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Read an Excerpt from Jessica Outram's Historical Métis Adventure Story, Bernice and the Georgian Bay Gold

Grey and black banner image with the cover of Jessica Outram's Bernice and the Georgian Bay Gold and text reading "Excerpt from Bernice and the Georgian Bay Gold by Jessica Outram". Background on either side of the image echoes the background used on the cover of the book: the grey waters of a stormy bay

In many ways, Bernice, the heroine of Métis author and teacher Jessica Outram's Bernice and the Georgian Bay Gold (Second Story Press), is like any other eight-year-old: she lives with her family, jokes with her siblings, does her chores, and stays up late reading her favourite books. 

But unlike most kids her age, Bernice's house is a ramshackle lighthouse on Georgian Bay. In the year 1914, as we meet her, her family is welcoming a mysterious stranger into their home. His name is Tom Thomson and when Bernice overhears him describing "gold" on an island not far away, she decides to emulate the characters in her beloved books and her Mémèr's stories of their adventurous Métis family and find it before Tom, who Bernice has no idea will go on to become an icon of Canadian art, can lay hands on it. 

A story of growing up, art, family, and changing times, much of Bernice and the Georgian Bay Gold is taken from Outram's own family history, in particular her inclusion of Michif French, which was spoken by many Métis families in the early 20th century. The language is now considered critically endangered with fewer than 1000 native speakers. 

We're sharing an excerpt from Outram's winsome and adventurous tale today, courtesy of Second Story Press. Here we meet the spirited Bernice and a get glimpse of Thomson, whose red pajamas strike Bernice as the height of luxury. 

Excerpt from Bernice and the Georgian Bay Gold by Jessica Outram:

Author Jessica Outram

Author Jessica Outram

Summer 1914.

Gereaux Island Lighthouse.

Byng Inlet. Georgian Bay.

The traditional territory of the Anishinaabeg.

Author’s Note

Bernice’s family speaks Michif French at home. The family describes their language at home as French. They describe traditional French Canadian as fancy French or Parisian French. Métis languages vary throughout the Métis Homeland. Each language can be looked at as having a varying degree, combination, or mixture of European and Indigenous languages and influences. For over a hundred years, Michif was a language passed on secretly between Métis parents and children. Bernice and her siblings were not allowed to speak Michif at school. By the next generation, her family would lose the language completely.

A special thank you to the Métis Nation of Ontario, Métis Languages Initiative team and the Métis Languages Initiative Advisory members for adding Michif throughout this story.

“The translation was made possible through the MNO’s Métis Languages Initiatives Advisory; we note that variations may occur based on the regional history of the language. We have, in good faith, translated the following based on what we believe to be a true representation of the language within our region of Ontario.”

Part One: The Painted Canoe


At sunset, I row into the bay to watch the sky change colors. Soft breezes circle the small rowboat, keeping the mosquitoes away. The water is flat and calm, so it’s easy to float. A loon calls from Whitefish Channel. The sky turns from blue to gold to purple to orange. I feel small and big at the same time.

Our lighthouse stands on an island. All the colors of the sky reflect on the white shingles and red roof. Built to help ships on Georgian Bay find the Byng Inlet channel, it shines a big light from the tower across the water day and night. The light warns boats that they need to be careful because of the rocky shoreline and shoals.

Sunset is a special time to imagine stories in my head. West of the island is water as far as I can see. Other small islands rest nearby, mounds of rock that look like the backs of giant sleeping turtles. Can you imagine if one day the islands start to move like turtles waking up from a nap? I love to picture my bay turtles walking through the channels, so big their feet touch bottom in the deep water. They may even munch on a whole pine tree for a snack.

Today the Shebahonaning mountains look like shadows. Sometimes I hear them whisper, “We’re waiting for you.” I’ve always wanted to see them up close. Dad says Shebahonaning means “canoe passage.” When Dad was a kid, he went to Shebahonaning once to visit our First Nation cousins, but the rest of us are always here at the lighthouse or in town, Byng Inlet North mostly. I’ve never been anywhere else. What’s across all that water?

Georgian Bay is big. I need to stay close to the islands; otherwise, Dad says I could get lost in the open water. How long would it take to row into the middle of Georgian Bay? Maybe if I had a giant bay turtle, I could travel on its back until I could see only water in every direction. Goose bumps rise on my arms and legs.

The giant ball of light sinks into the bay and the sky looks on fire. I stand up in the boat and holler, “Bawnn nui sawlèy! Good night, sun!” Then I row home.



