In 2007, I published a book that was a long culmination of research I had done on the 1885 North West Rebellion, a limited frontier war in western Canada, that while not lasting long – remains in the psyche of anybody who spends any amount of time thinking about our region’s history.
Anyway, one sees reviews come and go, but the book still sells a few copies. About a year ago, I got a really nice review from Larry Krause – a very talented singer and songwriter from Saskatoon – who I had the good fortune to meet at a Cowboy Poetry Gathering in my hometown of Taber, Alberta. He bought a book, took my card – and was thoughtful enough to share this personal review.
I picked up Prairie Warships at the Taber Cowboy Poetry event this spring. I finished it last night. You may note that I am not an avid reader. But the title, and our conversation in Taber peaked my interest and led to getting the book.
As I grew up between Rosthern and Fort Carlton, the whole Riel Rebellion has always been of interest to me. Our Sunday drives were often to the Fort as they were starting to do their historical excavation, prior to the reconstruction. I have a set of steel wheels that may well have been off a cart that was used to unload the Northcote. My Dad found a .32 pistol in one of our fields while working summerfallow in the 60’s. So the interest in your book was well placed.
Although not living on a river, they always were a fascination to me, and in the Rosthern area, I had the benefits of watching 2 of them. The steamboat era was also a thing of curiosity, which captured my interest. The background to the industry that you portrayed, gave an incredible insight to the times, and the people that struggled in that endeavour. The era was quite remarkable, considering the size of the boats and the technology that they developed to surmount, at times, insurmountable circumstances. To a farmer plowing with a team of oxen, the SS Northcote steaming by must have been an incredible sight.
Thanks to you and your book, there are numerous road trips in my future, many over roads that I have already been on, but looking with new eyes and insight. I know that I will never look at either of the Saskatchewan Rivers the same again, and that is good. I find myself monitoring the level on the train bridge in Prince Albert every time I go to work, thinking that the flow should still be good to clear LaColle Falls, and that they would need to swing the bridge in order for the Steamers to get by. For me, history has come to life.
I thank you for your book, and the extensive research that you did in order to create it. Very well done!
As a writer you become accustomed to the concept of Limbo “a vague place of oblivion–an uncomfortably anxious period of waiting for things to happen. I’m in one of those limbos right now.
A book will be published this spring. The thing is written, most of the edits are done – well, not quite. You depend on other editors who rightfully have schedules and problems of their own. So part of the process is — in limbo.
The photos are bought and delivered. Well most of them. Right now, I have been waiting upwards of three weeks for a disc to be delivered from another country, and I’m about to walk out to the mailbox and curse the Canada Border Services Agency again. You see, the agency I ordered from is in a city that is roughly 2.5 hours away from me, and the Archives there assures me it was mailed. But there’s a border in between, and these days, customs agents are a surly and suspicious lot. I’m sure it’s sitting on a corner of a desk holding up a coffee cup. So there’s 10% of my illustrations. In limbo.
I market some of my books directly at public functions like Farmer’s Markets, Cowboy Poetry gatherings or public speaking events. Nothing sells a book like having the author there to sign it, and I enjoy that. But a new round of such sessions loom, and I’d like to have a new one on the table. But it’s not going to be ready. Here I am. Limbo.
I’d love to be posting to blogs and social media sites to promote this book, and throw out teasers. I’d much rather be telling you about the subject of my book than talking about Limbo. The stuff is there-I even have two Facebook pages set-up to mass promote the book-simple cut and paste will do the trick. But there is no sense at all in alerting people to a book that they cannot purchase right away. Do it now – they’ll just forget by the time it’s released.
Now I tend to be a lateral mover when I’m doing something. I like to buy the board, measure the board, cut it, nail it into place, paint it and walk away. Done. No completion anxiety, fix it, forget it, move on to the next plank.
