The Holiday season is upon us and among the new titles that have arrived in the Local History Room collection, we have a very special treat for history fans.
The Holiday season is upon us and among the new titles that have arrived in the Local History Room collection, we have a very special treat for history fans.
When it comes to what other people are reading, I’ll admit it – I’m nosey. If I see someone reading on the bus, I’ll try to get a look at the book cover. Or maybe take a quick glance at the page as I walk by a reader in a coffee shop. If you’re as much of a book snoop as I am, I invite you to take a peek over our metaphorical shoulders at what the Fort Garry Book Club read this year.
Left Neglected by Lisa Genova
After brain injury in a car crash steals her awareness of everything on her left side, working mom Sarah must retrain her mind to perceive the world as a whole. In doing so, she learns how to pay attention to the people and parts of her life that matter most.
Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All by Jonas Jonasson
Hitman Anders, recently out of prison, is doing small jobs for the big gangsters. Then his life takes an unexpected turn when he joins forces with three unlikely companions to concoct an unusual business plan based on his skills and fearsome reputation. The perfect plan – if it weren’t for Anders’ curiosity about the meaning of it all.
This year marks Canada’s 150th birthday. In a timely coincidence, our book club read several titles this year by local Manitoba authors. We’re lucky to live in a province that has such wonderful literary talent to choose from.
After Light by Catherine Hunter
This novel follows four generations of the Garrison family through the 20th century. Despite all their tragedies, the creative fire that drives the family survives, burning more and more brightly as it’s passed from one generation to the next.
The Age of Hope by David Bergen
Born in 1930 in a small town outside Winnipeg, beautiful Hope appears destined to have a conventional life. But as the decades unfold, what seems to be a safe, predictable existence overwhelms her. This beautifully crafted and perceptive work of fiction spans some fifty years of Hope’s life in the second half of the 20th century, from traditionalism to feminism and beyond.
The Reason You Walk by Wab Kinew
When his father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Winnipeg broadcaster and musician Wab Kinew decided to spend a year reconnecting with the accomplished but distant Aboriginal man who’d raised him. From his unique vantage point, he offers an inside view of what it means to be an educated Aboriginal living in a country that is just beginning to wake up to its Aboriginal history and living presence.
The Opening Sky by Joan Thomas
Liz, Aiden, and Sylvie are an urban, urbane, progressive family. Then the present and the past collide in a crisis that shatters the complacency of all three. They are forced to confront a tragedy from years before, when four children went missing at an artists’ retreat. In the long shadow of that event, the family is drawn to a dangerous precipice.
This Hidden Thing by Dora Dueck
The young woman standing outside the prosperous Winnipeg house that day in 1927 knew she must have work. Her family depended on it. But Maria had no idea that her new life as a domestic would mark her for the rest of her days. Her story reminds us how dangerous and powerful secrets can be.
I hope this gives you a few books to add to your own summer reading list!
It’s time to take a look at the exciting new arrivals in the Local History Room collection. First, a new display about the history of Winnipeg transit is available for viewing, thanks to collaboration with the City of Winnipeg Archives, City of Winnipeg Transit Department, and Manitoba Transit Heritage; which have all contributed photos and artefacts. Come by and have a look. We also have books about the history of Winnipeg Transit for you to enjoy.
On the frontier : letters from the Canadian West in the 1880s is an updated edition of William Wallace’s collected correspondence with his family in England during the early period of the West’s settlement. This kind of literature where history is seen through everyday personal observations is a pleasure to read as it provides insights about the ordinary struggles and experiences of 19th century prairie life. For a newly arrived settlers in the Canadian West, the geography (just getting to your new homestead is not a simple task when you do it by ox car) and the weather (freezing winters, thunderstorms, and prairie fires only added to the challenges of the hard work necessary to survive) were always on the mind as they worked to make build a home in their adopted country.
Law, life, and government at Red River. Volume 1, Dale Gibson is an original take on the history of the Red River settlement and its diverse population that focuses on the evolution of its governmental and legal system. Up until the Red River Resistance and Manitoba’s entry into Confederation, the colony was run by the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), which struggled at times to create legal institutions that could fairly serve justice to the diverse people that worked and settled in the vast territory it controlled. The result was a unique form of government that struggled to govern the colony up to 1870, gradually adapting to represent the First Nations and Metis peoples and the different groups of settlers that gradually came. In addition to giving a good portrait of ordinary life, its challenges and complexity, the book covers an extensive list of legal cases that the nascent court had to deal with, including accusations of corruption, treason and infanticide.
