Archives for category: History


Family history and genealogy can be your hobby and passion no matter what your walk of life. You encounter soulmates from all centuries and locate your spot on the human map. Technology has just given your searching a huge boost. Selling my books in the atrium at the three-day 23rd annual conference of the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa, I got glimpses into this world. You too may wake up one day wanting to find out more about where you came from and who you are:

1. DNA testing is an increasingly common tool. More than one type exists, beginning with a mouth swab done while you sit in a chair. It costs upwards of $100. You may also find out an ancestor’s DNA. Author Jane Simpson was next to me selling her book entitled Sailor, Settler, Sinner. She used DNA testing to trace the multiracial offspring of her womanizing great grandfather.

2. Old family bibles, diaries and documents need not be thrown out. They can be restored to perfection. Kyla Ubbink, sitting at the table on my other side, says paper (especially the old kind) is very permanent. As an expert, she can bring what is still there back to life and even fix tears. Musty-smelling books need not be thrown out. You can clean them up yourself by buying a fairly soft-bristled brush, with hair about 3/4″ long, and sit in the sunlight going through it page by page. You must be careful to get into the spine where dust, tiny particles of food remnants, etc. have collected. When it is clean and fresh the book can go proudly back on display.

3. Old newspapers, court documents and church records not formerly available have now been digitized and are accessible online.

4. Writing things down and taking pictures will be appreciated forever by your descendants. They will no longer be able to complain, “I wish somebody had told me about that before.”

5. Spelling is not all that big a deal. The way a name is pronounced is far more important in indicating family lineage. I talked to Heather Boucher Ashe of the Ontario Genealogical Society whose husband’s name is pronounced “Bow-cher”. They are not related in any way to any Boucher pronounced “Boo-shay”. Terry Finley, who publishes a beautiful glossy genealogical magazine with his wife, is related to Finlays, Findlays, Finlys, etc. etc.

6. Location and physical characteristics are very important. I spoke to a Mr. Parker whose people were farmers from Yorkshire, England. He was very interested to discover that’s where my Kell family also came from in 1850. He said we might discover in old church records that our relatives had intermarried. I must confess he looked a lot like some of my male cousins. One wonders about what spelling changes and marriages took place over the centuries.

7. Perils often accompany passions and I felt sorry for the curly-white-haired woman who told me her bathtub was full of her great grandmother’s letters. She looked exhausted from tracking four family names, one of them Smith, all at once.

8. Libraries as well as incidental encounters produce good contacts. One woman told me she had found a curator at the Glenbow museum in Winnipeg who dug out a newspaper article in which her great-grandfather was quoted. She also has found a woman in B.C. who keeps records on world war one war brides — something the Government of Canada did not do.

Researching family history is the least lonely and most personally gratifying of all hobbies. No wonder people are attracted to it in droves. You can always find a relative who lived at the same time as, and even rubbed shoulders with, someone famous, like Napoleon. A good place to start is by joining one of the many heritage societies that exist, such as BIFHSGO. It has monthly meetings, as well as special interest groups (e.g. ‘DNA testing’, ‘Scottish’ and ‘Family History Writing’) that also meet separately. Look for more information online at virany


 Here’s an event to stimulate finding about your old roots in the British Isles.
“Walk in for online registration to join in the 23rd Annual British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa’s Family History Conference. It starts at 5 p.m. on Sept. 29 at Ben Franklin Place in Ottawa and runs until Sunday, Sept. 31 at 3:30 p.m. Simply drop by 501 Centrepointe Drive, Nepean, Ottawa to register and pay.
The  conference brochure describes program details and rates and says, “Come for one or two seminars, one day, two days – or all three days.
“Learn about English and Welsh family history and genealogy research methodology. Read about our speakers, seminars, lectures, and activities.
Browse, shop, and chat with vendors in our Marketplace that is open to the public with no admission fee.”
I’m proud to take part as a vendor and will be launching a new editing service especially for writers of family history manuscripts who have submitted them to traditional publishers but been rejected.

BIFHSGO is a wonderful network with over 600 members from all over. I’m looking forward to chatting with many congenial people and hope to see you among them. I’ll be there from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sunday.


