Category Archives: history

Living History

My brother recently spent a week in Cuba, and took lots of photos. It is a country that lives their history in front of them every day, with ancient forts, beautiful stone buildings from every era of their long history, and even antique cars everywhere you look – being a car guy, the vintage vehicles featured fairly prominently in my brother’s photographs.

The history of Alberta isn’t nearly so obvious. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on January 23, 2012 in history, writing


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Waiting For The Chinook

Yesterday morning while I was driving to work the thermometer on my car said -37. That’s minus 37 Celsius, if you were wondering, not that it makes much difference at those temperatures: -40 is -40 whether you speak Canadian or American. Until this cold snap hit, we’d been spoiled with a positively balmy winter, temperatures hovering around freezing for the most part, with some spring-like days. Up until this week, the dangerous winter weather we’d had to deal with involved wind, not frigid temperatures.

As usual, as I was looking at that -37 on the digital readout, my imagination took me back into Alberta’s past, to the early settlers. They didn’t have weathermen warning them that the cold temperatures were coming, and after weeks and weeks of temperate weather the cold snap could have easily snuck up on them. If they weren’t prepared, with food and shelter and warmth for themselves and the animals they relied on, there could be deadly consequences.

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Posted by on January 20, 2012 in history, writing


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Focus … or Obsession? Local History Edition.

I tend to dive wholeheartedly into anything that interests me.  I watch whole seasons of my favorite TV shows at once. I discover a new author I like, and read their whole backlist. If I start writing a new story, I pretty much do nothing else until it’s done.

My friend Stacy says it’s an admirable quality. My brother calls me OCD. He likes cite the time when I was typing away during the previews at the movie theater as evidence to support his theory.

Right now, my thoughts and spare time is wrapped up with the cabin.

In 1908, John Alfke, his wife and their young son homesteaded the quarter section of land where I currently live.  I don’t know a lot about Mr. Alfke, but I do know that he knew how to build a house. The cabin he built for his family is still standing. They moved into the town of Cochrane in 1921, but not before their two younger sons were born in the cabin. Mr. Alfke sold it to John Ward, who then sold to Evan Jones in 1918.

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Posted by on October 23, 2011 in history


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What I Did On My Summer Vacation

I’m stealing this idea from the lovely Valerie Ormond. I thought it was a great idea for getting back in the swing of things!

I went to a lot of horse shows – which is what I usually do in the summer. I’m also far busier at work in the summer time, so perhaps “Summer Vacation” isn’t the most accurate term. Summer is very limited where I live (though we’re currently enjoying a stretch of the hottest temperatures we’ve seen all year —  in September) so we pack a lot into a few short months.

Shortly before my first competition of the year my horse came up lame, which resulted in him taking the summer off to (hopefully – still have my fingers crossed!) heal. Just about the same time, my driving mare, Jamie, who was supposed to be heavy in foal, came into season. No baby this year, but that meant that Miss James was promoted (demoted?) to show horse again. After only a handful of drives we started the show season in June in Vermilion, and despite her disadvantages of lack of fitness and training, not to mention excess tummy, she had a great year. Through the summer she went to eight shows, fairs and driving trials and we both had a lot of fun.

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Posted by on September 9, 2011 in history, horses, reading, writing


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Legendary Racehorses

I just watched Secretariat again.

If you haven’t seen it, seriously, go rent it. Or buy it. Or netflix it or whatever it is people do these days.

I’m notoriously picky about my horse movies. My friend Anne-Marie and I quite possible ruined Dreamer for a lot of little girls sitting around us in the theater. (“He can tell she’s infertile from a palpation?” “What’s that, a Polaroid x-ray machine?”) But Secretariat did a pretty good job, outside of Somethingroyal being so accommodating as to wait while Penny and her son flew in from Colorado before she foaled. The last thing mares do is wait for a human to be there, though they are quite adept at waiting until the humans decide to have a quick shower, or nod off for just 10 minutes after 24 straight hours of mare stare.

(I love the name Somethingroyal. Just so you know.)

There is no doubt that Secretariat was an incredible horse. The movie is exciting and uplifting, and even though I knew that he won the Belmont by a record 31 lengths, I was still on the edge of my seat.

As far as the best story though, I give the edge to Seabiscuit. Secretariat was a great horse. He was always expected to be a great horse, he had people who loved him and believed in him, and the only real story was that he turned out to be SO great. And I’m not trying minimize that.

But Seabiscuit. Seabiscuit is the story of a broken horse, a horse that shouldn’t be able to win, and of the broken people who believed in him. It was the story of a nation, with nothing to believe in, that found something to hope for in the little horse that didn’t know enough to lose.

Both these great racehorses had one thing in common though. They both had heart.

Heart is, without doubt, the most important trait a horse can have, whether they’re  million dollar Thoroughbred or a backyard pony.

As inspiring as the movie was, I don’t think anything beats the actual footage of Secretariat winning the Belmont like no other horse ever has or ever will.

