Friday, August 25, 2017

Kamloops an "agreeable last stop for poet Robert Service

Thanks to the Kamloops paper The Connector, which published my article about poet Robert Service in their June 2017 issue. 1st photo shows the Service plaque in Kamloops. 2nd shows him about the time he arrived (credit Library and Archives Canada). Here's my article:

An "agreeable" last stop for Service

Submitted by Elma Schemenauer

Robert Service was a shy awkward thirty-year-old when the Canadian Bank of Commerce transferred him to Kamloops in July 1904. He was sorry to leave Victoria, but found Kamloops "even more agreeable."

In his autobiographical book Ploughman of the Moon, Service describes his time in Kamloops, which he characterizes as "a town in the heart of the cattle country, with a river running alongside."

He and other employees lived in rooms above the bank. At that time the Kamloops branch was located at the southeast corner of Victoria Street and First Avenue, where Brendan Shaw Real Estate now makes its home. A Chinese cook prepared meals for the "bank boys."

Service wasn't a natural banker. He was too much of a dreamer to concentrate on numbers. He wrote in Ploughman of the Moon, "I knew I was not suited for the job; yet I had no hope in any other direction, and I was intensely grateful for the safety and social standing it offered."

Banking was a welcome change after the years he had spent as a drifter, wandering minstrel, potato-digger, orange-picker, cowboy, and "cow-juice jerker."

Service was pleased with the bank's undemanding schedule. It gave him lots of time to ride his pony over the area's "rolling ridges, or into spectral gulches that rose to ghostlier the scenery of Mexico." He reports "meeting Indians, superb horsemen" and "making friends among the cattle ranchers. They gave dances in their lonely homes, and we (Service and pals) would ride back in the early hours of the morning."

Service also played polo in Kamloops, though he wasn't good at it. He says he "never could hit the ball with certainty."

What was he good at? Poetry-writing had tugged at his soul during his years of poverty and wandering. However, he hadn't developed his poetic gifts to a great extent.

As it turned out, Kamloops was the last stop on Service's road to literary fame. In the fall of 1904, the Canadian Bank of Commerce announced it was transferring him to Whitehorse in the Yukon. When other bank employees heard the news, they envied him. They had heard exciting stories about the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896-1899. The rush was over, but the thrill and romance lingered.

Service was sorry to leave Kamloops. He wrote that "life there had been delightful." Yet he felt a sense of destiny leading him on. He travelled to the Yukon with "an idea that a new and wonderful chapter in my life was about to begin."

It did. In the Yukon, Robert W. Service's gift for poetry blossomed like wildflowers in the brief Arctic summer. One of his best known ballads is "The Cremation of Sam McGee." It begins:

There are strange things done in the midnight sun

By the men who moil for gold;

The Arctic trails have their secret tales

That would make your blood run cold.

This grisly but entertaining ballad was inspired by a true event. Both the event and the writing of "The Cremation of Sam McGee" are described in my new book YesterCanada: Historical Tales of Mystery and Adventure. For more info about the book, which presents 30 historical tales spanning Canada and the years from the 1200s to the 1900s, please see .





Wednesday, August 23, 2017

"The schoolgirl, the ship-builder, and the Siberia-seeker" in Folklore magazine Spring 2017

Here’s a historical/biographical article of mine that appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of Folklore magazine, published by The Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society.


The schoolgirl, the ship-builder, and the Siberia-seeker


By Elma (Martens) Schemenauer


In 1925 my mother, Agatha, was a ten-year-old Mennonite schoolgirl in Russia. In that year she and her family, like a number of other Mennonites, started their long journey to Saskatchewan. The family left their village and made their way to Moscow, then Latvia. Here, in my mother's own words, is a description of their sea and ocean crossings.


"We boarded a small ship to cross the North Sea to London, England. It was a bit rough and cold. For me, it was a great adventure. There was a dock strike, so we were sent on to Liverpool. After a few days in that foggy city, we boarded the steamship Montclair to cross over to Saint John, New Brunswick.




"The ocean was calm and the voyage pleasant with no delays. For me, who could get around, it was exciting. For Mother, it was harder as Dad was very seasick, even delirious. He wanted to throw our visas overboard. There were other families we knew, so one of the men took all our papers for safekeeping.




