I have a real fascination with old black and white pictures. I am especially interested in photos of people I know, but can spend days looking into any antique photo collection to learn about how people lived their lives generations ago.
I expect this is a familiar feeling for anyone who has looked through old family pictures and wished that there was someone still around to explain who was in the picture and what was happening on that day. Was it a birthday? A visit to a relative? Or just a walk in a park to share good news? The black and white photos tucked away in shoe boxes so quickly become anonymous faces staring out at us from another century with stories that are rooted in imagination instead of fact.
If I had to settle on a single reason why I wrote Ravenscraig, it would have to be this interest in old pictures.
Ravenscraig is a novel that tells the story of some of the major events in Winnipeg during the height of the immigration boom that began in the 1890s. Two families– one Jewish, poor and struggling to put down roots in the New World; the other rich and resistant to the foreigners among them–together provide a view of what life was like in a booming frontier city in Canada at the turn of the 20th century.
The research for the story was a most gratifying journey that included wide ranging resources from scholarly works and rare books to archived collections of rare documents, private letters and microfilmed court testimony. Online sources included such favourite websites as the Manitoba Historical Society, the City of Winnipeg Department of Planning, Canada Census Records and the online newspaper archives like the Manitoba Free Press.
The inspiration for my desire to learn about the early days of Winnipeg grew out of a fascination with my own family roots. My family came to Manitoba in 1896 from Zalischiky, Galicia, which is now part of the Ukraine. They were “Stalwart Peasants in Sheepskin Coats” as Clifford Sifton the minister responsible for immigration had called them. They came to Canada to farm, answering the invitation for free land in Canada’s determination to populate the prairies.
It is a most gratifying journey to learn about one’s past. What pictures are in your shoebox?