Into the Blue: Family Secrets and the Search for a Great Lakes Shipwreck


272 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Maps, Bibliography
ISBN 0-679-31252-8
DDC 971.3'1503




Reviewed by Sarah Robertson

Sarah Robertson is the editor of the Canadian Book Review Annual.


“For as long as I can remember I have been haunted by shipwrecks.”
So begins Into the Blue, an absorbing and beautifully realized family
memoir that explores the long shadow cast by the wreck of the J.H. Jones
on November 22, 1906. During a vicious storm, all 30 passengers and crew
aboard the doomed steamer drowned in the frigid waters of Georgian Bay.
The Jones was navigated by the author’s great-grandfather, Jim
Crawford of Wiarton, Ontario, and one of the many thorny questions she
wrestles with is the extent of his culpability in the disaster: “Was
he cocky or stupid or just unlucky that day?”

Curtis, an award-winning journalist and former editor-in-chief of This
Magazine, chronicles the Crawford family’s social and financial fall
from grace, along with Wiarton’s own decline from a prominent lumber
and fishing centre to “the sort of town that young people leave.” In
particular, she sets out to find the missing pieces in the story of her
glamorous, enigmatic grandmother Eleanor, who transformed herself from
an “impoverished daughter of a drowned shipping captain to [a]
well-heeled Montreal matron.” Growing up, Eleanor was a rebel and
outsider “who felt the community’s condemnation of her father
sharply.” An aspiring writer, she despised “the dutiful,
self-denying emotional desert that was small-town Ontario.” Marriage
to a Montreal businessman—her ticket out of Wiarton—was followed by
motherhood, adultery, and a divorce that resulted in her relinquishing
custody of her first child, Peter.

After Eleanor remarried and started having more children, the details
of her “other life”—including the existence of her son—became a
family secret. Curtis provides fictionalized (and thoroughly convincing)
re-enactments to fill in the inevitable gaps in her family history, but
she struggles and ultimately fails to understand why her grandmother
“never again saw her child after the divorce.” Fittingly, one of the
book’s opening epigraphs is a quotation from an Alice Munro story:
“Now I no longer believe that people’s secrets are defined and
communicable, or their feelings full-blown and easy to recognize.”


Curtis, Andrea., “Into the Blue: Family Secrets and the Search for a Great Lakes Shipwreck,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 21, 2024,