Kootenay Bound: Nelson Public Library • Tuesday, May 20, 7 pm
The morning after the Regina launch it was back on the plane for Vangie Bergum, Anne and I, Kootenay-bound after this roller coaster ride of three cities in three days. Vangie was still clutching the by-now rather tired bouquet that had been sent to her in Calgary by her brother, who was unable to attend. It had taken a deep well of courage for her to write a book about two generation-old family murder and not everyone in her family was happy about it. So the bouquet was a deeply significant symbol of family support. I felt she’d learned a lot from her other presentations and her Nelson reading was the one that finally knit the pieces together for me.
It was great to be back in the evergreen Kootenays, with the mild May weather. We only had a few days to wait ‘til the Nelson book launch. Though I’d gapped on arranging for a projector for the slide show I’d prepared for the tour, Anne DeGrace graciously (seldom met anyone better matched to her name) rounded up a big screen TV for me. At first I was a bit panicky at the thinness of the hometown audience, but then of course, I’d forgotten about Kootenay Time, which meant about 60 people wandered in at the last minute. Who starts on time in the Kootenays, after all? We have a saying in the Slocan Valley—“slow as you can…” And of course Anne DeGrace, our renowned author-librarian, was host par excellence. (http://www.annedegrace.ca)
And once again—so many writers came out in support! Rita Moir, Linda Crosfield, Ernest Hekkanen, Tom Wayman, Margrith Schraner, Jenny Craig, Eileen Delahanty-Pearkes, Susan Andrews-Grace, Verna Relkoff and if I’ve missed anyone for God’s sake forgive me! Cartoonist par excellence Josh Wapp came down early to get his copy of the book before heading off to the NDP session on the Northern Gateway pipeline. Ernest Hekkanen has been a tireless supporter of my writing, publishing both individual poems and essays in the New Orphic Review and two collections of poetry, The Charlatans of Paradise and Star Seeds. (http://www.chameleonfire.ca/books.html) Ernest has proven that you can be independent of the publishing establishment and still establish a solid reputation. Under his New Orphic imprint he’s written and published 40 books, including poetry, essays, novels, short stories, and plays. Ernest has often been featured in BC Bookworld as well as regularly appearing in international anthologies of Finnish-American literature. (http://www3.telus.net/neworphicpublishers-hekkanen/b)%20New%20Orphic%20Review.htm)
Just as wonderfully, Diane Holt caught me before the reading to tell me that thanks to the help I gave her after my Touchstones talk in 2012, she now has her grandfather’s records! He’d been sent to Canada as a Home Child by Reverend Bowman Stephenson’s homes in the UK. Anne was talking to a young woman who said she realized when she saw the reading advertised that the presence of Home Children in her family tree explained a lot. After the reading an older couple said the “light went on” for them while they were listening to me speak and are now on the trail to find out about their Home Child ancestor. That to me has been the most gratifying aspect of this tour—to see people connect the dots and then re-connect with family, both past and present. With some four million descendants, there’s a lot of us out there, and some are just now waking up to this story in their past.
Silverton Gallery • Silverton, BC • May 29, 7:30 pm
Probably the most bittersweet venue of the entire tour. Both a homecoming and a goodbye—this Gallery that has known so much art and music during its 35 years. And my reading the last performance in this cozy, acoustically beautiful little space. Sadly the Silverton Gallery must close to the public for now, a legacy of many years of neglect from both a municipal administration and successive gallery boards who never planned ahead or put money aside to stem the building’s inevitable decline. Finally the sad day could be postponed no longer. (http://silvertongallery.ca)
Some friends called with regrets that they couldn’t make it prior to the evening. That made me a bit nervous. But then the Gallery filled up with familiar faces. I was pleased to see poet Diana Hartog among the audience. (http://www.chbooks.com/biographies/diana_hartog) For once I remembered to thank Anne for her incredible support on this tour, though she hates even that much public attention. And I had to thank my community for supporting me during the past ten years. A decade that has been a slow, slow recovery from broken health—with love, organic food, the world’s purest water, and the Valhalla mountains shining over us like arctic flags.
