Heartland and Associates, a Manitoba publishing house, has purchased the Canadian rights to Ravenscraig by Sandi Krawchenko Altner.
The book will be launched in Winnipeg on November 29, 2011, at the McNally Robinson store at Grant Park.
A sweeping epic set at the turn of the 20th century, Ravenscraig reveals the secrets and lies that tie two families together. Rupert Willows has hidden away his past to manipulate his way to wealth and power. Zev Zigman, a devout Jew, mounts a desperate struggle to bring his family out of Russia and put down roots in Winnipeg’s North End.
Tragedies, triumphs, and the Titanic shape the lives of these two families as their futures entwine to illuminate a dark corner of Winnipeg’s past when it was the fastest growing city in the Dominion.
About the Author:
Sandi Krawchenko Altner enjoyed an award-winning career in television and radio news in Calgary, Winnipeg and Montreal, before she left to follow her passion for writing fiction. She is a fifth generation descendent of the first colony of Ukrainian immigrants to settle in Stuartburn, Manitoba in 1896. Sandi grew up with a keen interest in her roots and a deep love of history. A Jew by choice, Sandi celebrated conversion in 2005. She lives, writes and blogs in Florida where she is active in her synagogue. Sandi and her husband have two daughters and two happy dogs. Ravenscraig is her first novel.
Click on the image below to see the book trailer for Ravenscraig.
Some time ago, I started a special category called “Storytellers” on my blog to highlight inspiring work and insights from talented artists, writers and filmmakers. Today, I am sharing a most interesting speech by author, Andrew Pyper, who addressed the recent Ontario Writers’ Conference. I found this in one of my newsfeeds on FB and enjoyed it so much I had to pass it on. Andrew also happens to provide some very sound advice for those of us who have chosen to make writing a central part of our lives.
Most of what I read is non-fiction and includes old newspaper articles, rare texts, journals, diaries, court testimony and academic research. Now that I have exposed my true nature, I can tell you that reading fiction is a treat and I am careful about what I choose just because of the limits on my time.
Andrew is a very successful author with five bestselling novels: The Guardians, Kiss Me, Lost Girls, The Trade Mission, The Wildfire Season and The Killing Circle. Four of his novels are in active development for feature films and the most recent, The Guardians, will be released in the U.S. this fall.
The Writers’ Conference organizers chose well in having him for their keynote speaker, as you will see in the video clip.
Finally, a word about The Next Chapter. This is the only radio show I actually listen to on a fairly regular basis. Shelagh has a warm and inviting interview style that makes her listeners feel as though they are eavesdropping on a delicious private conversation at the next table in a fine restaurant. Always intelligent and exceptionally well prepared, she puts authors at ease and delivers solidly interesting discussions that are so much more sastisfying than the customary two or three minute author segments we have on other talk programs. Warning: The show is very addictive (and available in podcasts to access at your leisure). Way too easy to justify as work avoidance for writers, readers and transplanted Canadians like me.
Ukrainian-speaking peasants from Eastern Europe were not anywhere near the preferred list of immigrants wanted by Canada in the early 1890s. English, French and American farmers were the top choice. But, the government had a huge problem. Not enough of these “acceptable” people were interested in breaking the land in the Canadian West, and the Americans were expressing a keen interest in annexing the vast open land.
The government decided it had no choice but to look to less attractive immigrants to solve the problem of populating the prairies.
When I speak of quality I have in mind something that is quite different from what is in the mind of the average writer or speaker upon the question of immigration. I think that a stalwart peasant in a sheepskin coat, born on the soil, whose forefathers have been farmers for ten generations, with a stout wife and a half-dozen children, is good quality.
~ Clifford Sifton
One man, Clifford Sifton, Canada’s Minister of the Interior and charged with the responsibility of immigration (1896-1905), drove the campaign to open Canada’s doors to Central and Eastern Europe. The country needed to establish farming on the prairies, and they needed people who could survive on their own to do it.