"We were fortunate in that our parents had enough money for the fare, since they had sold all their belongings before leaving their home. Some families borrowed money from the CPR. This was hard to pay back."



My mother goes on to describe the family's early experiences in Saskatchewan. Like many other immigrants, they had relatives who helped them.


"After disembarking from the ship in Saint John, we had a long trip by CPR train to Rosthern, Saskatchewan. We were a little early, so there was nobody to meet us at the station. After we made some enquiries, a Mr. Ens, if to a relative, took us to mother's grandparents on a farm near Waldheim. They were Jacob and Elizabeth Epp, parents of my Grandmother Maria.



"My mother's Aunt Margaret (daughter of Jacob and Elizabeth Epp) and her husband, Peter Friesen, came to visit and took us to their farm at Laird, Saskatchewan. This was on December 17, 1925, a few days before Christmas. It was interesting to be in the lovely, large farmhouse. Going to a Canadian Sunday School concert was different, warm, and friendly.



"Sophie, the youngest child in the family of Margaret and Peter Friesen, was about five at the time. All that winter we played together—my two little brothers and Sophie and I. Dad and Mother worked for our keep."



Eventually Agatha and family headed out on their own.


"In the spring we were fortunate to move to a nearby farmhouse. While there, lightning struck the telephone wire, which had been cut and left bare. Mother tried to put out the fire with a wet cloth and received a shock. Then she threw water on the fire. I heard her pray for protection in this strange new land.




"I had missed school all winter. Stony Hill school was not far away, and this is where I walked with a neighbour's girl. To a great extent, it was she who taught me to speak English. School was not hard for me, seeing I had taken some subjects before.




"By the time we move to Glenside in 1927, I was the interpreter for the family. At least we could make ourselves understood among English-speaking people. Dad learned the language fairly quickly. Mothers stayed at home those days."



A horse named Slim was a useful, sometimes troublesome part of Agatha's school experiences.


"I drove a horse to school alone till my brother Jake started also. One morning when I was driving alone across a small neglected dam, the cutter (sleigh) got stuck and upset. Slim, the brown gelding, pretended not to hear my "whoa" and dragged the cutter to the top of the hill. Then he turned to watch me carry up his oat sheaf, the seat, my books, and my muddy sandwiches. We made it to school a bit late.




"Another time I got caught in a slough when the cracked ice kept the cutter from moving. Fortunately a neighbor heard my cries for help and came to my rescue. Slim and I had a few adventures. Dad said the horse was smarter than I was.




After a while we changed to a school where there was a better road. School was fun for me, even though the boys called me a 'Midianite' (their playful interpretation of 'Mennonite')."



Two years later schoolgirl Agatha and family moved to the Loreburn-Elbow area, near the South Saskatchewan River. Here's my mother describing this relocation.


"After two years, a friend advised us of a farm in the Bonnie View district, six miles west of Loreburn. In 1929 we moved there by wagon. It was a good district with very kind neighbours."



While Agatha and family were settling on the farm west of Loreburn, a less enthusiastic immigrant across the river was thinking of leaving the country. He was a farmer named Tom Sukanen. Tom had immigrated from Finland and wanted to go back. Nobody knows just why. The Great Depression, which started in 1929, probably influenced him. However, Tom seemed to have more mysterious reasons for wanting to return to his native land. Some people said he was afraid a great flood was going to cover the prairies. Others said he believed he had a mission to Finland.


Whatever Tom's motives, he chose an odd way of pursuing his goal. He had $9000 saved. This would have been more than enough for a train ticket and ocean crossing to Finland. Instead, Tom decided to build a steamship for the voyage. He planned to launch it into the South Saskatchewan River and sail it north to Hudson Bay. From there he would navigate across the Bay, out into the Atlantic Ocean, and on home to Finland.


Did Sukanen's ambitious but strange plan work? You can find out by reading his story in my book YesterCanada: Historical Tales of Mystery and Adventure.


