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Literary Locales

Published: 06/06/2012

Canada is fertile ground for literary talent and the province of Manitoba has produced some of the finest. Just in time for the Thin Air Winnipeg International Writer's Festival, check out the stomping grounds of four of the province's most famous authors.

There must be something in the air.
Or maybe it's in the water.
It could just be the vast blue skies and endless prairie vistas that spark literary inspiration.
Whatever it is, Manitoba has cultivated some of the best writers around. The central-Canada province is home to some of the world's most talented scribes. From Sept. 23 to 28, Thin Air Winnipeg International Writer's Festival celebrates the best writers from Manitoba, across Canada and around the globe. This year marks the festival's 15th anniversary and features lectures, book launches, interviews and readings for adults and children, in both French and English. In the meantime, get your literary juices flowing by learning more about four of Manitoba's best-known writers and exploring the real-life local landmarks in their stories.

Miriam Toews, Prairie novelist extraordinaire
"I hope that people will recognize that there are aspects of it that I really love and really miss."

Miriam Toews grew up in Manitoba's third largest community, Steinbach, a town southeast of Winnipeg. Toews mined the town's Mennonite heritage for most of her novels, including her best-seller A Complicated Kindness.
You'll discover the roots of this religion at a visit to the Mennonite Heritage Village Museum. The church, school and homes on site reflect the religion's adherence to austerity and discipline. While you're there grab some plautz (a fruit-cake dessert) and take a look at Canada's only operational windmill. Check out the skateboarders and BMXers at Quarry Skate Park , a hotspot for Steinbach teens. In just 2003, provisionary liquor licenses were granted by referendum in Steinbach. Celebrate Steinbach's new era with a cold, frothy beer at the town's pub, Sawney Beans.

Carol Shields, Winnipeg's fiction queen
"You have all these intersecting networks of people. It's one of the things I loved about (Winnipeg) right away when I moved there..."

The Stone Diaries is American-born, Winnipeg-based author Carol Shields' most well-known novel. The fictional autobiography of Daisy Flett won a US. Pulitzer Prize and the Canadian Governor General's Award for fiction. But it's Shield's novel Republic of Love that captures the essence of life in Winnipeg. In it, characters Tom and Fay muddle through the pitfalls and peaks of finding modern love after divorce.
A real-life tour of The Republic of Love locales starts with coffee from a sidewalk café on Winnipeg'sCorydon Avenue. Stroll the same River Heights streets as Shields' characters. Chat up an affable local and test Shields' theory that everyone has a connection to Winnipeg.
Follow Wellington Crescent east to Manitoba's imposing Legislature. Built using Tyndall stone that's covered in fossils from Manitoba's distant past, the Leg is a grand edifice. Guided daily tours unmask the mysteries and myths of the historical building. The Tyndall limestone plays prominently in Shields' novel The Stone Diaries.
Later, contemplate your own life at the Carol Shields Memorial Labyrinth in King's Park near the University of Manitoba on the banks of Winnipeg's Red River. Labyrinths serve as a metaphor in Shields' novel Larry's Party. Shields' labyrinth opened in 2009, six years after she died.
Need a little more direction finding Shields' literary landmarks in Winnipeg and Manitoba? Take the Carol Shields self-guided driving and walking tour by local company Routes on the Red. The Shields' tour is a seven-stop adventure to many of the author's real-life locations. Click here for more information.

Gabrielle Roy, Franco-Canadian star scribe
"They used to call Saint-Boniface "the Saint" or the cathedral city because of its resistance movement. You could also call it a city with a soul."

Gabrielle Roy, who lived and taught in St. Boniface for the first 30 years of her life, is considered the most widely read Franco-Canadian writer. She worked as a freelance reporter, a member of a theatre troupe and a teacher before finding her true calling as a writer. Her novel Bonheur d'occasion was published in 1945 and won critical and popular acclaim. She died in July 1983. Her childhood home,Maison Gabrielle Roy House, at 375 Rue Deschambault in Winnipeg has been restored and is a provincial historical site. It is an invaluable look into early 20th century French-Canadian life. After visiting her home, make time to explore St. Boniface Cathedral on Tache Boulevard. It played an integral part in missionary work and locals have been worshipping at the site since 1818, where the original log cabin once stood. The cathedral burned in a massive fire in 1968. A new cathedral was built in its place but incorporated the original twin spires that remained after the blaze. Make sure to leave enough time to catch a boat taxi along the legendary Red and Assiniboine rivers, which both played prominently in Roy's life. For a little extra inspiration, take a self-guided walking and driving tour of Roy's haunts by tour company Routes on the Red. The half-day tour takes you to the heart of Winnipeg's French Quarter, St. Boniface. For more information about the Roy tour click here.

Margaret Laurence, Pride of Neepawa
"The town of my childhood could be called bizarre, agonizingly repressive or cruel at times... But never merely flat or uninteresting. Never dull."

Margaret Laurence is one of Canada's seminal writers. Her most famous novel, The Stone Angel, took place in Manawaka, a fictional village based on her hometown Neepawa. The novel's heroine, 90-year-old Hagar Shipley, looks back on her life as a wife and mother in this powerful and evocative tale about marriage, motherhood and aging. In real life, Neepawa is a picturesque town of 4,000 people three hours west of Winnipeg. With its immaculately tended homes and yards and gently rolling hills, Neepawa has been named Manitoba's prettiest town. The beauty of the town blooms during the annual Lily Festival held in July.

In Neepawa, visit the Margaret Laurence Home to see her typewriter, doctoral robes, correspondence and more. The museum is open from the May long weekend to September. (The museum hosts its annual antiques and collectibles fundraiser and sale on July 22 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Yellowhead Hall in Neepawa.) Laurence died in January 1987 and is buried in the picturesque Riverside Cemetery. On the cemetery grounds spot the stone angel, a Davidson (not Laurence) family memorial. 

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