We live in the lighthouse on the island. My older brothers Ernest and William sit at the kitchen table playing cards. The light from an oil lamp flickers on their brown arms and hands.

“Go fish,” Ernest says. His hair curls onto his forehead, bouncing in the shadows like a bug. He swats at his head, then realizes it’s his hair. He tucks the curl so it stops moving.

“This game is for babies,” William says. “Let’s play something else, like euchre.”

“It doesn’t matter what we play. I’ll win. I’m a winner.” Ernest makes a face and dances in the chair, pointing at himself like a winner.

William rolls his eyes, grabs the deck of cards, and shuffles. “You’re such a kid.”

“And you’ll lose, old man,” Ernest, who’s only nine, taunts.

William smiles. He likes being called old because he’s twelve. “I am the man,” William states.

“You’re both ridiculous.” I take a card that fell onto the table, run across the kitchen, and put it on the window ledge across the room.

“Bernice!” shouts William.

“Grow up, Bea the Bean,” Ernest says. Then he runs to grab the card.

My brothers laugh.

“Bea the Bean is no one to me.” Once I have the last word, I leave before I have to hear another boring old joke. I hate it when they call me that nickname.


Mom and Dad sit in the living room. Dad snores in his chair, his blue fishing hat covering his face. Mom, cozy in her creamy nightdress, mends a pair of beige pants by the lantern.

Mémèr’s already in bed. Sometimes I sit on the floor and listen to her talk in her sleep. It’s fun to piece together what she’s saying. A Mémèr “dream talk story puzzle.” She’s always sharing stories, even when she’s sleeping. Mémèr says to pay attention to everything; nothing is an accident. Everything happens for a reason.

My oldest brother Alcide’s fiddle softly plays. He’s thirteen. At night he often sits at the top of the light tower on the turret, playing his fiddle to the bay. Dad says it’s like a lullaby for the water.

“Good night, Bea,” Mom says.

“Night,” I reply.

It’s easy to go to bed early tonight because my book is waiting for me. I’m nearly finished Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, and I need to see what happens next. I had a peek at the next chapter earlier today. Silver and his lieutenant are at the stockade waving a flag and saying they want a truce. I think for sure it’s a trick.



In the morning, my eleven-year-old sister, Florence, shouts in my face, “Bea! How late did you read last night?”

My eyes slowly focus. She picks up the book from the floor, taps it on my head, and then puts it on the bed. She’s already in her day dress, her long black hair braided.

“You fell asleep by the window again,” she says. “Reading in the moonlight? Does that even work?”

“The book is so good! I think I finished it before I fell asleep.” I pause. “I’ll read the ending again just in case, because I don’t remember what happened.”

“Hey, Bea. There’s a man sleeping in the living room. Did you hear him come in?” Florence asks.

“No! Why is there a man here?” I ask. “How come I didn’t hear anything?”

“He’s not even a cousin,” she whispers. “Yawrtonti kawm saw. He arrived unannounced.”

“Then who is he?” I run out to the ladder and look down to catch a peek. Our bedrooms are part of the lighthouse tower. Florence joins me on the landing. We squish close together, squat, and try to see the downstairs without revealing ourselves.

At the beginning of Treasure Island, a mysterious visitor arrives at the inn, and everything changes for Jim Hawkins. Maybe this is our mysterious visitor, and everything will change starting today. Maybe my dream of having an adventure will come true. I gently tap a big toe on the wooden floor for good luck.

“No one but cousins sleep inside the house. This is strange,” I whisper.

“Why isn’t he outside in a tent?” Florence asks. “I asked Mom and she just said to leave him alone, he’s sleeping.”

“When I came home last night from sunset, I didn’t see anyone.” I consider. “How could I have missed something as exciting as this?”

“Get dressed and we can go downstairs and find out,” Florence says. She drags me back to our room.

Most mornings everything is always the same, but this morning a visitor in the living room is very different.



I quickly yank off my white nightdress and pull on my white day dress. Florence brushes and tugs at my thick hair until it’s in two braids.

I must have been reading late last night. Usually, I’m the first person to wake up. My brothers have even made their beds already. My bed is still made from yesterday. I guess that’s what happens when I fall asleep by the window with a book.

“Did you see what he looks like?” I ask.

“Not yet. He’s covered by a sheet,” she says.

“Do the boys know anything?”

“I’m not sure. They were up extra early this morning,” she replies.

We scurry down the ladder to the main floor.

