Wendell Beckwith has been called many things: a hermit, recluse, inventor, scientist, a naturalist. Who was Wendell in the eyes of the people who knew him and those who came after? Nestled in the heart of northwestern Ontario, this film is about keeping a folklore story about a complicated character alive. Northwestern Ontario has always attracted interesting characters, seeking the remote life to fulfill their own dreams and visions. One of these characters was Wendell Beckwith, the inventor of the sapphire nib for Parker Brothers ball-point pen.
Wendell ended up alone, 60 miles north of Armstrong, on Whitewater Lake, in Wabakimi Park. Wendell arrived in 1961 from the United States. He befriended local First Nations people and other locals in the area and set out to build three cabins. These were to be his home, research station, museum, and retreat. This is where he would stay until his death in 1980 at the age of 65.
Wendell Beckwith’s cabins on Best Island are a part of the heritage and folklore of northwestern Ontario. Almost completely handmade, his cabins are now deteriorating and his story remains, for the better part, lost in time. Many of those who knew Wendell Beckwith are passing. Now is the time for the story to be told and remembered.
We are a small group of people who came together over the mutual interest of paddling in the outdoors and a shared love for storytelling. Member of the group and filmmaker (with numerous credits and awards), Jim Hyder, knew Wendell Beckwith personally and has been storing photographs, audio, and visual recordings of Wendell in his basement for 30 years. Jim had pursued a film on Wendell Beckwith with the National Film Board of Canada but it was turned down at the time. Now is the time and we are hoping to create a documentary 30-45 minutes in length about Wendell, his legacy and those that currently visit his cabins.
Others involved in this project include the Thunder Bay Museum, Lakehead University, Environment North, Wilderness North, and local community members interested in the layered legend of Wendell Beckwith and those who knew him.
Wendell’s story invites many questions. Why did he end up in this remote part of the world? How did he survive on his own? Who holds ownership of his cabins? There was also controversy around his legal status as an undocumented immigrant. What were his relationships with the people of Whitewater First Nation, his benefactor Harry Wirth, and the Government of Ontario, among others? We won’t claim to answer these questions, but we do want to explore them with the people who knew him. There were different and captivating aspects to his persona that when weaved together make up his colourful and compelling story. Our hope is to be able to capture this in film and bring it together to share with our communities.