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Author focuses on Canada's fur trade

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Irene Gordon said one of the highlights of her research into William McGillivray’s life was travelling to his birthplace in Dunlichity, Scotland.

Her new book, The Laird of Fort William, includes a few of the photos she took during her trip. One shows a stone church at which McGillivray worshipped until he sailed to Montreal in 1783.
Gordon said she was amazed that some of the landmarks that existed in McGillivray’s youth are relatively unchanged.

While her protagonist, who became head of the North West Company — the company that challenged the Hudson’s Bay Company over Canada’s fur trade — is relatively unknown to most Canadians, her historical research for other books led her to his story.

A longtime Headingley resident, Gordon — who writes under the name Irene Ternier Gordon — traces her deep interest in Canadian history back to her childhood in south-central Saskatchewan. She recalls reading novels by Manitoban writer Olive Knox that depicted western Canadian history.

"I like to know what people did in the past, how they lived," Gordon said, adding that most history books for children back then focused on American or British stories, not those of early Canadians living on the Prairies.

Gordon’s fascination with history led her to earn a history degree from the University of Manitoba. She worked as a teacher-librarian, and took early retirement after working for 15 years at Westdale School in Charleswood.

"I didn’t even have a clear idea of what I was going to do," she recalled, following a three-week trip to China in the fall after her retirement.

She began developing her writing skills by taking some courses. One of her assignments was to write a travel article about a local attraction, and she chose the River Trail at The Forks. She was very pleased to have her article published.

After that she wrote for a variety of magazines, the Headingley Headliner, and a school division publication. Through her membership in a professional writers’ group, she heard about a publishing company looking for writers for a Canadian history series. She eventually wrote eight books in this series that was designed for high school students’ use and adult readers interested in subjects such as Louis Riel’s grandmother Marie-Anne Lagimodière, the Battle of Seven Oaks and Grey Owl.

She found that doing the research for her books took as long as writing them, but she enjoys the work and is able to use her library experience. "I love doing research. I wouldn’t dream of hiring a researcher," she said. "That’s all the fun."

For her research on McGillivray, she visited the archives for Old Fort William in Thunder Bay, then spent three solid days in McGill University’s library. However, it was her trip to Scotland that helped her to fully develop an appreciation for the man who played a major role in Canada’s early development.

She will launch The Laird of Fort William at McNally Robinson Booksellers in Winnipeg on Nov. 21 at 7:30 p.m.

More information on Gordon is available at www.ireneterniergordon.ca

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