Friday, September 28, 2012

The History of Place
by Guest Blogger Karyn Good

I’m not a Regency romance author or a historical romance author. I’m a romantic suspense author. But I do love history and Lesley has been kind enough to invite me to share my thoughts on one of my favorite places and the area that became the inspiration for my fictional town of Aspen Lake.

I am fascinated by the history of the province I call home. I love hearing the stories of the First Nations people, tales of the North West Mounted Police, the escapades of the fur traders, and the triumphs and trials of the European immigrants. Even as a contemporary writer, history has a place in my writing. I need to know a bit about the history of a place to get a sense of it as its own character. Just as characters have backstory, so do settings.

My debut release Backlash is set in the southeastern part of Saskatchewan, a western province of Canada. My fictional town of Aspen Lake is based on the Moose Mountain Provincial Park and Kenosee Lake area. The word 'mountain' is deceiving. It’s really hills that rise from the surrounding prairies: an elevated plateau of aspen forest, rolling hills, lakes and ponds. It’s a beautiful part of the province and I have many happy childhood memories of visiting the beach for the day or camping there for a couple of nights. My love affair began at an early age.

Chalet Moose Mountain
As a teenager I worked for the park in a historic stone chalet with beautifully terraced gardens that led down to the lake. It really is the center-piece of the park. The two-story structure was built in the Dirty ‘30’s of the 20th century. Its construction provided much needed employment, giving work to over 300 people. It was originally a thirteen-room hotel with a dining room and beer parlour. When I worked there it had already been converted to administrative offices but you could feel the history every time you walked through the front door. Often I worked the evening shift. In the quiet I sometimes sat and tried to picture it as it was back then, a bustling dining room, and rooms with beds and washstands. The same rooms that I knew as offices. What would the women be wearing? The men? The staff?

The area would have been a popular recreation spot as far back as the 1880’s and used by the residents of a nearby village called Cannington Manor. Cannington Manor is a historic park a fifteen minute car ride away. It was settled by a middle-class Englishman, Captain Edward Mitchell Pierce, who had likely been encouraged by the Canadian government’s desire to welcome good English families to the prairies. Ones who would bring their Victorian type of lifestyle with them. Among other endeavors, Captain Pierce came up with the idea of setting up an agricultural college for the sons of wealthy Englishmen. Alas, it’s hard to pull that off when you don’t know much about farming yourself. The wild and harsh prairie was not Victorian England.

Fox Hunting at Cannington Manor
The sons, or ‘pups’ as he called his pupils, weren’t very interested in learning the ins and outs of farming. Three of these sons, funded by money from back home, did however manage to build a large many-roomed house complete with a ballroom, billiard room, and servant’s quarters. Their racehorses also lived in style in a mahogany-lined stable with brass name plates over their stalls. They did indeed bring their interests with them and they indulged in pursuits like fox hunting, cricket, and playing polo rather than planting and harvesting. Their eccentric lifestyle is the stuff of prairie legends.

Grain prices fell. Harsh conditions and drought destroyed crops. Business and farm bankruptcy followed. When the Canadian Pacific Railroad bypassed the village in the early 1900’s it spelled the end of an unrealistic ideal. Many of the wealthier formerly-English residents moved away and took their money with them. Soon Cannington Manor was all but abandoned.

All Saints Anglican Church, Cannington Manor
The working class farmers who had worked for the English families stayed. They were the ones with actual agricultural expertise. They persevered and succeeded after the village declined. It is these hardy men and women who embodied the philosophy of hard work, fortitude, and teamwork. They are the lesser known stars of this Victorian drama. They represented what it took to survive on the prairies in the latter part of the 19th century and continue to prosper into the twentieth century. Sturdy prairie stock. All Saints Anglican Church is one of the original buildings left at Cannington Manor. It is still used today.

We circle back round to contemporary times. To love a place is to know a place. Do you have a favorite place whose history fascinates you?

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I grew up on a farm in the middle of Canada's breadbasket. Under the canopy of crisp blue prairie skies I read books. Lots and lots of books. Occasionally, I picked up a pen and paper or tapped out a few meagre pages of a story on a keyboard and dreamed of becoming a writer when I grew up. One day the inevitable happened and I knew without question the time was right. What to write was never the issue--romance and the gut wrenching journey towards forever.


What he’s sworn to protect, she’s willing to sacrifice to save those she loves...


Janet said...

Great post, Karyn (and waving hello to Lesley-Anne :). I, too, am fascinated with history (a minor in history at U of C) and love when I can dig up bits of history whenever I visit somewhere. I've driven through the area, but didn't know about it's English heritage (love the building where you worked). As a teen, I spent summers at Fort San in Fort Qu'appelle (the old sanitorium) and loved the history of that place (and the feel of those who were there before lingering in the background).

You can imagine how much I loved my trip to Britain - history everywhere I looked! And, of course, I love the history of Nova Scotia and try to delve into it whenever I get a chance :)

Karyn Good said...

Hi Janet! Very interesting history. Did you know that a group of French Counts also came to settle in Sask for a time. That was in the Whitewood area, I think. It's surprising what you learn when you start digging. So glad you had a fabulous trip. Can't wait to hear more about it :D

Anne Gallagher said...

Love history and all its components, must be why I write Regency historicals.

Love the story you told about the Manor house. Now it makes me want to go and see it. Places do have memories and I'd love to know what some of those are in that old house.

Thanks for sharing, Karen. Thanks Lesley-Anne.

Karyn Good said...

Hi Anne! I remember taking a school field trip to Cannington Manor and having the park attendants (all dressed in period costume) tell us tales of what it was like. I was fascinated. It's so important to keep those memories alive.