Loucks’ heart was amongst the trees. Minden (ON) Times photo and cutline.

With scientific precision, superb literacy, brilliant intellect, fatherly tact and noble modesty, Dr. Orie Loucks begins his family’s story by advising us how to approach the awesome task. Loucks was an esteemed scientist, author and conservationist.

1. Family history must be more than births, marriages and deaths. It needs to tell who the people are and why they came to the places where we find them.
2. We should learn what concerns drove them from one home place to another, in poverty or wealth.
3. We should also try to learn what are the values and interests of the family line that continue from one generation to the next. We may find family values that are evident over four or five hundred years.
4. One must wonder whether character traits, and not just physical resemblance, may have been carried along. Did the qualities that led to stubborn persistence on early Huguenot faith traditions continue until certain family leaders supported the British in the American Revolutionary war, and does it still continue today?
5. Great changes in circumstances faced by nearly every generation should be seen as a critical influence on each family’s life. Through all the change, we can expect to see continuity of family character.

6. This report tries to highlight both the ups and downs of each generation’s prospects. The record suggests the family aspired to be fair and just and try to make the world a better place in the future. Each one adapted and then practiced what they learned or believed in from the former generations.
7. Relevant history was passed down in 2010 at the 300th reunion of Laux/Loucks family members of the 1710 Palatine refugee migration. It not only added depth to the historical record, but also family relationships across generations were sustained, along with evidence of the continuity of physical appearance. Many participants at the reunion were struck by the resemblance that continues in males of the family, the square face, the strong though not prominent nose, and the firm but often dimpled chin.

8. Looking for the source of the surname revealed it spanned languages such as Spanish, French, Latin and Occitan, according to David Loux, author of part I, chapter 2 of the book. Different spellings in English are all pronounced the same way.
9. Other sources he consulted were the French armorial coat-of arms; dictionaries to give meanings of the name, maps to show localities, mountain ranges and lakes named du Laux, du Loux, Lau or Loucks. Pronunciation research was done into Occitan (they spoke this patois every day but used Latin for business and diplomacy.)
10. Finding out the influence of historical context on this family’s fortunes was crucial. The major social upheavals that impacted them, for better or worse, were the Crusades starting in 1096, the Albigensian ‘Crusade’ (persecution) two centuries later, and the religious wars that mobilized French society from the 10th to 17th centuries. France had no separation of church and state and Roman Catholicism was the state-sponsored religion. French reformers
(Huguenots) were driven into a major exodus.

“As minor nobility, some du Laux families would have held Huguenot church services in their homes. They would have fought alongside other families in defense of their religious cause and, as identifiable nobility, their homes would have been at risk for being ravaged and burned. The du Laux name turned up in Wiesbaden, Germany and from there they migrated to the United States.”

To find out more about Surviving 4 Migrations: The Loucks of Haliburton or to purchase a copy, please click on

It is described as “A history of the Loucks family: France to Germany, to New York State, and Ontario from the 1620’s to the present.” pp. 280

Canada's First Nations third edition cover

Storyteller of the Ages painted by Ojibway shaman Norval Morrisseau depicts the eloquent, sinewy tongue that bound the people together.

Homo sapiens sapiens (doubly wise man) began to arrive in North and South America some time after his origin 50,000 years ago. When the first contacts arrived from the Old World to the New they found people living patterns of life that had evolved over tens of thousands of years. In her book, Canada’s First Nations: A History of Founding People from Earliest Times, Olive Dickason detects values that popped up among them in spite of hundreds of thousands of different locations, family groups, languages, climates and settings. Major assumptions gave them a framework to live in that met social and individual needs; we can speak of an American civilization in the same sense as of a European civilization.

1. Sharing

  • The people, whether mobile or sedentary, emphasized the group as well as the self. Land, like air and water, was for the benefit of everyone and so was communally owned.

2. Culture & Storytelling

  • Cultural knowledge  was the property of those ‘in the know‘, a jealously guarded privilege selectively passed on through the generations. Their history was passed on orally by storytellers.

