Monday, May 23, 2016

A Passion for History by Victoria Chatham

When I was in school, history was never my favorite subject. The only dates clearly engraved in my brain
are still 1066 (the Norman Conquest of England) and 1492 (Columbus sailed the ocean blue) but don’t ask me about the succession of kings or when the Industrial or French Revolutions began..
Somewhere in my late twenties I read Jean Plaidy’s The Sun in Splendour and what a difference that made. I could see the characters in history, the people behind the names. I scrambled to read all I could on the Plantagenets, the Tudors and the Wars of the Roses. My history teacher would have been proud of me.
When I immigrated to Canada in 1990, I frequently had people tell me ‘you won’t like it here, we’re not old enough’, or ‘Canada has no history’. I will admit my ignorance at that time. After all, what did I know of Canada other than it’s a very big country, the Mounties always get their man (or woman) and it’s cold. After twenty-five years I am happy to beg to differ with those early and misleading statements. Well, maybe not quite so happy about the cold.
While Canada may not have 8th century churches and medieval castles it has its own history and I’ve been lucky to see some of it first hand; black and ochre pictographs on cliff and canyon walls, dinosaur remains, glacial erratics and First Nations teepee rings, hunting grounds and totem poles. I’ve visited restored forts and trading posts and learnt that the Hudson’s Bay Company, incorporated by Royal Charter in 1670, extended every bit as far and wide as did the East India Company, established earlier in 1600 also by Royal Charter.
I’ve had a trail guide point to a stretch of prairie and tell me to close my eyes and picture it not green but brown, a veritable tsunami of thousands of snorting, bawling buffalo. He also told me about the African-American cowboy, John Ware, commemorated here on a postage stamp. Renowned for his ability to ride and train horses, Ware was also known for his strength and work ethic. He drove cattle from Texas to Montana and then, in 1882, further north into what is now Alberta where he and his wife settled.
Who knew that in 1789 Britain and Spain nearly came to blows after disputing their settlements in Nootka Sound? Or that one thousand years ago the Vikings settled L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland and Labrador? Or that in 1857 Queen Victoria chose Ottowa (formerly known as Bytown) as the capital of the Province of Canada?
More recently I have dug a little deeper into Alberta's history, that of Banff to be exact. I've discovered so much that I'm spoiled for choice as to what to include in my next book and what to leave out. I've met some interesting characters and heard some great tales, and I still have some loose ends I need to tie up. How tough is it to do research in such a beautiful place as Banff?  Famous for its hot springs and hotel, it has much more to offer, not least its peaceful walks along the Bow River.
What happened yesterday, an hour or a minute ago becomes history and we all have our own. 

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