Bookmark #8 Midland, Ontario
The Queen of Unforgetting, by Sylvia Maultash Warsh
I stay on the sidewalk because there are more cars on William Street than pedestrians, though few enough of either. Toronto this ain’t. The sun is warm on my back, the air fresh as it flies past my face, a pleasant change from Van’s smoky house.
— from The Queen of Unforgetting by Sylvia Maultash Warsh, published by Cormorant Books. Bookmarked in Midland, Ontario on October 4th, 2011.
About Sylvia Maultash Warsh and The Queen of Unforgetting
Sylvia Maultash Warsh was born in Germany to Holocaust survivors. She came to Canada as a child and settled in Toronto. Warsh attended the University of Toronto, where she earned a BA and an MA. Today, Warsh is best known as the author of the award-winning Dr. Rebecca Temple mystery series, set in 1979 Toronto.
The Queen of Unforgetting was published in 2010 and is Warsh’s fourth book. Set in Midland in the 1980s, this historical novel explores the parallel themes of the 17th century tragedy of the Hurons and the Holocaust of the Jews. These comparisons are examined through the eyes of Mel, a young doctoral student from the University of Toronto who must confront her own history and personal choices while mending ties to her family and building a new, more mature, life for herself.
Warsh developed a love for the Georgian Bay area as a child, when she spent several summers in Midland. While researching this novel, she renewed her connection to Midland, and eventually purchased a cottage nearby. When she is not at the cottage, Warsh spends her time in Toronto.
The Queen of Unforgetting is published by Cormorant Books. This excerpt is used with the kind permission of the author.
It’s been a while since I’ve ridden a bike and I’m wobbly, trying to keep from speeding downhill. At least I’ve had the foresight to gather my hair into a ponytail. I stay on the sidewalk because there are more cars on William Street than pedestrians, though few enough of either. Toronto this ain’t. The sun is warm on my back, the air fresh as it flies past my face, a pleasant change from Van’s smoky house. The best part is Midland Bay — on the horizon, a shiny silver line right at the bottom of the hill.
The houses on William Street become middle class closer to downtown. More recent paint jobs, daffodils bobbing in garden beds. I make a turn automatically — I’m surprised my body remembers — into a street that is uphill and forces me to put into service muscles unused to the effort. The distance is longer than I recall and by the time I reach King Street my calves and thighs sing with pain. I stop when I see the sign: LITTLE LAKE PARK. The rear entrance. I’ve been heading here all along without realizing it. My subconscious remembers there’s a concession booth in the park selling the World’s Best Fries. I need some right now.
I cycle past the huge wooden sign painted in white letters, HURONIA MUSEUM. I’ll be spending some time here, but not today. The paved road into the park is all downhill, thank God. It winds in an easy arc around the little lake that used to be called Contarea by the Hurons. I pass an empty playground with kiddie swings, a slide, and a roundabout. Two mothers with young kids are sitting at a picnic bench, handing out sandwiches. Heart hammering from the long ride, I keep pedalling. Past the closed-up miniature golf course, past the oak tree that must be a hundred years old, its fat base a mound from which multiple trunks stretch.
When I reach the building with the fries concession, my pounding heart falls. My stomach growls. The hand-lettered sign says it’s now only open on weekends before Victoria Day, two weeks away. I’m too winded to start a new search.
Disappointed, I walk the bike across the paved road, heading to one of the picnic benches near the water. A noise, like branches breaking, makes me turn my head. A huge figure is descending the steep incline behind the concession building, manoeuvring between the tall old beeches and pines. The momentum brings the man down heavily, though the slope levels out around the building.
Am I dreaming? He’s wearing a black robe, a long chain around his neck with a cross bouncing against his massive chest. The cloak isn’t long enough to hide his running shoes. He’s too busy keeping his balance to notice me, but once he’s on level ground he looks up. The large handsome face I’ve seen before, when I was thirteen. No, my imagination is playing tricks.
He shakes the dust from his cassock and smiles at me. “Hi there. Nothing like making an entrance.”
I half-smile but I’m wracking my brain for the memory of his face. It can’t really be. For one, he’s too young. He steps closer.
I have to look up. Way up.
“Did I startle you? It’s the getup, isn’t it? Hard to get past. Just a costume.”