3. Egalitarianism

  • They were egalitarian to the extent allowed by their sexual division of labor and responsibility. (An offshoot, in French Canada, was that this prevented celibacy. A consequence of clearly defined roles was a major factor in the harmony inside certain encampments.)

4. Consensus

  • The leaders’ role was to represent the common will; not only were they not equipped to use force; they would have quickly lost their positions if they had tried. This lent extreme importance to eloquence, the power to persuade; a chief’s authority was in his tongue’s end. The centrality of ‘the word’ was signaled by the importance of keeping it, once given.

5. Giving

  • Goods were accumulated to be given away on ceremonial occasions. The value of goods was appreciated but prestige was more important than the accumulation of wealth as such. Acquiring goods required generosity, among other virtues. Gifts were a social and diplomatic obligation. They were essential for sealing agreements and alliances with other people. Without gifts, negotiations were not even possible. Treaties, once agreed on, were not regarded as self-sustaining. To be kept alive, they needed to be fed every once in a while by ceremonial exchanges.

6. Humor

  • Humor was one of the first characteristics to be reported of New World peoples. It was highly valued; they highly approved of anything that provoked laughter. They rejoiced when they had an abundance, even of articles of little value. They had to know how to keep their spirits up in the face of starvation.

7. Hospitality

  • They all observed the law of hospitality, the violation of which was considered a crime. It could be carried to the point of self-impoverishment.

8. Unity

  • Belief in the unity of all living things was central to Amerindian and Inuit myths. The unity of the universe (although filled with powers of various types and importance) meant that all living beings were related — indeed were ‘people,’ some of whom were human — and had minds.

9. Harmony

  • Of utmost importance was harmony, the maintenance of which was by no means automatic. Peaceful co-operation could be shattered by violent confrontations with malevolent, destructive powers.

10. Trickiness

  • The demands of life could make it necessary to break the rules; hence the importance in Native legend and myth of the trickster, who could be an individual but could also be an aspect of the Creator or world force.

Native people were so noisy on Canada’s Parliament Hill last July 1st Prime Minister Justin Trudeau didn’t kick off 150th birthday celebrations until after he visited their protest teepee and assured them they are at the top of his agenda. The Hill symbolizes land never ceded by Native people and a million other grievances. The newly amplified native voice springs from Olive Patricia Dickason’s seminal book that gives them their history and identity. Canada’s First Nations: A History of Founding Peoples From Earliest Times was my summer reading project but it will take me until the end of this sesquicentennial year to finish.

