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Archive for the 'Kingston, ON' Category

June 12th, 2014 • Posted in Kingston, ON

Everyone is a literary tourist…

Pretty well everyone is interested in something. Sure the degrees of intensity may vary…but most of us have a passion for one thing or another. And a good percentage of people read books about their chosen passions. With this in mind it’s not a stretch to say that everyone has the potential to be a literary tourist.  And this is what those who work in tourism product development should keep in mind as they rack (okay wrack) their brains for new ways to attract visitors.

Take Kingston, Ontario, for example. This beautiful old (by Canadian standards) city is home not only to the first book ever published in Canada (St. Ursula’s Convent or the Nun of Canada)

but also the first cook book. According to Library and Archives Canada The Cook Not Mad was issued by Kingston editor, publisher and book importer James Macfarlane in 1831. “It is, in fact, an exact copy of an American book of the same name, with changes only to the cover, and the title and copyright pages. As the Preface says, these were “good Republican dishes,” including Washington Cake and Jackson Jumbles.”

Developing and displaying a collection of old Canadian cook books, with The Cook Not Mad as its centrepiece could help Kingston to attract a whole new audience of foodies, over and above us hardcore Bibliophiles.

December 17th, 2013 • Posted in Kingston, ON

Why go to Kingston in February?

…to snuggle up ‘under the bright lights of some of the most recent additions to Canada’s literary firmament’ of course.  Where? At ‘An Afternoon with the Governor Generals’, February 2, 2014, from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm, at the Holiday Inn Kingston Waterfront..

Moderated by Jared Bland, the books editor for the Globe and Mail, this Kingston WritersFest event will feature these authors (and their books):

Carolyn Abraham.  The Juggler’s Children meshes memoir and journalism: the family history of her adventurous great-grandfathers and the analysis of her own DNA, and was Carolyn’s second nomination for the GG for non-fiction. She is the senior medical reporter at the Globe and Mail.

Kenneth Bonert. Debut novel, The Lion Seeker, was nominated for the 2013 GG for fiction. Set between the World Wars in South Africa, it follows the life of a young Jewish immigrant, Isaac, as he struggles toward manhood. The Lion Seeker was the only title on the 2013 Knopf Random House’s “New Face of Fiction” list.

Katherena Vermette North End Love Songs is an ode to Winnipeg’s North End – a neighbourhood she has called home for much of her life and where she lives with both love and lossThis first collection won the 2013 GG for poetry.

‘Bask in the glow of great writing and warm conversation’

December 6th, 2013 • Posted in Kingston, ON

Big Doings in Literary Kingston

Kingston WritersFest has just announced the appointment of Barbara Bell as the new Artistic Director of  this, one of Canada’s signature readers and writers festivals. According to the news release:

“Barbara has been with the Festival since its professional launch in 2009, starting as Festival Producer and becoming Associate Director in 2013, when she was responsible for putting together the lineup that produced the Festival’s largest audience yet. A well-known local actress, playwright, and film producer, she was host/producer of TVCogeco’s Page Turners Book Club and worked for years as a bookseller and library assistant, developing an intimate understanding of Kingston’s reading and writing community.

“Barbara is a highly skilled, creative woman with a boundless love of books and a longstanding commitment to the Festival. She is the perfect choice to lead the Festival into the future,” says Merilyn Simonds, who is stepping down as the Festival’s founding Artistic Director to resume her writing career. She will continue as Fund Development Manager and Consultant.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Merilyn over the past several years. The impact that she has had on Kingston, this festival and the Canadian literary landscape in general is tremendous.  She is a cyclonic force for good in literature, and it’s great to know that she will continue to be involved in WritersFest.  To learn more about this new developments, visit www. . And best of luck to Susan!

Please stay tuned for Biblio File interviews conducted with a number of this past September’s Festival stellar participants (delayed, I apologize, due to literary ramblings around Wales and Peterborough).


