Sunday, June 19, 2011

Out-of-Town-Authors: Dale Barbour

Life's just beachy
Former Winnipegger taking Winnipeg Beach tales to Gimli on Tuesday

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
by: Ariel Gordon

Usually, people refer to the thick books they lug to the cottage as "beach reads."

Dale Barbour has got it backwards.

He wrote a slim book about the beach entitled Winnipeg Beach: Leisure and Courtship in a Resort Town, 1900-1967.

Barbour will be importing Winnipeg Beach to Gimli (or, for those who were following, lugging the slim book about the beach to another beach) on Tuesday.

He'll be reading with Patti Grayson and Sheila McClarty at an event hosted by Tergesen's General Merchant at the Aspire Theatre.

* * *

1) As a writer (i.e. someone whose artistic practice is predicated on time spent alone) how do you approach performance? What do you get out of it?

Traditionally I've approached it with a feeling of raw terror and impending doom. But I'm starting to relax a little. I try to select a reading that can stand on its own and catch the attention of listeners who haven't read the book. Ideally, I'll get some good questions or comments. That's critical in a history project like mine where the people I'm reading to have often lived through at least part of the period I'm studying. They can learn from my research, I can learn from their experience.

2) What do you want people to know about Winnipeg Beach: Leisure and Courtship in a Resort Town, 1900-1967?

If you went to Winnipeg Beach in your youth, this should bring back a lot of memories. It's a cultural history and that means I'm focused on how people lived, worked and played at the beach in the first half of the 20th century. But even if you've never been to Winnipeg Beach, this book is a window into how relations between men and women have changed over time and how Manitoba's cultural mosaic has changed. I like to say that form follows function, and when it comes to Winnipeg Beach, the resort was very much a creature of the gender and ethnic relations of the early 20th century. As those relations changed, so too did the resort.

3) Will this be your first time in Winnipeg? What have you heard?

I've been in Toronto working on my PhD for the past two years. But previous to that I lived in Winnipeg for about eight years; Winnipeg Beach was researched and written while I was working and studying at the University of Manitoba. Plus I grew up in the south Interlake - Balmoral - a half-hour north of the perimeter. So, for me Winnipeg has always just been "the city."

4) What are you reading right now? What are you writing right now?

I just wrapped up Toronto: A City Becoming, edited by David Macfarlane and then I'm on to Toronto: The Place of Meeting by Frederick H. Armstrong. You can see the trend. I'm just starting to research my thesis, which is going to focus on Toronto, so for the next little while I'm going to be doing a lot more reading than writing. I did come up for air the other week and read World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks because one should always be prepared for a zombie apocalypse.

5) What do you think Winnipeg Beach would have been like, at its height?

It would have been as much a part of Winnipeg as Portage and Main. The Canadian Pacific Rail link ensured that people could flow back and forth between the city and the beach and one of Manitoba's first provincial highways headed straight to Winnipeg Beach. It was the place where families set up for their vacation at a time when having a vacation was still a novelty, where workplaces came for a picnic and where men and women came to play together. On busy weekends, it drew 40,000 people when Winnipeg's population was only around 250,000 or 300,000.

Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer.

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