  • I met Olive 60 years ago when she was Women’s Editor of the Toronto Globe & Mail and I called on her in my job as public relations officer for the
    Metropolitan Toronto YMCA and National Council of YMCAs.
  • In 1998 we ran into each other in the cafeteria of the National Library & Archives building in Ottawa and lunched together. She told me about her early life “living off the land” in northern Manitoba and gave me good advice for the book I was writing.
  • Her father  Frank Leonard Williamson, an emigrant from the UK, was a successful business man in Winnipeg until he lost his money in the Great Depression. He moved his wife and two girls Olive and Alice to his one remaining asset, a bush property in the inter lakes region.
  • Their Métis mother Phoebe Philomena Côté taught them how to trap, fish, hunt and gather. She was descended from an aboriginal woman and a Frenchman who settled in Canada in 1634. With shining eyes, Olive fondly recalled those long walks up and down to check the traplines in all weather. She felt very lucky to have lived such a free, outdoor life in her adolescent years.
  • The survival skills she learned enabled her to succeed in later life: assess each situation as it arises, use common sense, be realistic, don’t give up nor play games. 
  • A Scottish remittance man, a classical scholar, lived along the same trapline and let Olive borrow his books and newspapers, including current issues of the Times of London. She read them all and they had discussions on the ideas of Plato and Marx; otherwise she completed grade ten in correspondence courses.
  •  When Olive was 17 years old, she left the bush to further her education. She met Athol Murray, the priest who was setting up Notre Dame Academy (affiliated with the University of Ottawa) in Wilcox, Saskatchewan.
  • He asked her what she wanted to do and she said, “Go to university but I have no money.” He said, “Don’t worry about that.” She finished high school and graduated with a BA in philosophy and French in 1943.
  • She got a job as a reporter for the Leader-Post in Regina, covered women’s and aboriginal issues and decided to aim to become a women’s editor in the male-dominated field. She did not find out about her Métis heritage until her mother introduced her to her relatives in the area.
  • She became passionate about learning more Canadian aboriginal history and was very upset to discover nothing was written about it in books. One day she would right that wrong.
  • Olive built her career while simultaneously supporting her three daughters from a failed marriage. She was a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press, Women’s Editor of the Montreal Gazette and then Women’s Editor of the Toronto Globe & Mail.
  • In 1967 she became Chief of Information Services at the National Gallery in Ottawa, so I sometimes saw her at monthly meetings of the Media Club. Her first book, Indian Arts in Canada, won three design-concept awards; then she switched to academia.
  • At age 52 she got an MA at U of O despite resistance to the idea of studying in a field of history that didn’t exist because no one had done it before; aboriginals had only an oral tradition. Professor Cornelius Jaenan from Belgium was the only one willing to be her advisor.
  • He suggested she narrow her thesis topic to Louisburg and the Indians: A Study in Imperial Race Relations 1713-1760. He was able to get the Smithsonian Institution’s native American anthropologist/historian Wilcomb Washburn to adjudicate her work.
  • U of O now accepted Olive to complete a PhD in Canadian Aboriginal History (the field she had invented), which she did in 1977. That same year her earlier thesis was revised and published under the title of The Myth of the Savage and the Beginnings of French Colonization in the Americas to great academic and popular acclaim. 
  • Next she combined writing a series of books with her growing career as a history professor at the U of O and the University of Alberta. She became a full professor of history there in 1985 and stayed until 1992, two years past the mandatory retirement age which she had challenged in the courts, saying it violated the Province’s code of individual rights.
  • She won at the lower level but lost in the Supreme Court of Canada. The university made arrangements to give her temporary appointments to fill in for absent professors so she could stay long enough to finish her book, Canada’s First Nations.
  • Her meticulous research included visiting the Paris Archives to look at  mounds of paper resources of transactions and letters. She spent a year at the Newberry Library in Chicago on a Senior Rockefeller Fellowship, consulting scores of professional experts from other institutions related to Amerindians’ history.
  • She attended three important conferences organized by First Nations’ people in Canada. The treasured, signed Oxford University Press third edition copy I have came out in 2002 but I had no idea she was such a celebrity when she came to a humble heritage fashion show at our church that year with a mutual Media Club friend.
  • The last time I saw her before she died at age 90 in 2011 was at an 2006 exhibition of Norval Morrisseau’s paintings at the National Gallery. It was the first time this Olive-sensitized country had given an aboriginal artist his own show. She used one of his paintings, Storyteller of the Ages, on the cover of the third edition of her book. It was a privilege to view the show with her and chat on the way home in our car.
  • She still loved to walk in the fresh air and, I hope, relish her success. Her textbook, A Concise History of Canada’s First Nations, is in all Canadian high schools and her works are on university curricula all over the world.
  • She was awarded an Order of Canada, Lifetime Aboriginal Achievement Award and received many honorary degrees. Most of all she was a supremely intelligent, beautiful human being who linked all the citizens of our country to its long-neglected ancient history.

The day we ate lunch together she told me the family history I was writing would be a better book if I actually went to see the Indian reservation in northern Manitoba where my parents lived in the late 1920’s. In her spirit, and the spirit of the people who have always lived there, I will still try to find a way of doing that. I’m sure Olive could have.  I’ll walk along a winter trapline in her memory. When I come home I’ll be able to right a wrong and do justice to the first nation people whom I portrayed only through secondhand sources.



10186066The radish had its moment as a symbol of Canada even before the Maple Leaf flag.

The radish is a reliable, tasty quick-growing snack, often the first vegetable in Canadian gardens to be ready to eat by the July 1st national holiday. It is annual proof that we have vanquished winter. Canada Day is celebrated in various, inventive ways, always with the flag with a red leaf on it being waved vigorously. But only once on record did the humble radish ever get any such glory.

