Exciting Times

It’s been a very busy and interesting April with a book tour that took me to Montreal and Winnipeg.  I met with old friends and new and was thrilled to discuss Ravenscraig with impassioned readers who had much to say about Rupert Willows and the early days of Winnipeg when it was among the fastest growing cities in North America.

Click here for the news and events page to see pictures and read details about my visit to Montreal and Winnipeg.

It was great fun to do my first international radio interview a couple of weeks ago, with Marc Montgomery of The Link on Radio Canada.

Click on the photo to link to the interview.

An updated version of the book trailer was posted on Youtube today.

And I am deeply honoured to be in the company of such a fine group of talented writers who have been nominated for the Manitoba Book Awards, which will be announced on Saturday night, April 28th.   I am still pinching myself that Ravenscraig, a debut novel,  has been short listed for the Carol Shields Award.

Montreal Book Launch for Ravenscraig

Please join me on April 10th for the Montreal book launch of Ravenscraig.

Librairie Paragraphe Bookstore 
2220 McGill College Avenue
6:00 – 7:30 p.m.
April 10, 2012

How exciting it is for me, a Titanic fanatic, that this coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Titanic setting sail on her maiden voyage.

About the book:

Ravenscraig is historical fiction that is of particular appeal to readers interested in Jewish migration to North America, The Titanic, and anyone with an affection for Winnipeg’s history in its boom town years, a century ago.

The Storyline: 

Nothing is more important to Rupert J. Willows than the image he has built to hide the deep secret of his true identity.  A master manipulator, the ruthless and charismatic Rupert schemes his way into the upper class when he purchases the opulent mansion, Ravenscraig Hall. It is the turn of the 20th century in one of the fastest growing cities in North America; a brawling, raucous, frontier boomtown with a taste for fine theatre and loose women. True power is within Rupert’s grasp as long as his secret stays buried.

Malka Zigman is a survivor. Orphaned in London, she has just joined her Uncle Zev and his hardworking Jewish family in Canada. Recent immigrants who escaped from poverty and violence in czarist Russia, the Zigmans struggle to put down roots in the New World. With family resources stretched thin, Malka takes a risk. Everything is about to change as she reinvents herself as Maisie Rosedale and crosses over to the exclusive world of “the English” as the new maid at Ravenscraig.

Tragedies, and triumphs grip the lives of these two families as their futures inextricably twine together to culminate on the Titanic.

Author Bio:

Sandi Krawchenko Altner

Sandi Krawchenko Altner is a Jew by choice who enjoyed a long career in television and radio news in Canada. You may remember her as a reporter for Pulse News at Montreal’s CFCF TV. Sandi was born and raised in Winnipeg, and is a fifth descendent of the first group of Ukrainian immigrants who settled near Vita, Manitoba, in 1896.  She grew up with a keen interest in her roots, and a deep love for history.  Sandi now lives and writes in Florida.  She and her husband, Bob Altner have two daughters and two spoiled dogs. Ravenscraig is her first novel.

Praise for Ravenscraig:

Ravenscraig has been shortlisted for the 2011 Manitoba Historical Society’s prestigious Margaret McWilliams Award in Popular History.

“Wonderful…Welcome to Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs with a Winnipeg Twist.”

-Ron Robinson, Winnipeg Free Press

Ravenscraig is superb. It is a book that almost seems to have been written specifically for me, involving Jewish immigrants who resemble what my great-grandparents were like, and reflecting the attitude and hope that I have in life.”

—Louis Kessler, past president, the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada

Terry DiMonte – Home Again

I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Montreal.  Writer and media personality, Matthew Cope, happened to run into Terry DiMonte in Westmount the other day, and was quick to respond to my request to share this photo he posted on Facebook.  I know Matthew from my days at CFCF TV. Montreal is just that kind of city. You always run into someone you know and it is easy to stay connected to people. Small town feel under big city lights.

The story of Terry DiMonte -“Radio morning man returning to the airwaves in Montreal after a 4 year stop in Calgary”  is of interest to me (and thousands of others, apparently) for many reasons.  Not the least of which is that it provides a glimpse of the complexity of life in Canada.  Terry’s story is one of many that have been experienced by Quebec anglophones who have moved west to start new lives.

