To Montreal, Still Asleep

To get from Ottawa to Montreal on a  Sunday morning for brunch (after an evening event) requires you to catch a 5:45 a.m. flight. No comment.

Fortunately the Paragraphe Books and Brunch event at the Sheraton was well worth a little lost sleep. I spoke last, after David Gilmour (who was mysteriously unable to join the rest of us at the Authors’ Table), then David A. Wilson (who ended his talk about his book on D’Arcy McGee with a penny-whistle rendering of a lament for his death) then Kathy Dobson, the author of With a Closed Fist (about growing up tough in “the Point”). I talked about three Montreal authors in my book, Hugh MacLennan, Mavis Gallant, and Pierre Trudeau, who almost killed me right outside the doors of the Sheraton. The audience liked that idea.

After a chat with my friend Simon Dardick, who runs Véhicule Press, I went off to Le Salon du Livre. This extraordinary exhibition of Quebec literary culture attracts hundreds of thousands over a long November weekend. They line up, pay an entrance fee, then roam around to look at publisher’s booths, where they pay full price for any book that catches their eye. There may, or may not, be an author on hand to sign their copy, but the sense of literary excitement is palpable.

Attendance should be compulsory for all Toronto publishers. I used to attend as often as possible, and this year I was hosted by my old friend, Rene Bonenfant, who chairs the event. I also saw my one of my favourite authors, Yves Beauchemin, who signed a copy of his new novel to me, telling me to “keep on going!” And I met a number of publishing friends, including  Erwan Leseul, who had just launched the French edition of Trudeau Transformed, the book by Max and Monique Nemni that I published in English. I was delighted to find that the authors, in the French edition, had described me as “un editeur chevronné.”

I had a drink with Linda Leith (whose friendly Globe review of my book noted that we had never even had a drink together, which I was glad to fix) then took off for the West island to spend the night with Mark and Annie Abley. The next day Mark kindly took me to my radio interview with Tommy Schnurmacher at CJAD, a force in English-speaking Montreal. Storytelling works well on radio.

Then it was time for a nostalgic visit to the Chateau Versailles, where Hugh MacLennan delivered his last manuscript to me. I traced his path back to the apartment on Summerhill where he lived for so many years, then followed the walk he loved, along Sherbrooke Street to the McGill Gates. After a fine lunch with Pat and Norman Webster, it was time to take the fancy new airport bus and return to the bosom of my family.

— Douglas Gibson

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