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Minerva novella honours courage of 17-year-old County heroine

Suzanne Pasternak, Emily Fennell as Minerva, Alec Lunn and Tom Leighton presented the story of Minerva during a Storytelling Festival in Picton, in 2015. – Phil Norton photo

The story of how 17-year-old ship cook Minerva McCrimmon rescued a 21-member County crew (including her dad) after their schooner went aground in a blinding snowstorm will be told in a new novella being launched this month.

Suzanne Pasternak – Phil Norton photo

Musician and playwright Suzanne Pasternak has told the legendary County heroine’s story for the past 30 years – on stage in folk operas written and composed with musician Tom Leighton, music director for the show.

After years of performances and development at Mirvish Productions (12 years in Toronto), and several performances in the County, Suzanne and Tom decided to make a permanent record of Minerva’s incredible story by writing the short book titled ‘Minerva’.

“With the show not running anymore, we thought the story of her life would be lost, so we decided to make it into a short novella book,” said Pasternak. “It’s been amazing to develop her character and also to make it more historically accurate which is important to me after 30 years of research.”

Graham Davies photo of Emily Fennell and Janice Lambert, both portraying Minerva in this photograph by Graham Davies for the 2003 show.

Pasternak credits friends for helping her make the novella a reality as she is now working through catastrophic vision loss and learning how to use technology for visually impaired.

“Very excited teams in Kingston and Prince Edward County are helping me as I can’t read, or write, anymore,” explains Pasternak. “I have to go to bed and close my eyes for two days and write the chapters in my mind, almost cinematically and then I have to re-write them, re-edit in my mind, then memorize everything, then I write it by hand. I can’t read it, but other people can read my writing. So those teams type what I’ve written by hand and those copies go to Tom and we re-edit; then to proofreaders, editors and then to press.”

Despite the challenges, Pasternak is excited the book will be launched by herself, Leighton and friends with musical accompaniment, at the Mariner’s Park Museum in South Bay on Aug. 14. It will be followed by a short walk to the South Bay Cemetery where Minerva is buried.

“I love Minerva. I’m really excited.”

Minerva (Nerva) McCrimmon, Capt. Nate McCrimmon’s sailor daughter, was a gifted navigator and was often called upon to take the wheel of the schooner David Andrews during a storm.

On April 13, 1880, in a blinding snowstorm, the 125-foot barley schooner the David Andrews drove into a reef three miles off Oswego, New York. The only way to shore was to ride a small board attached to a rope over the freezing slush and snow. None of the panic-stricken crew wanted to brave the ride so Minerva went first, then came back and one by one escorted each member, including her father, safely to shore.

Artist Tammy Love’s version of Minerva from the Regent show in 1994

Her bravery is honoured in the poem ‘Neva of the Delaware’ (author unknown) which ends with:

I rushed aft with the Old Man
To lift Nerva from the wheel.
Her frozen hands was bleeding.
Her feet she could not feel.
Her hair was iced to her back boys,
And it seemed to me a sin,
For her mother’s old grey cradle shawl
Was froze beneath her chin.”

 

Minerva married Henry Whattam and died a short time later at the age of 21.

Pasternak’s short book paints an historically rich portrait of the marine culture of South Bay and Long Point. She will also speak to County resident Moses Dulmage who also died at age 21 in a blustery gale two years earlier than McCrimmon. His body washed up on Lake Ontario’s south shore, was returned and he is also buried at the South Bay Cemetery.

For tickets for the event at Mariners Park Museum Saturday, Aug. 14 at 2 p.m., purchase tickets at www.ticketscene.ca (search “Minerva”),  or reserved by calling 613-476-2148 ext. 2524.

The general store in Port Milford where Minerva’s ship sailed from. She bought all of her supplies for the kitchen from the store which looks exactly the same as from the 1800s, Pasternak notes.

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