Category Archives: History

Crow Stone Launches Tonight

“We stumble along past the polluted streams, as pussy willows lose their kitten plush, morph into pollen-dusty worms, then leaf into green leaves. Spring insists on life in spite of burned-out houses, charred trees, blackened fields.”

That’s just an example of the vivid meaningful descriptions you will find in Gabriele Goldstone’s new novel Crow Stone. It is the fourth in her series that tells the story of a young woman named Katya determined to survive one tragedy after another beginning in the early 1930s when she is forced to move from Ukraine to Siberia and then to East Prussia, and in 1945……. after Germany is defeated in World War II, back to work in a Soviet labour camp.

One by one Katya loses her family- her parents, her siblings, her aunts and uncles and her cousins until she is left all alone to fight the battle for survival.

Crowstone Gabriele’s latest novel about Katya has already garnered some excellent reviews – Kirkus called it …..

“Difficult, harsh, and worthy of attention” praising Gabriele for the way she paints the horrors of war vividly and comprehensively.

The excerpt below gives you an idea of what the Kirkus reviewer is talking about. It is part of the description of Katya’s seemingly endless walk to the labour camp after she and a large group of women have been captured by the Soviets.

“At night it’s still cold. We huddle like cows, on the thawing ground, drinking water from puddles like orphaned dogs. Rivers, contaminated with death, littered with empty prams, broken furniture and bloated bodies, continue to flow. Death contaminates us all.”

The amount of meticulous research Gabriele has done to write her series is so impressive as the supplemental reading references at the end of Crow Stone attest. She has also made trips to many of the locations in her novels to look for documentation and background material and to see the places she is writing about for herself.

Katya’s story is all the more moving and meaningful because it was inspired by memories Gabriele’s mother shared sparingly with her daughter throughout her life.

At the end of Crow Stone Gabriele lists the facts from her mother’s life she incorporated into the book and I found it so interesting to go back and find the bits and pieces of her mother’s story in the places they were referenced.

Another fascinating detail is that the cover of Crow Stone features the 1947 prisoner-of-war release papers for Gabriele’s mother.

I particularly appreciated the way Crow Stone shows us that it is not always easy to figure out who is your enemy and who you should hate. A young woman named Natasha, a former employee of Katya’s family, puts it well when she describes so many people caught up in the war as…….. those who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Crow Stone is a riveting engaging read, tragic and troubling certainly, but ultimately a tribute to the human spirit of survival.

Gabriele who is a friend of mine, and a member of a writers’ group I have belonged to for almost a decade, launches her book tonight at McNally Robinson Booksellers and I am so sorry that I will be travelling and will have to miss her launch.

I’m inviting you to go in my stead for what is sure to be a wonderful evening and a great opportunity to buy her excellent book and have it signed.

Other posts………..

Hatred Happens Insidiously

Broken Stone

Red Stone

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But What About Jane?

My grade two class at Sir John Franklin School with our teacher Miss Ushey on the far right. I am standing in the back row on the far left, next to our principal Hannah Fisher.

When I was in grade two I attended Sir John Franklin School in Winnipeg. It was torn down in 1991 but I have distinct memories of my time there, my friends at the school, and my teacher Miss Ushey.

Standing outside Sir John Franklin School with my younger sister Kaaren

Since I have used Sir John Franklin School as a setting in my upcoming novel Sixties Girl, I started researching the explorer Sir John Franklin for whom the school was named when it opened its doors in 1921.

Sir John Franklin- Wikipedia image

I wondered why you would name a school after a man who essentially failed at the most important mission he was asked to carry out – to find the Northwest Passage. He never did. All the men on his expedition died and the two ships he commanded for the trip both sank.

So why did he attain a heroic place in history that led educational authorities in Winnipeg to name a school after him? Good question.

Lady Jane Griffin Franklin

Well, it turns out that the reputation and legacy of Sir John Franklin were protected and fiercely defended by his wife Jane, who some of her biographers insist, singlehandedly turned her husband from a failure into one of England’s noblest heroes.