November 6th, 2013 • Posted in Kingston, ON

Kingston, Coetzee and Serendipity

Synchronicity may not circle around the heads of book-lovers any more than it does around those of others – but at times it sure seems to.  Perhaps it’s because books are filled with so many associations.

Anyhow. Taking a break from interviewing authors at Kingston WritersFest last month I stepped out for a stroll up Princess Street, and a chat with Walter at Wayfarer Books.  Browsing the Canadian fiction section I ran into someone who collects Governor General’s  Literary Award winners, as I do.  Turns out we know each other, but neither of us could remember from where. During our conversation about gaps and duplicates, other collecting interests were mentioned, including J.M. Coetzee. After parting company I continued browsing the shelves and damned if I didn’t find a first edition of Disgrace (Biddles, no Booker mention on the jacket). It cost me $10. Yes, this is that kind of shop.

Walking back

from the W.D. Jordan Special Collection Library after taking in 125 Years of Canadian Literature

(a visually rich exhibition

curated by Dr. Shelley King, that traces the history of Queen’s University’s English Department through a collection of important related books. You can see it online here) to the WritersFest, with no firm route in mind, I found myself standing in front of

the Belvedere Hotel,  where, two years ago I’d met Coetzee. He’d agreed to sign several arm-fulls of books I’d collected. It was at once one of the most memorable and discombobulating encounters I’ve ever experienced in my life.  Andre Alexis gets closest to describing it in his novella, A, when its protagonist Alexander Baddeley meets his idol Avery Andrews:

“On learning that he had found Avery Andrews, the emotions that coursed through him were myriad, contradictory, and sharply experienced. He felt excitement, wonder, fear, confusion, guilt, deference, arrogance, and disbelief. And each emotion must have imposed itself on his face.”

I talk to Alexis about this encounter in an upcoming Biblio File conversation. Please stay tuned for it and interviews with Margaret Atwood, Alberto Manguel, David Mason and other Kingston WritersFest attendees. They’ll all be up  soon. As soon that is, as this Literary Tourist website gets its new, exciting makeover. 

October 5th, 2013 • Posted in Kingston, ON

How a hymn book answered a prayer

I had the chance, while down in Kingston recently for the Kingston WritersFest, to meet with book designer and now memoirist Laurie

Lewis. She signed these books of hers for me, and kindly gave me this one:

Here’s what she has to say about

it in her just released memoir Love and All the Jazz (of which Sheree-Lee Olson, author of Sailor Girl says, ” [it] deftly exposes the pill-popping, booze swirling underbelly of Madmen-era New York and celebrates the determination of a young single mother to make a life for herself and her child”):

“…while I was working at U of T Press, I was involved in the production of the United Church/Anglican Church Hymn Book, a huge undertaking. The finished book would be over nine hundred pages. The production required music typesetting in Germany, text in Canada, a special paper manufactured by E. B. Eddy to be strong, thin, and as opaque as possible. Allan Fleming took on the design work while at the same time working on the Canada Post committee for redesigning postage stamps, as well as designing a new logo for Grey Coach bus company and several other freelance projects. He was a brilliant designer and a very busy one. Rushing towards his first heart attach, which was only a few months away, waiting for him in Halifax.

The Hymn Book would have to be dummied, page by page, music and words, with a complex set of conditions and standards. The committee gave me the job of preparing the layouts of those 900 pages. This was work I was happy to accept, setting up everything at my drawing board at home, beside a window looking out into my back yard garden. Every evening, every weekend. I made the decision that 1971 would be the year that I had no summer, just work. I had stipulated to the committee, through Allan, that I didn’t want partial payments, just the entire fee when the job was complete. The total would be about four thousand dollars, an amount I would never have been able to save from my salary, which got eaten up every month with rent and utilities, and food, and clothes. This would give us a nest-egg, the first ever.”

September 29th, 2013 • Posted in Kingston, ON

Kenneth Grahame at the Kingston WritersFest

Alberto Manguel and David Mason shared thoughts on stage yesterday, at a Kingston WritersFest event, about their mutual love of reading.  During the conversation Mason mentioned that he liked to read Wind in the Willows every year or two; Manguel agreed that this too was one of his favourite books.