In a classic show of obtuseness, it took me awhile to figure out who the best person was to introduce me at the hometown book launch—Dan Nicholson. Dan during this past decade has been my friend and colleague, publisher of the Valley Voice, and a perennial believer in true community journalism. (http://valleyvoice.ca) And of course his speech was perfect—funny, witty and warm. “The most important thing I can tell you about Art’s writing is that it is driven by passion—a passion for Social Justice. Whether he’s writing about the 20 families whose water was affected by the Lemon Creek fuel spill, or the millions of Canadians descended from British home children, this passion shines through.”
“The second thing I want to share with you is this: He’s a heckuva fine writer. Lots of people are passionate. Art is also engaging and articulate. He engages in meticulous research, but he’s never boring or academic. He writes with both compassion and a sense of outrage. But he always writes well.” That was a helluva deep reach for a guy who’s just come through the worst tragedy in New Denver’s recent history.
But when I said, “If one in eight Canadians are Home Child descendants, then chances are some of you in this room are,” some wag shouted out: “Naw, we’re all Americans here.” At least it got a laugh. If it had been mid-summer, someone might have shouted out, “Naw, we’re all Calgarians here.”
Slocan Community Library • Slocan, BC • Sunday, June 1, 1 pm
Lois Lawrence had contacted me several weeks ago about doing a combined reading with Ellen Burt for her new book of memoirs, When the Path is Not A Straight Line (Maa Press). (http://www.nelsonstar.com/entertainment/230128491.html) I’d introduced Ellen in New Denver for her launch at the Hidden Garden Gallery back in April so I said of course. (http://hiddengardengallery.ca) I was glad that Lois mentioned to the audience the two blogs I’d written on the Slocan Lake tragedy of a couple weeks earlier. I’ve been careful not to link this tour with that terrible event so it’s clear I’m not riding on anyone’s grief. But I tried to write compassionately and clearly for the people who might find themselves lost for words over the irreplaceable loss of four young people in our lake. Words are my gift, so they’re what I have to offer. (https://chameleonfire1.wordpress.com/category/slocan-lake-tragedy/)
Two other authors were present in the Slocan library that afternoon, poets Peter McPhee and Barbara Curry-Mulcahy. Peter is the author of Running Unconscious (Coach House) and a CD, The Sound of Filling Hollow. A transplanted Torontonian, he’s spent the past decade or so putting down roots in the Kootenays, adjusting to the much different rural vibe. Though I sense he finds some of the local culture baffling, something here clearly agrees with him. Barbara and her husband live in a house in Slocan with barely 500 square feet so she wisely donates any books she buys to the library. (http://www.writersunion.ca/member/barbaracurry-mulcahy) She and Tom Wayman had read together there last year for the release of Tom’s fine new poetry collection, Winter’s Skin. (http://www.oolichan.com/wayman-winters-skin) Tom, Anne and I have collaborated on the Convergence Writers Weekends since 2011, and it’s been a genuine pleasure to work with him. His unassuming nature, sharp intellect and droll sense of humour make it easy to get things done efficiently yet without any sense of drudgery. (http://www.heartsrest.com/convergence/convergence-writers-retreat/)
Peter McPhee invited us out afterward to the Harold Street Café for a beer. I seldom drink but welcomed the chance to relax after putting out so much energy. He mentioned the library event to the older woman working in the kitchen who also had a Home Child ancestor and immediately wanted a copy of Children’s Ghosts. Then another younger woman came up to me to say her partner is the granddaughter of a Home Child and would be here soon if I could just wait. I said sure, of course. ‘Sonny’ was there shortly after we got settled at a sunny outside table and told us the tragic story of her family, wracked by abuse triggered by her Home Child ancestor Albert Jenkins. Albert was one of the worst-case stories—chained to the doghouse and beaten by the farmer who took him in. The ripples of that violence have been felt all the way down the generations to Sonny, who is estranged from many family members. It may be too much to hope that my book will bring her family healing but if it at least offers comfort and illumination then I’ve accomplished something.