Merrickville is the home of an independent publishing company, focused on highlighting the untold stories of Ontario’s local history.
Owner, Bruce Kemp, started the Waypoint Press four years ago just before he moved to Merrickville from Kelowna, B.C. “British Colombia has a thriving regional history program in terms of publishing, and they do a great job on it,” Bruce notes. “But unfortunately, Ontario has dropped the ball on that.”
As an award-winning writer and photographer himself, Bruce saw a niche particularly around Great Lakes history. He published his first book with Waypoint, Weather Bomb 1913: Life and Death on the Great Lakes, in 2017 which was about a rare white hurricane that ravaged the area. “Oddly enough that’s still selling very well,” Bruce says.
His most recent book is called The Whales of the Erie Canal, which documents Bruce’s own journey in 2000 aboard the Canadian Leader – the last of the traditional fore-aft’ers built in Canada. The diary takes the reader from Duluth, Minnesota where they loaded a cargo of soybeans, to the Dofasco receiving docks in Hamilton, Ontario’s Burlington Bay. The book not only outlines details about the Canadian Leader itself, but also paints a unique picture of the lives of the men who crewed the vessel. “People give it humanity,” Bruce says. “And it’s no good without humanity.”
Bruce does all of the layout for the books himself, and then sends them off to be printed in the United States or a by a company called Friesen Press in Winnipeg. Waypoint Press uses short run publishing for all its books, meaning that they are printed as needed. “People can get in touch with me or get in touch with the printer and order one to 100 books,” Bruce says. “I just got called from several bookstores around Ontario. They don’t want big orders for Christmas; but they want, three, five, ten. So, we’re able to fulfill those needs.”
A journalist to his core, Bruce is always on the lookout for new stories to bring to life. He is currently working on a few other ideas including a series of interviews with old lake captains who spent their entire lives sailing on the Great Lakes, and a book on the men who built some of the early commercial ships on the Rideau Canal as well as the cottage boats, like mahogany motorboats and cabin cruisers. Bruce also spent some time this summer with the skilled workers who build the Rideau Canal lock gates which he hopes to weave into a story for a Canadian magazine. “These guys at the Parks Canada gate-shop, they’re ultimate craftsmen,” he says. “They’re working to tolerances that machinists work with and these things are beautifully crafted and beautifully finished.”
Bruce admits that bringing his ideas to life have been a challenge with COVID-19. “It’s not a matter of sitting in a library on a Sunday and mining other people’s work,” he says. “This is primary research. We want to illustrate it as well, so I have to go to the various locations and take photographs.”
Up to this point Waypoint Press has only published Bruce’s work; but he would love to work with other local writers who are interested in brining local stories to life. “I have a poet who I have known for a long time and I regard him as an exceptionally good poet,” he says. “As soon as COVID is over I’m going to bring out a book by him.”
Bruce’s two criteria for a book to be published by Waypoint Press is that it has to be well written, and it has to have an impact on local readers. “I think there are so many brilliant writers out there who are not fulfilling their potential for a variety of reasons,” he says. “I mean right now the big mainstream publishers are the biggest proponents of age discrimination. They don’t want to deal with anyone who is over 40.”
Bruce is 70 years old and it is obvious that he still loves what he does. He doesn’t describe his process as inspiration per se; but he enjoys watching as an idea catches fire. “I get to meet people, wonderful people,” he adds. “I don’t want to get into Donald Trump hyperbole about the quality of people, but these are really great folks. Every time I go see them, I come home, and they’ve added something to me.”