Visiting the Home of a Canadian Author

Gabrielle Roy's childhood home in St. Boniface

Gabrielle Roy’s childhood home in St. Boniface

Gabrielle Roy is one of Canada’s literary giants and she was born right here in Winnipeg. I took a tour of her childhood home in St. Boniface.  Our first guide Adrienne was a college student from Quebec.  She told us Gabrielle had lived in this house at 375 Deschambault from her birth in 1909 till she left for Europe in 1937.

Our second guide shows us a photograph of Gabrielle’s family

Gabrielle’s parents both moved to Manitoba from Quebec. Seven of Gabrielle’s siblings survived childhood.  She was closest to her sister Bernadette who became a nun. 

Our guide explains how a stereoscope works

Gabrielle’s father worked for the Canadian government settling new immigrants in western Canada. He was nearly 60 when Gabrielle, his eleventh child was born.

Gabrielle Roy’s mother’s sewing machine

Gabrielle’s mother loved fashion and dressing up. She bought material at the Eatons story to make dresses for her daughters. After her husband became ill and could no longer work Gabrielle’s mother earned extra money for the family by doing sewing.

Gabrielle Roy with her grade one class at Provencher School

Gabrielle became a teacher and taught in Manitoba for a number of years before leaving to move to Europe and then to Montreal. Gabrielle set her first and most famous book The Tin Flute in Montreal but several of her books have Manitoba settings including the two I am currently reading Children of My Heart which is about a young school teacher and her students and Rue Deschambault about life in St. Boniface.

Toys in the attic of Gabrielle’s Roy’s home

Gabrielle Roy’s house would be a great place to bring children. I went up to the attic of the museum and saw activity centres where young visitors could put on little dramas with costumes, write poems, listen to stories and play with toys from the time of Gabrielle’s childhood. 

Gabrielle Roy

Gabrielle Roy won the 1947 Governor General’s Award for fiction. A quote from Gabrielle Roy  “Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?” was on the back of the Canadian $20 bill from 2004 to 2012. 

Other posts about Manitoba authors………

The Age of Hope

The Constructed Mennonite

A Children’s Writer Who Has Found the Magic Formula


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The Future of Books

ken robertsI went to hear Ken Roberts speak about the future of books at the Winnipeg Millenium Library on Monday night. The death knell is ringing for the printed book. Surprisingly Ken predicts that even the e-book as we know it today may soon give way to the next big thing in reading. Learn about it in my post on the Vast Imaginations site.

Other posts about the Millenium Library………

Visiting the Millenium Library


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Larry’s Party

larry verstraeteWinnipeg author Larry Verstraete launched his new book Life or Death on Sunday at McNally Robinson Booksellers.  This is Larry’s fourteenth book.

Read all about Larry and his launch party in my post on Vast Imaginations, a blog for children’s writers. 

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The Wittenbergs by Sarah Klassen- Should This Have Been A Teen Novel?

         the wittenbergsMia is an important character in Sarah Klassen’s new novel The Wittenbergs.  Mia is seventeen, loves to write, enjoys long distance runs and has a budding romance with the star of the high school basketball team who happens to be aboriginal.  Thoughtful, kind-hearted and principled Mia endears herself to the reader.  I liked Mia so much I wished Klassen had told the whole story  from her point of view.

      Mia would make the perfect heroine for a teen novel. She is  trying to figure out who she is and what she wants for her future, but is on this journey of self-discovery amidst difficult circumstances. Her father is an administrator at the high school she attends and he’s having an affair with her English teacher, the one person who affirms Mia as a writer. Mia’s mother is suffering from depression and her grandmother is dying. Her older sister has passed on a defective gene to her two young sons and as a result they are developmentally delayed. Mia may carry that gene too. To complicate things further a good friend of Mia’s is mixed up with drug dealers and wants her to withdraw money from the family bank account to pay them off. Her basketball player boyfriend is ready to have sex but Mia isn’t sure she is. Then there is the older man, a young university professor who is interested in her and professes true love. Should she encourage his affections?  All the ingredients are there for a great teen novel as Mia tries to navigate her way through a very rocky turning point in her life

Sarah Klassen

Sarah Klassen

Having said that, hearing the voices of the other members of Mia’s family as the narrative shifts from one point of view to another does add interest and depth to the story.  Each member of the family experiences growth and change during the novel and so perhaps we do need to hear things from their perspective in order to appreciate their unique arcs of self-discovery. 

