Project Bookmark Canada’s CanLit Trail markers in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada – where real and imagined landscapes meet
Coming across a real-life setting, perhaps one in your hometown, that is well-known to you when reading a piece of fiction can make the story feel real and familiar. Project Bookmark Canada is creating the CanLit Trail by setting up exhibits in Canadian locations where imagined stories have taken place. The exhibits feature excerpts (up to 500 words) from the pieces of fiction or poetry. The first exhibit was installed in 2009. As of November 2023, there are 29 exhibits across the country.
I’ve discovered that two of these are in my home city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
The Republic of Love by Carol Shields
An exhibit at the northeast corner of Osborne Street and River Avenue recognizes The Republic of Love by Carol Shields. Part of the excerpt talks about the times protagonist Fay waits in the bus shelter at that corner.
Sadly, when I viewed the bookmark in November 2023, it had been partially defaced with red paint.
The nearby Gas Station Arts Centre, which was a gas station for over 60 years before becoming a theatre that stages plays, music, dance, comedy, and poetry in an intimate venue and also contains an art gallery.
Carol Shields (1935–2003) grew up in Chicago and lived most of her adult life in Winnipeg. Her work, centered largely on women’s lives and domesticity, won the Canadian Authors Association Award, the Governor General’s Award, and the Pulitzer Prize. She was named a Companion to the Order of Canada in 2002.
Strike! by Danny Schur and Rick Chafe
The exhibit along Waterfront Drive in Stephen Juba Park recognizes the musical Strike! by Danny Schur and Rick Chafe. The play follows the fictionalized lives of characters involved in the very real 1919 Winnipeg General Strike. In 1919 the area where Waterfront Drive now sits was Victoria Park. It was the site of many rallies during the strike.
The passage on the bookmark is from the first scene of the second act of Strike! It takes places in Victoria Park and features a heated exchange between A.J. Andrews, leader of the Citizens’ Committee of One Thousand trying to break the strike, and Helen Armstrong, staunch activist for the working class, in front of a crowd of thousands.
(For more information on the strike and ways to explore its history in Winnipeg, read Touring 1919 General Strike History in Winnipeg.)
Danny Schur (1966–2023) was a Juno Award-winning composer and music producer. Rick Chafe is a playwright/screenwriter and a Governor General’s Award finalist. Strike! won the Kobzar Literary Award and the Grant MacEwan College Kostash Award, and was adapted to the major motion picture Stand!
There is also modern-day significance to the location of this bookmark. The East Exchange District, in which Stephen Juba Park is located, is known as the theatre district.
Other Literary Excerpts
I’ve come across a couple of other locations in Winnipeg, not necessarily tied to a specific scene in a story, where you’ll find quotes from literary works by Manitoba writers.
Belvédère Saint-Boniface juts out over the riverbank along Tache Promenade providing spectacular views across the river toward downtown. Inscribed in the bricks on the ground of the lookout is a quote, in English and French, from Gabrielle Roy’s 1945 novel The Tin Flute. It reads “Where could you find a light to guide the world?”
Gabrielle Roy (1909-1983) was a celebrated French-Canadian author who wrote 15 books and received many honours, including three Governor-General awards. She was born and grew up in St. Boniface (now part of Winnipeg) and later settled in Québec. La Maison Gabrielle-Roy, the home she lived in as a child and through to early adulthood, is now a house museum.
Carol Shields Memorial Labyrinth
In King’s Park at the Carol Shields Memorial Labyrinth, you’ll find two stone walls containing quotes from her books. A labyrinth was chosen as a way to recognize her because one of her books, Larry’s Party, featured a protagonist who created garden mazes and labyrinths.
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