Sunday, 24 September 2017

Sunday September 24th, 2017 Sheila Burnford

Chief Librarian John Pateman signing letter of intent with Burnford daughters, from left: Perenelle, Jonquil and Juliette

Sheila Burnford is the author of the classic book The Incredible Journey. This was her first novel and she wrote it while living in Thunder Bay (Port Arthur). It became an international bestseller and has been translated into countless languages as well as becoming the script for another classic – the Disney film based on the book. While many local people know the Burnford family, for an author of Burnford’s stature there is not that much written about her. That is expected to change for the better as there are some interesting developments in the making to share her story.

The first documentary on Sheila Burnford had its premiere at the Vox Popular Media Arts Festival (formerly Bay Street Film Festival) last week. The three adult Burnford sisters, Jonquil, Perenelle and Juliette were in town for this big event and the largest-ever audience witnessed a fascinating story which included incredible vintage film footage from the world premiere of the film, family movies from Europe and Canada  and unique recreations of the story done with local actors (including animals).  The Burnford family was also here to meet with History Professor Ron Harpelle who has been accumulating, documenting and digitizing the Burnford photos, papers and other memorabilia, and the staff and board of the Thunder Bay Public Library. A letter of intent was signed by all parties to indicate that the Sheila Burnford collection of all these materials will be turned over to the public Library for the development of a Sheila Burnford collection. This treasure will be made accessible to local researchers as well as those anywhere in the world and will put Thunder Bay on the map as the Sheila Burnford city – a destination for all lovers of her works.

Of course, The Incredible Journey is her best-known work, but she also wrote other fascinating and very different short stories, novels and non-fiction such as Mr. Noah and the Second Flood which is a prescient environmental children’s book (in the same sense that The Little Prince is a children’s book but of equal interest to adults). Without Reserve relates the stories of her travels north with her friend and collaborator Susan Ross. Sheila piloted a bush plane and they spent years visiting and living with the northern Cree and Ojibway people. While Sheila wrote, Susan sketched and it makes for a very interesting and unique book. The publisher of the book called it “the true account of two not- exactly ordinary housewives.”

Visit your library to read more by Sheila Burnford or to re-watch the original film, and expect to hear more soon about this exciting venture to honour a local author and her artistic friend with a special collection and archive.

Note: If anyone missed seeing A Long Walk Home, there will be another free showing at the Waverley Library auditorium on October 21st at 2:00 p.m.

Angela Meady

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