the tour, David!
Should you care to journey to this studio, here is the contact information from Tourism Oxford’s site where you’ll find much more to see in this historic county.
Ross Butler Studio
708 Pattullo Ave., R.R. #4
When the Revolutionary War turns in favor of the Americans, John and Lucy flee across the Niagara River with almost nothing. They begin again in Butlersburg, a badly supplied British outpost surrounded by endless trees and rivers, and the mighty roar of the giant falls not far off. He is off on a secret mission for Colonel Butler and she is left behind with her young son and pregnant once again. In the camp full of distrust, hunger, and poverty, word has seeped out that John has gone over to the American side and only two people will associate with Lucy—her friend, Nellie, who delights in telling her all the current gossip, and Sergeant Crawford, who refuses to set the record straight and clear John’s name. To make matters worse, the sergeant has made improper advances toward Lucy. With John’s reputation besmirched, she must walk a thin line depending as she does on the British army, and Sergeant Crawford, for her family’s very survival.
With vivid scenes of heartbreak and betrayal, heroism and shattered hopes, Elaine Cougler takes us into the hearts and homes of Loyalists still fighting for their beliefs, and draws poignant scenes of families split by political borders. The Loyalist’s Luck shows us the courage of ordinary people who, in perilous times, become extraordinary.