Among the first to respond to Canada’s invitation for free land were peasants from Galicia and Bukovinia in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They were poor farmers who were being crowded off of their meager farms. As their families expanded, the land they had available to share with their children was being divided down to nothing. Facing a bleak future and deep poverty, the idea of being given 160 acres of land they would own, with bush that would provide wood for fuel and animals for food, became a powerful force in motivating them to strike out for the new opportunity.
In the summer of 1896, the first Ukrainian-speaking settlers arrived in Manitoba. They were a group of 27 families from Galicia, who had sailed on the SS Sicilia from Hamburg to Quebec City. From there they took the train to Winnipeg, before making their way to their allotted lands, 75 miles southeast of Winnipeg at Stuartburn. Among this group of immigrants were Petr Strumbicky and his wife Irena Goyman, and their five children from Zalischiky, Galicia. They sold everything they had, and brought only what they could carry. Their worldly goods, upon arrival at Winnipeg, amounted to little more than some seeds in a handkerchief and the equivalent of seven dollars.
The eldest child, Nikola, would marry Aksana Shmigelsky, a girl he knew from the old country who arrived with her family some years later. Aksana’s family was from the village of Blyschanka. Aksana and Nykola were exactly the kind of people Sifton spoke about. They would raise six children and live out their lives on their land at Vita.
The following story is an excerpt from my novel,Ravenscraig. This chapter tells the story of Nykola and Aksana, and is inspired by family stories and other accounts that I have read about the experiences of the these early pioneers. I am humbled by their resilience and their success.
I am posting this chapter in honour of the 80th birthday of my mother, Mary Krawchenko. Aksana and Nykola were her grandparents, and my mother’s childhood was spent on their farm at Vita.
Only four people from Winnipeg, Canada, made it home after escaping the sinking of the Titanic. In all, there were about thirty people on the ship who were heading for Manitoba. Some were residents, others were immigrants, and still others were planning to stop and visit relatives while on their way further west.
All four survivors from the province of Manitoba were women, all from the same family: Mary Fortune and her daughters, Mabel, Ethel and Alice. Two other family members were lost in the shipwreck. They were Mary’s husband, Mark Fortune, a Winnipeg real estate tycoon, and their youngest child, 19-year-old Charles, affectionately known as Charlie.
The Titanic was the most luxurious ocean liner in the world. It left Southampton, on Wednesday April 10th, amid a great deal of fanfare and celebration for its maiden voyage to New York. The press had widely praised the ship as “unsinkable”.
According to newspaper reports, the Fortune women were incredulous that the Titanic sank before a rescue ship could arrive to save everyone who was on it. Two thirds of the 2,200 people on Titanic died as the vessel drifted down to the bottom of the ocean in a sea filled with icebergs off the coast of Newfoundland. It was a tragedy of colossal proportions.
Shocked and grieving the Fortunes returned to the new home Mary’s husband had so proudly built for his large family. With thirty-six rooms the wood and stone mansion at 393 Wellington Crescent was a very impressive addition to the exclusive Winnipeg neighbourhood on the Assiniboine River. It was a home built for parties and celebrations, and the laughter of grandchildren yet to be born. In the aftermath of the catastrophe it was a huge empty house, painfully silenced by the aching grief that came home with Mary and her daughters. The dramatic change in their lives was nothing they ever could have imagined would happen.
The Fortunes had left Winnipeg three months earlier. They had traveled by train to New York where they boarded the Franconia, bound for Trieste, a popular landing point for tourists, and the main seaport in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They were in the company of several friends, who were also well-known in Winnipeg: Thomas McCaffry, J.J. Borebank, and Thompson Beattie. Together the group was embarking on the Grand Tour, a fashionable extended vacation enjoyed by the wealthy class in the Gilded Age.
Throughout the early months of 1912, the Fortunes traveled to many places in Greece, Italy and France and toured exotic locations in the Middle East. The holiday was Mark Fortune’s gift to his family. Charlie had recently graduated from Bishop’s College in Lennoxville, Quebec and was planning to continue his studies at McGill. Mark Fortune may well have considered this to be the ideal time, and perhaps his only opportunity, to persuade his adult children to join him and their mother for such a tour. His two eldest children, Robert and Clara had already married and declined the invitation to join them. Two of the Fortune daughters, Ethel and Alice had fiancées waiting for them, and Mabel was said to have been in a serious relationship with a jazz musician her parents did not approve of.
