From the Back Burner

As mentioned, there are going to be a couple of things to keep me busy in my “retirement” from the Cosmos: my Robert Service shows (see July 17), and a number of writing projects that I’ve had on the back burner for many years. There are three in particular that I’ve been itching to tackle, and that are more than just a twinkle in my eye. In brief:

Foster Memorial

1. A book about the Thomas Foster Memorial – For those not familiar, the Foster Memorial is an amazing structure, unique in North America, that sits just a few miles north of my current home in Uxbridge, Ontario. It was built as a mausoleum during the depression (1935-36) by an eccentric former mayor of Toronto, Thomas Foster, who grew up around these parts. He and his wife and daughter are actually buried in it, but it’s not just a tomb; it’s used for concerts, plays, even weddings. It’s always amazed me that nobody’s written a book about the building’s history, and illustrated it with gorgeous colour pix of its architectural features and interior mosaics and stained glass. So since nobody else seems to want to do it, I’m going to, with the assistance of local photographer Terry Paul. I need to find a publisher, though, so if anyone has any ideas…


2. Maquinna – This will be a play, a musical of sorts, set in Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island. In 1803, a British merchant ship was attacked by the local natives under the leadership of Chief Maquinna. The entire crew was massacred except for two, John Jewitt the armourer and John Thompson the sailmaker, who were held as slaves by Maquinna for more than two years. When they were finally rescued, Jewitt went to Boston, Mass., and then to Connecticut, where he published a book based on his journals.  A west coast author named Hilary Stewart, who has written a number of books about northwest native culture, published an annotated version of Jewitt’s Narrative in the late eighties, and it grabbed my attention as possible theatrical material for a lot of reasons. The set would obviously be spectacular, with totem poles and such, but it was Stewart’s epilogue, about Jewitt’s later life, that particularly appealed. Jewitt, who long dreamed of being an actor, turned his story into a melodrama called The Armourer’s Escape, and toured it all around the northeast U.S. until he died in 1821. I’m thinking that Jewitt’s play, which I’ll have to invent since the script hasn’t survived, could serve as a frame for the real story.

At any rate, I hope to have a first draft written by the time I visit Nootka Sound this fall. My niece Beth is the curator at the museum in Campbell River, and she’ll have abundant resources for me to plow through. Consulting with Maquinna’s own descendants, I want to make the sets and costumes as historically accurate as possible, have much of the dialogue in the Nootkan dialect, and even include a representation of their music. It should be a fascinating project, and I hope to convince some west coast theatre company, professional or amateur, to do a workshop production of it next year.

3.  The story behind the Bard – an annotated version of the Yukon poems of Robert Service – This project obviously grows out of my long love affair with the work of Service. The place, and the time period, about which he writes, are largely unfamiliar to most of his fans, and hopefully this book would help build even more fans. I would look at each of his Yukon poems in turn and do sidebars about particular geographic or historical references. I’d answer questions like:  Does the ice worm actually exist? How does placer gold mining work? How close does Service’s vision of the Northern Lights concur with modern theories about their origin? Was there a real Sam McGee?


Some poems would require only a comment or two. Others, like “The Trail of Ninety-Eight”, which is essentially a complete history of the Klondike Gold Rush in 108 lines of verse, would require a chapter in themselves. The book would be illustrated not only by historic photos, but by humorous illustrations from the talented brushes of Yukon artist Chris Caldwell. I’d probably seek a Yukon publisher for this, and if it works, I might do a sequel with Service’s war poems.

I should be able to fend off boredom with these wee projects, don’t you think?

2 Responses to From the Back Burner

  1. Lisa Borquez July 30, 2013 at 12:28 pm #

    Dear Conrad, I am so excited for you. You are on the right path, I can’t wait to see you perform. Please keep me posted, Your fan! Lisa

  2. Lisa Borquez July 30, 2013 at 12:29 pm #

    I look forward to seeing you on stage. All the best.

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