      Besides shifting from character to character we also shift from the present to the past as Mia interviews her grandmother for a school project and writes stories about her ancestors’ life in Ukraine before and after the political upheaval that forced them to immigrate to Canada.

      Sarah Klassen is a former high school teacher and that shows in her realistic descriptions of life in a collegiate- the graduation exercises, classes and assemblies.

The thrift store that serves as a setting in the novel.

The thrift store that serves as a setting in the novel.

Klassen has also been a volunteer at a thrift store and that becomes an important setting for one of the members of the Wittenberg family. Since I also volunteer at the same thrift store as Klassen, I can vouch that she vividly brings to life the atmosphere and personalities of the place. Klassen has traveled in the Ukraine so when the Wittenbergs take a tour there to learn more about their past and to return their grandmothers’ ashes to her childhood home, Klassen does a good job of immersing us in the sights and sounds of Ukraine with her evocative writing. Of course the main setting for the book is the city of Winnipeg and Klassen as a long time city resident does Winnipeg justice with her descriptions of the parks and streets, the Winnipeg Jets and places like The Fort Garry Hotel . The Wittenbergs are Mennonites and most Mennonite novels have rural settings. Klassens’ is one of only a few set in a major city. Klassen also captures Mennonite church services and congregations very authentically as well as the denomination’s uneasiness with more charismatic off shoots. 

      The ending of the novel by no means neatly resolves every conflict for the Wittenberg family  but it was for me at least, a hopeful if not happy conclusion and that always makes me like a book. 

Posts about other books set in Winnipeg……..

The Winnipeg Strike

The Flying Bandit

There is Winnipeg Mennonite Fiction

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A Literary Walk

winnipeg westwood library walkKeats Way? Browning Boulevard? Shakespeare Bay?  Who knew streets in Winnipeg had such literary names? I found out on September 27th when my sister and I joined a group of about twenty other people to walk the streets of west end Winnipeg and listen to some great literature performed by a talented woman named Tauni. westwood literary walk library winnipeg

It was a beautiful autumn day. At each of our stops on the literary walk a member of the library staff introduced us to the author or poet being featured………..tauni peforms literary walk winnipeg

And then Tauni read work by that writer in her dramatic and interesting voice.keats way westwood winnipeg

At our Keats Way stop we heard A Thing Of Beauty is A Joy Forever and learned about Keats’ sad love affair with Fanny Brice. More than a few eyes were teary after that performance. twain drive

At Twain Drive we were treated to Mark Twain’s funny and thought-provoking fable of the learned cat and the mirror. dickens drive winnipeg

We walked over next to Dickens Drive……

tauni literary walk westwood library winnipegwhere we heard a humorous excerpt from Chapter 8 of Pickwick Papers titled STRONGLY ILLUSTRATIVE OF THE POSITION, THAT THE COURSE OF TRUE LOVE IS NOT A RAILWAY

shakespeare bay westwood wiinnipeg Tauni outdid herself at Shakespeare Bay acting out a scene from A Mid Summer Night’s Dream tauni performs mid summer nights dream and taking on the roles of all four of the lovers.browning boulevard winnipeg

Tauni told us at Browning Boulevard she had planned to read How Do I Love Thee but it just made her too emotional so she had to settle for Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s  Sonnet 14  If Thou Must Love Me. 

We moved on to  Frost Avenue where Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken was the perfect poem for a walking tour. 

Leacock Avenue winnipegWe ended the tour laughing at Leacock Avenue where the murder mystery Hanged By A Hair had us all chuckling. 

poetry  reading westwoodI  enjoyed the literary tour. It was a lovely day. I got to visit with my sister. I had a chance to listen to some great poetry and literature read professionally. I had some exercise as we walked from place to place. 

westwood_library_01Later they served us tea and dainties back at the library and talked about another tour in spring. As I drove home I saw Sandburg Bay, Wordsworth Way, Shelley Street, Thackery Avenue, Robert Service Bay, Caryle Bay and Carroll Road. Plenty of literary material in the neighborhood for another walk. 