The Fortune family vacation was apparently splendid. They trekked through Egypt to see the pyramids, and toured ruins, museums and chateaus throughout Europe. They stayed at the finest hotels and the ladies shopped for high fashion and the latest in trousseau trends in Paris. It appears they were denied nothing.
Their tour ended in London where they rested for a few days and celebrated Easter with a fantastic dinner at a London hotel. From London, they took the boat train to Southampton and witnessed the Wednesday festivities to launch the magnificent new ship. Titanic fever was running high throughout the country. Alice was even able to persuade a fellow tour companion, William Sloper, to change his ticket from the Mauretania so that he might enjoy her company on the crossing.
From Wednesday through the end of the weekend, the experience on Titanic was everything the passengers had believed it would be. There were sumptuous surroundings, fine entertainments and exquisite meals for the first class passengers. Throughout the ship there was much to admire about Titanic. Even the third class passengers were treated to steerage accommodations that were widely hailed as well superior to the norm.
By Sunday night, April 14th, Titanic was in the North Atlantic approaching Newfoundland. The temperature had plummeted to near freezing. Dark and cold was the night when the ship steamed into the ice field. Warnings of ice had come from ships in the area, but were not heeded by the captain. No order to slow the engines was given.
Many years ago I was on a bus on Graham Avenue, a very well known street in downtown Winnipeg. I was seated next to a man who knew a lot about Winnipeg history. As we passed the Eaton store, he said, “Graham Avenue is named for a man who went down on the Titanic. His name was George Graham and he worked for the Eaton’s Company. Did you know that?”
I didn’t, and said so. I was eleven and terribly impressed by the story. I knew about the Titanic, but to think there was someone from Winnipeg in the great ship disaster was very exciting indeed.
It was decades later that I became truly captivated by the Titanic, in doing research for my novel, Ravenscraig. I read books, articles and old newspapers, watched every movie, documentary and video clip I could find, and I became totally immersed in the articles and discussion boards on the website Encyclopedia-Titanica as I learned the stories of Winnipeg passengers such as Eva Hart and the Fortune Family. I came across the story of the Graham Avenue tribute to the Titanic passenger countless times.
All the while I was adding to my collection of rare books from Manitoba. One day, while visiting Burton Lysecki’s book store in Winnipeg, Burton handed me an old book of maps he thought I would find interesting: Winnipeg in Maps 1816-1972 by Alan F.J. Artibise and Edward H. Dahl.
In peering at the maps in the book I came across the startling revelation that Graham Avenue had nothing to do with George Graham.
The street had been called Graham for forty years or so before the Titanic sank.
The evidence is seen in this map from 1874, “Plan of the City of Winnipeg”.
The map was compiled and drawn in 1874 by John D. Parr and is made available by Manitoba Historical Maps on Flickr.
More on the person for whom Graham Avenue was truly named later, but first, the story of George Edward Graham:
He was born on a farm near St. Mary’s, in southwestern Ontario, on June 11, 1873, the sixth of seven brothers. As the story is told, he was 17 when he went to work as a clerk at a hardware store. He went on to become a salesman in Galt and then, in 1903 he moved to Toronto and began working for the Eaton’s Department Store. Timothy Eaton, the founder of the successful enterprise also had a history in St. Mary’s. It was the location of his first dry goods store before he bought the Toronto store in 1869.
George did well. He married Edith May Jackson from Harriston, Ontario and a year later, in 1906, he moved his bride to Winnipeg, having accepted a promotion and transfer to the big new Eaton’s store on Portage Avenue where he became the manager of the fine china and crockery department. Life was bustling and interesting for the wealthy class in Winnipeg in the years the Grahams lived there. It was a fast growing city filled with vibrant attractions in theatre, fine restaurants, musical societies and many entertainments to be enjoyed.
While George’s career was soaring in Winnipeg, the couple also was made to suffer heartbreaking losses. Their three year old son, John Humphrey, died in 1911. Edith became pregnant again a few months later, but miscarried.
