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Five Questions with Christine Hanlon

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Christine Hanlon. author of Old Winnipeg, A History in Pictures

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1. What inspired you to do the book Old Winnipeg?
Last year I was cycling through Mostyn Park, a place I usually pass by car on my daily commute, when I noticed a limestone column that I must have seen hundreds of times without paying it any attention. A plaque informed me that the columns were from Winnipeg's now-demolished sixth post office and that its location on the south side of Portage between Fort and Garry Streets helped establish Portage Avenue as the leading retail street in Winnipeg. I also learned that the post office was built by Kelly Brothers Contractors and, after a little research, I realized there was a connection with Manitoba's legislative building construction kickback scandal! All of this made me wonder how many more pieces of Winnipeg history I could find in the rubble of the city's former buildings.

2. Why should people care about their history? One of my favourite sayings is that the word history contains the word "story." We are all part of the story, and like every good tale, it has a beginning, a middle and an end. We are in the middle, but how can we understand where we are if we don't know what happened in the beginning? How can we shape where we are going if we don't know where we've been? Take the Hudson's Bay Company, for instance. People might think of it just as a place to shop, but the company played a defining role in shaping the province of Manitoba and the city of Winnipeg. When the HBC sold Rupertsland to the government of Canada in 1869, the sale didn't take into account the indigenous people or the Métis. We need to know the history so we can build a better future for everyone.

 3. Old Winnipeg is your fourth book. What was it like to work on the project?

I spent a lot of time in the archives. Fortunately, the people who work there were wonderful and helped me find a treasure trove of photos, taken by both amateur and professional photographers, of buildings that no longer exist in Winnipeg. Every time I found a photo of a building someone had mentioned it was like winning the lottery! I also did some crowd sourcing with the enthusiastic members of Manitoba History: A Public Forum of the Manitoba Historical Society. Their help was invaluable!

4. What would you like people to take away from your book?
I hope people discover how fun history can be. There are a lot of fascinating stories about Winnipeg connected to the buildings within the pages of this book. Some places people will likely recognize, others they will discover – but most of all I hope they will be as surprised as I was by how interconnected these places are. This may be a pictoral book but, really, it's another way to tell the story of Winnipeg. All the photos are part of the narrative of this great city.

5. Who was the greatest influence in your life?
Not long after I discovered my passion for writing, I was blessed with an English teacher, Sheldon Fossaner, who gave me the tools to do it. I was in his class in grades seven and nine and his words still resonate 40 years later. In retrospect, I think he was the one who taught me the value of story and the many forms it could take. We studied novels, short stories, plays, poems, songs, and even the visual arts, as a conduit to writing. He also impressed upon me that good writing makes the reader care about the story being told. That continues to be my inspiration.

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