My story is on the opposite side of the coin. I am a western Canadian by birth (Winnipeg), who claimed Montreal as home for a dozen years in my television news career.  I now call South Florida home, but Montreal is that shiny bit of magic that remains undefined and truly missed. Every Canadian should live in Montreal for at least a year. It will completely change your perception of what Canada is all about. To be an “Anglo” in Quebec is a complicated affair. I think it fair to say that to be “Quebecois” in Canada is equally complicated, but that is a story for another day.

I am enriched by my experience in Quebec, and by the people who I have met along the way.

Terry and I knew each other professionally and our paths would occasionally cross at media and cultural events.  In addition to that, he was “my” morning radio man who helped me ease into the day and get off to work as I sat down to coffee and Cheerios.

Bill Brownstein, another contemporary from my Montreal life, writes for the Montreal Gazette. His thoughtful and detailed piece on Terry DiMonte’s return to Montreal is a terrific read.

Terry’s return broadcast will be heard early on Monday, January 9th.

Best wishes for success and happiness, Terry. Have a great time in a great city.

Titanic Passengers — Hudson Allison and Family — Former Winnipeg Residents

When the Titanic sank, there was both an outpouring of grief and a great public fascination with the passengers.

Only a third of those on board the great ship were rescued. Fifteen hundred people died in the shipwreck.

In Winnipeg, as in other major cities, the stories dominated the headlines for days after the sinking, with reporters scrambling to tell stories of every local connection they could find.

So it was that Winnipeg readers had great interest in a Montreal family, the Allisons.   Hudson Allison  had lived in Winnipeg for two years.

He lived at the corner of Sherbrook and Westminster and had been friends with fellow Winnipeg Titanic passengers, Mark Fortune, and Thompson Beattie.  Hudson Allison was well known and highly regarded in Winnipeg.  He had worked as a financier, and was a great supporter of the Broadway Methodist Church

When he married, Hudson Allison and his wife, Bess Waldo Daniels, made their home in Montreal. Prior to traveling on the Titanic they were on an extended holiday in Europe. They were traveling with their two children, Lorraine, and baby Trevor, and were returning to their home on Rosyln Avenue in Westmount, Quebec.

Trevor, survived the sinking.  He was in the arms of his newly hired nanny, Alice Cleaver. They were first class passengers and had been ushered to the lifeboats in plenty of time for Bess and her daughter to make their escape.

But, Bess had apparently panicked when she couldn’t find her baby son.  She dragged her young daughter Lorraine out of the lifeboat and together with her husband, went in search of Trevor.  By this time, the nanny was already away from the ship with the baby.

The following story about the family appeared in the Winnipeg Telegram on April 19, 1912, and is transcribed below.

Winnipeg Telegram, April 18, 1912

Among the passengers of the Titanic are Mr. and Mrs. Hudson J. Allison and child. Mr. Allison and his family were residents of Winnipeg for a year, leaving here a little over two years ago to reside in Montreal. Mr. Allison and his wife and two children were returning from England and are among the list of missing. He is one junior member of the firm of Johns, McConnell and Allison, of Montreal, financial agents and was in Winnipeg in the interests of the firm.

While living here he resided on the corner of Sherbrook and Westminster Street. He was a prominent member of the Broadway Methodist Church and was one of the original contributors to the building fund, always taking an active interest in church affairs.

He is a nephew of G.F. Johnston of Montreal, senior member of the firm, and Mrs. Daniel, whose name appears in the list of those saved was his mother-in-law and lived with them in Winnipeg for several months previous to their http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/ to Montreal.

Mr. Allison is well-known in the city and has a large number of personal friends. His interests in the west are great, he personally holding a lot of property. The firm also holds large timber limits and farm properties.

For more information about passengers on the Titanic, please see the Encyclopedia Titanica website. For stories about Canadians on the Titanic, see Alan Hustak’s excellent book.