One can imagine the discussion in the Graham home when George was told Eaton’s needed him to go on a buying trip to Europe in 1912. According to family reports, with Edith still frail and recovering, the couple decided it would be best for Edith to stay with her family while he was abroad, so Edith returned to Harriston.
George boarded the Titanic at Southampton as a first class passenger. According to family legend, he was scheduled leave on the Mauretania three days later, but changed his ticket to the Titanic to get home sooner. He spent time with other traveling salesmen. They had dinner together, and each signed the back of a menu.
George was one of the many passengers on Titanic who dropped by the wireless room, Sunday, April 14th, to send a marconigram to his wife. The message went out just hours before Titanic struck the iceberg in the North Atlantic.
“New York Wednesday Morning, Wire Me Sandy Hook. Well.”
It was Sunday afternoon when Mrs. Graham received the Marconigram given above. She had come down from Winnipeg a few days previously to meet her husband, and was planning happily the return journey when she retired Sunday night. On Monday morning came the terrible news of the collision. Later despatches roused in her heart a hope–more, almost a certainty–that her husband would be saved. This morning, weeping, sorrowing as bereaved ones alone can sorrow, she has learned what took place off the Newfoundland Banks.
Edith was never to see her husband again. We know that George Graham did take time to strap on a life jacket. His body was recovered by the MacKay-Bennett (#147). He was wearing a black overcoat, and a blue serge suit. He was carrying the following items – Memo book; cheque for $300.00; pocket book; credit book, T. Eaton & Co.; silver pencil case; fountain pen; pencil case; keys; gold watch; fob and locket; 7 shillings and 3 pence; $105.00; 2 pocket knives; 1 gold collar button.
George Graham had also taken time to look after one more piece of business before he set sail on Titanic. He dashed off a quick letter to a business contact and popped the letter into the mail before the ship sailed. The letter was written on Titanic stationary, and is famous for having fetched the largest sum ever paid at auction for a letter associated with Titanic.
To learn more about Canadian passengers, I highly recommend Alan Hustak’s excellent book: Titanic: The Canadian Story, in which he details the lives of 130 Canadian passengers on Titanic.
Now for the matter of Graham Avenue in Winnipeg.
It is named for James Allan Graham, a fur trader who worked for many years with the Hudson Bay Company. The Manitoba Historical Society Website has details of his life and his contributions to Manitoba.
Graham Avenue has its roots in the Hudson Bay Company (HBC). Named after an HBC factor, or trader, James Allan Graham, the prominent department store still anchors one end of the avenue. The City of Winnipeg designated the street as a central bus corridor in 1994, and the Graham Avenue Transit Mall was born. Today, 29 of Winnipeg Transit’s 87 routes converge on the avenue. The area is popular with surrounding downtown workers, shoppers, people attending medical appointments, area residents and loyal customers.
In closing, if you are new to Titanic enthusiasm, please do visit the Encyclopedia-Titanica website, which I have found to be tremendously helpful in my research.
Long after streetcars no longer operated in Winnipeg, my grandmother, whom we called, Baba, still called buses streetcars, and bus tickets car fare. She was born in 1909, so she had always known public transportation in Winnipeg as the streetcar. I never really understood that until this week, when I stumbled across this 1953 film by Roman Kroiter, called Paul Tomkowicz: Street-railway Switchman. Not only is this a compelling story about a hard-working, dignified man, but it shows us some amazing scenes of daily life in Winnipeg in the post World War II years of prosperity.
I never rode a streetcar in Winnipeg, but I have ridden on plenty of trolley buses, and Kroiter’s lovely film prompted some reminiscing.
When I was little, we lived on Gallagher Avenue in Winnipeg, near Weston School. When I was nine years old and in grade four, I was transferred to Principal Sparling School on Sherburn near Notre Dame, a school I attended for the next three years.
This meant I would be taking the bus to school. It was tremendously exciting, because this wasn’t a school bus, it was the regular city bus that grown-ups took to work, and mini-skirted teenagers took to Tec Voc School. Looking back, I have many fond memories of that ride on the trolley bus that went down Logan, then left at Keewatin and headed east on Notre Dame.
