Handwritten letters spark 'element of joy' in digital age, as Regina store joins letter-writing challenge

Letters are a lifeblood for stationery store Paper Umbrella, making April's Letter Writing Month a natural fit to celebrate. This year, the Regina store got a special gift courtesy of the Civic Museum, which has given them vintage postcards of Regina to hand out for customers and letter writers to use.

Paper Umbrella is distributing vintage Regina postcards for people to use and send

Regina's Paper Umbrella is encouraging people to take part in Letter Writing Month — an international letter-writing challenge that encourages people to try to write 30 letters in 30 days. (Erkki Makkonen/Shutterstock)

In an age where everything moves at a breakneck speed, the very act of slowing down to put pen to paper and send a letter in a mail has its own charm and ability to strike a personal chord, say lovers of the written word.

"The moment you decide to write a letter, you have to kind of cloister yourself, find the right materials. You're sinking and dropping into a … slower mode of reflection and communication," said Theresa Kutarna, co-owner of Regina's Paper Umbrella.

Letters are, of course, the lifeblood for the stationery store, making April's Letter Writing Month — an international letter-writing challenge that encourages people to try to write 30 letters in 30 days — a natural fit to celebrate.

This year, Paper Umbrella got a special gift courtesy of the Civic Museum, which has given them vintage postcards featuring Regina to hand out for customers and letter writers to use.

"It was just like winning the lottery for a stationery [store]," said Kutarna.

See Paper Umbrella's owners discuss the letter-writing challenge:

She says she comes by the love of the handwritten word naturally, from her parents. 

"When I see handwriting of my mom or my dad, I feel this immediate connection to this tactile quality of their personality," she said.

"It's an element of joy that nothing else can capture in that way."   

It's not only Kutarna who finds the joy in seeing letters.

During CBC Saskatchewan's Blue Sky radio program on Thursday, callers talked about the power of letters to conduct long-distance love affairs, to wage political campaigns, to express heartfelt gratitude, and to connect with strangers in another country or even in jail cells.

'Cozy memories'

Lisa Dale-Burnett recalled signing up for a pen-pal program decades ago, when she was in elementary school. One of those pen pals was from Holland, and the two have stayed in touch since, meeting in person along the way.

"It brings me nice, warm cozy memories thinking about the letters I wrote as a young girl. We've been able to watch each other's families grow," she said.

Lisa Dale-Burnett, left, and her Dutch pen-pal, Karin Besuijen, exchanged letters for a long time, leading up to this meeting in the Netherlands in 1989. The two still stay in touch, a friendship sparked by the power of the written word. (Submitted by Lisa Dale-Burnett)

For Ruth Hill of Lucky Lake, Sask., letters are the main record she has from when she and her husband emigrated to Canada in 1976 from the United Kingdom.

"To stay in touch, I promised our families that we would write home every week, which I did faithfully for 20 or 30 years. And my mom kept every letter that I ever wrote," she said, explaining that now, looking through those boxes is like reading a journal of that time in her life. 

Ruth Hill has kept hundreds of letters sent and received over the years, the product of a long correspondence with her family members in the United Kingdom. (Submitted by Ruth Hill)

Unlike other forms of electronic messages, letters have a permanence to them — something tangible to touch and hold, to feel the actual weight of another person's regard. 

Lorne Scott of Indian Head knows that well. Last year, at the age of 71, he was beginning to see friends he hadn't had a chance to connect with in a while pass away.

"You always wish you'd thanked them for their friendship and whatever they were doing for society," he said.

Scott launched a campaign to write a note a day, thanking both long-time friends and acquaintances both for their contributions. The responses were impressive.

"I took one to a gruff fellow who fixes my tractor, and he was in tears," he said. Others have told him the notes are "one of the nicest things I've gotten in the mail."

In his former life as an MLA, Scott often received correspondence, petitions and form letters. But it was always the handwritten letters in envelopes that he'd reach to open first. 

"They carry more far more weight — because people make an effort to write something."

With files from Sam Maciag and CBC Saskatchewan's Blue Sky


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