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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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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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The good old days …

It occured to me this afternoon, while I was scaling a four foot drift in the dark to stick my hand in the water trough and make sure it was full and unfrozen, that there are probably easier places to raise horses. Places where you can feed them in daylight all year long, where you don’t have to worry about water heaters, where you could even *gasp* work with them year round!

I’m not really complaining. Even with the whole winter thing, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

But just imagine.

Imagine living here, in the shadow of the Rockies, before there were conveniences like automatic stock waterers with heaters, indoor plumbing, automobiles with block heaters and heated seats, and a Walmart 20 minutes away. I’ve been doing lots of reading about the settlement of the region, the beginnings of the city of Calgary, for New West, my time travel adventure novel. In the early boom days of the fledgling city, hundreds of people lived in tents while they worked until they could build a house.

Tents! In Calgary! Families, with babies and children and grandparents and all their worldly possessions in a small white tent. In winter! In Calgary!

Last week it was 30 below. I don’t think there’s any way you could keep a tent warm in those temperatures. I read one report of a lady who recounted her childhood, some of it spent in a tent on the banks of the Bow. She and her mother would snuggle under the blankets in the bed to stay warm on cold winter days, waiting for her father to come home from work. 

One of the great things about living in southern Alberta are the chinooks. A chinook is a unique weather pattern, where a warm, dry wind blows down from the mountains and can increase the temperature by 20 degrees in the space of a few hours, and make the snow vanish like someone had waved a magic wand. It’s a wonderful respite from an otherwise long and tedious winter in a country that can conceivably have snow any month of the year. All you need is a good chinook, and suddenly, Calgarians are wearing shorts in December!

The thing about a chinook though? It’s a wind. Actually, wind doesn’t seem like a strong enough word. When I was a little girl, we’d go out for recess during a chinook, lift our coats over our heads, and let the wind push us across the playground. Just yesterday, I had to lean at quite an angle in order to walk into the wind (and I am a big person!) while the blowing snow sandblasted my face and made it sting.

Now imagine a tent in a chinook wind.  Warming up is a good thing and all, but I would guess it’s hard to appreciate the balmy temperature while your tent is half way to Saskatchewan.

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2010 in history, horses, writing

 

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