Relics of interest : selections from the Hudson’s Bay Company Museum Collection is a publication from the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature that highlights treasured artefacts from the HBC collection with the aid of beautiful photographs and detailed descriptions that provide historical context. These include an ivory statue of the SS Baychimo, Inuit art, tools, and a rifle from the company and even an Halkett boat: an early example of an inflatable boat made around 1850. A brief historic of the HBC and its evolution up to the 20th century is helpfully included.
“If you grew up in Transcona between the 1950s and 1980s you likely will know the name Edna Perry”. Thus was dedicated a street in honour of the person whose autobiography: Prairie girl’s life : the story of The Reverend Edna Lenora Perry has just arrived on our shelves. Edna grew up during the Great Depression in rural Manitoba, her parents both coming from well-off families but now were largely penniless. Starting out as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse, she fell in love with a British soldier stationed in Canada and followed him to war-torn Britain. Returning to Manitoba in 1947, she became a school principal and then one of the first female Anglican ministers in 1981. This is a simple and tender tale of local a woman who touched many lives and has been justly recognized for it.
Another good example of local history is Memoir of a Smoke Eater, by veteran firefighter Renald Laurencelle. Laurencelle tells of his personal experiences, sometimes terrifying, other times funny, during his 31-year career in the St. Boniface Fire Department. Laurencelle joined Number 2 Fire Hall in 1966 and learned the ropes while coping with tragic situations where fatalities occurred, witnessed famous fires like the one that consumed the St. Boniface Cathedral, and forged life-long friendships with his fellow smoke eaters. The book is not only a valuable piece of personal history, but an homage to a generation of firefighters who had to face tough situations without many of the technological innovations that are now part of present-day firefighting.
Winnipeg has a celebrated musical history with many local household names, but readers now have the opportunity to discover a lesser-known but no less authentic era of our musical scene. Musician and author Sheldon Birnie has recently released Missing like teeth : an oral history of Winnipeg underground rock 1990-2001, which tells the story of this decade in Winnipeg’s (as well as Brandon’s) underground musical scene, especially its punk rock wave. The author paints a vivid picture of the gritty and innovative time, centered in barrooms and basements of community centres, through a series of interviews with local artists (including members of bands like Kittens, Propagandhi, and the Weakerthans) who helped shape a new genre, some who grew in popularity from modest basement gigs to become well-known bands.
If you would like to meet the author in person, Sheldon Birnie and members of the University of Winnipeg’s Oral History Centre will share how oral history can be used to capture stories and characters like those found in his book. The program is entitled Oral History and the Arts: Documenting the Winnipeg Underground Rock Scene and will be held in the Carol Shields Auditorium at Millennium Library on Thursday June 2 from 7 to 8:30 p.m.
The Winnipeg Public Library has partnered with the University of Alberta to digitize and provide access to our collection of Henderson’s Directories. Currently, the University of Alberta has most of the Henderson’s Directories from 1880-1965 available on their digital repository. The Directories can be searched, and viewed in a number of formats. Last month, we began linking to these from PastForward. The links to the Henderson’s Directories on PastForward are also available on the Library catalogue. This is great news for those who cannot come to the Millennium Library to consult the print or microfilm editions of the directories, which are still available to the public for research on the 3rd floor.
For those who are not aware of the Henderson Directories: they are similar to regular telephone directories, but in addition to listing residents alphabetically by name along with their address, they also record the person’s profession. A separate listing by street name and address is also included which makes it possible to have a detailed yearly portrait of who lived where in the city. It is no wonder why these directories have remained among the most popular items in the Local History Room.
This is a good place to highlight some new additions to the Local History collection. Apart from its historical fort, the northern community of Churchill is mostly known for being the polar bear capital of the world. In 2008, a Californian author concerned with their potentially dwindling numbers, along with his wife and three children, decided to have a closer look and moved to Churchill in order to observe and study polar bears in their natural environment. The book Never Look a Polar Bear in the Eye by Zach Unger is not just about the auhor’s findings but also about his own family’s experiences in settling into this alien environment and an outsider’s view of the locals.
