Wednesday, August 27, 2008

An evening cruise on the Norweta

Pierre and I spent last night cruising Yellowknife Bay and Back Bay. Not an unusual circumstance in itself, but instead of bobbing along in our little boat, we plied the waters aboard the Norweta. A small cruise ship based in Hay River, NWT, the Norweta frequently makes its way across Great Slave Lake to Yellowknife, as well as up the Mackenzie River to Inuvik. The Mackenzie River cruises are particularly popular, attracting people from all over the world.

Last night’s event was a dinner cruise to raise funds for the NWT Mining Heritage Society. It was a great opportunity to visit with old friends, and to make some new ones. Cocktail hour was spent on the ship’s upper deck, while float planes took off and landed not far from us. There was a bit of a breeze, so we also got to watch sailboats gliding along, as well as the ever-present motor boat traffic.

After dinner below deck in the dining room, we were treated to quick history of mining in the Yellowknife area by Geddes Webster, a former mining engineer and public servant who lived in Yellowknife during its early days. Mr. Webster has carefully recorded his stories of Yellowknife, and the people who founded our community, in a book called The Prospectors' Pick. Needless to say, a copy now resides on our bookshelves.

Pierre and I live across the street from Yellowknife Bay, and have seen the Norweta slip past our front window many a time. Its movement is so silent and stately that we've taken to calling it "the ghost ship." I’ve been on day-cruises on the Norweta two or three times over the years, and appreciated the chance to go aboard again last night. The family that owns the boat is planning to retire, so have put it up for sale. No one’s sure what the future will bring for the little ship. It’s a part of our history, and like many other northerners, I hope it will stay in the NWT.

(The photo above was taken at the government dock in the Old Town; the one below was taken from our front deck this evening.)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Oxford on my mind

Ten years ago today, I was preparing to say farewell to one of my favourite places: Oxford, England.

I am a university geek. I probably should have been a professor, but that's not an option when you live a thousand kilometres away from the closest university. My first encounter with Oxford University occurred towards the end of my English degree with Athabasca University; a history prof and an English prof decided it would be fun to hold three-week summer courses in Oxford, so I signed on for the English course.

It was, sadly, a credit course, so I spent much time in my room labouring over my assignments. It occurred to me later that I needed to return and see everything I'd missed, so in the summer of 1998, I attended the University of Oxford International Summer School for six glorious weeks.

Five mornings a week, we attended lectures. We had four tutorials per week. The rest of the time, we read, wrote, went on tours (I think I saw four Stratford productions that summer), and explored the heart of the oldest university in England.

The best part was that I belonged to the university. I had a library card, so got to see the inside of buildings that were closed to mere tourists. One memorable day I sauntered into the Radcliffe Camera, a beautiful round building that is one of University's libraries, and ordered a book written by Julia Briggs, a professor who had delivered one of our morning lectures. The lecture was probably about Virginia Woolf (as was every second lecture, for some reason), but the book I requested was called Night Visitors, a history of the English ghost story.

Oxford is a national repository for books, and most have to be stored underground, because there's (clearly) not enough shelf space. So I waited as my book chugged up from the depths on a conveyor belt, then took it upstairs to read. Excited as I was to have the book in front of me, I spent more time staring out the window at the spires of neighbouring All Souls College than perusing Night Visitors. I've spent the intervening years trying to find my own copy of that book; I finally tracked one down on eBay a couple of months ago.

So 10 years ago today, the lectures had wound up, the assignments marked and handed back, and my bags were half-packed. Right about now I would be sipping champagne at a farewell "drinks party" in the Rector's private garden at Exeter College, before sitting down to the closing banquet in the dining hall.

Do I think about going back? Oh, yes. And guess what? They now offer a summer course in creative writing. :-)

Monday, August 4, 2008

Canadian Authors Association conference

Let's get in the Way-Back Machine while I reminisce about CAA's CanWrite! 2008 conference, held in Edmonton last month.

It was the first time I'd been to a CAA event, and I'll be back for more. There were great panels about the state of the writing/publishing/book-selling world and sessions on craft. Ralph Keyes, the author of the brilliant "The Writer's Book of Hope" was the keynote speaker. There were many opportunities to buy books by participating authors. (Too many, in fact. I had to buy a new duffle bag to get all my loot home.)

And then there were the "added extras." An open mic with readers backed up by the Raving Poets Band, a jazz-type ensemble. The music meshed well with the readings; darned impressive considering it was improvised. During the closing breakfast, "Nellie McClung" showed up to describe her shaky start as a author, the type of tale that goes down well with struggling writers. And then there was the young photographer who came in to do publicity photos.

Did I mention the food? University of Alberta Conference Services outdid itself, and I am still working off the poundage gained at the incredible buffet meals.

Everyone was very friendly, so it was a good opportunity for me to meet some new folks - especially those in our neighbouring province of Alberta - and introduce myself to others I have "met" via e-mail.

The organizers did a great job, and I had a great time.