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The Millennium Library

Carol Shields

Manitoba Writers Guild

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Learning About the Winnipeg Publishing Scene

vast imaginationsI attended a writing conference at Winnipeg’s Millenium Library where I got some valuable advice from both writers and authors. Read all about it in my post Inside Publishing on Vast Imaginations the blog of my children’s authors’ group. 

Categories: Annual Events, Literature | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Winnipeg- What Diversity!

I gave a tour at the art gallery not long ago to a group of junior high students and their EAL (English as an Additional Language) teachers.  It was an all day affair. In the morning we introduced them to some of the Canadian landscapes on display in the art gallery and then in the afternoon they got to create landscapes of their own in the art studio. As they were busy painting I walked around and talked to them and found out they came from places as diverse as Sudan, Myanmar, Thailand, Philippines, China and Eritrea.  A number were painting scenes from their homelands and it was interesting to listen to them describe them to me. 

Marc Kuly and his story telling group

Winnipeg is home to young people from all over the world. Not long ago I watched a CBC documentary featuring one of my colleagues on the  Project Peacemakers’ curriculum committee.  In 2008, while a teacher at Gordon Bell high school, Marc Kuly started a voluntary after school story telling  group. Gordon Bell students speak 56 different languages  and many have come to Canada from war torn countries. They were invited to share their stories with one another and their Canadian peers. Although the immigrant students had experienced violence and loss they were surprised to find that many of their fellow students who had been born in Canada were no strangers to life challenges and hardships as well.

The story telling project built bridges of understanding and friendship amongst the students from diverse cultures. John Paskievich and John Whiteway filmed the young people telling their stories as well as the visit Ishmael Beah author of A Long Way Gone made to the Winnipeg story telling club. Beah was a child soldier in Sierra Leone and it was his book that inspired Marc to start his story telling project.  You can read more about the project in this Free Press article and see a clip from the film on the CBC website. 

Art and story telling are just two venues young people in Winnipeg are using to share their cultural diversity with one another. I am sure there are many others and I look forward to learning about them too. 

Categories: Downtown, Literature, Winnipeg Art Gallery | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Share the Magic

The Honorable Christine Melnick

“I’m a person of the book” said Christine Melnick by way of introducing herself. On Tuesday night I was a guest of Christine Melnick, the Manitoba minister of Immigration and Multiculturalism. She had invited members of the Manitoba Writer’s Guild to a reception in her office at the legislature to hear more about a personal project of hers called Share the Magic. Ms. Melnick, who has a master’s degree in library science from Dalhousie University is a passionate believer in the power of the written word to change people’s lives.  She told us that one book can turn someone into a life long reader and then who knows where they can go after that!

Christine has developed a program called Share the Magic, through which she collects  books and then gives them away to people of all ages across the province who don’t have many books. She says so far she has given away over 65,000 books.  This is a personal project of Christine’s. She has invested her own money in it and is a very ‘hands on’ participant.  She loads boxes of books into the back seat and trunk of her car and carts them to various community events for distribution. Christine says she would never give away a book as part of Share the Magic that she wouldn’t give to family or friends, so she personally repairs donated used books that have too much wear and tear before redistributing them. 

First Book Canada Poster

Right now she is working on an ambitious project with the Winnipeg School Division in cooperation with First Book Canada and an American corporate donor to place at least five books in every home in inner city Winnipeg for the Christmas holidays. Christine cites research that shows kids’ reading levels are negatively impacted by long school holiday breaks unless they have access to reading materials. 

Skownan First Nation children choosing books

One thing that impressed me about Christine’s approach was the element of choice that is an integral part of Share the Magic. It is important for people not to just be given books, but to choose books. She talked about a North Point Douglas Children’s Fair where she spread the contents of dozens of boxes of books on tables and then allowed children to pick any ten they liked. Within just a short period of time she had given away 1,300 books. Children didn’t just grab books but took time to really look at them and pick the ones that interested them.

Headingley Correctional Institute

Share the Magic also targets adult populations that may not have access to reading materials. When Christine investigated making more books available to women at the Headingley Correctional Institute she discovered they wanted travel books, dictionaries for Scrabble game help, books to help them learn new languages, biographies and books about animals. They had no interest in books about romance or crime.

