Janice MacDonald has a surprise for her readership, one that has been decades in the making.
Her new book that she will be bringing to the St. Albert Public Library next weekend has just been published but it isn’t in her usual genre. This is no Randy Craig detective story.
“Even though I’m probably better known as a mystery writer and sometimes as a kids’ writer, this is probably the book I’ve been meaning to write for at least 30 years now,” she said.
“It hearkens back to the fact that when I was a little kid, my mother bought a brand new 1967 Plymouth Barracuda, two sleeping bags and two air mattresses, and said, ‘It’s Expo ’67 year. We’re going to drive across Canada and sleep in the car.’ It was just one lady and one little kid. We were a very small family.”
Confederation Drive is a non-fiction book about family, about a country, and about the trips of her lifetime.
“The book is a reflection on my relationship with my darling mother. It was a magical time.”
It was such a formative experience that she realized not too long ago that it has practically been a constant in her thoughts all these many years. It was her childhood trip, she said. She has talked about it or been reminded of it at least once a month ever since.
As she talked about it with her friends of a similar age, she found that many of them had similar stories of the cross-country drive, or at least of wanting to.
With that came another thought: taking her family for the same drive. After all, this is Canada’s 150th birthday. Why not pre-celebrate, she thought, by first reminiscing what its 100th birthday was like in her young eyes?
She still remembers a lot about that first Confederation drive and it wasn’t all about Montreal and the famous Expo.
“It’s interesting that from a little kid’s point of view, the oddest things are the coolest things. I remember getting black flies in the car near Lake Superior and actually puffing on a cigarette to help smoke them out,” she said.
“My poor mother would roll in her grave if she thought that was one of my intense memories. She didn’t even smoke. We just happened to have these cigarettes in the car.”
She even offered memories of the “crazy yard art” that she saw along the way, some even made of bleach bottles. It became more and more eccentric the further along they went, she said.
Of course, getting to Expo was something to behold too. It wasn’t just the “jam-packed” crowds that she recalled. Every part of the journey was an adventure, including the accommodations.
“The crowds were enormous and every place was booked. People were coming from all over the world. Mother had arranged for us to stay in a hostel downtown very close to the subway line. It was a condemned warehouse that had been turned into a hostel by getting a whole bunch of bunk-beds in. We looked at it and said, ‘Oh my god.’ I was terrified, of course.”
They asked if they could find a room that was more comfortable. They were in luck.
“So we ended up paying a little more and being in a set of bunk-beds in what was ostensibly a broom closet.”
Time changed a few things over the years. With her husband and their kids, they piled into their car “determined not to sleep in it.”
“We did not exactly the same route but exactly the same flavour of the trip. In some situations, we found the same vista and took the same picture and tried to see what had changed and what was still there.”
An adult viewpoint gave her a perspective on the greater cultural shift that has probably occurred over the last 50 years.
“This go-around, once we got past Manitoba, we did not see another Alberta license plate the entire trip. I think that the big long slog Canadian family road trip is a thing of the past.”
It reinforced what an incredible bonding experience a road trip can be for the family. She scorns those modern drivers whose vehicles come replete with all of the entertainment and convenience of a home theatre room. It’s not always about the destination, she says, so appreciate the journey.
“I’m one of those wretched people who goes, ‘What are you doing buying a minivan that has a DVD player in it? You should be teaching them how to read a map. You should be playing Spot It bingo out the windows. Make the most of the car trip. We’re a family where people shout out when they see cows or when they see windmills. The purpose of the drive has to be experience as well. You should be paying attention to what you’re seeing on this road.”
Confederation Drive author Janice MacDonald, in conversation with Conni Massing
Saturday, May 13 at 3 p.m.
Tickets are free but please pre-register as seating is limited.
Books will be available for purchase and signing at the event.
St. Albert Public Library
Call 780-459-1530 or visit www.sapl.ca for more information.