Remembering Canada’s 1967 Centennial Train

When I think of Canada Day, I am reminded of the time when our grade five class went to visit Canada’s Confederation Train.  It was in 1967 and the train was stopping in Winnipeg for a few days on its cross-country tour.  Eastern Canada got Expo 67 in Montreal.  The west got a glimpse of a train.  But that’s okay.  I was eleven, and none of my friends’ families were lucky enough to be traveling all the way to Montreal to see Expo 67 either.  We were going to see news reports on Expo on TV.  Maybe even in colour over at Uncle George’s house.  But, I digress.

Our class field trip to the Confederation Train was a very exciting event that had been arranged for us by our teacher, Miss Wasserman, who was very strict and proper.  In addition to learning the CA-NA-DA song by Bobby Gimby, our preparations were primarily concerned with how we were expected to behave so as not bring any shame to Principal Sparling School or worse, to result in embarrassing our teacher.

Luckily, for me, celebrating Canada’s one hundredth birthday meant we had to learn a little about our history and complete a project or two.  “You are so terribly fortunate to be in grade five this year, because Canadian history is on our curriculum,” Miss Wasserman enthused. Of course, she also went beyond the curriculum, as always, and made sure we understood how privileged we were to have this rich history to study.  The other grades apparently were not going to have benefits we had.  This might have been true. I don’t remember being overloaded with studying Canadian history at any time through my school years.

Miss Wasserman truly made it a very positive experience to visit the train. I really think she liked it more than any of us. Kathy, Linda, Reena, Craig, the two Ians, Wendy, me and of course Wayne, who was smarter than all of us, were neatly lined up with our classmates, shortest to tallest, the girls all in tunics.  We were shuttled off to the train station in a huge bus with other classes.  I was greatly impressed with the visit because the train station was so noisy and because the train was full of exhibits and stories about how Canada became Canada. There was much to be proud of.  The train itself, was beautiful and incredibly huge, in my memory.  It even had a special horn.

And as near as I can remember, we were not the cause of any new gray hairs sprouting on Miss Wasserman’s curly, bespectacled head.

How great would it be to recreate such a train to inspire children today to take an interest in their history.  I do hope we don’t have to wait for Canada’s bicentennial for such an opportunity.

And finally, how could I share this story without also sharing a video that features that Bobby Gimby song, CA-NA-DA.  Happy Canada Day.

Montreal Anglos Who Moved “Out West”

The big news in Canadian radio last week was the announcement that popular radio morning man, Terry DiMonte, is leaving his job in Calgary to return to Montreal.  Why is this big news? Because Montreal is a city like no other.  When an anglophone comes home, people talk.

Montreal, and indeed the province of Quebec, have seen a great deal of turmoil over the last generation. Many of the historical wrongs against the majority French population have been addressed, but with a price.  Anger, riots, bombs. Neighbour against neighbour.  It hasn’t been easy.  Yet, still, the city remains a spectacular international destination for business, travel and most importantly, for the fiercely proud people who call Montreal home.   To this day, there are lingering issues that have changed the course of many lives.

Montreal, more than any other city in Canada, has been forced to bring confrontation to the kitchen table, particularly in the Anglophone community, as family after family since the 1970s grappled with decisions people in other cities never had to think about.  Where will you move after you get your degree from university?  What will you do when your company moves to Toronto? How will you adapt your business to comply with the demands of the language police?   And of course, it often came to: what do you think your prospects might be “Out West”.  (Out west meant Alberta or BC.   Saskatchewan and Manitoba played little part in the dream of Montrealers starting a new life.)

When Terry DiMonte left his Montreal morning show almost four years ago, it left a hole in the fabric of Montreal. People missed him.  Many saw his move as a direct loss to the English community.  One more comfortable and familiar voice was gone from a community that had been made to absorb too many tiny cuts along with hard changes over the last several decades.   Now, many will see the return of a beloved broadcaster as bringing a little bit of “Montreal as we remember it” back to the present day.

In reading about Terry DiMonte’s decision to move back to Montreal, I came across this very interesting documentary produced by the Montreal Gazette in 2009. Nine people from Montreal, including Terry, reflect on their decisions to move “Out West” and provide frank comments on how things worked out in their lives.

