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Famous women writers from the North End

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Much has been written of the many famous and accomplished people hailing  from Winnipeg’s North End. But many may not know that some of Canada’s most famous and respected female writers came out of or lived in the North End during the first half of the 20th century.

Adele Wiseman grew up on Burrows Avenue. Her parents were Jewish immigrants from Ukraine and Poland. In The Worst of Times, The Best of Times, by Harry and Mildred Gutkin (also North Enders), Wiseman describes her home during the early 1930s as a "pretty little house, and the street was nice in those days, with a tree-shaded boulevard running down the centre."

Wiseman became close to Margaret Laurence when the newly-married Laurence moved with her husband Jack into the second floor of a house across the street from the Wisemans, a house owned by Anne and Bill Ross.

James King’s biography of Laurence says that she moved into 515 Burrows Ave. in 1947. Both young women were in their 20s at the time and, according to King, talked at length about their ambitions to become writers.

Although Laurence grew up in Neepawa, the North End also made an impact on the writer. In her memoirs she wrote that North Winnipeg in the 1940s influenced a lot of her life.

Laurence wrote the poem North Main Car in 1948. In it, a street car makes eight stops, each time letting on a character representative of the rich cultural and ethnic mosaic of the area.

The Wiseman family wholeheartedly welcomed the young Laurence. While in the North End, says King, Laurence first wrote for The Westerner, a communist newspaper, although she said that she did not know it at the time. Later she wrote for The Winnipeg Citizen.

Laurence moved with Jack to England and then to Africa, where she began to write her first novels, but she and Wiseman remained lifelong friends. Laurence wrote many novels, the most well known being The Stone Angel, A Jest of God and The Diviners.

Wiseman’s first novel, The Sacrifice, was published in 1956. It won the Governor General’s award the next year. She was 28.

Her second novel, Crackpot, was published in 1974. Both were set in Winnipeg and steeped in Jewish culture and themes.

Miriam Waddington, whose maiden name was Dworkin, grew up on Selkirk Avenue in the 1920s. Her parents were Russian-Jewish immigrants who came to Canada in the early 1900s.

Waddington published many books of poetry as well as short stories and essays. Many of her poems explore her childhood years in Winnipeg. An excerpt from one of her poems can be seen on the Canadian $100 bill.

Maara Haas is a Ukrainian and Polish writer who grew up in the North End. Her book, The Street Where I Live, grew out of her experiences there. Bess Kaplan is another writer raised in the North End who wrote several novels about the area.

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