I was a short kid. I stood third in line in those curious school lineups that compelled administrators to assemble children from shortest to tallest. The divide between the sexes at Principal Sparling was prominent. The school had one door for boys and another for girls, despite the mixed classes. The school had strict rules in other areas, too. Under Miss Wasserman’s watchful eye, the girls learned to curtsey, dance the Schottische, and to serve tea, should we be asked to help out at an official function: the kind where you would wear white cotton gloves and a puffy crinoline under your skirt.
I don’t know what the boys learned, but I seem to remember they also got roped into that Schottische business along with the girls. At least the boys could wear pants. The girls were required to wear skirts at that time, even in the coldest weather. So, to deal with this dress code in the days before snowsuits, we had to wear heavy snow pants over our tights and under our bulky winter coats. Our mothers were mostly in their twenties and early thirties then, and apparently lived in fear of whooping cough. From October to May, in addition to the coats and pants, our winter protection included hats with ear flaps, mittens on strings, and scarves wrapped double to cover our faces and protect us from the weather or perhaps germs.
The bus, at that time, was a trolley bus, riding on big tires and powered by electricity fed through long antennae-like poles that reached up to the power lines. The trolley poles would spark and crackle on the wires in snowy weather, and sometimes a pole would drop and the bus would stop. The bus driver would hustle outside and guide the pole back into place and we’d soon be on our way.
The doors of the bus folded back, exposing steep steps up into the car. The ribbed rubber mats were wet and gritty. Costumed as I was, against the wrath of winter, and carrying my school bag on my shoulder, along with my lunch pail and violin case, the very act of climbing up into the bus and getting settled was very cumbersome. But, I loved the bus ride. Here, for twenty minutes, I was immersed in the world of strangers and came to appreciate the many benefits of eavesdropping on the other passengers. I learned that people who took the bus to work in offices downtown didn’t talk much. They read books and newspapers. The teenage girls on their way to Tec Voc wanted nothing to do with me, but had lively conversations that bubbled over each other. These girls left me envious for both the things they had to giggle about, as well as the length of their legs, planted firmly on the floor while mine dangled in the air as I sat back on the seat buried beneath my heap of belongings.
The people I almost always found to be the most interesting were older. They often had much to say about the price of groceries, their neighbourhood gossip, and sometimes the city issues they had heard discussed on the radio or in the newspaper. While they spoke in English, they invariably had accents. Ukrainian, Polish, Yiddish, among many others. I had never heard a person with gray hair speak clean English. Naturally I assumed that I, too, would have an accent one day, and it made me wonder what that accent would be and when my speech would change.
But that is another story, for another day.
If you would like to learn more about early public transportation in Winnipeg, you will enjoy John E. Baker’s book, Winnipeg’s Electric Transit.
If you can’t find it, check with Burton Lysecki at his book store.
I expect that most people who would find this page have seen, or at least know of, the incredible 1959 film, Ben Hur, starring Charlton Heston. The hair-raising chariot race has been heralded as one of the most exciting scenes every filmed, and with good reason.
Long before it was a film sensation, Ben Hur was a popular novel written by General Lew Wallace. Published by Harpers and Brothers (1880), it benefited from excellent promotion. Excerpts were placed in schools to gain a young audience.
In late 1899, Ben Hur opened on Broadway as a “triumph of theatre technology”. It was, in every way, spectacular. The Klaw and Erlinger production went on tour and ran for 21 years reaching more than twenty million people.
My interest in the production came from learning about the fantastic impact Ben Hur had on Winnipeg audiences in 1909. It was staged at the Walker Theater, a splendid, opulent house that had opened just two years earlier. Billed as “fire proof” the Walker was built with fine acoustics and a massive stage that ran 80 feet wide and 40 deep.
In reading the reviews of the play that had 200 cast members, 100 crew, twelve horses and a camel, one can only imagine the excitement of being in the audience for the Winnipeg performances staged March 8-13, 1909.