For a moment on July 1, 1927 this sidekick at every summer feast reigned supreme.  It was Canada’s Ronald Reagan moment, when Americans chose Hollywood’s most gifted supporting actor to be their president. This was supposed to happen only to maple leaves. Usually the height of a radish’s success is to be carved into something resembling a rose that blossoms when set out on a tray of ice. Joy for a radish is to be nibbled as noisily as possible. 

It happened on the diamond jubilee of Dominion Day ninety years ago. The Spirit of Saint Louis landed in Toronto as Parliament Hill in Ottawa groomed itself to greet guest of honor Charles Lindbergh. Due to miraculous radio technology, Canadians from sea to sea tuned in simultaneously to a nationwide church service with biblical passages selected and read by federal members of Parliament.

Meanwhile, thousands of miles to the northwest, JACK (John Ambrose Campbell Kell), an Ontario farm boy assiduously cultivated into a missionary, was brimming over with patriotism. He wondered how he could create a feeling of joyous belonging in his charges on the Swampy Cree reservation at Oxford House, MB.

He represented a Church that strove to evangelize the ‘Indians’ (as Canadian law called them) and a Government that wanted to make its citizens more homogeneous and had to fulfill treaty obligations. He was preacher, spiritual guide, welfare officer, medical officer, justice of the peace and teacher (if the real one fell sick, as happened, and had to leave the reserve.)

It was a lot for a 29-year-old to handle, but not too much for one energized by good faith and the potential of Canada’s youthfulness, beauty and exuberance. All he needed was a few practical tools:

Proclaiming a holiday

  • JACK gave the men a day off with pay from their work of building a fence around their community garden. When he had arrived at Oxford House he immediately saw the people didn’t have enough to eat yet never grew food in their fertile soil.  They were semi-nomadic hunters who ate meat and baked bannock made from fat and berries. JACK got them to plant four gardens: one for the missionary, one for the teacher, one for the chief and one for the community.

A guest of honor with a connection to royalty  

  • The old guide who had led the Duke of Connaught from Norway House up to York Factory many years ago lived on the reserve. JACK got him to tell the young boys about his adventures and what their lives might be like too.

Educating the Indians in Canadianism

  • ‘Dominion Day’ had to be made relevant to the Indians so they could feel included in this strange thing called ‘Confederation’. JACK told them the word ‘Canada’ was from the Iroquoian word ‘Kanata’, meaning ‘village.’ He reminded them that they were already familiar with the word ‘Dominion’ from Psalms 72: v 8 in the Bible. He told them he dreamed of the day when they would be full citizens of the country and have a vote. (This did not happen until 1960.)

Preaching a Pearsonian vision of Canada’s role

  • JACK told them the Jewish people in the Bible had a vision of what God expected of them. In the same way, Canadians were chosen to show how a nation may be built in peace, righteousness and sincerity. It would be an example of how people of varying religions and races may live together in one nation with tolerance and honor. Nobel peace prize winner Lester Pearson was JACK’s history tutor at the University of Toronto.

Conspicuous shiny, glittering or red objects as symbols

  • Gold ore, not diamonds, lay buried near Oxford House but JACK had an even better idea. The first vegetable of the season had ripened and what was the Indians’ surprise when JACK dug beautiful red radishes out of the soil and gave one to each person. Anyone who really knows radishes knows how good they taste when they don’t get too much sun so aren’t too hot. My old blind Aunt Suzy discovered that if you want them to taste even better, you should eat the wormy ones. Not only that, they are a health food nut’s delight, full of good vitamins and minerals.

O Canada ! If JACK’s story had been revealed in time, what competition the Maple Leaf flag might have had when it was adopted!

Happy 150th anniversary of Confederation this Saturday, Canada!

This and other colorful incidents from Canada’s past are recounted in A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void and Kathleen’s Cariole RidePlease press the Home button above to see my archive of blog posts or take a look at or 


HBC Carriole

Source: Canada’s History – HBC Carriole

A Canadian Pacific Railway freight eastbound o...

