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The Runner

From the big lake to the big bay...


The Runner

words & music Mike Ford


Running’s what I do

From the big lake to the big bay

45 miles in a day

From the carriages to the canoes

Runnin’ in the trees is what I do

Runnin’ in the trees is what I do


Running is how I’m paid

From the tip of the town the trip is made

45 miles is my trade

Along the Notawasaga too

Runnin’ in the trees is what I do

Runnin’ in the trees is what I do


It’s the pine the pine the pine the pine and the white pine

I cut a line in the sunshine

In the rain and snow I cut a good line

A line that is mine through the white pine


In France, words can fly they say

From Paris to Marseille in Two Hours and a Half

A great system of towers and signals they call Napoleon’s Telegraph

But what if just one of those towers is taken – the whole chain is broken

Here…among these trees, under this sky

We have no such luxury on which to rely

Only on a lonely runner…..such as I


Running with a document

From colonial government

King George to Georgian Bay

45 miles in a day

By this messenger in moccasin shoes

Runnin’ in the trees is what I do

Runnin’ in the trees is what I do


I imagine this song to be the voice of an 1812 foot courier whose main route runs from the Lake Ontario shore of Little York (Toronto) to Georgian Bay. The song introduces the technology and environment of the era – urgent messages were sent across long distances not by the instant digital satellite methods of the 21st Century, nor by 19th Century methods used in other places at the time. Flatter areas and places of more established roads would have had horse couriers and the famous pony express. The Great Lakes region had foot couriers (snow-shoe-couriers in winter) who were known to cover vast distances with their messages – sometimes keeping certain correspondence letters in the soles of their moccasins to hide them from search and interrogation.

Southern Ontario of 1812 was still a place of seemingly unending white pine forest. Between Lake Ontario and The Shield, land that would soon become agricultural (and more recently urban and suburban expanse) was in 1812 covered in immense thick forests. As mentioned in the song Build a Bigger Boat, this white pine forest was already taking on a great strategic importance for the British Navy.

I wanted to include mention of Napoleon’s Telegraph. At the same time as The War of 1812, France had developed a National telegraph system. It was comprised of a massive system of towers, signals and decoding agents that allowed messages to be sent from Paris in all four directions to the edges of the country. Spaced 6 miles apart, the telegraph system used semaphore and other visual codes to send, in a few hours, special announcements and secret messages to authorities hundreds of miles apart. Mentioning it in this song gives a frame of reference for the technology at the time, in sharp contrast to our modern split-second communications.



Discussion Questions


1.What would such a foot courier see on their travels? What challenges would they face?

2.Could a messenger actually run 45 miles in a day? Does the song exaggerate? 

3.How would such a courier mentally pass the time?

4.What kind of news would the most crucial messages carry?

5.Why did the White Pine forests become so valuable to The British Empire?

6.‘Telegraph’ means ‘far-writing’. What other far-writing methods have been developed, right up to today’s instant texting?






1.Plot on a map a route a Toronto – Georgian Bay courier could use. Note what river valleys could be followed.

2. Create an employment Want-Ad for a long distance foot courier job. What skills would be needed? What physical attributes and experience? Knowledge of which languages would be important?

3.Sometimes important messages had to be sent in reduced form – perhaps using flags (semaphore), messenger pigeons, or memorised by a courier. Take an official communication (such as Isaac Brock’s February 1812 Proclamation - ) and reduce it to 3 simple sentences. What information in it is most crucial?

4.MUSIC – drums, bugles, and other instruments were used to communicate urgent messages of the day – through crowds, forests, fields. In a group, create a set of musical messages – perhaps drum patterns to communicate concepts such as friend, hide, danger, all clear, fire, cease-fire, meeting, etc.