YesterCanada includes the story of another unenthusiastic immigrant. She was an enigmatic young woman named Lillian Alling. Lillian arrived in New York City about 1925, the same year my mother arrived in Saskatchewan. Lillian was Polish or possibly Russian. She got a job as a housemaid, but after only a short time decided she wanted to go to Russia.


Her employers didn't know why and Lillian wouldn't explain. They thought she might have received news about relatives or friends being exiled to a prison camp in Siberia. Maybe she wanted to try to help them. Or maybe her former home was in Russia and she hoped to return to it.


Whatever the reason, the young immigrant became obsessed with reaching Russia. She saved every penny she could but soon realized it would take a long time to save enough for a steamship ticket. At last Lillian made the astonishing decision to walk to Siberia.


She started in late fall 1926. On Christmas Eve she reached Niagara Falls and crossed from New York State into Ontario. From Niagara Falls the durable traveller trudged across Western Ontario, Manitoba, and into Saskatchewan.


Sometimes a kind-hearted motorist stopped and offered her a ride. Lillian almost always refused. Occasionally she stopped in a village to buy bread, tea, and perhaps a few vegetables or a chunk of smoked sausage. On these occasions she never spoke more than necessary. If a store clerk or farmer questioned her about her destination, she replied "I go to Siberia."


Did Lillian ever reach Siberia? The answer is uncertain, but you can read her story in my book YesterCanada: Historical Tales of Mystery and Adventure.


YesterCanada presents 30 historical tales spanning this great land and the centuries from the 1200s to the 1900s. It's a 248-page paperback with 30 illustrations and a bibliography, ISBN 978-0-88887-650-8, price $19.95. If you're interested, you could ask for it in a store or library. Or you could order it online from Chapters Indigo, Amazon, or the publisher, Borealis Press of Ottawa. For more information, please visit .


Elma (Martens) Schemenauer was born and grew up in the Elbow-Loreburn-Davidson area. She is the author and editor of numerous books published in Canada and the United States. Her latest book, YesterCanada: Historical Tales of Mystery and Adventure, includes several stories set entirely or partly in Saskatchewan.








Friday, August 18, 2017

YesterCanada in WordWorks magazine

This is in the Summer 2017 issue of WordWorks, a magazine published by the Federation of British Columbia Writers. I'm pleased to see it, along with other recent books including Beyond the Floathouse by online friend Myrtle Siebert. Thanks, Shaleeta Harper, Ann Graham Walker, & others for what you do for BC writers through the "Fed."

Nice to see this in The Echo, one of our community newspapers here in Kamloops. Congrats, Rita. Keep writing!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

what's your book about?

What’s your book [or story or article] ABOUT? Why do authors find this question hard to answer? Why is it important? Good article here: .


Monday, August 7, 2017

review of book A HOUSE WITHOUT WALLS by B. L. Jensen

The author has a unique tone, often humorous and serious at the same time. She intersperses heavy-duty scientific and mathematical discussion with poetry, stories, and autobiographical references.


I don't pretend to understand the more heavy-duty parts of this book. One thing I do grasp is the idea that the author is making extended comparisons between creation and geological eras, and between creation and fetal development.


Here are a few of my favorite quotations from the book:


-"Whatever we go in search of, either physically or spiritually, is probably what we're going to find. Consequently, if God isn't what's wrong with things, but what's right with them, then always looking at what is wrong with the world probably won't help us to find him." Page 36


-"If one of my young children asked me Mommy, where did I come from? I would try to tell the child the truth from my own perspective but in terms that the child could understand...and any God of mine would be expected to do no less. Why complicate the matter with DNA, dinosaurs, plate tectonics, etc. when the child wouldn't have a clue as to what I was talking about...or a need to know about it at that point in time, anyway." Page 49


-"I would be hard pressed to argue against an omnipotent being, particularly after having spoken to him." Page 165


Mennonites from Russia to Saskatchewan

I'm a child of Agatha & Peter Martens, Mennonites who emigrated from Russia to Saskatchewan as children in 1925 & 1926. They told many stories about Russia & their new life in Canada. My 1940s novel Consider the Sunflowers is partly based on these stories. It’s available from Amazon, Chapters Indigo, & the publisher, Borealis Press of Ottawa.