A Canadian Pacific Railway freight eastbound over the Stoney Creek Bridge, British Columbia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is easy to assume that Linda Kay’s book The Sweet Sixteen is about women’s rights. Instead, it is about camaraderie. The 16 journalists on board the luxurious, private coach provided to take them to the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, MO bonded closely. However, they did not all agree, for example, that it would be a good thing if women got the vote.

Although they led lives different from the traditional pattern, the 16 were unanimous in believing the role of the housewife and mother was sacrosanct as the underpinning of society. In their writings for newspapers, magazines and religious publications, they used pen names and became revered as fountains of sound advice and views.
The housewife was commander-in-chief in  the areas of  child-raising, morals, education, health, charity, the arts and much more. If well informed, she  could influence her man’s decisions on political and economic issues. Beneath the facade of home, family, cooking, fashion and etiquette was a social theme of facilitation, empowerment and national sentiment. 
Col. Ham, the first public relations man for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), was aware these working journalists had big jobs to do. A reason for granting their request for a free trip, a perk routinely granted to male journalists, was the CPR’s aim to populate Canada’s western and northern expanses. What better way to influence a major family move than to get the message out to the housewives?
After the Fair, when the women had formed their club and made Ham honorary president, the CPR underwrote travel expenses and free rail tours of the northwest for delegates to the CWPC triennial conference.
The personal lives of many of the 16 were difficult and fell well short of ideal. If Kay had chosen to, she could have highlighted juicy morsels, such as Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King’s mutual feelings  for one of the 16. But this is a work of scholarly discipline, research and fact.
This club lives on today, under the name of the Media Club of Ottawa. It has retained its original basis of a bonding of women who want to improve their writing craft and see the working  journalist as having a literary function and a role to play in building a good society.
As a member, I was present at a meeting in 2003 where a professional facilitator was present to ask each person’s views. His role was to nudge us to the sensible, inevitable decision that the time had come to fold. Instead he found this club still had a strong will to live and attract younger members working in the new media.
We celebrated our centennial in 2004 with an offstage re-enactment of the trip to St Louis at the National Arts Centre. Linda Kay, Chair and Associate Professor of the Journalism Faculty of Concordia University, attended and was inspired to write The Sweet Sixteen
It is a fascinating account of the accomplishments of extraordinary women and I hope it will not be the only  book Kay writes on the subject. The last of the 16 died in 1963, and the club has preserved a  mound of archives since then. A sequel about more extraordinary lives is waiting to be written.
What is your favorite social biography? We want to hear about it how you identify with it. Drop us a line or two in the comment box!

Thank you for visiting. This blog for all lovers of life and language aims to be useful and entertaining.

Happy Reading & Writing from Cozy Book Basics!
My father wore a Canadian sailor suit and my mother wore her English high school lab coat when they met in the middle of WWI and preserved love letters we can now read.

My father wore a Canadian sailor suit and my mother wore her English high school lab coat when they met in the middle of WWI and preserved love letters we can now read.

Patricia Zick of  Author-Wednesday interviews Margaret Kell Virany whose books include A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void, the love story of an English young woman and a Canadian young man set during World War I. Kathleen’s Cariole Ride is set during the same time period.

Q. How do you envision yourself in this role of writing romantic historical books based on your life and that of your parents?

A. Lover of life, language and literature. Note-taker, journalist, editor, author. I write. Little things turn me on, like scraps of paper in a keepsake box and the memory of strawberry socials, harvest suppers and silver teas. The act of being a witness, a record-keeper, a storyteller, and the one who remembers has always excited me.  I feel like I am part of a wider community. My ideal is to help others “see eternity in a grain of sand” (William Blake) and gain access to the best truth we have. As the historian, Sallustius said in 4 A.D, “What happened is what always happens.”

Q. I love that. It’s very poetic, which is very fitting based on your style of writing. Do all your books have a common theme or thread?

