Sunday, 30 April 2017

Sunday April 30th, 2017 The Incredible Journey

The best characters from books live on through the decades and new audiences continue to discover them and to love them. Sherlock Holmes, Anne of Green Gables, Jay Gatsby and Harry Potter each evoke a certain personality, an era and a setting which is enigmatic and unique and which invite the reader to imagine themselves actually there. Devoted readers often do travel to the physical settings where their favourite stories were set in an effort to deepen their experience or as an homage to the author. Who hasn’t imagined being able to peek in on Dr. Frankenstein in his experimental lab or to trace the footsteps of Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s?

Sheila Burnford, who was born in Scotland but spent most of her life living in Thunder Bay (Port Arthur) and was the creator of several books, including The Incredible Journey. The book was published in 1961 and told the story of three house pets who undertook a 300 miles trek through the Canadian wilderness to return to their family home. The story became famous world-wide when Disney made the book into the film The Incredible Journey in 1963.

Part of the popularity of the book and subsequent film is following the young Labrador Retriever Luath, the capable Siamese cat Tao and the aging and partially blind bulldog Bodger as they face the varied challenges of their journey over streams, past dangerous animals, pushing through physical ordeals and lack of food as they pursue their single-minded goal of returning to their home. Readers who grew up in Thunder Bay should have no trouble imagining these perils as the story was based on the true-life pets of Sheila Burnford and the setting is none other than the natural environment of the Thunder Bay region.

There is a project underway to celebrate “our” Sheila Burnford and to gather together all of the historical information about her, her own life and many adventures, her writings, drawings and collaborations with artist Susan Ross and memorabilia about The Incredible Journey, both the book and the film which actually held its world premiere in Port Arthur. LU professor Ron Harpelle and local filmmaker Kelley Saxburg have been working on a documentary about the author’s forays into Canada’s far north and it has led them on their own “incredible journey” of documenting her life. All of their research and contact with the Burnford family itself has led to a wealth of documentation, including photographs, manuscripts, artwork, memorabilia and the like which is all being scanned, preserved and digitized. The Thunder Bay Public Library has partnered with them on the next stage of this project which is to preserve and  bring Sheila Burnford’s local connections and great achievements to a larger audience – the citizens of Thunder Bay, the researchers, the book lovers and the wider world. Eventually, this will lead to a Sheila Burnford Research Room at the Library but right now the partners would like to invite you to learn more about all of this and to that end we are hosting a special film screening of the original Incredible Journey. We will also have many fascinating objects and documents for you to view on site so that you can see and in some cases, remember Ms. Burnford and her time in Thunder Bay and her many travels.

If you knew her or Susan Ross, or have good memories of the premiere or of reading her books, or if you would like to know more we invite you to this free screening. We would love to meet you. We also invite you to bring any objects or photos or letters you might have to contribute to this ongoing project. Rather like the Antique Roadshow model, we will have people on site to accept your contributions and get their story or to scan the objects prior to the screening. You can be a part of this important and relevant local story as it is evolving! Help us to preserve and celebrate this legendary author who is part of our local history.

Screening: At Trinity United Church Hall
Saturday May 13th
Doors open at 1:00
Screening and opening remarks by Jonquil Burnford and dignitaries at 2p.m.

Angela Meady

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Sunday April 23, 2017 Fresh Air

Has the spring weather inspired you to get outside for some fresh air and exercise? Stop in to any Library location and pick up a Big Boreal Adventure Guidebook and start exploring!  The guidebook is in both English and French, and includes a map, instructions, and clues to find 24 posts all over the Thunder Bay area.  You may have seen these posts in parks and other areas.  On each post is stainless steel plate with an image on it.  You can use a crayon or blunt pencil to make a rubbing of the image in your guidebook.  The Adventures are divided by season, so you can keep exploring all year long.  Information is provided for each area so you can learn more about the history, geography and environment.  Find the Big Boreal Adventure online at for related activities and news of events.

You can also borrow a nature kit to take on your adventures!  Each kit includes a story book, nature book, magnifying glass, full sized binoculars, compass, booklist, and nature activity sheets.  Ask at the desk to borrow a nature kit.  They go out for three weeks, and are listed in our online catalogue under “Big Boreal Adventure Kit” where you may place a hold.

If you’re into history, the “Big Boreal Adventure Goes Historical” is for you!  You can pick up a free guidebook from any Library location, and take yourself on five walks, stopping to explore Thunder Bay’s history.  Like the original guidebook, the historical version is in both English and French.  Maps in the guidebook show you where to stop, and include photos and information.  Some of the interesting places you can explore are Connaught Square, Central School House, and the Barton and Fischer Company.

Want to add a bit more exercise to your walks?  Borrow a set of walking poles from your Library!  We have one set of walking poles at each location.  They go out for three weeks at a time, and may be placed on hold.  You can find them in our online catalouge under “walking poles”.  Borrow an eAudiobook from hoopla or OverDrive to listen to while you walk and you’ll be amazed how far you go!

Have you ever been curious about how many steps you have taken in a day?  You can borrow a pedometer from your Library and find out!  Pedometers are listed in the online catalogue under “pedometers”, and come with a guidebook.