With writing, you don’t really work like that, but there are processes that are similar. First you have the idea, the spark, the eureka moment where you say “Eureka! No body has ever done a book on that!” So you sit down with that concept. You assess what info you will need, and you hammer out an outline or a chronology. You check the shed, see what material you have, and if you don’t have it, you go to the hardware store–in my case, a library, archive, museum or source–and obtain the board and nails. You ask the authorities–your publisher–if they’ll like your board. Then you go to work.
That’s why I like writing. It’s construction. Making something out of something else. It’s adapting, overcoming, improvising, compromising and conquering–all at the same time. I just need to go back now and again and put on a new coat of varnish, change the color or hang a picture on the board.
But right now, the boards are all just kind of hanging there. Waiting for someone to ship me the screws or for the battery on the power drill to recharge.
Limbo. I guess in comparison to other realms such as Hell or Purgatory, Limbo might not be so bad. At least, by definition of the term, you do come out of Limbo.
Now and again.
I should probably post this as a proper article, but as the Galt Historic Railway Park has already done this today, I’ll just provide the link. Thanks, Jason, for digging it up.
May 9, 2011
The Northwest Rebellion of 1885 was a turning point in relations between Canada’s First Nations and white settlers, particularly in the cattle country of southern Alberta.
In anticipation, the Rocky Mountain Rangers were formed: a volunteer militia composed of 114 ex-Mounties, ex-cons, retired military officials and working, militarily inexperienced ranch-hands.
Gordon Tolton’s book tells the story of a motley group of displaced soldiers and misfit cowboys who would become cavalrymen, intent on preserving their place in the Canadian West. The Cowboy Cavalry tells a gritty tale, where frontier mentality mixes with gunpowder, fear, corruption and gross media sensationalizing and brings to life an often overlooked part of Canadian history.
Hello, Good Day, Welcome and Howdy!
“Ranger Gord” is Gordon E. Tolton: historian, historical interpreter, author, and general all-around goofball – making the history of western Canada accessible to all.
I am a free lance author living in Coaldale, Alberta, a small town in western Canada, not far from the Montana-US border.
My specialties are the history of settlement: the fur trade, early farming, ranching and the organized farm movement, the North West and Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the North West Rebellion of 1885, and the political and military history of Canada and the United States. Naturally, I’m a bit western in my scope, and somewhat in my lifestyle. Blame genetics. I was born this way.
Religiously, after a long hard think about the role of faith, and a walk in the wilderness, I follow the basic tenets of the United Church of Canada. I believe the world works the way it does for a reason BUT I have a long hard policy of sympathy for those who wish to follow their own path of belief or non-belief. Freedom of worship, or freedom from worship is a freedom that is not only mandated constitutionally, it’s also a right hard won by our ancestors. You don’t make yourself taller by stepping on someone else.
I am noted as the official problem with Alberta. Politically, I am pragmatic. If it works, I’ll be for it, If it doesn’t I’m against it. The building of a civil society depends on consensus, and hitting someone over the head is rarely a good policy in building alliances or good legislation. A good settlement is better than a bad judgement.
I care nothing for the color of one’s political underwear. If you want my vote, or my support, just don’t piss me off, represent me well, and we won’t have a problem.
Represent me badly, make bad policy and I promise you, I will be Very Hard to Get Along With. Emphasis intended. Politicians are temporary servants of the public trust. They can and will be replaced — and I tend to vote for the Least Undesirable candidate.
“Always keep yourself in a position to be able to tell any one to go to hell.”
– George Lane, Alberta rancher
“I won’t be wronged, I won’t be insulted, and I won’t be laid a hand on. I don’t do these things to other people and I require the same from them.” – John Wayne in “The Shootist”.
Having said all that, I’m really not all that hard to get along with. I might even be likable. That depends on you. Be good to me, I’m your pal. If you treat me wrong – put on your rain slicker. It’s about to get stormy.
My brain grows younger as my feet and knees age, but as it does, I write books, I like hot chili, cold snowy days, loud guns, quiet people, new computers, old trucks, slow horses, and fast tequila. In upcoming blogs, I hope to display the books I’ve written and published, and share some of my experiences and my adventures in documenting history.