Melfort Journal Review - Saskatchewan Heroes and Rogues

Local-born author researches her way into Saskatchewan's past
Reviewed by: Jason LaRose

Everyone in Saskatchewan has heard of John Diefenbaker, and heard of Tommy Douglas.

But how many know who Morris Cohen, or Tom Hourie, or Jean Ewen is? 

Ruth Millar does, and she's decided to share her knowledge in "Saskatchewan Heroes and Rogues."

"The stories were so compelling and so little known, I felt that someone should be telling these stories again," Millar says. "In my view, we in Saskatchewan should be celebrating our own stories, and not failing all over ourselves to admire heroes and non-heroes from other provinces, and other countries."

Millar, for the last 30 years a librarian, began the project by collecting bits and pieces of information on some of Saskatchewan's pioneers, people who haven't had their story told as much as some, like Millar, think they should.

After a number of years, the collection blossomed into "Rogues, Heroes, Adventurers and Trailblazers", an exhibition that ran at Saskatoon's Frances Morrison Library iin 1999.

The original exhibition focused on people who were active between 1900 and 1950, and who all lived, at one time or another in their lives, in Saskatchewan.

"The quality that fascinates me is the 'larger than life' aura that surrounds these people, and the extraordinary nature of their exploits," the Melfort-born Millar says. "Journalists of their day found them fascinating too, or I would never have found out about them."

From the exhibition, the idea for the book grew, and Millar was faced with the task of narrowing down her 27 subjects to 12 for the book.

She says that the 12 that made the pages of "Saskatchewan Heroes and Rogues" are some of her favourites from the exhibition. 

"I picked the ones that were the most interesting to me," Millar says, "an ex-journalist with an instinct for a good story."

Before beginning her career as a reference librarian, Millar worked at the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, where she developed her appetite for information. But she had to change careers, due to what she calls "the biological imperative in women".

"I had my first baby, and with a young baby I didn't have the liberty to take off at a moment's notice to cover a story," Millar says. "But I found librarianship just as compelling as journalism. Not as dynamic in the physical sense, but in the intellectual sense it was very satisfying." 

As for her favourite story in the book, Millar says that as a woman, she favours the stories about women.

She mentions Joan Bamford Fletcher and Gladys Arnold, and says Father John Claffey is a favourite among the men in the book, but that's not the story she enjoys the most.

"I lean toward Jean Ewen," Millar says. "I am partial to the stories about women who had extraordinary audacity - chutzpah if you will - the quality that links them all." 

Ewen was a nurse who worked with Dr. Norman Bethune in China during the Sino-Japanese War in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

She tended injured warriors and sick peasants, delivered babies, and trained Chinese nurses and 'barefoot doctors'.

After being abandoned by Bethune, she continued her work alone, even going behind enemy lines on more than one occasion to bring back hospital supplies.

Hers is just one of the remarkable stories Millar decided to feature in "Saskatchewan Heroes and Rogues".

She says that to those who believe that being a librarian is a boring life, they could not be more mistaken. 

"I say that it's about as boring as being a detective," Millar says. "Not only did I ferret out the answers to intriguing questions every single day, I also wrote for various publications, presented frequent slide shows, worked on short films and videos, appeared on TV regularly, and put together photographic exhibitions. Would you find that boring?"

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