The Complete History of Razor Creek

by Thom Whalen

When Henry MacGregor came in 1764, never thought to ask if the Indians had given a name to the creek near where he built his cabin. No one else lived close enough to lend a hand, so he had to cut and move every log by himself with lever and tackle. A busy man, he was more worried about whether the creek flowed well throughout the summer than what the Indians might call it.

He was proud to bursting when he carried Eva over the threshold. She did not mind the packed dirt floor and the occasional ray of daylight shining through the chinking between the logs – it was not much worse than the crofter’s hut back in the Highlands where she had been raised. She would re-chink the walls herself before the week was out; and she would make sure that Henry spent time this winter planing boards for a proper floor. What she could not understand was why he had built it so far from the creek.

“It’s not that far, my darling.”

“Like hell it’s not. It’s a ten minute walk, round trip. You expect me to spend half my day carrying water all the way up here?”

“But there isn’t enough room for a chicken coop down by the creek. We’ve got to stay up here where we can keep an eye on the livestock.” He was embarrassed to mention that it had been hard enough to move the logs across the field that he had been clearing; he was not strong enough to move the logs over the rocks and down to the stream by himself.

“We don’t have any chickens. Or a chicken coop. And you sure as hell can’t afford to buy a cow.”

“We will, my darling. We will.”

“Then you can carry the damn water up here because I’ll not do it.”

One frosty autumn morn, a year and a half later, the honeymoon long over, Henry carried his shaving gear down to the creek, as was his daily custom. His bride had been right about one thing – they did not carry water back to the cabin any more often than was necessary. He had just finished lathering his face and was about to drag his razor across his right cheek when he heard a deep growl from the willow thicket. The oldest, deepest part of a man’s brain takes control when his ears hear a predator growling nearby. Henry was splashing through the creek even before the bear’s head poked out of the underbrush.

The bear had no interest in chasing the man. This late in the year, it needed to keep its fat for hibernation and would not burn any just for the fun of the chase; it was sufficiently satisfied to see the man running away from its favorite fishing hole. The bear’s only thought now was that its long winter nap would pass a little better if it had a few trout in its belly.

It waded into the freezing water where the creek was widest and began scanning the bottom. By rights, the fish should not have returned so quickly after the man had disturbed the water, but as soon as the bear looked down, it saw a flash of silver – the belly of a fat trout – below the ripples. A quick scoop and its claws snagged the fish up onto the bank. The bear lumbered up after it, expecting to find a lively morsel flopping about. It found no such thing. Henry’s father had given him a straight razor with a mother-of-pearl handle for his nineteenth birthday. That shiny handle may have looked like a fish in the water, but was distinctly unappetizing lying in the dirt. In disgust the bear swatted at the razor, but only earned a wicked cut across the width of the largest pad on its paw from the open blade. The beast howled in pain and anger and delivered a second, stronger blow to the razor, slashing its own paw for a second time, opening a deep wound that would soon become infected and take the better part of the winter to heal. The razor was thrown clear across the creek where it bounced across a granite shelf above the water line before slipping deep into a crack in the rock.

The bear carried memories of pain away from that particular part of the creek that day and never returned.

Two hours after the bear left, Henry, still unshaven, ventured back down to the creek, shotgun cradled in the crook of his arm, peering cautiously into the brush, looking to collect his gear. He could not remember what had happened after the bear had appeared – he only knew that he was empty-handed when he got back to his cabin ­– so he figured that he must have tossed his shaving things aside in his first few steps of panicked flight. As soon as he looked into the water, he saw his ivory-coloured shaving mug lying near the edge, the handle next to it, broken off when it hit the rocky stream bed. He hoped that he could glue the handle back on, but could continue to use the mug without the handle if he had to. The long-bristled brush with the stumpy black and white handle was harder to find because it floated. The stream was slow moving here, though, so it had only bobbed a few yards downstream before catching on a clump of old bulrushes. Henry discovered it after a few minutes of searching.

Henry could not find his razor, though. He peered into the water, weaving his head to look around every rock and sunken stick, but saw nothing. He scoured both sides of the creek for fifty feet in both directions. Nothing. Finally, he leaned the shotgun against the trunk of the old oak tree next to his broken mug and brush, and waded into the creek, reaching into the frigid water with his hairy arms, brushing aside sunken leaves and feeling underneath stones and sticks, but to no avail. After over an hour of searching, his hands were so cold that he could no longer flex his fingers, his feet so numb that he could barely walk. He was loathe to give up the search. The razor had been more than a birthday gift; it has been a parting gift from his parents. It had cost more than they could afford, but his father had bought it anyway because he knew that he would never see his son again. As much as the razor meant to him, in the end, Henry had no choice but to abandon the search, gather his shotgun, brush and mug into his stiff hands, and return to his cabin.

“What do you mean, you lost your razor in the creek?” his wife snarled.

“I told you about the bear. I must have dropped it.”

“Well you just get yourself back down there and pick it up again.”

“I already looked. I can’t find it.”

“Well, then, you better learn to shave with my butcher knife, because you’re not getting any money to buy another razor. You promised me chickens and, by God, you’re not spending a cent on yourself until I’m eating eggs. And drinking milk. You promised me a cow, too. So you just put any thought about wasting money on a new razor right out of your head, Henry MacGregor.”

