On September 13, 2012 a new column debuted in the pages of The Journal. I had been working for the paper since March 2012 as circulation manager, and was fresh off editing the paper in summer 2012 while then-editor Wendy Coomber was on holiday. I was asked if I’d be interested in writing a bi-weekly column called “Golden Country”, which would focus on the history of the area but also leave room for some ghostly interludes.
I have no formal training as a historian, but I jumped at the chance, as I’ve always had a deep love of history. That was six years, or 156 articles, ago. Each one averages just under 1,000 words, so in that time I’ve written enough for a pretty chunky novel, all of it about the region of B.C. that I love and call home.
Over the past six years the number one comment I’ve had is “I love your history pieces!” I take the words as a compliment, obviously, but also as proof that people really enjoy reading about history if it’s done with love and care, which I try to do.
I also try to make it interesting. When I was in school, it seemed that history was presented in the most boring way possible. Events which could have been teeming with life and incident and fascinating detail were instead presented in a way that made the phone book look vibrant by comparison. That’s a huge shame, because as I’ve found, the life and incident and fascinating detail are all there, and you don’t have to look too hard to find it.
The number one question I get is “Will you ever run out of thing to write about?” Well, if I’m still writing this column in 20 years then readers can expect to see some repeats, but in the meantime the answer is “No.” That’s because whenever I start down a new road in the investigation of a story, I find other roads leading off from it, and think to myself “I must come back and check those out.” I’m like the narrator of Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken”, except that unlike that narrator I get to come back and check out those less-travelled thoroughfares.
There is also the not inconsiderable fact that history is not static, contrary to what many people might think. It’s easy to believe that since history is, by definition, in the past, it never changes: you can’t alter what has already happened, can you? No, you can’t; but new things have a habit of coming to light, and altering our perspective on the past. For example, this year’s droughts have revealed the traces of previously unknown and unsuspected settlements in various places in Great Britain, causing historians to reassess what they thought they knew.
And writing now about those people and places and events of our history that have vanished helps keep them alive. In 2014, after the houses at the Beam Station near Ashcroft Manor burned to the ground, I picked up my son, who was then an Ashcroft volunteer firefighter. He had been out all night at the fire, and he asked if I wanted to go up to the site.
Part of me cried “No!” The thought of those houses being gone forever — houses that I had first seen in 1971, and which were to me an immutable part of the landscape — hurt, like a punch to the gut.
But I said “Yes,” and we drove up there. We pulled into the vacant lot across from the Manor where the gas station used to be, and I looked at the smoking remains and wanted to cry. My son—who knows my love of history—said reassuringly, before I could say a word, “It’s okay, Mom; we saved the Manor and the Garbage Gobbler.”
Yes, they did. And while the houses of the Beam Station are gone, I—and others—can and will write about them, so that they keep living. That’s history. It never dies.
And on that note, I’m leaving you all in the good hands of former Journal editor Ken Alexander for five weeks. See you just before Halloween!