Painting of the doomed Franklin expedition by William Thomas Smith

Jane was a world traveller herself and used her money and influence and writing skills to make her husband and his doomed mission legendary…. even though John Franklin was anything but a dashing hero. According to one biographer Sir John was old and unfit and a bit of a thorn in the side of naval authorities when he set sail in 1845 to find the Northwest Passage and subsequently perished.

Jane financed five different missions to find her lost husband and these voyages made such a major contribution to the mapping of the Arctic that Jane was awarded a special medal by the Royal Geographical Society.

John Rae speaking with the Inuit in the Boothia Peninsula -artwork from the Hudsons Bay Company History Foundation

In 1854 explorer Dr John Rae, who was on one of the missions to look for the lost Franklin expedition found evidence the crew members had resorted to cannabilism before they died. He learned a great deal about the expedition from his contacts with local Inuit people.

Lady Jane Franklin worked tirelessly to shift the narrative so that this story was discredited. She enlisted the help of author Charles Dickens to have Dr Rae’s reputation sullied and have him ostracized from society.

Dr. Simon May examines the bones of Franklin expedition sailors which prove the crew resorted to cannabalismphoto from the CBC

Later evidence proved Rae was right about the Franklin crew’s cannibalism and also proved that Franklin and his crew had died because they were too arrogant to ask for help or communicate with the Inuit people who might have helped save their lives once their ships were stranded.

Jane would however brook no criticism of her husband. She was a lively and interesting writer who lionized Sir John in her work, naming him the discoverer of the Northwest Passage even though many explorers had found it before and it wouldn’t be till 1906 that Roald Amundsen would actually sail the entire passage.

Sir John Franklin memorial in Westminster Abbey by artist Matthew Noble- photo by Laurence Cook

Jane paid for a memorial for her husband in Westminster Abbey and a statue of him in Waterloo Place in London and it was due to her influence and lobbying that the Queen knighted her husband shortly after she married him.

Lady Franklin Rock in the Fraser River- photo by Barry Sale

While Sir John Franklin has been lauded in song and story in Canada and his name is affixed to all kinds of buildings and geographical locations, interestingly a small island in British Columbia’s Fraser River is named after Jane Franklin and commemorates her stay in the nearby community of Yale in 1861 when at age 68 she was on one of her many life-long travel adventures.

Jane actually logged many more travel miles in her lifetime than her husband ever did and wrote about them in 200 interesting travel journals and 2000 letters to friends and family.

Greta Scacchi plays Jane Franklin in a television series about the Franklin expedition called The Terror

Researching this post led me to discover all kinds of interesting things about Jane Franklin too numerous to share here. I’d like to read some of the books and novels that have been written about her.

In 2020 the Canada Mint released a special silver coin designed by Matt Bowen to honour Sir John Franklin.

Jane Franklin was definitely a formidable female force. Her husband can thank her for the fact that many people nearly a 180 years after he died still recognize his name.

Perhaps the school I attended in grade two in Winnipeg should have been named after Jane Franklin instead of her husband.

Other posts…………

Attending a School Named For An Explorer

My Photos Find New Homes

The House on Beaverbrook Street

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Small Things Like These- A Moving Story

Over the Christmas holidays, I read the novella Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan. In keeping with its title, Small Things Like These is a small book only a hundred pages. It was shortlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize and won the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction.

Novel illustration by Daniela Alfieri from the review in the Sunday Times

Set in 1985 it tells the story of a rural Irish man named Bill Furlong who sells wood and coal for a living. While making a delivery at the local convent he begins to suspect something untoward is going on there. What will he do about it?

Bill Furlong seems at first a simple soul devoted to his wife and five daughters and providing for them with honest hard work, but in Claire Keegan’s capable hands he becomes something so much more- a complex, thoughtful man with an interesting past of his own.

Small Things Like These is a beautifully written and stirring story and while it takes place at Christmas would be a perfect read any time of the year.