A. Yes. Love is my theme. It comes in various specialties: the romantic love of a young couple, parental love, filial love, family bonds, charity, love for other human beings, and the all-embracing divine love brought to earth and presented as an ideal by the Gospels. For me, it was a personal pilgrimage of going home to my parents after finding their love letters had been left in a keepsake box, surely for some purpose.

Kathleen Ward let her lover sail home after he came back to court her after WWI. Later they married and their daughter wrote their story, based on love letters (A Book of Kells).

Kathleen Ward let her lover sail home after he came back to court her after WWI. Later they married and their daughter wrote their story, based on love letters (A Book of Kells).

Q. What a wonderful and powerful perspective. Why has it been so important to explore this theme of love?

A. If people don’t get or give enough love they go searching for it, and a good book can be their voyage. When I was coming of age in the fifties, it was still a bit of an anomaly for a woman who had children to work outside the home. Women like my mother came out of a world, both deprived and romantic, that had untold, inestimable influence on the direction of children, husbands, and society. Such love practices inspired the line, “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” (William Ross Wallace, 19th century Indiana poet)

Q. That’s a perfect quote to express what you’ve done in your writing. What’s the best thing said about one of your books by a reviewer?

A. “Virany’s account of their (her parents’) adventures … is riveting. (She) has the natural gifts of a born storyteller who keeps you caring about the characters no matter where they are. When the Kells finally return to civilization the pace of the narrative doesn’t flag.” From a review by Ellen Tanner Marsh, New York Times bestselling author.

Here's the picture of my mother I used on the cover of Kathleen's Cariole Ride.

Here’s the picture of my mother I used on the cover of Kathleen’s Cariole Ride.

Q. I’d be very proud of that review as well. Very nice and I’m sure rewarding. How did you choose the title, A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void?

A. In my years spent studying English literature at the University of Toronto, I noticed certain things about classics. I wanted to do things that would identify my memoir as that category of book. Fortuitously my family name, Kell, is the same as that of the most famous manuscript of ancient western civilization, The Book of Kells. Millions of tourists go to look at it in Dublin each year, so it would have a familiar ring even for those who couldn’t pin it down. Beginning the title with “A Book of …” gave it a serious, nonfiction tone. My literary background also led me to load my title with words that had multiple meanings and associations which would give clues to the type of content inside. My parents lived their married life as if it were a book. There is an ancient concept of life being one’s “book of days.” For dates and events, I leaned on my parents’ daily diaries. The title could also refer to the Bible, the book that most guided my ancestors and parents. I hit the jackpot, I felt, when I disovered that the root of the name Kells was, according to some scholarship, a synonym for all Celts or Kelts, the dominant tribe who inhabited the region north of the Mediterranean Sea in 500 B.C. This was generic; anyone with a name with the Kell prefix is one of the tribe so the word should have wide appeal. Another meaning for “kell” was a hair net or covering and that was an appropriate symbol for my upbringing as a minister’s daughter. My title might make people think it was a family history, which it partly was, at least for the most recent four generations.

It would be a long, lonely journey for my father from the white cliffs of Dover back to the Indian reserve in Oxford House, MB. But he was not one to give up hope too easily.

It would be a long, lonely journey for my father from the white cliffs of Dover back to the Indian reserve in Oxford House, MB. But he was not one to give up hope too easily.

Q. That’s fascinating. I’m always interested in the creative process, so how did you decide to write this book?

A. I wanted to write it as a romantic novel while sticking rigorously to the facts as I knew them or was able to reconstruct them by careful logic. It should have a beginning, middle, climax and end but these should not be superimposed. They should emerge from what I could find out; the story must be allowed to tell itself. It was a test to see whether the literary structures I had been taught really worked. I had to discipline myself not to make things up. I already had on my hands a self-described knight and lady who had rubbed shoulders with real prime ministers and princes. They courted and treated each other accordingly. I did not have to manufacture their raw emotions because I had their seventy-two authentic love letters from the 1920s. I had been blessed by a bonanza in a keepsake box; I just had to call forth my muses to elicit it and do it justice.

