Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Filmmaker wants Winnipeg to hug history to its heaving bosom

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Winnipeg is not known for steamy, erotic fiction, but if Aaron Zeghers had his way, the whole world would find out about the city's best-kept raunchy secret.

Zeghers, along with Ryan Simmons, has directed a documentary, Born Out of Love, that explores the history of Harlequin books, the famous line of romance novels that got its start as a little Winnipeg business in 1949.

The publishing company was started by Mary Bonnycastle, wife of Richard H.G. Bonnycastle, who was the president of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce and the chancellor of the University of Winnipeg. Zeghers says the Bonnycastles were already well-known before they started Harlequin Enterprises.

"They were almost part of this old socialite class that existed in Winnipeg, this old money. In the society part of the paper, there were always references to Richard Bonnycastle coming or leaving, or about his marriage," Zeghers says.

After Richard died in 1968, his son, Richard Jr., took over, and built the company into the global powerhouse it is today. The books are still popular these days, despite what Zeghers says are stereotypes attached to them.

"One of the Harlequin editors in the film says, 'Even though publishing in this genre has this stigma, the good thing is the (authors) end up laughing all the way to the bank," he says.

Zeghers says few people know about the Winnipeg roots of the company, which is partly why he wanted to make the movie.

"It wasn't well known, and still isn't. Obviously the people in my life now know, but I think most Winnipeggers don't know.

"And Harlequin started the romance genre in a lot of ways in North America. There wasn't a female-dominated book genre before. The local history has kind of been forgotten," he says.

While researching for the movie, Zeghers says he contacted various local organizations in hopes of getting more information on the Bonnycastles, but no one seemed to know much about them.

"I was shocked that no one could talk to who Richard Bonnycastle was, because he was a very prominent Winnipegger for years."

Harlequin was co-operative with the filmmakers when Zeghers approached them; they even let Zeghers and Simmons attend a cover-photo shoot in Toronto.

"We were amazingly able to get full co-operation. They allowed us to use all the old-school covers and their logos, and all that kind of stuff," he says.

The film premières tonight at 7 p.m. at Cinematheque at 100 Arthur St.

Above everything, Zeghers said he hopes audiences who watch the movie remember a bit about their city and preserve the culture, so that it doesn't get lost again.

"Winnipeg doesn't view itself as anything so special. Often these local histories become forgotten, and I think it's very important to preserve these things and claim them as our own," he says.

 

oliver.sachgau@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 13, 2014 D3

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