Genevieve Graham: Making the Lesser-Known Canadian History Accessible

On November 18, Genevieve Graham, the Globe and Mail No. 1 bestselling author of Letters Across the Sea and The Forgotten Home Child, will be visiting Vaughan Public Libraries’ Adult Book Club via Zoom. Despite all the battles that the pandemic brought upon, it did teach us one useful thing – to embrace the virtual meeting space, where we get to meet Genevieve, who’s now far away in Nova Scotia. Please register here and enjoy an evening of good conversations with Genevieve!

Genevieve is known for writing about the little-known or much-forgotten Canadian history. The Forgotten Home Child is about over 120,000 destitute children shipped from England to Canada to be used as labour on Canadian farms and households between 1869 and 1932. The book has first made me aware of the abuse and stigmatization that these home children received. And her current bestseller, Letters Across the Sea, has introduced me to the anti-semitic Christie Pits Riot in 1933 and the suffering of the undertrained Canadian soldiers at the inhuman Japanese camps during WWII.

Those heart-wrenching stories have made Genevieve and readers shed millions of tears. But Genevieve’s writing has made the cruel, hard facts digestible as well. Genevieve reminds me of Pierre Berton, the historian who had popularized Canadian history with his light, fast-paced writing style, just all in non-fiction. We should know historical fiction is as powerful as non-fiction history books. In Genevieve’s words, “History itself is in black and white. It feels far away and cold. Bringing the colour of fictional characters into a well-researched point in history, essentially breathing life back into the history, makes the past real. It’s much more difficult to forget a story if you care about the characters, and so history is remembered.” She believes “historical fiction has a huge responsibility: we must teach the mind but also touch the heart.” And she has done this job brilliantly!

Other than the key events that her novels focused on, I also love the elaborate details that portrayed the historical settings leading up to the story arcs. For example, in Letters Across the Sea, I get to learn about the street scenes on the first day of the Great Depression, how an ordinary household looked like in 1933, and all other details that I’ve never heard of, such as the Lord’s Day Act. I can imagine the enormous efforts that Genevieve had put in her research and certainly want to hear more about this on the event day. In her other interviews, she did express her serious approach to research. She said, “Some facts can be elusive, and when I am unable to find them, I am forced to change direction. My characters are always fictional, but I will never try to ‘create’ history.”

To me, Genevieve’s life itself can also make a book. She’s such a fighter! She earned a Bachelor in Music Performance (on the oboe) from U of T, but her life changed direction when she developed an autoimmune disease (Sjögrens Syndrome) and it stopped her from performing. Over one weekend she taught herself to type and then embarked on a series of jobs in advertising and marketing. So, how she did she into writing? To all aspiring writers, you should hear this – she didn’t start writing until she was 42! Now, she’s a bestselling author who has published six books.

I’m looking forward to having a good chat with Genevieve and find out more. I hope you are, too! Register here and Join us on November 18, 7:00 pm.

About Heather

Heather is the Librarian II, Literacy and Readers' Advisory, with the Vaughan Public Libraries. Her job is to connect leisure readers and aspiring writers with the endless space of imagination and creation through words in all forms.

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