My personal feelings about the racing industry notwithstanding, there is nothing like a horse race. A good friend worked for a Thoroughbred farm for a few years, and I spent a couple springs there helping out, taking the night shift on foal watch. We went to the track to see one of ‘her’ horses race, and stood right on the tarmac. Anytime a horse is performing at the highest levels of their sport it is something to see. But the head to head competition of  a race, the thunder of hooves as they fly past … it really is something that everyone should experience.

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Posted by on February 9, 2011 in history, horses


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Alberta Bound

I’ve lived in Alberta for my whole life.

Granted, I might be biased, but I love it here.  It’s beautiful … like the beer commercial says, “Canada has more square feet of awesomeness per person than any other nation on earth.” (Is it bad that a beer commercial makes me feel patriotic? I don’t even LIKE beer.) We don’t have earthquakes or hurricanes, and rarely are tornadoes a concern. Sure, there’s a lot higher percentage of winter than in some places, but right where I live we have a marvelous phenomenon known as a Chinook. When a chinook hits, we get a 20 degree warm up and a magical removal of impressive amounts of snow in the space of a day. Heck, in Alberta, we don’t even have any rats!

I’ve always had an interest in the history of the region. I loved learning about John Ware in school. When my grandma was a little girl they lived in his family house. When they moved it, they found Mrs. Ware’s lost wedding rings underneath the foundation. I saw the rings a couple months ago in the museum … it’s so much more fun to learn about history when there is a connection that means something to you!

When I wanted to write a time travel novel, I chose to set it in Calgary, and had my main character,14 year old Stella, travel back in time 100 years, to 1910. It was fascinating to read about the early history of the city, and while I very much enjoyed writing Stella’s adventure, by 1910 Calgary was a full fledged city, and it’s the earlier days that are interesting me now.

Between 1881 and 1891, the population of the area now known as Alberta grew by 17,000 people. 17,000!  When the first train came into Calgary on newly laid tracks on August 11, 1883, the population of the city doubled in a single day as CPR set up it’s headquarters there to continue the expansion of the railway.

Next on my reading list is a book about the North West Mounted Police and their march west, and this summer I’m planning a trip to Buckingham House, the first Hudson Bay Company outpost in Alberta, built in the 1790’s.

I was driving to work the other day, and looked over at the city to the east of me. The ski jumps at Canada Olympic Park were silhouetted against the pink of the rising sun, and I wondered what the landscape would’ve looked like back then. Would I recognize that big, square hill if I was dropped into the past, or would everything be unfamiliar?

I think it’s safe to say that there are stories set in the Alberta frontier in my future.

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Posted by on February 2, 2011 in history, writing


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Have Snow, Will Shovel

This past week, there was a big storm here in Alberta. Right where I live, we actually got about the best of it … lots of wind, blowing snow and drifting roads, but not too much new snow. Other places weren’t so lucky. There were closed highways, power outages and nine foot drifts. The cars abandoned on the highway were drifted completed under when their owner’s came back for them. I watched on the news about a small town restaurant that stayed open all night so that stranded motorists would have somewhere to stay until the highway reopened.

So, as I tend to do, I was thinking about a storm like this blowing in a hundred years ago, before there were snowplows and graders to clear the roadways. Even today, huge amounts of snow are a problem to deal with. I keep hearing stories of huge drifts that even the biggest tractors struggled with, and took hours to clear.

Of course, my first thought was of getting up to pee in the middle of the night and having to take a shovel to clear a path to the outhouse!  Yikes … just in case I haven’t said it recently, I’m very grateful to live in the era of indoor plumbing. Very.

So off I went to research “horse drawn snowplows” and the internets didn’t let me down! 

This is a sidewalk plow in use at Princeton University, circa 1910. Pretty efficient for a reasonably small amount of snow, but not much good for drifts … I imagine a shovel would be involved there! Snow plowing would be hard work for a horse. Snow is heavy! Even in this photo you can see the horse is really working.

Because the roadways were then usually travelled by sleigh in the winter time, rather than plowing them free of snow, big, horse drawn “rollers” were used to pack and groom the snow for easy sleighing.  Any ‘Little House On The Prairie” fans? Remember the book where they got so much snow they were looking out the window and could just see the hooves of the horses as they went down the street in front of their house?  I always wondered about that, reading it as a little girl. I mean, I grew up with snow  I know that with the exception of drifts (which are often hard like cement and routinely allow our horses to walk over fences) freshly fallen snow is soft, and I wondered why the horses didn’t fall through. Maybe the snow had been rollered, like in this photo. Course, it’s pulled by six horses that would have to go on the fresh snow, pulling the heavy roller and struggling through the snow. Guess that’s why they needed 6 horses.

This was fun research! That horse drawn snow roller is definitely going to become a part of Stella’s 1910 adventure …

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Posted by on January 12, 2011 in history, horses


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