St. Albert tales from the history books
Former librarian Geddes offers up collection of published, unpublished articles
By: Scott Hayes
| Posted: Saturday, Jan 26, 2013 06:00 am
It makes sense for a man who was surrounded by books for a few decades to one day write books, especially history books. There’s nothing he would rather do.
“I don’t play golf,” admitted Dave Geddes, the 82-year-old former librarian who has spent his retirement years diligently researching and scribing many of the city’s important tales straight from the archives.
He spent his career immersed in history and literature, after all.
“Being a librarian was a great job,” he said. “You can just be surrounded by books all day.”
The St. Albert Collection: Twice-Told Tales of St. Albert’s Past is Geddes’ first book since 2010 but it’s been in the making for several years.
This collection mostly comes from articles that he wrote and published in the now defunct Saint City News. He didn’t just copy and paste them, however. The dedicated historian picked up his research where he left off, double and triple checking his facts once again.
That’s the only way to do it properly, if you have the sense of obligation to history like he does.
“It has quite an extensive bibliography which I think is necessary to prove authenticity of everything. I just find these stories so interesting. They’re exciting even. If it’s done properly and truthfully then it’s a piece of history. This is a community service.”
After these many years, his sparsely populated bookshelf still prominently displays The Black Robe’s Vision, the definitive early history of St. Albert.
He listed off some of his favourite but possibly lesser-known stories from the book. Although many people thought that Joseph Lambert was given a military medal for his participation in the 1942 raid on Dieppe, he actually only won a minor award.
“It’s a good excuse to tell the story of the Dieppe raid which most Canadians don’t know about.”
He also enjoyed writing about the Piper of Lac Ste. Anne, a.k.a. Colin Fraser, the personal piper of Sir George Simpson, and painter Paul Kane’s actual connection to the city.
Then there’s the story about gardening in the old west.
“We tend to think of people coming west, old fur traders or whatever, living off the land, going without green veggies for their lifetime. If you think of scurvy only for sailors at sea, well, they had it here.”
Then there was one story that he hoped would have an impact on St. Albert’s historical and cultural scene. It was about the first other church of the city – the St. Albert Presbyterian Church, now the Goshen United Church – that Geddes found in Ray, once a small town but now a collection of houses northwest of St. Albert.
“This story is close to my heart. This church should be dragged back here to St. Albert. It’s sitting out there! The pigeons have access to it through a hole and they go down the chimney. It’s not properly boarded up.”
Other interesting tales discuss the naming of the Sturgeon River, the bells of the St. Albert Parish, and the history of Sir Winston Churchill Avenue. The author even solves the mystery of the lost marker of that road, accomplishing it without any fanfare in the briefest of footnotes.
The St. Albert Collection is actually three books in one, each section covering different periods and different aspects of St. Albert’s history. There’s even a section that covers famous St. Albertans from artists to business owners to sports figures.
It’s that last one that, he admitted, probably got a short shrift from him. He suggested another writer come along to fill in the gaps.
“You could fill a book with St. Albert hockey players. There’s a lot of scope there for somebody to put together a book of athletes. I don’t know anything about hockey.”
Geddes is selling the book for $20. People can get their copy by calling him at 780-459-3654.
Man of history
This might be a busy year for the local author.
“I’ve got about two more books hanging over my head,” he said, “including a long overdue collection of personal stories.”
It seems that Geddes himself is closely connected to a lot of the country’s – and even the world’s – interesting histories.
“I’ve had an interesting life. Different than most,” he confided.
He previously held a career as a clerk in the fur trade with the Hudson’s Bay Company. He shovelled coal in a steam locomotive when he was 16. He even worked as a fireman for British Rail. At 18 he guarded the Suez Canal during his brief stint in the British army.
He travelled throughout the Northwest Territories, and spent time in a gold mine north of Yellowknife. He also worked as a dispatcher for the DEW Line airlift north of the Arctic Circle.
His next book will be as close to an autobiography as he has yet accomplished.
“It’s almost my life story or my personal history, my life in the trenches, that kind of thing.”
It’s all done except for a few formatting changes and a new title. He’s hoping to get it out later this year. It should inspire more people to get involved and interested in reading and writing as much as Geddes is.
“I grew up always interested in reading. I was always a reader. I got into reading Canadian history during the time that I spent up north.”