History buff to visit Alberta in August – Williams Lake Tribune
Some of my readers may know that in August 2022 I am moving to Strathmore, Alberta, just east of Calgary. This move took several years and allows me to get closer to my family and above all to be more present in the lives of my four granddaughters.
Leaving the Williams Lake area, my home for 53 years, was a very difficult thing to do. For most of that time I have been heavily involved in a number of community activities, and it seems like I know everyone, or at least they know me. I love Williams Lake – it’s a place that has been very good to me, a place where I had a great career in education, where my kids grew up, where they attended and graduated, and where I still have many good friends. But, time has a way of catching up with us all, and the time had come for me to move on.
I had no intention of writing a history column for the newspaper. To be honest, I don’t have any training or any history lessons. My majors in college were biology and math. I was therefore quite surprised and more than a little reluctant when Kathy McLean approached me in March 2012 with the idea of writing a small monthly article on the history of the new Smart 55 section proposed in the Advisor. My first thought was “Why me?” – because although I had a real interest in the history of Cariboo, I had no experience in writing official articles and I did not even know how to type. Kathy, however, was quite persistent and convinced me to try it for about six months just to see if it would work.
So I started with a few columns focusing on the early history of Williams Lake, submitting handwritten pages which were then typed by the newspaper staff. (By the way, I still do it that way today – I never learned to type or use more than the two finer methods of hunting and pecking at the keyboard) To my surprise, the columns have were well received. People seemed to enjoy these monthly glimpses of the past. Gradually, the six months stretched into a year, then five years, then 10 years. During this time, many people have mentioned how much they love these chronicles and how much they enjoy the stories I tell. It was a really enriching experience for me.
I’ve been asked how I choose the topics I write about. Sometimes someone might suggest “Why don’t you write about ____?”, and I do, but more often than not the stories seem to find me. I’m going to drive somewhere and pass an old farmhouse or see a structure and be like, “I wonder what the history is around this place.” Or, I’ll write about one thing and come across one or two other related topics. Whatever the source, there is certainly no shortage of history in our region, and for over 10 years I have never run out of stories to write. Undoubtedly, some have been more interesting to readers than others, but the story itself is like that – some are boring and laborious, while others are improbable and exciting.
Over the years, two issues have consistently come up. The first is “Why don’t you write a book?” The honest answer to that is time and effort. Writing a book is so different and more complicated than writing a column. It’s a long and expensive process (especially for someone who can’t type) that requires multiple edits, careful annotation of sources, obtaining permission from authors or their estates, printing costs and publishing, marketing and contracts. I’m just happy to share short story snapshots in my columns without the extra work and stress of editing and publishing them in book form.
The second question is “Why don’t you write more chronicles on First Nations history?” I have tried to acknowledge in my articles the selfless support given freely to white fur traders, gold diggers and settlers by the local indigenous peoples. Unfortunately, this help was not reciprocated and the attitudes and relationships of our colonial development were generally negative and hurtful to those who lived in this area for eons. I don’t think it’s up to me, as a non-Indigenous person, to tell the rich, colorful and interesting stories of their past. These are not my stories to tell, and it would be presumptuous of me to try to document them or give them the justice they deserve. I often thought it would be great if someone with Indigenous roots could present historical pieces from a unique First Nations perspective.
I take this opportunity to thank all past and present local history writers and those interested in history who have preceded me. I would especially like to thank those who maintain the museums of Williams Lake, Horsefly, Likely and Quesnel for their support; the Williams Lake Library; Mrs. Anna Roberts for the notes and records of her late husband John; and all the old locals who helped me with their memories, notes and personal photographs. There are a multitude of historical documents, and I sincerely hope that they will be kept in a safe place and not thrown away.
I also hope that someone will pick up the slack and take on the rewarding task of documenting and sharing stories about our history. The story is interesting, full of twists and turns, and it gives us great insight into who we are, how our society has changed and developed. Finally, I want to thank you, the reader, for your continued support and encouragement. It has been a great privilege to deliver your monthly dose of historical anecdotes and vignettes.
Editor’s note: For all the Haphazard History fans, Barry didn’t leave us empty-handed. In fact, Barry left us with enough new columns to last the next two years. The column above is the 150th final Haphazard History column, but we chose to run now before Barry leaves the Cariboo, in case you want to say goodbye.