So Henry grew a full beard, thick and black and curly. And his wife complained bitterly about it every time he kissed her. And he must have kissed her often enough because she gave birth to seven children over the next ten years, five of which survived to raise families of their own.

From that day on, Henry’s wife always referred to the creek as Razor Creek. She called it that when they socialized with the neighbors. She sent her children to fetch water from Razor Creek. And, fifteen years after the razor was lost, when she visited the brand new general store up in Wakefield, she introduced herself to the proprietor as Mrs. MacGregor from Razor Creek.

Eventually everyone in the nascent community was calling the stream Razor Creek. Henry was wounded anew every time he heard the words. Which pleased his wife.

The year 1867 held no special meaning for Tom Sullivan. He had turned nine early in the spring and had graduated from fourth grade at the beginning of summer. He vaguely remembered his teacher mumbling something about Canada not being a colony any more, but the long drawn-out process of negotiating confederation had begun when Tom was just a kid and it bored him to tears. Catching a tasty trout on a fine summer day was more important.

Usually he walked all the way up to the lake to fish. By his reckoning, an hour-long walk was a good thing because there was no chance that Pa would walk that far to fetch him back for chores. If the vegetable patch was overgrown with weeds, if no one had burned the garbage for a week, or if the cows had broken through the fence again, it would still be too much trouble for Pa to come and get him; he would take care of things on his own. And if Tom returned with a brace of trout, Ma would be happy to clean and cook them – trout was always a welcome change from the usual chicken stew or pork chops. Put a trout on Pa’s plate in the evening and he would forget that he had had to burn the garbage himself that morning. Pa was a forgiving man when he was eating trout. That was about the only time he was a forgiving man.

Today, though, Tom was feeling too lazy to walk all the way to the lake. He decided try his luck in the creek. Old Jack Macgregor talked about catching trout in Razor Creek when he was a kid and if the creek was good enough for Old Jack, it would be good enough for Tom. And what was the chance that Pa would think to look for him down at the creek, anyway?

Tom turned a few rocks on the bank until he found a nice fat night crawler, baited his hook with it, wedged his pole into a crack in the rock, dropped his line into the fishing hole, lay back on the warm granite, and promptly fell asleep. He never knew that there was a hundred year old razor with a mother-of-pearl handle, the blade rusted away to a few brown flakes, wedged in the bottom of that same crack. And if he had known, he would not have cared about that any more than he cared about the new confederation. Today, he cared only for trout.

He dozed, woke to swat a stray mosquito, dozed again, woke to the sound of his Pa calling him from up at the house, then dozed again. Sometime well after noon, he woke to find the end of his pole bobbing frantically. Yawning widely, he pulled his pole from the crack in the rock, brushed a few crumbs of dirt and flakes of rust from the butt of the handle, then angled the fish out of the creek. It was a trout, sure enough, but not much of a fish. Barely seven inches long, it was too small to satisfy even his own hunger, much less Pa’s. He killed it, put it in the bag that he had brought, then spent another two hours perched on the edge of the rock, trying hard to catch another two or three fish – bigger ones – big enough to make a full supper.

He failed.

When he returned to the house, he found Pa in a rage. The cows had not only broken out of the pasture again, they had wandered into the vegetable patch and had eaten the entire crop of peas; and it was less than a week before the pods would have been big enough to pick. Pa blamed Tom. The single immature trout in his bag was insufficient to appease him and Tom took a switching that he would long remember.

The trout ended up fertilizing the potato field. Tom was thankful that the cows had gone for the peas instead of the potatoes. Pa had bitter memories of being forced out of Ireland by the famine and would have like to have killed Tom with that switch if his bloody precious potatoes had been damaged.

Thus, 1867 was the year that Tom Sullivan fished the last trout from Razor Creek and was beaten for his trouble.

Mathieu LeBlanc’s day was almost over when his phone rang. He looked at it in disgust. Who would call a public servant at quitting time? He wanted to let it ring, but feared that it might be someone important. No matter what the newspapers wrote about public servants, Mathieu never shirked his duty.

The man on the other end of the line explained, “Sylvie Dubois over at Parks Canada told me to call you. I’m with Groupe D’aoûte in Montreal. We’re building a subdivision in Le Peche. They’ll be high-end houses to serve Ottawa/Hull and there’s a stream running right through the middle called Razor Creek.”


“Well, we’d like to have the name changed. It’s not the kind of name that we want in the middle of our new subdivision. Not the right image, if you know what I mean.”

“I understand completely.”

“We’d prefer that it be called Ruisseau de Truite.”

“Sure.” Mathieu grabbed a pen and made a notation on the notepad on his desk. “It’s not much of a waterway. No one will care if we change the name. Probably no one knows why it was called Razor Creek anyway – it’s not like it’s a family name or anything. It’ll take a while to get all the approvals in place, but there’s no question that it’ll go through eventually. You can start calling it Ruisseau de Truite in your literature now if you like.”


“No problem.” Mathieu hung up his phone and took a few minutes to write a quick memo and toss it into his out box before he left for the day. With the stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen, Razor Creek was no more.

As was his habit, the last thing he did before rising from his desk was to flip his daily calendar to the next page, “19 January 1979.” He loved to come into the office in the morning and find everything ready for a new day.

In the parking lot, he climbed into his car; one of the few already bearing the new Quebec licence plate with its proud slogan, “Je me souviens,” and drove home.