The immigrant experience

Frances Hern, my literary colleague and fellow immigrant, didn’t enjoy history when she was going to high school in her native England. “Learning about the Stone Age seemed pointless,” she says, “and I was hopeless at memorizing dates, especially when a king had six wives to keep track of.”

I felt the same way about history when I was growing up in Ireland. When was the Hundred Years’ War and what connection, if any, did it have with the Thirty Years’ War? I could never remember. I couldn’t even tell you where the damn wars were fought.

As we got older, however, and especially after we came to Canada on our separate journeys of adventure, both Frances and I developed a growing appreciation for what George Santayana famously called reason in common sense: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

We wrote books about it. Frances wrote a book about the centuries-long search for the Northwest Passage and has just released a new book, Yip Sang and the First Chinese-Canadians, about three generations of a family that came to the Gold Mountain in search of a better life. I wrote eight books about the colourful characters of Western Canada’s past before mining my own personal history for a book of memoirs, Leaving Dublin: Writing my Way from Ireland to Canada. 

Immigration to Canada is a theme common to both of our most recent books, and is also a common thread in some of our other writings. Come hear us talk about that at Calgary’s Shelf Life Books on Sunday November 20, starting at 1:00 p.m. Snacks and drinks will be served, and the short readings will be followed by a Q&A session hosted by JoAnn McCaig of Shelf Life. Frances and I look forward to meeting with you individually and signing copies of our books.