The morning after the grand launch at the Lieutenant-Governor’s chambers in Toronto, Jane drove me to the airport and I flew to Winnipeg.
There I was met by my pal Gordon Sinclair, who knows Winnipeg better than anyone else. He’s the last of the old-time columnists, who writes about whatever catches his eye. Sometimes it’s serious stuff, like the police shooting of the native leader J.J. Harper, which became the 1999 book I was proud to publish, Cowboys and Indians. Sometimes it’s more relaxed, about the seasons, or the streets and the parks, or the interesting characters or tales he has encountered. He’s been doing this very personal column for 34 years now, and the “Winnipeg Free Press” readers really like it.
In Across Canada By Story I talk about getting The Gordon Sinclair Tour of the City, including a visit to the Ralph Connor House at 54 Westgate, and then a trip to the site of the Battle of Seven Oaks, which I talk about in the book, with reference to Margaret Laurence. This time our travels (and I was staying with Gordon and Athena) took us back to the bright yellow Gabrielle Roy house on Rue Deschambault in St. Boniface. I was surprised to see that Gabrielle, born in 1909, lived at home there until 1937. I was even more surprised to learn that Gordon knew about the jealous oldest sister, whose bitter book hastened Gabrielle’s death. The twisted sister came to Gordon’s “Free Press” office, trying to peddle her hate-filled story to him, without success.
Just as you may be surprised to learn that Farley Mowat was the Boy From Saskatoon, it may be startling to think of Marshall McLuhan as the Boy From Winnipeg. But Gordon knew the house where he grew up, right opposite Gladstone School on Gertrude. We went there, and I was photographed outside the old house. Later, on the same principle, we went to Assiniboine Park where I posed affectionately beside the busts of Carol Shields and Gabrielle Roy. All three Winnipeg authors, plus Margaret Laurence, are in my new book, and in the new show.
In the evening I returned to the place, the McNally-Robinson Prairie Ink Store, where I gave my very first bookstore “Stories About Storytellers” show. As luck (very good luck) would have it, once again my show was in the skilled hands of John Toews. (Since I’m the husband of Jane Brenneman, he even puts up with terrible Mennonite jokes like “Toews Soews!”) The show ran smoothly in the well-appointed store, and once again I was thrilled by the old friends who showed up.
Two stand out. First, David Friesen, whose company over the years printed millions of the books I published, but — as his presence that night showed — really cared, personally, about the books.
Second was Morley Walker, now retired from his constant role as the Books Editor of the “Free Press”. I quote him, gratefully, as saying that I have “ a greater appreciation of regional Canada than 99% of us born here”. And that was before I published Across Canada By Story!
Thanks, David, and Morley, and John and Gordon and Athena. I always enjoy Winnipeg.



  1. Johanne Hebert says:

    I have just finished Across Canada by Story (in a hurry, as it is already reserved for a long list of other readers at my library), and enjoyed it thoroughly – now I must get Stories about Storytellers. The one thing your book is lacking is an index or 2 – one of books mentioned and another of authors. So often I meant to write down a title to read, but the story pulled me along and then I lost the page; besides there are so many titles you make sound interesting. I thought I knew CanLit but evidently only the proverbial tip. Congratulations, and thank you.

    • Douglas Gibson says:

      You’re right about the lack of an index in both of my books. It was shamefully deliberate, for two reasons. 1 Space is always at a premium, and index pages would have bulked the book up, perhaps alarmingly, and perhaps causing a price increase.2 Much more important, I didn’t want to encourage readers to just pick and choose the authors they already knew. My hope is that in reading the un-indexed book, readers will stumble across authors they didn’t know, and like what they find. It sounds as if this tactic (which I repeat in my stage shows) worked with you. Great! Keep reading! Doug

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