Story of love and tragedy inspired by true events
By Jenn Watt
Marie Gage had heard stories in her family about how her grandparents came to Canada. Rumours about the Titanic, her grandfather being a footman to royalty, and an epic canoe trip from Port Nelson, Man. to Winnipeg intrigued her.
But there was little clarity; no one had spent the time to look into them further.
About a decade ago, she decided to investigate, searching for documents on Ancestry.ca, learning how to navigate Library and Archives Canada and Archives of Manitoba, tracking down records from 100 years ago.
“There was so much that was rumoured in our family that I can’t believe nobody knew [things like] what kind of connection did Grandpa have with the Titanic?
Why did he take this canoe trip from Port Nelson? There were pieces that were known, but nobody had taken the time to get interested,” Gage said.
Once she began her work, a story of love, adventure and tragedy unfolded involving her own ancestors. At first, she thought she would record the information for her family’s purposes only, but as time went on, she realized she had the makings of a book.
“I started out thinking I was writing a short story, and thinking I was writing something just for the family, but the more I got into the details of the story, the more fascinated I became by what my grandparents had actually gone through – and the more I thought the story needed to be told more broadly because it represents what our ancestors had to do to come to this place that we enjoy now without the struggle that they went through to provide us with that opportunity,” she said. “... I then [switched] to thinking I’d write a novella, but the story became too big to fit, so it became a novel.”
That novel, A Ring of Promises, was published as an e-book on Amazon.ca in June and is now available in paperback both online and at Master’s Book Store in Haliburton.
The book follows the life of Will Parker, an English footman, who travels to Canada in hopes of a better life, leaving behind his fiancée in Scotland with a promise ring.
Gage, who has written several children’s books, said she decided to write a fictitious account of her grandparents’ story because there were gaps that were unlikely to ever be definitively answered.
“There are anchor points such as knowing that my grandfather was a footman that are truths,” said Gage, “and I know that he worked as a logger in New Brunswick in French Village when he came. All of the geographic locations he went to and the work that he did when he was in those [locations] are true and the trials that his fiancée was having back in Scotland were real. But I didn’t know enough of the detail of the motivation and exactly how things had unfolded, so I took what I call the anchor points of the story and used my research and my imagination to fill in the blanks and create a compelling story.”
Brenda Peddigrew, a fellow writer from the Haliburton Highlands, gave an enthusiastic review of the book on Amazon.ca: “Marie Gage has made this time period – not to mention her characters – come alive. They dance off the page. And not only the characters, but this period of history, in detail that pulled me in ... the back-and-forthness of the narrative, the details of life in Scotland and the hardships of the Canadian north ... I could go on, but I finished this book in deep fascination!”
The promise ring featured in the book is the one Gage has worn on her finger since she was 19 or 20 years old. She said she always felt compelled to wear it and that she feels a connection to her paternal grandparents, which motivated her work on their story.
“Some authors talk about having their ancestors dictate a story. I don’t think mine quite dictated it, but they certainly seemed to be encouraging me to write it,” she said.
She encourages everyone to spend time documenting their family history, talking to their elders and recording what they have to say.
“My number one piece of advice to young people is to get interested in this while the older generation of your family is available to fill in the blanks for you,” she said. “Because once they’re gone, a lot of history is gone.”
Gage is holding a book signing, complete with physical distancing and hygiene protocols, at Master’s Book Store on Highland Street in Haliburton on Saturday, July 11 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. There, you can purchase a copy of the book for $20, have it signed, and meet Gage. You can also find the e-book
at Amazon.ca or on https://mariegage.ca/a-ring-of-promises.