Monday March 28, 2016

Katherine Govier on a century of life in the Canadian Rockies

Katherine Govier's new novel follows three generations of a family in the mountain town of Gateway, Alberta.

Katherine Govier's new novel follows three generations of a family in the mountain town of Gateway, Alberta. (HarperCollins Canada)

Listen 16:59

The Three Sisters Bar and Hotel is Katherine Govier's thirteenth work of fiction. It's a sprawling story set in Gateway, Alberta, in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, starting in June 1911 when an ill-fated fossil hunting expedition leaves a family missing and the town deeply affected. It's a gripping story that not only spans three generations of a family, but also examines 100 years of Canadian Rocky Mountain history.

Katherine Govier joined Shelagh Rogers in Toronto to talk about the book.

ON THE "SUBLIME" CANADIAN ROCKIES 

The Rockies at that time were a magnet for scientists, painters, explorers and map-makers, because to the European eye it looked like this new, uncharted territory. In Europe in the 19th century, there was this concept in art of the sublime, which held that when man encountered ferociously challenging physical and atmospheric conditions in life, they had a kind of enlightened moment. So artists were drawn there, because the air was so beautiful and the landscape was so beautiful. Coal miners came because there were mines to be opened. And even more than that I think there were people who just didn't fit within the constraints of their prescribed roles. There were these fascinating Quaker women who came up from Philadelphia because they didn't want to be kept in the household, and they came up and spent their summer in a tent and riding horseback, and they loved it! It was freedom!

ON A STORY THAT IS UNIQUE TO CANADA'S WEST

I wanted to write about the history of this place, the history of the people — I'm more interested in the people — but also the park itself. This was an area which was, very early in our nationhood, designated to be a kind of perfect Garden of Eden, a park set off that wasn't going to be industrialized or turned into a city in the same way that the rest of the country was. It was exempt, it was fenced off, and it was meant to be an idealized state. I think because of that, the human history in this park area has been neglected. Actually, there's not supposed to be people there really, but of course there were settlers who lived there who ultimately served the tourists and the scientists and whoever else came in. So there is a mountain culture, with characters and businesses and ups and downs, which I don't think has appeared in literature. 

Katherine Govier's comments have been edited and condensed.

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