Illustration by Anna Gusella for the review of Small Things Like These in the New York Times

I knew a little bit about the Magdalene Laundries one of which plays an important role in Small Things Like These because I had seen the movie Philomena starring Judy Dench. But I had no idea of the scope and impact of the laundries on thousands of young Irish women till I did a little research after reading the novel.

The Magdalene Laundries ( named after Mary Magdalene in the Bible) were essentially ten workhouses in different locations in Ireland from which profitable businesses were run to raise money for the Catholic Church.

From 1922 to 1966 as many as 30,000 young Irish women were essentially held prisoner in these laundries and subjected to severe psychological and physical mistreatment. The woman were unwed mothers, the daughters of unwed mothers, and girls who had been sexually abused or had mental or physical health issues.

Many were considered burdens by their families or were sent to the laundries by clergy, police officers, hospitals and psychiatric institutions. Confined for decades while starved of food and education, forced to work in silence from morning to night, they were isolated from society. Punishments for refusal to work included food deprivation, shaving of hair, solitary confinement and beatings. Many of the women as well as their children died.

It was only in the early 1990s when unmarked graves were discovered on a Dublin convent’s land that a public scandal ensued and what had truly happened in these laundries came to light.

Although knowing more about the Magdelene Laundries makes me want to read Small Things Like These again, its story stands on its own without the historical background I have provided in this post.

The book prompts us to think about what things are going on in our communities that we don’t notice or choose not to notice. What is our responsibility as community members to do something about them? It reminds us that while we cannot change the past we can still confront it and deal with it.

Other posts…………..

Silent Prey

The Long Wait and Forgiveness

The Children Are Watching and Listening and Wondering

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Cora Hind- The Wheat Oracle Who Wore Pants

In a new exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery called Headlines: The Art of the News there is a photographic portrait of Ella Cora Hind. Later she dropped the Ella from her name and came to be known as Cora Hind. When I toured the Headlines exhibit with curator Riva Symko she told us Cora had been an agricultural reporter known for her uncanny way of correctly predicting wheat prices.

Cora often dressed in men’s pants, something quite shocking for a woman at the time, and tramped through Manitoba grain fields to collect information to write her agricultural stories for the paper.

Cora was born in 1861 in Ontario. Both her parents had died by the time she was five and so she and her two brothers went to live with their grandfather who taught Cora all about farming. Cora wanted to become a teacher but she failed the algebra part of her qualification exam. So together with her Aunt Alice, she decided to move to Winnipeg in 1882 where they’d heard there might be employment opportunities.

This photo of William Luxton who refused to hire Cora is in the Headlines exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery

Cora had always dreamed of becoming a journalist so when she arrived in Winnipeg she went to see William Luxton the editor of the Manitoba Free Press. He was a friend of one of Cora’s uncles and so welcomed her warmly to his office, but was shocked when she said she wanted to write for the paper. Luxton told Cora women didn’t write for newspapers. Being a reporter was rough work often involving interviewing less than-savoury people. It wasn’t for a woman.

This old typewriter is part of the Headlines exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. When the Free Press editor wouldn’t hire her Cora learned to type and got another job.

Cora wasn’t deterred. She heard about a new office machine called a typewriter. She rented one, learned to type and got herself a job working for the lawyer Hugh John McDonald. But she was still interested in farming and grain growing and in 1898 started making crop predictions. Farmers came to trust her expertise and knowledge and she would submit articles about farming to the newspaper under the name E. Hind.

This portrait of John Dafoe who hired Cora as a reporter is also in the Headlines exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery

In 1901 the brand new editor of the Winnipeg Free Press John Dafoe hired her as an agricultural reporter.

Cora would go on to earn an international reputation as an agricultural journalist and her predictions about harvest yields soon were the accepted source for establishing the price of Canadian wheat. She became known as kind of an ‘oracle of wheat’ for her accurate crop predictions.

She was also famous for the way she strode through grain fields in riding breeches, high leather boots and a Stetson hat. She went across Canada inspecting farms. In 1924 she travelled more than 10,000 kilometres checking out crops.

