What started out as an employment opportunity, has turned into a passion for Jane Stevenson, Economic Development Officer with the Village of Telkwa.
“I’ve always wanted to write,” Stevenson said holding a copy of her latest book, A Trail of Two Telegraphs.
Stevenson, first arrived in Smithers 13 years ago, after completing a degree in anthropology and environmental studies at the University of Victoria.
Upon graduation she took a job at the Bulkley Valley Museum where she started going through the archives, reading the letters and in the letters she learned about the local history and knew it was a history that had to be told.
“I felt it was really important to share some of the original images and original archival material with the public,” Stevenson said.
“That way everyone could own the stories, own their local history.”
She started writing in earnest in 2005 when she started her family.
The result was her first book, The Railroader’s Wife, Letters from the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, a collection of letters and images drawn from the archives of the Bulkley Valley Museum.
One thing led to another and Stevenson began writing for Northword magazine, different stories she gleaned from the museum archives, first about Smithers and then expanding out to Haida Gwaii and east to Prince George.
Writing for Northword magazine was a blessing, as the deadlines forced her to put pen to paper and to stay focused on the task at hand, Stevenson said.
“I think if I was trying to write a book without a deadline it would never have happened,” she said.
The archival skills she learned at the Bulkey Valley Museum allowed her to gain access to archives at other museums along Highway 16, material the general public normally wouldn’t have access to.
“I’m given a little more leeway and as a result I can discover these pretty cool stories and then I can share them,” Stevenson said.
Now Stevenson is enjoying the feeling of having her second book published.
A Trail of Two Telegraphs, published by Caitlin Press, is a collection of articles first published in Northword magazine and a few other stories.
Many of the original stories have been fleshed out, Stevenson said, thanks to feedback from readers who provided additional information or corrections.
The stories cover northwester B.C. from the 1880s up to 1986 when a Spanish olive jar was found off the Queen Charlotte Islands.
Stevenson said she tried to focus on unique places and unique characters from northwestern B.C.
There are stories about Captain Charles East’s efforts to recover Japanese war balloons during the Second World War, an armoured train that travelled along the Skeena and an American B36 bomber that crashed in the Kispiox Valley and about places like Doreen.
“They’re stories about places and characters,” she said.
The book also describes memory places, places that hold significant memories for area residents, something that the Smithers Centennial is generating among residents.
“I think it’s a really positive thing to look at a building and talk about what used to be there and tell your kids so that there is a shared sense of past,” she said.
Stevenson was born in Newfoundland and then her family moved to Kitimat.
Every summer the family would pack into the car and do a road trip, with her father making sure to stop at every historical plaque along the way.
“The trips could take months,” Stevenson said.
At the time, reading the plaques was a chore, but reading the plaques did have an effect.
“It helped me have a sense of place and an attachment to the north,” she said.
Despite the pleasure she feels digging into the history of the Bulkley Valley, Stevenson said her next book will be fiction, for one simple reason.
“I’m tired of verifying facts and double checking sources,” she said with a chuckle.
The book, still in the scribbled notes on scraps of paper phase, is centred around Kitimat in the 1950s.
Stevenson will do a reading from A Trail of Two Telegraphs, including a slide, at The Old Church, May 22 at 7 p.m.