My experience writing the Gill book has been surprising and quite wonderful!
Oh, there have been the usual nerves, disappointments, misdirections, worry, and insecurity, but there has been wonder and amazement as well, and fun. There has been so much positive engagement, and feedback and coincidences and so many of the 'small world' happenings that it makes me smile just to think of them.
Gordon's long time friend and "Number One Man" was Ernie Camsell, one of the well known and large family of Camsells in the NWT. Gordon worked with Ernie at NTCL and then hired him on with Northern Arc Shipbuilders as his first employee, as soon as he could. Ernie was a high school friend, a long time co-worker, and Gordon's collaborator in the Au.Nugget gold dredge. When Ernie died, too young, Gordon lost interest in the dredge and it was sold.
So imagine this scene at our first book signing (at Indigo South Edmonton Common this spring). Seated at the signing table, I was watching for people who showed the slightest interest in our posters or our book A Métis Man's Dream: From Traplines to Tugboats in Canada's North. A middle-aged woman walked into the store, glanced our way, then immediately turned to her young companion and said: "Look, they've got Gordie's book!"
Those words were music to my ears! I smiled up at Sharon, as her name turned out to be, and asked how she knew about this book. "I saw it on Beatrice's Lepine's blog, but I thought it was only in Hay River!" Well, I know of Beatrice and I was pleased she had mentioned the book, but it turned out that Sharon had no idea the book was for sale in Edmonton. She was only in town to see her daughter and on the spur of the moment thought they would drop into Indigo.
Sharon mentioned her maiden name, Norn, which turned out to be the name of people I knew and had worked with in the north, and so we had a nice chat about the old days and who had passed, and who was married to whom. You know. And then Sharon mentioned that her former husband had worked with Gordon. "Oh, who is that?" I asked. "Ernie Camsell" was her reply.
My jaw dropped and I grabbed the nearest copy of A Metis Man's Dream from the signing table and flipped it open to the photo of Ernie and Gordon (along with Number 1-A man, Glen Dersch) and showed it to Sharon. It was like a bolt of lightning, for both of us, I think. Imagine, a casual drop in, a look over at our poster, a question and boom, one of the most important connections in the book made larger by Sharon's unwitting visit. We immediately arranged a free book, and a call to Gordon. I still feel the glow.
At the Hay River lunch on May 10, daughters of two of the men featured in my book about Gordon Gill were pleased to see their families listed in the Index (thanks to Tracy for doing such a good index!) and referred to in the book. Bill Rowe's daughter told bushpilot Merlyn Carter's daughter about the time Bill and his partner Keith Broadhead hired Merlyn to fly them to Fort Providence, west of Hay River on the Mackenzie River. Apparently they were all surprised when Merlyn landed them at Fort Resolution, which is east of town, about the same distance. And knowing Bill Rowe, Merlyn would have heard about that for a long, long time!
There were a lot of good stories told at the get together.
The annual Hay River get together lunch in Edmonton was held May 10th with something like 75 people there. It was so fun to connect or reconnect with former clients, and workmates, and often the children of clients and friends. Thank you Jim DeLancey for the invitation to attend and to bring some books to sell. So energizing and fun!
I am thinking of the folks in Hay River and KFN across the river as they have had to evacuate due to terrible wildflowers. Good luck and best wishes.
An evocative painting by Victoria artist Laura Harris (Laura Harris Studio) graces the cover of A Métis Man’s Dream. Her painting "It's Like Searching for Gold" feels like it was meant to be the cover, but like much else in the writing and publishing of this book, fate, coincidence, or synchronicity played its part.
When the book about Gordon Gill, Métis Shipbuilder, was being prepared for printing, the publisher came up with three proposals for the cover. They all seemed a collage of modern symbols in soft blues and reds, and frankly, to me, quite nondescript. After rejecting those suggestions, I received an email from Canada House gallery in Banff, Alberta.
Featured in the email, and then examined in more detail on a personal visit was a series of abstract paintings by Laura Harris. One colourful combination of yellows, oranges, and browns with what looked like billowing white clouds above, captured my attention.
The longer I studied it, the more I re-thought how to approach the cover for Gordon Gill's story. The painting itself is modern, and abstract, the texture deep and intriguing and ethereal. It was just the opposite of a detailed biographical history in many ways.
Laura’s painting lured me along a mysterious passage way, toward a white fog-shrouded river, and into the unknown, so appropriate for a book about northern tugboats and arctic mists, and exploring deeper into Gordon’s story.
When I showed the image to my collaborator and advisor, Loretta Bertol, she immediately saw…a ship in the mist, which I had not seen myself.
We presented the idea to Gordon and he loved it, not because of the passage way into the unknown which I saw, or Loretta’s ship in the distance, but because, as he said right after looking at the painting, “The birchbark, that's a great idea!”
Gordon went on to explain how important birchbark was to Indigenous peoples in the bush and to him in particular. Not only was it a material used for baskets and decorative work by his relatives and ancestors, so too was it used for making canoes, and other vessels and in Gordon’s case, crafting moose callers. In one of the photos of Gordon we didn't use in the book, he is standing in the bush, a big section of rolled up birchbark - his “Texas Moosecaller” - held to his lips, looking like an old town crier making announcements in a square.
Then I sought the opinion of others, 6 or 7 all told, and always with the question… “I am thinking of using this for the cover of A Metis Man’s Dream; what do you see?”
Everyone liked Laura’s vibrant and mysterious image and the glorious colours, of course and the deeply grained texture.
But as to what they saw, ah, well that was another matter altogether. One friend said immediately, “Oh, I can see the canoe”. Another saw a tugboat and another a sailing ship. Still another knew quickly that the painting was of power lines crossing a deep forest, and another saw the outlines of a small town in the mist.
Yet another saw brown dry ranch lands rising into a bank of cloud held in place by the Rocky Mountains of Western Alberta.
That was enough for me. Even today, the painting draws me in. Gordon has the original painting by Laura Harris, although I suggested I was intended to be the buyer. Gordon has prevailed. So far.
And as to the title of the painting “It’s Like Searching for Gold”?
As you will see in the book, Gordon spent significant time searching for gold himself, both figuratively and literally. It was an important part of his life, his hobby. One of the book’s photos shows Gordon with Chief Antoine and a front-end loader searching for gold near Lillooet in the Fraser Valley country of south west British Columbia. Another reveals the Gill-built gold dredge operating on the Liard River below the outflow of the famous, apparently gold rich and deadly, Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories.
How could we not use Laura's wonderful image?
It's all there, all in one painting.