Former Energy Prober gains recognition as an Island photographer and author

This article, by Isobel Harry, was first published by the Manitoulin Expositor


TORONTO—For all artists who live by their creative wits, there comes a time when marketing enters the career picture and they must think strategically about selling their work. When Jan McQuay learned last summer that Steve Paikin, the host of TVO’s The Agenda, was a regular visitor to the Gore Bay market, she thought about her latest publication, ‘Scenic Manitoulin through the Seasons.’ It so happened that Ms. McQuay was already a vendor at the market, spinning a pottery wheel and teaching visitors how to throw a bowl of their own, because Ms. McQuay is also a well-known potter who sells her pieces Island-wide and teaches the art in her home studio in Mindemoya. Born in that town, she left in 1968 to go to university and then worked in Toronto for 30 years, finally returning permanently to the Island in 2003.

While Ms. McQuay was at the market in Gore Bay one Friday morning, spinning the wheel as usual, talking to visitors and putting their hands into the clay, her mind was elsewhere. Because pottery is second-nature to her she could be perfectly attentive while thinking about marketing her new book, 145 pages of photos and text, all of it shot, written and designed by her, hot off the press.

McQuay Click and Clay is Ms. McQuay’s company, started in 2005, that produces the Scenic Manitoulin annual calendars that are scooped up as visual mementoes of cherished Island scenes. Ms. McQuay credits Margo Little, head of the Manitoulin Writers’ Circle, with encouraging her to compile her photos into a book, for which Nicole Weppler, director of the Gore Bay Museum, hosted a launch. In Scenic Manitoulin through the Seasons, each of the 66 iconic views is accompanied by text that covers history, geology, wildlife and endangered species, heritage preservation, nature, conservation, sustainable development and the environment, Ms. McQuay’s deeply-felt concerns.

Ms. McQuay’s sense of responsibility for the environment grew along with her job at Energy Probe in Toronto in the 1970s, when she also published ‘Over a Barrel: A Guide to the Canadian Energy Crisis.’ Her current book, she notes proudly, was printed on EarthChoice paper which is uncoated and can more easily be recycled than other glossy papers; the binding is a spiral coil which can be removed to recycle the book, rather than an adhesive binding, which is, says Ms. McQuay, “a recycling challenge.” She now sits on the Board of Misery Bay Provincial Park, and initiated a collaborative project whereby pottery bowls are made and sold to fundraise for the park’s conservation activities, including protection of the alvars and of species at risk. “We need to be watchful,” says the author, photographer, potter and environmentalist. “We must develop smarter ways to preserve the character and nature of the Island. We don’t have the right to unchecked development.”

So that market day, Ms. McQuay was scanning the stalls, picnic tables and boardwalk in the hope of catching a glimpse of Steve Paikin, the genial TV host of TVO’s The Agenda whose interviews and profiles of arts and culture creators are widely watched. And lo and behold, there he was browsing the vegetables with his family. Ms. McQuay went over to introduce herself and her new book, knowing that he is a fan of the Island. She gave him the book, he was happy to receive it, and Jan went back to her pottery wheel.

Ms. McQuay learned I-Design to be able to design the calendars and her new book herself; she laid out all the pages and then had 100 copies printed by O.J. Graphix in Espanola. “They sold out in two-and-a-half weeks,” says the author, who reprinted a new run of 400 books. The book and the 2015 calendar are sold in retail stores, The Expositor bookstore, Mindemoya and Gore Bay markets and at some events as well as on McQuay Click and Clay’s website:

A month after the chance meeting in Gore Bay, Ms. McQuay got a phone call from Steve Paikin, inviting her to appear on the show with ‘Scenic Manitoulin Through the Seasons.’ Ms. McQuay remembers, “I was a bit nervous so I asked him what kinds of questions to expect, and when he said he’d ask about my favourite places, that took the pressure off.”

Ms. McQuay drove south to Toronto for the interview. “Getting there was an adventure,” says Ms. McQuay. “The studio is ‘uptown’ at Eglinton and Yonge and I made the mistake of driving. I ended up driving into an underground parking garage and couldn’t find a spot; finally after going around and around I found one underneath a big fan that everyone else had shunned, but the fan was high enough that my little car could fit underneath! Fortunately, I had left lots of time. I got to the building and I was still early! The studio area is quiet, I guess that makes sense but I had expected more bustle. The make-up person made me look younger than I’ve looked in years, which was a plus. Then Steve came in and got his make-up on for the show. He said the cameras emphasize everyone’s wrinkles, but I don’t think so!”

The 20-minute interview was taped on January 21 and, while it has yet to air, it may be viewed in its entirety at: The segment highlights many of Jan’s accomplished photos of Island scenes through the seasons while she describes little-known and fascinating historical and other details that reveal her passion for Manitoulin, obviously shared by The Agenda’s host. The video, entitled ‘Jan McQuay: Manitoulin Magic,’ presents a wonderful introduction to the Island, from Wikwemikong to Meldrum Bay, this beautiful place that remains, in Steve Paikin’s view, “a hidden gem.”

For the original version of this article, see the publisher’s website here

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