After the session I took a break and drove out along Lake Ontario to enjoy the autumn sunshine and take a gander at some ducks…okay geese.  

Watching them

I was reminded of Ratty who, when sitting by the river bank in the sun one afternoon made up a song which he called


All along the backwater,
Through the rushes tall,
Ducks are a-dabbling,
Up tails all!

Ducks’ tails, drakes’ tails,
Yellow feet a-quiver,
Yellow bills all out of sight
Busy in the river!

Slushy green undergrowth
Where the roach swim–
Here we keep our larder,
Cool and full and dim.

Everyone for what he likes!
WE like to be
Heads down, tails up,
Dabbling free!

High in the blue above
Swifts whirl and call–
WE are down a-dabbling
Up tails all!


One wasn’t too hard.

Two was a little more difficult.

Three was a real challenge.

‘Up tails all’, was next to impossible.

April 20th, 2013 • Posted in Kingston, ON

So many choices for the Literary Tourist

One of the joys of being a well-rounded bibliophile is that the contents of a book, the appeal of its container, the biography of its author, and the history and provenance of its ownership are all of interest.  These sources of pleasure can play themselves out in unexpectedly pleasing ways if this well-rounded bibliophile happens also to be a Literary Tourist.

One small example. I’ve been looking at Kingston, Ontario lately.  Each September it hosts one of the most exciting events on the Canadian literary calendar. This is an obvious draw for the literary tourist. So are the downtown used/antiquarian bookstores, so is the special collections library at Queen’s University.

But did you know that there are at least two active private presses at work in Kingston? I interviewed Margaret Lock several years ago for The Biblio File. Her books are widely admired and collected in Canada and around the world. And! Margaret is an acclaimed teacher. She puts on letterpress workshops in Kingston at various times throughout the year. 

Hugh Barcley began work as a book artist with The Poole Hall Press in the seventies. He’s still at it with his Three HellBox Press, currently printing an edition of these beautiful-looking books:

Buy your copy here.   Even better, make a phone call, and plan to visit.

Just as one good book leads to another, so, with a little digging, the well-rounded Literary Tourist can find all sorts of interesting things to do when searching for a new destination to explore.

October 6th, 2012 • Posted in CITIES, Kingston, ON, Literary Destinations

The Best a Writers Festival can offer

Last weekend I attended an event that exemplified the best of what writers festivals have to offer. The moderator Carol Off was witty and cheerful. She quickly established a good rapport with her audience, set exactly the right tone, and deftly framed the parameters of discussion in a way that ensured an entertaining, stimulating exchange of ideas. Conditional this, however, on three panelists who were well informed, engaged, and at turns funny, profound and playful. 

Here are a few notes:

Did you Know: Off has reported, on and off over the years, from some 40 countries, and many war-zones around the globe? Good training for writer event moderation.

Word has it, Off tells us, that one day in high school, Michele Lansberg, while (I’d prefer to use the word ‘whilst’ here, but Martin Amis wouldn’t approve) up in front of the principal being disciplined, struck a match on her jeans’ zipper and nonchalantly lit an Export A.

Jamie Swift, a journalist reknowned for outstanding radio work, talks about: myth and how it makes sense of chaos; and the death of peacekeeping; and the Tories’ recasting of Canadian history, and TV ads for the War of 1812…and how the Harper government spent $30 million celebrating this old war, and how this is enough to fund, for twenty years, the operation of an environmental research station up North (recently cut) that measures melting of the Ice Cap.

Also about: the climate of fear that the Harper government is stoking. Getting tough on crime even though rates are going down.  Creating an us versus them dichotomy, between good people and bad; bad who will always be bad and who must be punished, instead of bad who are bad – typically when they’re young – because of a whole range of circumstances, most of whom can easily be rehabilitated to become good.

Michele Lansberg speaks of the CNE dress-up booth that this year had only one type of costume available for kids to wear: War of 1812 gear.

