Lloydminster Source Review - Full Steam to Canada
Reviewed by: Katie Ryan
Adventure awaits 10-year-old Dorothy Bolton, the heroine of Anne Patton's latest novel. The Saskatchewan author taught elementary school in Regina for many years, before retirement launched her into a new career as a children's author. With several children's books to her name already, Patton stuck her teeth into writing 'Full Steam to Canada - a Barr Colony Adventure written at a grade 5 level.' When I was teaching, it was a really important part of my program to read quality children's literature. I noticed over and over than I couldn't find things set in Saskatchewan, so I (decided) in the back of my mind that I would start writing some things after I retired, so I did,' said Patton, listing 'Fiddle Dancer and 'Dancing in my Bones as examples. 'Being a primary teacher, I had in mind very short books, like 500 words sounded like a lot of words to me, but actually when you try to write a whole story in 500 words, that's not very many words. 'Some 40,000 words later, Patton finished 'Full Steam to Canada, which won the Saskatchewan Writers' Guild John V. Hicks Unpublished Long Manuscript Award. The new novel chronicles the Bolton family's journey from England in 1903, across the Atlantic Ocean in a ship packed with other emigrants on the Barr Colony mission led by Reverend Isaac Barr, and their travels by train from the Maritimes to the middle of the Canadian prairies, Saskatoon. And, fittingly, Patton is at the Barr Colony Cultural Centre today, to sign copies of her novel. The story, while historical fiction, is based on a true story. While teaching in Briercrest, SK, Patton met 89-year-old Dorothy Boan (nee Holtby) who at the young age of nine, travelled with her family from England.' She told me about coming with the Barr Colony when she was nine years old,' said Patton, who tape-recorded her interview with Boan in 1983. 'I still have the tape so I am hoping to play a little bit of it at the book launch. Because the experience was so powerful, it was just etched in her memory like it was yesterday, even though in fact it was 80 years earlier.' Patton rediscovered the tape 25 years after their interview and listened to Boan's recollections of her childhood and 'I was like 'Wow, this is the story I want to write about,'', she said. 'Of course, in 1983 I had never heard of the Barr Colony and there was no internet, but in 2005 all you had to do was Google Barr Colony and just massive information came at you.' Using several Barr Colonist diaries from the Saskatchewan Archives Board, including Bob Holtby's diary, Dorothy's older other, Patton began to piece together her story and even used exact quotes from [the] Holtby's diary.' Bob Holtby, who turned 19 during the middle of the journey, wrote a diary day-by-day on the ship - everything they ate, every little detail that they could imagine. He didn't mention his little sister, I guess she wasn't that important,' Patton said with a laugh. 'There were such vivid details about what life on the ship was like. (For instance) somebody had two retriever puppies just weaned from their mom, they're in my story. His diary is so eloquent, which I guess must be a testament to the education system.' Instead of sharing the Holtby family's journey to the prairies, Patton exchanged the name for the fictitious Bolton, but kept Dorothy as the main character - a tomboy, 'frisky like a pup' and eager for adventure.' She had come from this very strict upbringing at the Victorian era, her mother would have been aghast if she had any idea that her child was running around the whole ship, but she was too seasick to supervise her,' said Patton. 'I tried to capture some of that sense, I guess because it's my own family history as well, the sense of the restrictive life of Victorian England and how hard that would have been to be a young girl in it. That was my premise, what would happen if some young girl gets to taste this freedom. Well, you'd never go back.' I'm trying to give a portrait of British culture at that time, but I am doing it through the eyes of a 10-year-old girl. If Dorothy didn't see it or understand it, it can't be in the story. 'The sequel to 'Full Steam to Canada is already partly written, said Patton, who plans on bringing the Bolton family to Lloydminster in the next installment. But, it's not a history lesson she stressed. 'You don't really know exactly where your story is going to go. You have this cast of characters and sometimes they don't go where you thought they were going to go, they go somewhere else,' said Patton. 'You start typing and one sentence leads to another. The details of the journey comes from the diaries, but the characters, I am inventing this cast of characters. But if it said it snowed on April 29, then in my story it snowed on April 29. I tried to make that part as accurate as possible.'