Cora played an important role in getting the vote for women in Manitoba

Cora founded the Winnipeg branch of the Canadian Women’s Press Club and helped form the Political Equality League with other Winnipeg suffragettes campaigning for women to get the right to vote in Manitoba which they did in 1916.

This photo shows the vest made by a Cree woman from Norway House for Cora. The vest is in the collection of the Manitoba Museum and Cora is wearing it in the portrait on display in the Headlines exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. In an exhibition at the museum showcasing the vest visitors were reminded that while Cora helped win the vote for Manitoba women in 1916 Indigenous women would not be allowed to vote until 1952. – photo by Lyle Dick

Cora Hind was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Manitoba in 1935.

This sculpture of Cora Hind by Miguel Joyal is included in the Winnipeg Citizens Walk of Fame in Assiniboine Park

When Cora died in 1942 they halted trading at the Winnipeg Grain Exchange for two minutes in her memory.

Other posts……..

What a Woman!

Finding Nellie’s House

Grain is King

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Filed under feminism, History, manitoba, Winnipeg, winnipeg art gallery

A List I Won’t Be Living By

I received the book Lists to Live By in a fun gift exchange at a Christmas party on the weekend. The book was published in 1999. The rules for the gift exchange stated that the gift you brought should be something you no longer had a use for. I can understand why this book’s previous owner no longer had any use for it.

One of the lists in The Book of Lists illustrated how men’s and women’s roles have undergone enormous change in the last few decades. When I found the list below I could hardly finish reading it because I was laughing so hard.

WAYS TO MAKE YOUR HUSBAND FEEL SPECIAL

Never interrupt or correct him.

Make a nice lunch for him to take to work.

Put as much time and attention into your appearance as you did when he was dating you.

Keep your bedroom tastefully decorated and tidy.

Give him time to relax when he gets home from work.

Keep lovemaking fresh and exciting and remember that a man desires intimacy more often than a woman.

Let him know you admire how strong he is.

Be understanding when he wants to spend time enjoying sports or other hobbies with his friends instead of spending time with you and the children.

Bake homemade cookies for him.

Don’t buy him socks and underwear for gifts on holidays and birthdays. Just purchase them for him when he needs them.

This list is so outdated and out of touch, it is hard to believe that just over twenty years ago it would have been considered relevant.

You may be wondering if The Book of Lists also had a list of ways men could make their wives feel special. It does and it is every bit as laughable. I’ll give you just a couple of examples.

Take a clean handkerchief to the movies for her to use when she cries.

Give her a back rub with no expectations of getting lovemaking in return.

Polish her shoes for her.

Eat dainty desserts with her at a Victorian restaurant.

I’ll stop there. I’m sure you get the idea.

Other posts………..

Housework

Are Men and Women’s Friendships Different?

But Not That Long Ago

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Childhood Homes

Yesterday I was speaking to a group at the Gaynor Library in Selkirk and during the discussion time after my presentation, we talked about researching our family histories.

Earl, one of the gentlemen in the group said he had been exploring his family’s history by visiting the homes he had lived in during his childhood. This fascinated me because I’ve been doing the same thing. I still have a couple of homes to go but I’m making progress.

Two years ago on my birthday, I visited my first home on Dundurn Avenue in Winnipeg which is where my parents were living when I was born.

I’ve also been to our old house on Home Street where my family resided till I finished kindergarten and since the home had been resold recently when I was writing about it I could even use photos of how it looked some sixty years after I had lived there.

The year I was in grade one my family was settled in an apartment building on the grounds of the St.Boniface Hospital since my Dad was an intern there. Although the building is being used for something else now, it is still standing and visiting the site brought back many memories I could write about.

I was happy to find that the house on Beaverbrook Street where my family lived when I was seven, although quite changed on the exterior, was still there. I was able to find quite a number of old photos that showed our family’s life in that home so I could compose a blog post about it.

When I was eight my family moved to Steinbach. I have photographed the first home I lived in there and have written about it but I shared two other homes in Steinbach with my parents and I need to revisit them too.

