Daughter of late Winnipeg writer revives long lost novel on 1919 General Strike

The daughter of a prominant Winnipeg writer and journalist has revived her mother's long-lost novel about the Winnipeg General Strike -- just in time for the hundredth anniversary.

Papergirl, by Melinda McCracken, follows a young girl as she lives through the strike

Papergirl was written by Melinda McCracken in the early 1980s. But it sat idle for nearly 40 years, until her daughter decided to dig it out of the archives and give it a new life. (L.B. Foote collection/Archives of Manitoba)

Nearly 40 years ago, prolific journalist and writer Melinda McCracken wrote a novel that followed the life of a young girl selling papers during the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919.

She died in 2002, leaving behind a substantial collection of published works.

But for whatever reason, that novel, titled Papergirl, wasn't among them.

That all changed recently, when her daughter, Molly, dug the manuscript out of the University of Manitoba archives.

Melinda McCracken was a Winnipeg writer and journalist whose work appeared in several publications across the country, include the Winnipeg Free Press, Toronto Star, and the Montreal Gazette. (Submitted by Molly McCracken )

"It's amazing because her voice just leaps off the page and she's very observant and an excellent writer, so just her use of language is very familiar to me," she said.

"She also had a great sense of humour and a sense of dramatic timing, and that's all in the book."

Life during the strike 

The book, which is now on sale at McNally Robinson, follows Cassie, a 10-year-old girl who sells strikers' papers at Portage and Main.

"There's this kind of surge of excitement as people leave their jobs and go out into the streets and go to Victoria Park to hear the speeches," says McCracken.

The book draws on details from stories about the strike passed down through the McCracken family. For example, Cassie's mother bakes baking powder biscuits to feed 1,500 strikers a day during the strike — the same biscuits McCracken remembers her grandmother making.

The book tells the story of a girl named Cassie, who is thrust into the centre of the strike when she becomes a paper girl for the strikers' papers. (Submitted by Molly McCracken )

"Those details that are in Papergirl, about how people lived day-to-day, are oral history from my grandmother, so that's really special," she said.

Cassie is picked to sell the strikers' paper at the corner of Portage and Main because her brother is a police officer tasked with controlling traffic at the intersection. Because it was typically boys who were given the task of selling these papers, the book also has a feminist message as well, McCracken said.

McCracken said she had known the manuscript was in the archives for a while. She says she was prompted to read it when doing research to get ready for the 100th anniversary of the 1919 strike.

She hopes Papergirl will give people a better appreciation of what life during the strike was actually like.

"If we tell the human story of what it was like during that time, you can relate to it, because they're a lot like we are today," she said.

"It makes it easier to understand the history than just receiving the history in the way of historical facts."

Papergirl launches Sunday at McNally Robinson at 2 p.m.

Long lost novel on 1919 General Strike

CBC News Manitoba

2 years ago
Papergirl, by Melinda McCracken, follows a young girl as she lives through the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919. 2:17

With files from Up to Speed and Cory Funk