Here is a beautiful quote I just received as a comment on my “About” page of my blog. “Memories are a nursery where children who are growing old play with their broken toys. Kells is an extraordinary book, presenting the extraordinary story of extraordinary people living in extraordinary times.” John W. Bienko

Q. That is lovely. I’m so glad you stopped by today, Margaret. Yours is a unique story and one worth telling. Won’t you tell us  more about yourself?

Oceanbound to a Family Reunion in 1937 (illustration from A Book of Kells)

Oceanbound to a Family Reunion in 1937 (illustration from A Book of Kells)

A. About Margaret Kell Virany: Born on a farm on the northern fringe of Toronto, I got a degree in English Language & Literature and married my Varsity heart throb. Early employment was at the Toronto Telegram, Maclean-Hunter and freelancing for the Globe & Mail, Toronto Star, Montreal Star, and Montreal Gazette. My most fun jobs were as professional public relations secretary first of the Montreal YMCA and then of the Toronto YMCA, and as a program organizer of CBC-TV’s first live nationally televised conference The Real World of Woman (1961). Following a move to Canada’s capital region, I became editor/co-owner of the weekly newspaper in my home town of Aylmer, QC and had the busiest, best career of a lifetime. Upon discovering the keepsake box full of love letters, journals and photos my parents left, I published A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void. It records my family’s lives and my uneasy coming of age as a minister’s daughter. Then I wrote Kathleen’s  ariole Ride recounting my parents’ transatlantic courtship and adventures living on a Cree reserve in the north. At the 2012 Centennial Conference honoring the literary critic, Northrop Frye, I learned that my notes of his lectures would be among those posted on the fryeblog, available for public download. This success brought me back to the day when I dropped out of college for a year and learned shorthand on my very first job, as a receptionist at the ‘Tely’.

Thank you for dropping in. This blog for all lovers of life and language aims to be useful and entertaining. Topics vary from how to build a canoe to how my mom moved from “prince to preacher and fog to bog” as a war bride after world war one. Author’s tips are offered by word and writing advice by example.

Happy Reading from Cozy Book Basics!

I’ve just finished reading a book given to us by our son at Christmas and it has made me feel like it’s Easter.

Peace of Westphalia artwork by Wenceslas Hollar (1607-77) from the University of Toronto digital collection

Peace of Westphalia artwork by Wenceslas Hollar (1607-77) from the University of Toronto digital collection

Ninety-year-old Henry Kissinger’s 14th book seeks and answers questions on how we can face the greatest, most consequential issues of the human condition in our time. Entitled World Order, it is dedicated “to my wife, Nancy, who is everything to me”. In seven chapters he analyzes how chaos was prevented in the past and what must be done to create order in the future. He hardly mentions himself although he has played a huge role as a U.S. statesman, political scientist and history professor. If his book is widely read and acted upon, he won’t be forgotten.

  • He reminds us that the impact of the Westphalian treaties has fallen apart in the 20th and 21st centuries. They were signed in 1648 after Europe was exhausted by the Thirty Years’ War . We must seek some sort of underlying unity to replace them.
  • We take for granted things made possible by the Westphalian system, such as national identities, the eventual growth of democracies and national competition. After it was signed, there were fewer countries and each was loyal to a national prince instead of a prince of the Church. Not only the religious differences between Catholics and Eastern Orthodox or Muslim and Christian divided peoples; language identity and borders did. For example, Britain would choose whom to support in conflicts on the basis of preserving the balance of power instead of on the basis of religion.
  • Here is the 5-star review we posted on Amazon after finishing the book: “One of the best books we (M. & T. Virany) have ever read. Mr. Kissinger’s chapters covering the last few years and up to the present are excellent. His chapter about the period following the 30-year war and the Westphalia treaties and their consequences is outstanding. As a former history teacher (T. V.) and journalists (both), we particularly liked that. The book is concisely written and edited yet takes time to quote from T.S. Eliot and ancient wisdom.”
  • Index Research Tip: If you would like to look up or quote a specific topic or phrase but don’t have time to read the entire book, go here and click on ‘Look Inside’ above the cover image. Enter the word or words that interest you (e.g. ‘technology’, ‘internet’, ‘terror attacks’, or ‘Chou En Lai’  in the search box provided.