Christine speaks to students at Gray Academy who donated 1,700 books to Share the Magic

Christine was full of stories about how she has seen books inspire people, trigger an emotional response in people and empower them. She wanted to make our writers’ group aware of her project because she is always looking for donations of books as well as suggestions for avenues via which she can distribute them to people in the community.  

In a Winnipeg Free Press article Christine said, “This is a literate world. And God help the child who can’t read.”  Christine is certainly giving God a little help in the literacy department with her Share the Magic project. 

If you’d like to donate books or you know where books might be needed in the province you can contact Christine’s executive assistant Cindy Edmonds at 204-253-5162.

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Good Will and Good Memories

Manitoba Writers’ Guild

Winnipeg’s Millenium Library

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Manitoba Writers’ Guild

I attended my first meeting of the Manitoba Writers’ Guild on Saturday. I just became an official member of the group a few weeks ago. I want to pursue my interest in writing now that I have retired from teaching and joining the Writers’ Guild seemed a good way to become more connected with what was going on in the writing world in Winnipeg.  Saturday was their annual meeting and I learned about some of the projects sponsored by the Guild.

They have a website and if you are a member you can post a profile and a link to your personal website or blog. Here’s mine. The guild offers workshops where writers can work on manuscripts together or receive advice from experts. They have a mentorship program named in honor of a former member and new writers can apply for an opportunity to be mentored by a more seasoned author as they work on a specific writing project. They offer awards to Manitoba writers each year and last spring held a writers symposium on the Canadian Mennonite University Campus. A nice bonus of becoming a member is you get a free readers reward card from the McNally Robinson Bookstore. The guild publishes a regular newsletter that keeps member abreast of all kinds of writing opportunities and events in Winnipeg. 

I met some interesting fellow writers on Saturday and from them learned about grants, retreats and workshops available for Manitoba writers. I look forward to meeting more members of the guild at future events.

The meeting ended with a presentation by songwriter Lindsay White who talked to us about how she writes song lyrics. She compared it to the game Jenga where you create and recreate a tower by pulling out blocks and putting them in different spots. She collects ideas from all kinds of places and records them in a notebook which she publishes online in a blog. Those ideas get put together in various ways to make her songs. The members of her band serve as her editors.  Sometimes she said her songs change so much from her initial idea till the finished product that she hardly recognizes the final song. One of Lindsay’s projects is doing workshops for high school students to help them become song writers. She wants them to believe they can be poets. 

When I lived in Hong Kong I was a member of the Hong Kong Women in Publishing group and it was a great way for me to connect with other women in the city who were involved with writing, publishing and editing. We had monthly meetings with speakers-sometimes they were authors, book editors or bloggers. Every year the organization published an anthology of work contributed by members called Imprint and I was fortunate enough to have my work featured in it.  My involvement with the Hong Kong group inspired me to look for a similar organization here in Winnipeg. 

Through the Manitoba Writers’ Guild  newsletter I have already made a connection with a group that meets bi-weekly to work on writing for children and I am looking forward to attending my first meeting next week.  I’ll  keep you posted. 

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Thin Air Writer’s Festival

There is Winnipeg Mennonite Fiction

Carol Shields

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Thin Air Writer’s Festival- 2012

I hadn’t read their books, but now I want to!  David Bergen, Richard Ford, Mike Grandmaison, Sarah Klassen and Carrie Snyder are just a few of the authors I enjoyed at Winnipeg’s annual celebration of writing called Thin Air. The festival is ongoing and I’d love to dip into more of its pleasures but I’ll need to be satisfied with the rich experiences of the four sessions I attended. Each of the writers I heard were promoting new or nearly new books, none of which I’d read. They did their job well, because in most cases I became intrigued enough to want to read their latest work. However I haven’t succumbed to any purchases for myself yet since I bought a raffle ticket which just may win me a basket containing all the books featured at the festival!

