Much work on history

February 3, 2016

I guess it was in 1967, Canada’s centennial year, that people in communities across Canada began to apply for government grants to author histories on their municipalities.

Suddenly, no matter how small, these locally published histories put even the villages with the smallest populations on the Canadian ‘landscape’.

I taught Writing Your Life story workshops in the late 1980s and into the 1990s in Winnipeg. Based on my own experience as the author of four, I would tell the seniors whom I coached that a book usually takes, on the average, four years to write. This was to impress upon them that once anyone sits down to write a book, it ends being more detailed than the writer thinks it will be when first ‘putting pen to paper’.

Think of it this way: a life takes more than four years to live for the majority of us and a municipality takes much longer than this to develop, flourish and either keep on flourishing or turning into a ghost town.

I suspect whoever chooses or is chosen to write about a community has many people looking over his or her shoulder as the history is gathered and deciphered into a readable book. Some are not so readable, others are detailed works of art enhanced by interesting photographs.

How to write a book, when it comes to the mechanics has changed tremendously with the rise of the computer industry. As I glance at the newspaper page of the following article, I notice there was a typing committee, for example, established to put together the Wood River, Saskatchewan history.

This article’s subject, then, is a piece of history, in and of itself, of a time when books were put together much differently than now as we read it on a computer in the technological age:

Gravelbourg Gazette — Lafleche News

December 7, 1982

Much work on history

by Tanya Lester

Writing a 575 page history book of a rural municipality, which includes over 100 photographs, takes time, organization, money and the commitment of present and past RM residents.

All four ingredients went into producing Golden Memories of the Wood River Pioneers, a history of the Rural Municipality of Wood River which includes the towns of Melaval, Lafleche, and Woodrow. The history book is a record of the many homesteaders which settled within the approximately 324 square miles of the RM.

Orville Tallon, who chaired the history book project committee, realized the need for such a book as more and more pioneers began to die. “The people that have died were the first generation (which settled the area),” Mr. Tallon said. “So you were losing a lot of history through those peoples’ deaths.

Mr. Tallon said when he was young, he could merely ask his father or uncle about something which had happened in the past. But when his children’s generation started asking questions “the answers weren’t so readily available.” Mr. Tallon added many of the first homesteaders were bachelors so their history was even more quickly disappearing.

For finding out about these bachelors and other more obscure history, the committee was able to get much information from the Saskatchewan Archives. The archives has the collection of a past local resident named George Douglas. He was an amateur photographer and historian, Mr. Tallon said, who had taken pictures and interviewed old friends as a hobby.

The history book project was undertaken in 1979 and 1980 as part of the 75th Anniversary Celebration in Saskatchewan. Originally, the Club 50 got involved in the project when they received a letter in relation to compiling an area history. An election for table officers was held. With Mr. Tallon’s election as chair, his contribution to the project began.

The editorial staff was established. Of the ten volunteer staff, nine of them were retired school teachers. “We were really fortunate that we had a lot of retired school teachers who were ready and willing,” Mr. Tallon said.

The retired school teachers, Mr. Tallon said, had worked on school year books so to meet with a book publisher was nothing new to them. The project group went to Friesen’s Publishers in Altona, Manitoba, the company which eventually published the book.

The publisher had requested that all the personal histories collected be typed in a certain style, so a typing committee was established. However, to get this information, the committee had to send letters to residents and former residents of the area. In the letters, the historical committee asked these people to respond to questions concerning the type of home they lived in, when they settled in the area and about social and church activities.

When they only had six replies by January 1980, Mr. Tallon said “a lot of us felt that maybe it (the book) wasn’t going to go.” But a few months later, there were about 600 replies. They came from as far away as England, Western Europe, and all over North America.

Locally, the committee divided the rural municipality into its original divisions. They asked someone in each division to head a subcommittee which he or she would establish for that particular area.

In the same way, one person was responsible for overseeing the collection of history in each town or a part of each town. Each district had to collect information about its school district from old school registers and lists of trustees and officials. Also, each was responsible for obtaining a list of homesteaders, collecting photographs, and interviewing people with the cut off date being 1940.

Mr. Tallon said some people felt the history should have been dated to more recent times, too. But, being the first group to work on the area’s history, the committee already had a large job on their hands. “We have the early history now,” Mr. Tallon said. “If someone is interested in going from there, then they will have an easier time than we did.”

The location for collecting and organizing the material was the R.M. and town office of Lafleche. The photographs which were received numbered from 700 to 800 and had to be put in order and sent back to the owners after the book was published. Photographs and written materials were mailed to the publisher by registered letter.

Mr. Tallon said the committee had anticipated receiving a lot of stories about the Depression. But they found out not even ten people “dwelt on it.” Many more wrote about the Christmas concerts and other good times than about the 1930’s and the hard times.

Mr. Tallon said he enjoyed working on the book because it was a way to find out “how your neighbours lived.” For example, he discovered that, almost without exception, each family from Eastern Europe which settled in the area had originally worked on constructing the Legislative Buildings in Regina. One enough money from this work had been saved, the man of each family homesteaded in the Wood River area and the rest of his family came out from Regina during the following year.

Costs to publish the book were over $45,153. A grant of $1,500 was provided by the provincial government through a senior citizens New Horizons fund and there was a Celebrate Saskatchewan grant of $510.50. The Lafleche Credit Union provided an interest free loan to cover the rest of the expenses.

The publication costs have been paid off and any profits made on the book now will be donated to “worthy causes.” To date the committee has donated money to Donor’s Choice and school libraries in the area. Although the committee officially disbanded in the fall of 1981, Mr. Tallon said it occasionally meets to discuss where profits from the book should be donated. The book sells for $25.00 a copy and is on sale at places such as the RM office in Lafleche.

Mr. Tallon felt people like Alma Bachelu, the treasurer who still handles sales of the book, Isabelle Spence and the late Beatrice Rachel Longworth, who helped to start the book’s research and died before its completion, should be thanked for their contributions. There are many others, too. The names are too numerous to mention.

When asked what Mr. Tallon would tell someone planning to start such a project, he said, “Be prepared for a lot of hours of work but pleasant work. You would have to accept some criticism but not too much.”

–END–

Tanya Lester’s books are Confessions of a Tea Leaf Reader (which can be purchased from the author or going to amazon.com), Friends I Never Knew, Dreams and Tricksters and Women Rights/Writes. These books are available in some librairies and the last three are in the Legislative Library of Manitoba.

To read more posts on this blog go to writingsmall.wordpress.com and tealeaf56.wordpress.com

Tanya Lester can be contacted through her website: teareading.wordpress.com , Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google or email: tealeaf.56@gmail.com or call 250-538-0086

 

 

 

 

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