I’m quite certain that there are a great many people in Calgary who will miss their morning man when he leaves Alberta.  Some of them may even be inspired to start conversations in their own homes about whether it is time to move back to Montreal.

For more information about Terry DiMonte, see Steve Faguy’s blog.  Steve is a freelance journalist in Montreal who has created a real news hub for Montreal stories.

Montreal Bagels and “The Main”

“Our Street was Paved with Gold”, is the title of a film about Montreal that is a charming and nostalgic piece produced by the NFB.

During the mass migration that began in the late 19th century, every city had a similar story when it came to the location of the immigrant neighbourhoods. As writers like Abraham Cahan often described: You got off a boat, or a train, and walked until you found someone who spoke your language.

In New York it was the Lower East Side.

In Winnipeg, it was Point Douglas and ultimately, the North End.

And in Montreal, it was St. Lawrence Boulevard, the long street known as “The Main” that ran down to the harbour. Mordecai Richler described the famous neighbourhood with these words in Son of a Smaller Hero:

“All day long, St. Lawrence Boulevard, or Main Street, is a frenzy of poor Jews, who gather there to buy groceries, furniture, clothing and meat. Most walls are plastered with fraying election bills, in Yiddish, French and English. The street reeks of garlic and quarrels and bill collectors: orange crates, stuffed full with garbage and decaying fruit, are piled slipshod in most alleys.”

Similar impressions are captured in this NFB film that takes us back to 1973, and the vibrant colours of the changing neighbourhood on St. Lawrence. Directed by Albert Kish, it is called Our Street was Paved with Gold.

Click here to see the film.

If your family history touches Montreal, and you remember the smell of sausage being smoked in the corner store, and the mouth watering sensation of sinking your teeth into a fresh warm bagel, you will enjoy this film.

How interesting and comforting, for those who love Montreal, to see that when it comes to making bagels, nothing much has changed in technique or atmosphere in all of these years. I think the equipment used today may well be the very same that we see in this film.

By the way, I am firmly of the opinion that once you have tasted a Montreal bagel you will be spoiled for life, and will have set a standard for bagel excellence that can not be equalled by any other bagel maker in any other city. Period.

1947, Montreal by Night

I happened across this short film by Arthur Burrows and Jean Palardy filmed in 1947. I am sharing it for anyone who loves Montreal, and social history. Filmed by the National Film Board, two years after the end of WWII it shows a sparkling view that could only have been created for mass audiences. It isn’t quite fiction, but it is far from documentary in approach. It would have served well as a travel film, encouraging visitors to enjoy the excitement of this cosmopolitan centre. Click here to see the film.

The National Film Board describes Montreal by Night this way:

This short film showcases the city of Montreal on a summer’s night. What was once a small Indian village is presented as a pot-pourri of contrasting sights and sounds. It is North America’s second largest port and, after Paris, the world’s largest French-speaking city. With its warehouses, offices, homes, clubs and amusement parks, the city serves as a bright backdrop for a happy couple out on the town.

The happy couple is French speaking Collette, and her English speaking boyfriend, Jacques, from Dauphin, Manitoba. I had to watch the film twice to fully enjoy the glimpses of flashing street signs on Ste. Catherine, the cars, fashions and the stiffly staged dialogue sequences. The film may well have been made with the sole purpose of promoting the city of Montreal, and in this sense it perhaps captures the post-war attitude of the day. Shiny and bright, with a bold, blockbuster sounding music track, we see a variety of carefully managed scenes to show the contrasts of life in the city. We see the vibrant night life of St. Catherine Street, the cleaners sweeping up the stock exchange floor, and the smiling residents of a working class neighbourhood where everyone has clean shoes, nice clothes and a friendly demeanor.

Montreal By Night also features Montreal Mayor Camillien Houde who had been elected four times prior to being succeeded by Jean Drapeau. The film depicts the mayor as quite a celebrity arriving in movie star style to the applause of his adoring public.

If this is your kind of film, I would encourage you to also watch the NFB film shot in Winnipeg about Paul Tomkowicz that I posted in Streetcars and Trolley Buses.

By the way, if you should happen to know the name of the glamourous night club with the dancers, please do let us know.