With Christmas nearing, Shirlee Smith Matheson and I decided to introduce some of our books in the next few blogs. Both of us have written and published regional history, but rather than summarize content, we will share highlights during the writing of those books. We’ll treat one book each per week with the exception of December 5 when poet Bob Stallworthy is my guest blogger.
Our books are available through trade publishers and bookstores. However, the easiest way to purchase them is directly from us by email or through our websites: www.wordandhistory or www.ssmatheson.ca
For this book, I focused on the positive experiences and memories of prairie women. I had read countless books on their hardships, and I knew those hardships were real. But, I believed that most women also had found many things that were rewarding and joyful in their lives. So, I wrote about such women and included photos reflecting those experiences.
Tall and dignified-looking, Eunice (Dunny) Robertson Hanna had been a teaching colleague, and I clearly remember interviewing her. At her Calgary home, we studied old photographs and talked about her 1942 enlistment in the army and her military service. Becoming a training officer for the Canadian Women’s Army Corp (CWAC), she served at Vermilion, Alberta. As we talked, she laughed as she recalled amusements enjoyed by herself and other women during their off-duty hours. Then, she became teary, remembering friends who had died during the war. I was fortunate to have worked with Dunny, to have attended ballets and luncheons with her for years, and to have included her and other fine women in the book. Women’s stories are filled with hardships, but, women have also enjoyed good times. So I hope you will discover those stories in my book or the books of others.
While living inHudson’sHope,BC, and being known as “a writer” I often received local requests to write everything from birthday poems to personal résumés. It still came as a surprise, however, to receive a call from a Catholic Sister of St. Joseph, Sister Gemma, who frankly informed me that a group of people had been discussing the career of Father Jungbluth (locally known as Father Youngblood), the Oblate priest who served four local churches in Moberly Lake (First Nations), Kelly Lake (Metis), Chetwynd (a mixed congregation) and Hudson’s Hope (mostly white). “He has lived an interesting life,” announced Sister Gemma, “and we have decided that you should write a book about him.”
“But . .. ” I stammered, “I don’t even know him!”
“So meet him!” was the instant response.
“But . . . he’s a Catholic priest – and I’m not Catholic.”
“We know that,” she said patiently, as if speaking to a child. And then she added a statement that changed my life. “But you’re a writer – and writers can write about anyone!”
And so that evening I went for a walk in the snowstorm– similar to the snowy walk taken by Pierre Trudeau while he made his big decision on whether to take on the challenge of becoming Canada’s Prime Minister — and decided to take on the challenge of writing about a man I had never met, who embraced a faith, and lived a lifestyle, quite different from mine, to see what might happen.
I met him, and went on to travel with him one day a week for three years to get his story, and those of the First Nations people who comprised his parishioners. The result is Youngblood of the Peace, a book now in its second edition. And further, I went on to write a stage play based on the book, which was produced at the Fringe Festival inEdmonton.
Father Jungbluth and I remained close friends until his passing. And that’s the story of my – and Pierre’s – big challenge, successfully met.