Poet Sarah Klassen reading at Thin Air Festival

Sunday night I walked down to the Forks and settled myself on the hard steps of the Oodena amphitheatre. I found a spot where I could lean up against the stone wall. I had brought mitts, a wool toque and two jackets expecting a chilly evening but even after the sun had set it was unexpectedly balmy for an autumn Manitoba night.  Five diverse writers shared their work under the three-quarter moon and in the shadow of the new Human Rights Museum. I admit my favorite was Sarah Klassen. Sarah and I were both writers for a magazine called The Mennonite Mirror  decades ago and recently I ran into her at an MCC thrift store where we are both volunteers. She has a new book of poetry out called Monstrance.

Her poems on Sunday night focused on Winnipeg bridges and experiences connected with them.  I was especially moved by the one about the Slaw Rebchuk Bridge named after a colorful Winnipeg politician affectionately known as The Mayor of the North End. Yet Sarah focused not on Slaw, but on his mother and her journey through life. I also liked her poem about fireworks and the way she compared the various bursts of colorful light to flowers–begonias and birds of paradise.

Chadwich Ginther reads from Thunder Road

 Chadwick Ginther was reading from his book Thunder Road about an unemployed man from Alberta driving to Gimli with a trickster god named Loki.  It was delightfully bizarre to hear science fiction/ fantasy that included places like Lower Fort Garry and the Selkirk Mental Health Centre. 

Tuesday at lunch I was at the Millenium Library to hear photographer  Mike Grandmaison talk about the array of lush and diverse images in Prairie and Beyond. His photos are truly works of art and many look more like paintings than photographs. I have to admit the passage he read from his book seemed a little didactic but Mike’s photos are simply stunning. It’s honestly hard to know how  he could have captured some of his wildlife shots like an owl framed perfectly in the window of an abandoned house

or a trio of ducks in a precise row perched on a rock with their  reflections shimmering in the water below or

two male polar bars sparring with each other.  I will definitely visit the Pixels Gallery where his work is on display. 

Tuesday afternoon saw me at McNally Robinsons to hear Carrie Synder and Cordelia Strube read and discuss their books. Cordelia’s latest book is Milosz. She described how she crafts a novel by taking intriguing bits of news and information from non-fiction writing and somehow connecting them and weaving them into her narrative. She said that “if  you scratch below the surface of anyone you reveal massive dysfunction” and that’s where she finds interesting stories. 

I bought Carrie Synder’s book The Juliet Stories as a gift and had her autograph it. I’m madly trying to read it before I give it away. Her book is about peace activists who relocate their three young children, including their daughter Juliet Friesen to Nicaragua in the 1980’s. Although Carrie said her book is fiction; her own Mennonite parents were peace activists who took Carrie and her siblings to Nicaragua. Carrie went back to Central America with her husband and children to do research for the book. She didn’t let her parents read the novel till it was finished and Carrie loved what her Mom said about the mother character in the book. “I know it’s not me, but I wish it was.”  The host of the Tuesday afternoon event Charlene Diehl made reference to Carrie’s blog Obscure Can Lit Mama and I read several posts with amazement. It so hard for me to find time to blog every day yet Carrie does it while raising four kids, cooking, running  long distances, promoting a novel and writing  free-lance pieces. 

Charlene Diehl, David Bergen and Richard Ford in discussion at Thin Air Writers Festival

Dave Bergen and Richard Ford shared the stage at the Shaw Performing Arts Centre at the Forks on Tuesday night. A glass of wine, some New Bothwell cheese curds and pretzels in the form of alphabet letters got attendees in the right frame of mind for the evening. Both writers began their readings from the first pages of their books which contain attention grabbing events. Bergen’s The Age of Hope opens with a plane crash and Ford’s Canada with a robbery.

I am especially looking forward to reading The Age of Hope since its main character is based on Dave Bergen’s mother-in-law, someone I knew while growing up in Steinbach. During the book discussion in the second half  of the evening I was impressed how familiar Bergen and Ford were with each other’s books. The questions they asked each other were as interesting as the ones versatile hostess Charlene Diehl had prepared.  The theatre was full and long lines of people were waiting to have their books autographed by the authors. 

I entered my name in a draw to win the Bergen and Ford books on Tuesday evening but didn’t win. I hope I fare better with my Thin Air raffle ticket or I just may be buying a whole raft of books in the coming weeks. The draw is on Friday night! I’ve got my fingers crossed.

Categories: Annual Events, Literature, The Forks | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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