A man snores from the cot. Florence and I hold each other as we take a step closer. When he snorts in his sleep, we jump and run into the kitchen, giggling.

“Girls, you’re going to wake our guest,” Mom says. She lines up the ingredients for bannock on the counter. Flour, lard, salt, and baking powder.

“How can he still be sleeping?” I ask. “Who is that man?”

“You’re one to talk, Bea. You just woke up,” Florence teases.

Mom ignores us both. “Florence, please set up for the laundry.”

“But, Mom, what about the man?” Florence whines.

“Enough questions. Florence, outside. Bea, have some breakfast, then you can help your sister.” Mom’s always cross in the morning. A mysterious visitor hasn’t made her any cheerier.

Florence drags her bare feet across the floor, moving slower than a caterpillar. Eventually she makes it to the door and has no choice but to go outside to set up the water buckets and washboard. Florence always has so many chores to do. I can’t imagine doing chores when there is a mystery as big as this to be solved.

When she’s gone, I tiptoe back into the living room toward the cot for a closer look at his boots. They look like my brothers’ boots, only they don’t have as many scratches and marks. Ya dé vra bèl bawt. He has very nice boots.

The boys’ boots smell so bad that Mom always asks them to keep them in the boathouse. No one wants to be around smelly boots. Why are these boots allowed inside? More strangeness.

Moving like a sneaky wolf, I return to the kitchen for answers to my questions. “Why are his boots inside?” I ask.

“Shh. Quiet, Bea,” Mom replies. “Have some breakfast or go outside.” She sprinkles salt into the bowl.

“Is he a tourist?” I ask.

“No.” Mom kneads the dough with more force.

I slide to the living room for another look. The man’s short brown hair pokes out the top of a white sheet, so white it glows.

I stand beside the cot. A bit of color shows through the sheet. He’s wearing something red. Red is a fancy color. Who wears fancy red clothing to sleep?

Well, this is very mysterious. He is not a cousin or a tourist. He’s not anyone we know from town either. Yé ti étranj ou bin un étranjé? Ou bin lé deu?Is he strange or a stranger? Or both? Focus, Bea, I tell myself. Now’s not the time to play with words. There’s a mystery to solve.

As I lean in to try to see his face, I trip on the man’s boots and tumble to the floor with a thump.

The man jumps up from the cot, standing straight, looking at me. His face is red. He doesn’t look happy. He’s wearing red long johns.

Once I saw a woman in town wearing a long, silky red dress and white gloves. She wore a black hat that looked like a bird. I asked her who made her dress and she said she didn’t know. She bought it in a store. Mom makes all our dresses. They are always white, beige, or light blue. Did he buy his red long johns in a store? He must be rich to have red long johns.

In this moment, I can’t help but wonder why the pirate Long John Silver is named after underwear. I giggle. Long John. Long johns.

The man looks confused. Maybe he doesn’t realize he’s inside our lighthouse.

“Where did you get red long johns?” I ask.

“Bernice Mary Normandin.” Mom comes in from the kitchen. She stomps her foot and points to the door, handing me a bucket for fetching water. “Outside, now.”

The man sits back on the cot. He still doesn’t say anything. He rubs his eyes. Why doesn’t he say good morning?

“Bernice. I’m not going to ask you again,” Mom says. She marches toward me, her eyes like glowing coals.

I clutch the bucket and run outside faster than a rabbit into a bush.


Excerpt taken from Bernice and the Georgian Bay Gold, a novel by Jessica Outram, published by Second Story Press. Copyright Jessica Outram, 2023. Reprinted with permission. 

At two weeks old, Jessica Outram visited family on Georgian Bay and has spent as much time there as possible ever since. Jessica is a citizen of the Métis Nation of Ontario. An educator for over 20 years, she is Principal of Program in Indigenous Education in the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board. Jessica lives in Cobourg, Ontario, where she is their 4th Poet Laureate.

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Bernice and the Georgian Bay Gold

Brave Bernice is ready for an adventure!

It's the summer of 1914. Eight-year-old Bernice lives with her family in a lighthouse on Georgian Bay. One day Bernice wakes up to find a stranger named Tom Thomson sleeping in their living room. When she overhears him talk about gold on a nearby island, Bernice is determined to find it. Inspired by her beloved Mémèr’s stories of their Métis family’s adventures and hardships, Bernice takes the treasure map the stranger left behind and sets out in a rowboat with nothing more than her two dogs for company and the dream of changing her family’s fortunes forever.