Canada is a fertile ground for scribes, and Manitoba has produced some of Can-Lit’s most unique voices. Readers and wordsmiths alike must check out these stomping grounds of four of Manitoba’s most prolific authors.
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 Steinbach, a town southeast of Winnipeg. Toews mines the town’s Mennonite heritage for many of her novels, including her best-seller A Complicated Kindness. Visitors will discover the roots of this culture at a visit to the Mennonite Heritage Village Museum. The church, school and housebarns on site reflect the culture’s adherence to austerity and discipline. While you’re there, visit the Livery Barn Restaurant for some plautz (a fruit-cake dessert) or kielkje (egg noodles) 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’s Corydon Avenue. Stroll the same River Heights and Crescentwood 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. In the summer, 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, where Shields taught in the English department from 1982-1995. 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? Fans of the author can take 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.
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 (The Tin Flute) 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. This address of her childhood home also lends itself to the title of another popular, award-winning work Street of Riches. Visiting this home 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 facade 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.
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 two hours west of Winnipeg. With its immaculately tended homes and yards and gently rolling hills, Neepawa has often been named Manitoba’s prettiest town. 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. 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.