In addition to all these wonderful things, your Library will soon be offering garden tools you can borrow!  We’re excited to be working with Roots to Harvest on this initiative. Cedar sheds have been set up at the Brodie and Waverley Libraries to house the tools. Keep an eye on our website, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter for updates.

Oh, and we do still have books!  With four locations throughout the city, there is likely a Library to which you can walk. Bring a backpack or sturdy bag so you can easily carry home some treasures. Browse our displays, chat with staff, look up your favorite author or try something new.  Stay a while and enjoy a quiet place to read, use our free wifi, visit with friends, play with your children or read a newspaper.

Joanna Aegard

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Sunday April 16, 2017 Canadian Literature

Canadian literature has been and continues to play an integral part in developing Canadian identity. Through their work, canonical writers like Margaret Atwood, Hugh MacLennan, Alice Munro, and Thomas King have reflected on Canada’s history, people, traditions, and landscapes. With their prose, they have represented Canada’s dynamic nature in dramatic, comedic, and poetic ways, that have always been enlightening. As Canada’s 150th year of confederation quickly approaches, it seems fitting to honour some of the best works of Canadian literature that have contributed so greatly to its identity.
Hugh MacLennan’s Barometer Rising is a seminal piece of Canadian fiction, widely regarded as establishing the literary movement in Canada. Written in 1941, Barometer Rising tells the story of two lovers, Neil Macrae and Penny Wain, and their struggle to rekindle their relationship during the days leading up to the 1917 Halifax explosion. Their romance is complicated, however, by Penny’s father Col. Wain, who tries to hinder Neil’s attempts as a result of an incident that occurred in the colonel’s battalion. MacLennan’s melodrama is rich in the World War I detail, evoking the sense of life that was common during the days of the war. Barometer Rising is a monumental work by an important writer who bravely depicted the Canadian experience in literature when few were doing so.
Margaret Atwood is a similar writer who also explored Canadian history, but with a slight twist. As MacLennan’s romance dealt with fictional characters set during a historical Canadian period, Atwood’s Alias Grace tells the true story of a famed convict, Grace Marks, set in Upper Canada. Taking place in 1843, Atwood recreates the suspicions held against Marks regarding her involvement in the murders of her employer Thomas Kinnear and his housemaid Nancy Montgomery. Part fact and part fiction, Atwood’s award winning novel brilliantly conjures up Canada during the 19th century, a period of Canadian history rarely seen in popular fiction.
The works of Thomas King similarly bring to life the stories of people and places rarely seen in contemporary fiction. King’s Alberta-based novel Green Grass, Running Water is an audacious work of literature that combines a contemporary narrative with traditional native oral storytelling. Set in a First Nation’s Blackfoot reservation, King tells the story of a family trying to cope with the construction of a new dam on Native territory. At the same time, the narrative incorporates the retelling of the Creation story, linking the ethereal with the events on the reservation. King also explores similar themes in Medicine River with more emphasis on a character trying to reconnect with his community following a separation. King is a wonderful writer, using heart and humour to tell inherently dramatic stories.
No discussion on Canadian literature is complete without the inclusion of Alice Munro. Similar to the previous writers, Munro’s stories also closely focus on Canadian characters and settings. Known for championing the Southern Ontario gothic genre of Canadian literature, Munro writes about the lives of ordinary people in Southern Ontario as they are caught in moments that range from the mundane to the extraordinary. The Love of a Good Woman is a powerful example of such writing. Despite the brevity of some of the stories, Munro’s stories evoke life, death, love within a Canadian context that are always deeply felt by the reader. Munro’s most recent (and widely rumoured to be her last) collection, Dear Life, is a powerful reminder of Munro’s status as one of our greatest living writers.  

The works of these great Canadian writers and more can all be found at the Thunder Bay Public Library. Visit our online catalogue or consult the Reader’s Advisory to find more great titles. Be sure to stay tuned in the future as we celebrate more Canadian artists during this landmark year in Canada’s great history.

Petar Vidjen

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Sunday April 9th What Writers are Reading

In February 2014, the Thunder Bay Public Library’s blog, TBPL Off the Shelf (, started interviewing authors. Since that time, there have been forty interviews with authors, poets, an artist, a director, and a local magician. At the end of the interviews, the authors are asked if there is a particular book or writer that they think everyone should read. Many don’t recommend anything in particular; they echo local author Amy Jones when she said: “I don’t think there is one book out there that will speak to everyone, but as long as there is one book that speaks to YOU, that’s what matters.”  And Emma Hooper, the author of Etta and Otto and Russell and James, stresses that “everyone should READ something!” Even with this shared sentiment, some of the authors did suggest books that they believe are very much worth trying, so let’s take a look at these suggestions.

Alison Pick was here in Thunder Bay for the 2014 International Festival of Authors (IFOA) Lit on Tour, promoting her memoir Between Gods. She highly recommends reading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, which she calls a remarkable “page turner for 800 pages.”

