Thursday, 05 October 2017 11:57

New book tells stories of ranchers who lived on Grasslands National Park land

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Author Thelma Poirier signs a book during the book launch for The Grasslanders – Ranch Stories from Grasslands National Park in Val Marie, July 28. Author Thelma Poirier signs a book during the book launch for The Grasslanders – Ranch Stories from Grasslands National Park in Val Marie, July 28. Gail Peterson

The stories of the ranchers who lived on the land that is now part of the Grasslands National Park have been recorded in a new publication by award-winning prairie writer Thelma Poirier.


She will be the guest speaker at the Swift Current Museum's next Lunch and Learn, Oct. 11. The Grasslanders – Ranch Stories from Grasslands National Park is the result of a project that started during the creation of the park.
“It's the stories of the ranchers who used to live or lease the land that is now part of Grasslands National Park,” she said. “People who on a willing seller arrangement sold their contracts for leases to the park or their deeded land to the park.”
She was contracted by Parks Canada to write the book and she used information from countless interviews with ranchers as well as her own historical research.
“The interviewing and the profiles of the ranchers that I wrote from those interviews took place over nearly 25 years,” she said. “When that process was sort of finished and the park had acquired most of the land within the proposed boundaries, at that time there was a superintendent at the park, Katherine Patterson, and she said why don't we turn it into a book.”
It took Poirier over two years to write the 200 page book, which contains about 120 photographs. One of her challenges was to present all the information gathered over such a long period into a text that is not repetitive.
The book is meant to be a tribute to those ranchers who lived on the land before the establishment of the park. One of the intentions of the book is to tell the stories of these ranchers and their families in their own voice.
“In the book there are sections written in italics and that is the voice of the particular rancher,” she said. “Then what I did is I provided the background and the context for the stories and I did the research and so forth.”
Parks Canada was not planning to publish a book when they initially asked her to interview the landowners and leaseholders.
“They were planning to get information to assist them in the management of the land,” she said.
The focus of her interviews were therefore on the way of life on the land. She interviewed ranchers as well as other family members.
“I would also interview neighbours and friends, and most of them were long-time residents,” she said. “In all I probably did about 70 interviews. ... There were 24 ranchers that turned land over to the park, but I interviewed many more than just those.”
The interviews took place over a long period because the land was turned over to Parks Canada over many years. In some cases land was donated for the creation of the park, but in other cases the ranchers received payment for their leased or deeded land.
“I did have a ranch background and that helped a lot, because I knew where these people were coming from and when I asked them questions, I could anticipate that I might get the information I wanted from them, because I knew what questions to ask the rancher or a rancher's wife,” she said. “Sometimes we interviewed both a husband and a wife, sometimes only a wife, sometimes only a husband, and that according to what they wanted to do.”
The official book launch took place during an event in Val Marie, July 28. According to Poirier there has been a lot of interest in the book and she believes it will appeal to a variety of readers.
“I had nothing but a good response from those people who I featured in the book,” she said. “It will appeal to their families and to the local communities, but I think also it will affirm the ranching culture for some people who are from other ranch areas of Canada. ... So I think it will have a broad appeal. Wherever there is ranching culture, for sure it will appeal to those people. I had some nice response from some academic people too who phoned me. They think it will bridge a gap that's always been there. A lot of ranch culture books have been written that maybe wouldn't appeal to people who are not ranchers, but they think this one will.”
Ranching life and the landscape of southwest Saskatchewan have been prominent themes in Poirier's writing.
“I've always been passionate about the prairie, the grasslands, and the people who live there,” she said. “My parents were older when I was born. My dad had already been a rancher for 25 years before I was ever born. So I was born into the ranch culture and I grew up knowing the flowers and knowing the grasses, and the life of a rancher and a ranch family. There were 12 children, of which I was the youngest.”
She grew up on a ranch in the Fir Mountain area and later raised a family on a ranch in the same area. She and her husband now lives in the village of Glentworth.
She received a Bachelor of Education with a history major and then taught for about 10 years before raising her three sons on the ranch. As they grew up she returned to her teaching career, but eventually retired due to health problems and focused on her writing.
She has written fiction as well as non-fiction. Her writing varies from poetry to children's books, and she has edited five books about ranching life. Rock Creek Blues, a collection of poems about life on the grasslands of the Canadian prairie, won the 2012 Saskatchewan Book Award for Poetry and poetry is still a real passion for her.
She is currently working on a number of writing projects that are related to ranching life and her family history. One is a children's book that can also be a book for adult readers on ranch culture. Another one is about her story as a child on the ranch and a third project traces the roots of two families.
“Eleven generations ago my husband's French family and my mother's French family came over on the same boat from France to Acadia to the Maritime provinces,” she said. “A lot of people have done a lot of extensive genealogy on this, but what I'm trying to do is to explore and find the stories of their lives from the time they came to Canada until my husband and I, until our families ended up in the same communities.”
Poirier will speak at the Swift Current Museum's Lunch and Learn on Oct. 11, starting at noon. The talk is free and lunch is available for $6. The Grasslanders – Ranch Stories from Grasslands National Park can be purchased by credit card order from Grasslands National Park by calling 306-298-2257.

Read 423 times Last modified on Friday, 06 October 2017 15:20
Matthew Liebenberg

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