One thing that Earl, the gentleman at the Selkirk Library had done was actually knock on the doors of his childhood homes and said the current owners always very kindly let him come inside to look around. That isn’t something I haven’t been brave enough to try but it sure would be interesting.

In our discussion at the library, we talked about the value of learning about your family’s history. Visiting your childhood homes is certainly a fascinating way to do that.

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A Sad Telegram

I was working on a manuscript set in the 1960s yesterday and wanted to make reference to a telegram. I wondered if they had still been used at all in the sixties or if telephones had entirely replaced them. Then I remembered a telegram my second cousin Wendy Whalen had shown me when I visited with her in Vancouver last October.

It was the telegram her grandmother had received when my grandfather was killed in an accident in 1961. Grandma and Grandpa were attending the Canadian Conference of Mennonites in Calgary and when they were crossing a street Grandpa was struck by a car and killed.

Grandpa’s youngest sister Alma lived in Vancouver and when my grandpa’s son Earl learned of his father’s death he sent his aunt a telegram to give her the news.

There were articles in different newspapers about Grandpa’s accident and I have copies of them as well.

I was seven when my grandfather died and clearly remember seeing my mother respond when she received the news of her father’s death over the phone.

One of the last photos taken of my grandparents before my grandfather’s death.

I discovered that Canadian Pacific who relayed the telegram about my grandfather continued offering service until 1974.

Other posts………

Heart’s Content – The Fishing Village That Changed The World

My Grandparents Were at a World Exposition

Meeting My Second Cousin For the First Time

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Truth and Reconciliation

Today on Truth and Reconciliation Day I offer some images from my photo library that came to mind when I thought about the meaning of the day.

Panel by Cathy Busby at the Winnipeg Art Gallery where it was displayed in 2010 as part of an installation called We Are Sorry.

Barber’s Chair with a voice recording saying, “I was tied fast to the chair.  I was crying a lot as I felt the cold scissors against my neck. The first thing they did was cut our hair. While we were bathing our breechcloths were taken and we were ordered to put on trousers. They took our identity.” – I photographed this chair at the Heard Museum in Phoenix Arizona. It was part of an exhibit called Residential Schools- the Hiroshima of the Indian Nations.

The Scream by Kent Monkman. I photographed it at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. It was displayed as part of an exhibit in 2019 called Shame and Prejudice.

Tribute to Indigenous children found in unmarked graves on Canadian residential school burial grounds. I photographed it on the steps of the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria in October of 2021.

A brochure explaining why my church has a treaty acknowledgement on our website and why we announce it at the start of our services. I wrote the text for the brochure in 2016.

baby bottles boil water Don't Breathe Don't Drink

Baby bottles and water glasses filled with contaminated water and bacteria from 96 northern Canadian reserves with boil water advisories. Art piece Don’t Breathe, Don’t Drink by Ruth Cuthand. I photographed it at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

A book my ten-year-old grandson introduced me to last year when he was explaining what Truth and Reconciliation Day was all about and how they had marked it at his school.

A drummer on a tour we took of Indigenous land in Saskatchewan. I photographed him in 2013. He was singing this song.

We are all one people

We all come from one Creator way on high

We are all one nation under one great sky

You and I 

We are all one people

We are all one nation

We are all one people in her eye

We are all one people if we try. 

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Seeing the Queen

My mother and I both saw Queen Elizabeth in person.  Two different Queen Elizabeths that is. 

The royal couple took a train across the Western provinces of Canada in 1939

In 1939 King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth visited Canada. They took a Canadian Pacific Railway train through the Western provinces.

The front page of the Watrous newspaper in 1939 when the royal couple visited

It stopped in Watrous, Saskatchewan and that’s where my mother saw the royal couple.  Mom told me the story when I was writing her biography in 2006. 

One of the highlights of my school career was singing for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. In 1939 they were on a coast-to-coast tour of Canada by train and were scheduled to stop in Watrous, Saskatchewan. Hundreds of children from different schools in our area were all lined up along the tracks near the station.  Each school was assigned a certain place to stand. There were ropes along the track and we had to stay behind them. 

