Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/8/2018 (521 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Gimli-born, Winnipeg-raised writer W.D. Valgardson has published novels, short-story collections, poetry and even books for kids over his long career.
But In Valhalla’s Shadows, released this summer, is Valgardson’s first mystery novel.
He will be launching it Wednesday night at McNally’s as part of the Winnipeg International Writers Festival’s Fall Literary Series with Stefan Jonasson. The event is also sponsored by Icelandic community newspaper Lögberg-Heimskringla.
FP: What do you want people to know about In Valhalla’s Shadows?
Valgardson: I want them to know many things. The RCMP has serious problems because of the military structure that is at its foundation. Male, rigid, sexist. The costs to society are high, but the cost to the members is higher. Successive attempts at substantial change have failed so far. The same is true for our military and first responders. The number of suicides and mental breakdowns are astounding. That is just one issue I tried to deal with inside a murder mystery. Our communities, not just our cities, but even the smallest communities, are fraught with tragedy because of illegal drugs. I believe that stability and happiness depend on a basis of knowledge of who we are. When who we are is taken away from us, the underpinning of pride and respect crumbles and is often replaced by an identity that is destructive. There may well be problems with the Ten Commandments, but are Jordan Peterson’s 12 rules more likely to help people prosper and be happy? Will joining a gang rather than a church or an ethnic organization lead to happiness? The most shocking case we have is the deliberate destruction of the identity of Aboriginal people across Canada. The results are all around us.
FP: What are your goals for this book?
Valgardson: I would like it to succeed as a mystery, but I would like it to do more than that. I hope it deals with PTSD, with the relationship of the RCMP and the communities they police, with the need to belong, to have an identity beyond oneself. There were about another hundred pages but I cut them. They slowed down the book too much. In them, I tried to deal with the question of diversity. We have a PM who keeps saying diversity is our strength, which it has become, but only because 100 years of learning how to live together have passed. We’ve had to learn how to become Canadian. Read back copies of the Free Press and see how vociferous editorial writers were against Ukrainians. Japanese internment. Ukrainian internment. Internment of German Canadians. The barring of black people emigrating from (the United States) to Alberta. The unbelievable exploitation of the Chinese. There are costs to diversity, but we have to learn how to be Canadian. Valhalla, in spite of its name and origin, is a mix of people of various backgrounds. Like most Canadian towns are.
FP: You’ve lived in Victoria for many years but still return to Gimli in the summers and in your fiction. What is it about the Icelandic community in Manitoba you find so generative?
Valgardson: I grew up in Gimli. In the ’40s and ’50s, it was a very small town, only set apart from other similar small towns, Riverton, Arborg, Lundar, etc., by it having had the good fortune of the (Second World War) airbase built (a few kilometres) out of town. That created a unique culture. It was still very Icelandic. Icelandic was not just a kitchen language but was spoken in business establishments, on the street, in the church. Summer campers had started coming just about right away after the railway arrived in 1906. That’s why I’m here. My mother’s parents had a cottage built at Gimli and hired my father’s father. My mother’s parents both came from Ireland, my grandfather before (the First World War) and my grandmother after (the First World War). The Ukrainians had started arriving at the beginning of the 1900s. The Icelanders had first arrived in 1875 and 1876 and had taken up land along Lake Winnipeg so they could fish. The Ukrainians had to go west into the swamps and gravel ridges, however. By the time I arrived in 1939, Ukrainians had moved into town. Many cottagers were Jewish. This created opportunities but also tensions. Brawls over men courting, flirting with women not in their particular group, were common. As a kid, I found the mix fascinating. We got ballroom dance lessons from a couple of Air Force trainee pilots, danced the polka at the Farmer’s Hall, ate vinarterta and skyr, learned a few words of Yiddish. And made friends.
Islendingadagurinn (the Iclandic Festival of Manitoba) seems to be the focal point for many of the people, who, like me, return year after year. I’ve come every summer except one since 1957. The lake, the beach, the berry picking, the pickerel fillets, the hot summer days, but most of all, the people. There is a culture and it isn’t just "Icelandic Canadian" culture. It is the culture created by all these people.
FP: Your main character, Tom Parsons, is ex-RCMP and recently separated. Throughout this book, he seems to be trying to combat the loneliness that seems has been his lot in life, but also seeking it out. What does loneliness do to people do you think?
Valgardson: People die from loneliness. The lack of social connections often leads to alcoholism, drug use, makes a person more and more non-functional, leads to suicide. I think it takes away security and hope. It takes away a sense of community and the ability to identify with others. People often pay a great price not to be lonely, join inappropriate groups, groups that exploit them. Group identity creates security, whether it is religious or secular. One of the terrible effects of bullying in school is that it blocks an individual’s ability to be part of a group and to learn social skills. More than once, Tom is mentioned as watching the world go by from his parents’ apartment window. He fears he could become like the homeless people he sees on the street. He wishes he belonged to a large family, so that there were doors that would open to him, places where he had the security of knowing that he was always welcome. It is why it is so painful to him when he sees various people who have no place.
Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer.