– By Hughena Matheson, Project Bookmark Canada Board Member & Reading Circles Co-Chair
A few years ago, Nova Scotia writer Sarah Emsley was in the audience at St. Mary’s University listening to Project Bookmark Canada founder Miranda Hill speak about the Canadian Literary Trail. Once she heard about Bookmark, a nationally-registered charity, a spark was ignited. Now, Sarah is one of Bookmark’s strongest supporters as the head of its Halifax Reading Circle.
Sarah grew up in Nova Scotia, but most of her relatives lived in Alberta. She remembers many family road trips along the Trans-Canada Highway. On these trips, Sarah wished she had been able to stop along the way and read literary Bookmarks.
If Sarah were to make a trip across Canada today, she could make 17 literary stops along the way. In just one decade, Project Bookmark has built this uniquely-Canadian trail. Sarah is enthusiastic to expand that trail in Nova Scotia.
Sarah became very active in promoting Bookmark. On October 1, 2015, the province’s first Bookmark for Alistair Mac Leod’s novel, No Great Mischief, was unveiled at Port Hastings, Cape Breton Island. That evening, Canadians in pubs and kitchens around the country toasted MacLeod with the “Raise a Glass for Alistair” celebration. Sarah and a group of volunteers collaborated with the staff of the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia to organize a local “Raise a Glass for Alistair” celebration and fundraiser at The Company House in Halifax. Writer Stephanie Domet hosted the party of about 40 book lovers. They raised their glasses as Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia President Ian Colford gave a toast to Alistair. Guests enjoyed a very Maritime gathering with featured readings from MacLeod’s work by Sheree Fitch and Donna Morrissey, music by Wendy MacIsaac and Brad Davidge and door prizes from Bookmark Halifax. Project Bookmark Halifax Reading Circle grew out of that event.
Now, the core members of the group including Alistair’s son, writer Alexander MacLeod, meet regularly at the Old Triangle Pub. This location has indeed a literary connection. In that building, Lucy Maud Montgomery once worked for the newspaper, The Daily Echo.
The Halifax Circle’s main focus is to celebrate Nova Scotia’s writers with Bookmarks around the province. This very active circle has been reading novels and poems of many writers. These include the poems of Canada’s Parliamentary poet laureate, George Elliott Clarke; the poems of Rita Joe, the “poet laureate” of the Mi’kmaq people; and, the poems of the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Elizabeth Bishop who grew up in Great Village, a small Nova Scotia hamlet.
Some group members are reading Christy Ann Conlin’s novel Heave, “an honest tale of family love and hate,” and “simply a marvelous book,” according to The Globe and Mail reviewer. In the near future, the Halifax readers will be discussing Budge Wilson’s fiction and poetry.
The Halifax Circle is also helping fundraise for Nova Scotia’s next Bookmark, one in partnership with Parks Canada, for a passage set at Citadel Hill from Hugh MacLennan’s novel, Barometer Rising. The novel is set just days before, during and after the Halifax Explosion, which took place 100 years ago on December 6, 1917. As great promoters of Project Bookmark Canada, the Reading Circle members and their many friends will be in full attendance at the public event to celebrate the Barometer Bookmark unveiling in December 2017. Project Bookmark Canada’s literary trail is being extended by Canadians like Sarah and her Circle who share a passion for Canada’s stories.
Project Bookmark Canada wishes to raise a toast to Sarah and the Halifax Reading Circle, and to thank them for their support. We encourage you to help blaze the trail in your own part of the country by starting a reading circle. If you think there are no writers using your area of the country as a location, ask your local librarians to help you find authors imagining fiction and poetry scenes set in your part of Canada.
Growing up on Cape Breton Island, I knew the island was the setting for many works of fiction and poems. However, I did not realize just how many until Sydney’s McConnell Library (the very library I used as a child) posted a list on its website. Your local librarian could do the same.
The Hamilton Library compiled a list for Hamilton’s Reading Circle. Included on that list was Rachael Preston’s novel The Fishers of Paradise. Circle members read the novel and in the fall of 2016, they attended the unveiling of the Fishers Bookmark at Hamilton’s waterfront trail where the novel is set. Your Reading Circle may want to focus outside your community. Canada is a huge country with many writers. You might want to explore another province and territory through its literature. Another focus could be Acadian literature, French Canadian literature, Aboriginal writers, or children’s literature. The 17th Bookmark for Dennis Lee’s The Cat and the Wizard is located at the entrance of Toronto’s Casa Loma. This is the first children’s tale to be Bookmarked. This genre has many potential Bookmarks.
A wonderful source of poems is the writing of poet laureates all over the country. Cities like Toronto, Charlottetown, Victoria, Calgary, Halifax and Edmonton are only a few of the cities that have poets writing about them.
CBC’s Canada Reads provides a great library of novels in French and English. Since 2002, this “battle of the books” has engaged Canadians in a contest that determines which book Canadians should read. Interestingly, its first English-language choice was In the Skin of a Lion, the first Bookmark.
To get you and your book lovers fired up to help blaze a Canadian literary trail, I strongly recommend the video of Nova Scotia writer Sheree Fitch, filmed at her home in River John as part of the River John WRITERS ON FIRE Festival, an exciting festival of writing for teen writers. Once you get your circle together, Bookmark is eager to help. As well, Sarah is willing to talk with anyone starting a reading circle. And along the way, we will post articles and pictures of your progress. To become familiar with the criteria for an excerpt, check out the submission form.
This year as we celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, Bookmark is celebrating its 10th anniversary. In this nation of storytellers, what better time to honour our writers! All over the country, reading circles will be part of adding to Canada’s literary map, one Bookmark at a time. As Sheree Fitch suggests, “We may be able to read our way across Canada.” In years to come when Sarah makes another road trip across the country, she will have many more stops along the trail of Canada’s tales.