Alexander MacLeod was here for the 2015 IFOA’s Lit on Tour, promoting his short story collection Light Lifting. He highly recommends JM Barrie’s Peter Pan because it is “pretty well perfect for the way it balances the raw imaginative power of the story itself with so many wise and self-reflexive side comments that insightfully foreground the art of telling the story.” He has read it many times, and has shared it with his children.

Karen Connelly was here for the 2016 IFOA’s Lit on Tour, promoting her new novel The Change Room. She highly recommends reading The Global Forest by Diana Beresford-Kroeger because we all need to wake up to the reality of what we are doing to our planet.

Elizabeth Bear is a prolific science fiction and fantasy writer, the author of the Jenny Casey trilogy (Hammered, Scardown, and Worldwired), and the Edda of Burdens (By the Mountain Bound, All the Windwracked Stars, and The Sea Thy Mistress), among many other books. She believes everyone has different tastes in literature, but did say she has been enjoying the work of a few newer and lesser known writers like Monica Byrne, Max Gladstone, and Aliette de Bodard.

Christopher “Merk” Merkley is a local artist who illustrated the graphic novels Nowadays and Victor’s Legacy. He highly recommends everyone read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Ready Player One is being made into a movie, so you’ll have to grab it soon if you want to read it before seeing it on the big screen!

Shane Peacock is a young adult author originally from Thunder Bay. He wrote the Young Sherlock Holmes series and is now working on a new series, The Dark Missions of Edgar Brim. He recommends that everyone read Shakespeare, even though he is difficult for young people. As a close second, he also recommends Charles Dickens, who was a huge influence on his own writing.

Michelle Krys is a local young adult author, who recently released Dead Girls Society, a story about a teenager with cystic fibrosis. Krys thinks everyone should read A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. an “utterly brilliant and heartbreaking and beautiful” novel.

All of these authors, and the thirty-one other people we have interviewed so far, also share the particular books that inspired them to write, some of their favourite books, and what they were reading at the time of the interview. If you’d like to read more of what they have to say, be sure to check out our blog at, which also has book reviews by library staff.

Shauna Kosoris

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Sunday April 2, 2017 Getting Ready to Grow Again!

It’s that time of year when we start having warmer days and longer evenings.  Some days that might feel like an April Fool’s prank but the end of winter is in sight. As the earth thaws more green appears where not so long ago there was snow and ice.  In fact, the other day a library patron mentioned they had seen tulips starting to sprout already.

Keen gardeners will already have starter plants sprouting in their homes and greenhouses, but it’s not too late for you to prepare for the growing season. One of the newest ways in which your public library can help is with the Garden Tool Lending Library, coming soon to the Brodie and Waverley branches. Roots to Harvest and Thunder Bay Public Library staff have been working hard over the winter to bring you an all new collection at the library.  Soon you will be able to select and borrow from a vast variety of garden tools for one week periods with your library card.  We are also working to provide you the resources you need to succeed!  In addition to the Library's collection of books and online tools Roots to Harvest is developing pamphlets and workshops to help you grow the best garden you can.

While all of this great new work is underway, why not check out some of the recent additions in gardening, food production, and outdoor spaces. Groundbreaking Food Gardens: 73 Plans That Will Change the Way You Grow Your Garden is not your average gardening book. There really is something for everyone here – from planning for 52 weeks of fresh greens, planting with the plan for a stocked pantry year round, growing your own cocktail ingredients, giving seedlings a boost, and much more. Each chapter is presented by an expert in that field, with more topics covered than you can shake a stick at (or think to cram into just 243 pages). Topping it all off is a suggested list of additional resources and plant list.

Talk to anyone at Roots to Harvest or any avid gardener and you will learn the importance of bees within our environment. Victory Gardens for Bees: A DIY Guide to Saving the Bees investigates the growing problem of bee mortality and offers practical measures we can all take to help. Just as citizens banded together to produce Victory Gardens to offset the perilous food shortages of World Wars I and II, now a similarly vital level of collective effort is needed to make our gardens into lifesaving shelters for bees. Planning a bee-friendly space can provide a beautiful and bountiful selection of edible crops, native plants and fragrant ornamentals, as well as herbs that have medicinal properties for both pollinators and people. With the help of ten inspiring garden plans and planting guides, this book shows how bee-friendly plants can be used in creative combinations for plots and pots of all sizes, and are easily grown by novices and seasoned gardeners alike. Victory Gardens for Bees is also buzzing with DIY projects that will provide nesting sites and essential supplies for precious pollinators.

Big Ideas for Small Spaces: Creative Ideas and 30 Projects for Balconies, Roof Gardens, Windowsills and Terraces is a great option for anyone living in an apartment or condo. This book provides instructions and photographs show to make 30 easy projects for the garden using inexpensive or found materials. It suggests practical solutions to greening a small and otherwise barren area including outer walls, tiny patios, balconies, courtyards, terraces, windowsills and rooftops. Also includes instructions on the basics of gardening.

Not to be forgotten is the Home Improvement Reference Center database (accessible with your Library Card and PIN via the Library’s website). Here you will find support and ideas for DIY projects in and around your home and outdoor space. Get out there and get planting with the knowledge that the library is behind you every step of the way!

Ruth Hamlin-Douglas