Our teachers had all taught us a song written especially for the monarchs’ visit. The train stopped and the King and Queen came out on a little porch at the end of the train to wave to us and listen to us sing.  

After we finished singing they took away the ropes set up along the track and we all dashed up to the train to get as close as we could to the royal couple. I thought I might be able to touch the Queen’s dress.  

I ran up to the train but there were so many people it was impossible to get close to the Queen.  When I turned around I couldn’t see the other kids from my school, or my teacher and I thought I was lost.  I was very scared until I finally spied someone I recognized and was able to rejoin my class.  I remember the queen was wearing a blue hat that day.

I found some photographs of the royal train’s 1939 stop in Watrous, and I can see why Mom might have become disoriented. Huge crowds of people crowded near the tracks to try and glimpse Queen Elizabeth and King George. 

Queen Elizabeth’s motorcade driving through Winnipeg

When I was just five years old I saw Queen Elizabeth II when she was visiting Winnipeg. In the summer of 1959, twenty years after my mother had seen the young monarch’s parents in Saskatchewan, Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Phillip drove through Winnipeg in a motorcade.

My dad was a medical intern at the St. Boniface Hospital at the time.  Queen Elizabeth’s car was going to go right past the hospital down Tache Street. The street was lined with people, and it would have been hard for a little girl like me to see with such a crowd. So, my dad took me up on the roof of the hospital and from there I had a great birds-eye view of the Queen as she drove by waving her hand to the throngs. 

Children today might not understand why my mother and I would find our encounters with royalty so memorable but when we were school students every Canadian classroom featured a large portrait of the reigning monarch front and center just above the blackboard.   

Every day we stood at attention and sang God Save the Queen or in my mother’s case God Save the King to remind us of the importance of the British royals. 

I think it is probably a good thing that kings and queens no longer hold such a central place in children’s minds and experience but the fact that they once did, makes it easier to understand why the death of the Queen seems like a significant historical event especially for older Canadians. 

Other posts………..

Queen Victoria Made Them Popular

Autumn Cruise Fit For A Queen

The Queen Who Couldn’t Bake Gingerbread

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An Interesting Plot Line in Harvey Takes The Lead

Although there are many things I like about middle grade author Colleen Nelson’s series of Harvey books I particularly enjoy their references to historical events.

Author Colleen Nelson has a terrier of her own. – photo from Colleen Nelson’s website

Harvey is a West Highland Terrier and he and the young people in his life Maggie and Austin are regular visitors at a retirement home where the residents’ stories bring the past alive.

In Harvey Takes the Lead Colleen’s latest novel in the series, Austin is worried about Mr. Bob Kowalski whose wife of sixty years is in the hospital. He checks in on Mr. Kowalski regularly and Bob tells Austin about how he met his wife during World War II.

Her name was Alice Schmidt and Bob quickly developed a soft spot for her only to discover that his gang of friends suspected she was a Nazi because of her German last name and the fact she knew some German words.

As the story unfolds we learn how people of German descent who had been in Canada for generations were considered suspicious during World War II. Alice’s family owned a store in Winnipeg and people stopped patronizing it because of the family’s German lineage.

Bob will win Alice’s heart when he stands up to the people who are falsely accusing her of being a German sympathizer and boldly acknowledges his affection for her.

My mother’s maiden name was also Schmidt and she told me about something similar happening in the Saskatchewan prairie town where she lived as a girl. Her family had been in North America since the 1870s but because of their last name and the fact they spoke German they were also under suspicion.

My grandparents Peter and Annie Schmidt with their four children

My mom clearly remembers her Dad telling her not to speak German when they went into the shops in town or were on the street. Mom went to a country school where most of the other kids were also from families of German descent and one morning they came to school to find vandals had been there and destroyed many of their books and papers and left their schoolroom a mess.

There are many interesting plot lines in Colleen Nelson’s Harvey Takes the Lead and readers will enjoy following them all but the one about Alice and Bob and World War II was particularly meaningful for me.

Other posts………..

Don’t Speak German

Learning About Winnipeg History From Books for Kids

The Undercover Book List

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