Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Reader's Diary #1114- Sandra Dolan: One of the Most Busiest Posts in the North

The town I grew up in, Twillingate, Newfoundland, peaked during my childhood at about 6000 people. Today, long since the collapse of the cod fishery, it stands at about 2500. I know it's inevitable that some small towns die. I can accept that. I can't, however, accept how many small towns across the country are dying at this particular point in time and how nonchalant everyone is about it. There's a reason so many great Canadian novels are set in rural areas despite the fact that the majority of Canadians live in urban areas: small town culture is valuable. It has something to offer. And since when is it okay to simply let a culture die? Surely not all of these deaths are inevitable.

Okay, that's my rant, a rant inspired with Sandra Dolan's One of the Most Busiest Posts in the North, A History of Fort Fitzgerald, Alberta. For those of you who don't know where Fort Fitzgerald is (and I think it safe to say that that's most of you), Wikipedia lists it at "17 kilometres (11mi) south of the Northwest Territories border, 23 kilometres (14 mi) southeast of Fort Smith." The article goes on to quote a 2008 census, stating that 10 people live there. However, another website I found used 2010 statistics, and it had slipped even further down to just 8. It's a far cry from the 1000 people who lived there in the 1940s and 50s, when the town could support a church, school, RCMP detachment, store, and even a hotel. It was, as one early visitor once remarked, "one of the most busiest posts in the North." Now it is not be hard to believe that in another 10 to 20 years, Fort Fitzgerald will be a complete ghost town.

Whether or not Fort Fitzgerald's demise was inevitable is not an angle pursued by Dolan (though at least one resident quoted in the book expresses bitterness about the government's broken promises of a better life in Fort Smith). Instead, Dolan takes a fond look back at the town's history and people. isolating any particular story or character would give a misleadingly inaccurate picture of a wholly unremarkable town, but together they present a warm, intimate picture with real people. I was able to get a real sense of the bonds and concerns of the former inhabitants and for a while I felt like I was there, laughing and crying along with them. A few year's back I was charmed by Sandra Dolan's Wooden Boats and Iron People, a history of Fort Smith, Northwest Territories. In One of the Most Busiest Posts in the North, she has upped the ante by including stories and quotes from elders and other former residents. The result is a highly personal and engaging history.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

It sounds as though Sandra Dolan has become the principal chronicler for northern towns. An important task, especially as they disappear.

John Mutford said...

Barbara: She certainly has the potential to become that, or at the very least, inspire other small town historians to do the same (Northern or otherwise). Apparently she was commissioned to write this book, and I'd say that whoever commissioned her got their money's worth!