It was impresario C.P. Walker’s intent to bring theatre to the common man and indeed his magnificent house welcomed patrons that ranged from the finely dressed members of the carriage trade to the draymen, railway workers, and “hello” girls who worked as telephone operators. These were the people who climbed the steep steps of the Walker to sit in the “gods” seats. During the run of Ben Hur in Winnipeg, these straight back hard wooden benches up near the roof line were filled with new theatre goers, many of whom gave over a week’s wages to experience the most gripping show that had ever come to the prairie’s centre of the arts.
The Manitoba Free Press review of the Winnipeg opening was written by “E.B” and published on March 9, 1908. This is an excerpt:
“Only the language of the superlative with frequent notes of exclamation can possibly describe all of the glories of “Ben Hur” produced at the Walker Last night. From a staging and scenic point of view it is easily the most elaborate presentation ever given in Winnipeg and it should be a matter of pride to ever patriotic citizen that only in about four theatres in the States would it be possible to as adequately mount the play as was the case last night.
“It is impossible to do otherwise than first refer to the magnificence of the mounting of the drama and the wonderful spectacular effects obtained, for they are conceived in a spirit of opulence and carried out with an elaboration of detail and a barbaric splendor calculated to almost take one’s breath away. The eye is dazzled by the wealth of color and the ear tickled with the beautiful musical accompaniment, sometimes heard as themes and again with the voices of the chorus, which was admirably trained. To the music lover the music will prove an added attraction for the compositions of Edgar Stillman Kelley are done thorough justice to by the greatly augmented orchestra.
“After the impressive prelude with a curtain symbolic of Rome and Jerusalem, and in which three wise men from the west are seen in an attitude of adoration, the curtain rises on the roof-top of the Palace of Hur, and one is immediately struck with the huge proportions of the Walker stage, and can readily believe the claim that it is made for it, that it is one of the finest on the American continent.”
Conway Tearle, who later became a screen idol, played Ben Hur in the touring show that came to Winnipeg. Mitchell Harris played Messala, Anthony Andrea was Simonides, and Alice Haynes was Esther.
The Walker Theatre was reported to be one of only four theatres on the continent that had a stage large enough to accommodate three chariots, each with four horses abreast. The horses were set on treadmills so as to allow a full gallop. Winnipeg theatre patrons smugly pointed out that no theatre in New York could accommodate more than two chariots for lack of space. E.B., the reviewer for the Manitoba Free Press was greatly impressed.
“I have left to the last, the description of the celebrated chariot race because it is no easy thing to tell about. To see three chariots each having four horses attached racing madly across the stage with the drivers lashing and cracking their whips to the accompaniment of hoarse cries of triumph and hatred and the tumultuous applause of the audience is no light task. The people in front simply hold their breath, while their eyes almost start out of their heads with the excitement of the frenzied scene, and the climax is reached when the wheel is cut off one of the chariots and the driver is thrown to the track, and the trials and tribulations of Ben –Hur are almost brought to an end through the injuries to and ruin of his enemy. Had the race continued for another ten seconds the audience would have been standing up in the seats. I have seen many exciting moments in plays but never one quite equal to this. Again there is nothing but praise for the stage management and the the stage hands for with the exception of one tiny hitch the piece went with a smoothness which was astonishing for a first night in a strange theatre. In a word, from a spectacular standpoint Ben-Hur is a gorgeous and soul satisfying experience which no person having the faintest interest in things theatrical should by any means miss.
“So much having been said of the play from a purely mechanical and scenic outlook, it must not be imagined that therefore the dramatic niceties of the production have in any way been allowed to suffer. On the contrary, a very capable company has been sent out by Klaw and Erlenger and not a lot of third raters as is sometimes the case with these spectacular pieces.”
A final word for film buffs. There were two early silent films (1907 and 1925) made of Ben Hur. The 1925 version, directed by Fred Niblo starred Ramón Novarro as Judah Ben-Hur andFrancis X. Bushman as Messala. It was the most expensive silent film ever made and is reported to have cost between 4 and 6 million dollars. Here is the chariot scene from Ben Hur, (1925). It is well worth seeing the whole film.
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