Local author and beer aficionado Bill Wright’s 300 Years of Beer: An Illustrated History of Brewing in Manitoba covers a relatively unknown aspect of our province’s history. Brewing existed in the Red River colony as soon as Europeans came to settle in the area and names like Patrick Shea and E.L. Drewry rose to supremacy in the Manitoba’s beer business for most of the first half of the 20th century. The history is fun to read and the illustrations of historical artifacts and posters (many praising beer as a product with an infinite number of health benefits for everyone) really add to the enjoyment of this book.
For those interested in topics closer to home, there have been a couple of recent arrivals, both dealing with Winnipeg neighborhoods. Wolseley Stories by Laina Hughes is about my neighborhood, so I enjoyed this short-but-sweet read where residents describe their experiences and perceptions living in the granola belt. Mentions of the Wolseley Elm saga and the Happyland Park add to the contemporary accounts.
North End Love Songs by Katherena Vermette is a work of poetry about the North End’s residents but speaks to universal themes of the human condition. The poems express the pains, the joys, the ordinary lives of North Enders, how they see themselves and how the outside world see them. The author often uses birds as symbols of people’s strengths and frailties.
Winnipeg has its share of eccentric and colorful characters, and one who was very well-known a few decades earlier was Bertha Rand, Winnipeg’s own “cat lady.” She made quite a few headlines and fought against city hall, was even jailed for a brief time for the right to keep caring for her cats in her home (which numbered at times between 30 and 65 by some estimates). A recent addition to our collection is Maureen Hunter’s The Queen of Queen Street which tells about her life in the form of a play. It is not light reading; Brenda’s life was far from idyllic as she struggled with mental illness and severe poverty, but it is certainly humanising.
This year we mark not only the bicentennial of the War of 1812 (as previously posted here) but also a pivotal event in our province’s history: the arrival of the Selkirk settlers to what would later become Winnipeg. Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk, used personal wealth to help re-settle poor farmers from Scotland in what he hoped would be a permanent colony. This not only heralded the coming of permanent European settlements, but also introduced agriculture in a region that had been dominated by the fur trade. The enterprise faced many hardships, including the financial ruin of Lord Selkirk and the razing (twice) of Fort Douglas, the initial trading post of the colony, not least because of the wars fought between the Hudson Bay and NorthWest Companies. Despite never prospering in Selkirk’s lifetime, the Red River Colony eventually became the Province of Manitoba.
Starting on February 4, Winnipeg Public Library will exhibit replicas and authentic artifacts representing the Selkirk Settlers’ clothing, tools, and everyday objects, provided courtesy of Parks Canada, the Manitoba Museum, and the Active History Associates. The exhibit will run from early February until late April . Come and check it out!
For those who would like to read up on the subject, there are a few choice picks that I can recommend. J. M. Bumstead is an authority on the subject of the Red River Colony and has written an excellent biography of Lord Selkirk.
Another fascinating read is “A Son of the Fur Trade: the life of Johny Grant” , the memoir of a Metis fur trader and rancher who lived an adventurous life in the Red River territory through much of its history from 1833 until his death in 1907. Grant was involved in the rebellion of 1870, and even briefly arrested on orders of Louis Riel for opposing him.
If you are a fiction reader with an interest in this era (this being festival du voyageur month), then Margaret Elphinstone’s “Voyageurs” might appeal to you. A devout English Quaker in search of his sister who disappeared in the Canadian wilderness faces war and hardship while working with voyageurs in the fur trade. The inner conflict between religious beliefs and “real life” is also a central element of the story.
On a housekeeping note, I would like to announce that a book scanner is now available for the public use in the Local History Room at the Millennium Library. There is no charge to use the scanner, but patrons will need to bring a memory stick in order to save the scanned material on it. This will provide an improved way to make copies of the material in the Local History Room and also help in the preservation of more fragile material. Though the scanner’s primary function is to allow the digital reproduction of Local History Room books, the public can bring outside material to scan as well.