Mark Kingwell explains that civility is not politeness. That argument and insult are different things. That today’s public discourse is defined by the latter. He tells of a talk he delivered recently in Ottawa on this very topic on Parliament Hill, and of how during it, a table of Liberal MPs conducted a full throated conversation, oblivious to his presence, let alone the fact that he was trying to make a speech.

What is democracy? Kingwell says it’s ‘where each person counts for one’. It doesn’t matter who you are – colour, wealth, connections – we’re all equal when it comes to the vote. It’s an astonishing piece of imagination. An system that, if enough people realize it, and act upon it, can in fact result in change.

Hegel – ‘deomocracy is where quantity becomes quality’.

Kingwell: We’ve forgotten that we are citizens. We think of ourselves as consumers, propelled by the disturbing idea that everything is a transaction. The vote or taxes are given up in exchange for services – for what will benefit us personally. Kingwell sees this scenario as a battle for our souls. Citizens need to play a public role…to think about the collective good rather than brutish self-interest. Otherwise: state of nature, and the crumbling of community

Danger of ‘Money is speech’ ruling in the U.S.

Personalities are a blight on democracy. We need to focus on structure. On concepts such as Justice.

Jamie Swift:  notices the ‘relentless incrementalism’ of individualism, the marketplace, heirarchy and authoritarianism at play in the Tory agenda.  A ‘soft fascist modality’. Suggests that democracy is a horizon we can approach, but never quite reach. And that we have duty to work toward it.


Lots of shitting on Harper here, and a crowd that loves it. Michele Landsberg reminds audience that the dismantling of Canada’s social welfare system began with Paul Martin. (This discussion would have been much spicier, and more balanced, had a few cats – Barry Cooper or Tom Flanagan – been placed among the pigeons) .

Kingwell quotes Martin Amis: ‘Mitt Romney looks like an aging porn star.’  Later suggests that state- sponsored gambling is a tax on the desperate. 

What can we do? Organize and antagonize. Contribute with argument. If people are talking B.S. call them on it.


I leave the event with a headful of new ideas jostling for time and space. Excited and satisfied. Gratified that events like these are taking place. Happy to be a…literary tourist.

September 30th, 2012 • Posted in CITIES, Kingston, ON, Literary Destinations

Literary Destination: Kingston Ontario

I was pretty happy

when I first saw the spectacular accommodation that the Excalibur Learning Resource Centre had laid at our feet. What a marvelous base from which to explore Kingston and cover the Writers Festival. Many thanks to its generous proprietors.

I know Kingston pretty well; studied at Queen’s University some (cough) 25 years ago. Between Festival events I had a chance to visit my two favorite

Berry & Peterson on King
local used

The Wayfarer on Princess
bookstores; cop a tasty lunch

at Pan Chancho Cafe, and ride the ferry over to Wolfe Island, where you can feel the breeze off 45-odd

monster whirligig wind turbines. They spin enough energy to fire up the entire ‘Limestone’ city …although apparently it’s not used up here; sold to the States.

Wolfe Island is home to Grant Allen

Canada’s first crime writer, an annual crime writers festival, the whirligigs, a few cottages, a beer store

and this pretty little

lighthouse. The trip back afforded this panaramic view of the city

(most of the Festival events took place at the Holiday Inn to your right). No wonder this year’s event was a major sucess. Kingston is a killer destination (flawless programming didn’t hurt either).

September 28th, 2012 • Posted in CITIES, Kingston, ON, Literary Destinations

Kingston Writers Festival: Event pays tribute to local Poet

Just back from attending Kingston Writers Fest event paying tribute to Kingston poet and educator Tom Marshall. Overflow crowd heard noted Canadian poets, authors and editors reading from The Essential Tom Marshall, published by Porcupine’s Quill. David Helwig, one of its editors mentioned at the end of the event that there is a tree dedicated to Marshall growing in Kingston’s MacDonald Park at which Literary Tourists (!) might wish to invoke the man’s ghost.

Next stop, Naomi Wolf, and the Vagina.