Who Was Aunt Lou?

It must have been around 1970, the year I graduated from university. Maybe I was visiting my parents in Montreal, trying to figure out my next step in life. My father was invited to a family barbeque and asked me to come along.  My mother didn’t like parties, so just Dad and I attended.
Unfortunately, my memory of that party is hazy. Fifty years later, all I recall is a leafy back yard. I didn’t know my father’s cousins, and I was too shy to talk to anyone. 
The name of one person at that party stuck with me, however: my father’s Aunt Lou. I recently did some research and discovered why her name might have stood out.
The Forrester sisters, c. 1955: Jessie Jean McMillan, Lou Campbell, Lillian Hamilton
Born in 1892, Lou Forrester was the second-youngest of six siblings who grew up on a prairie grain farm near Emerson in southern Manitoba. My future grandmother, Lillian, was her older sister. Eventually the siblings all scattered. Both Lillian and Lou settled in Winnipeg. 
By the time that barbecue in Montreal took place, all the Forrester siblings except Lou had died, so it’s no wonder she held a special place in my father’s heart. 
The daughter of John McFarlane Forrester and Samantha Rixon, Lou was baptized Lulu Elda Forrester. She didn’t like that name and usually went by Lou, or Louise. According to a family story, she was named after a Hawaiian princess. Her father, who loved reading, was a fan of author Robert Louis Stevenson and may have found the name in something Stevenson wrote about Hawaii.
At this time, few women worked, but Lou did have a career before she married: she trained as a nurse in Winnipeg and worked with newborn babies
On June 29, 1915, she married Winnipeg lawyer John Fletcher Campbell. According to the Winnipeg Tribune, it was a pretty wedding, held at eight in the evening at King Memorial United Church. The days are long at that time of the year in Winnipeg, so the sun was low in the sky as they said their vows. The bride wore a cream satin dress with a short, full skirt, while the bridesmaid wore pink and the mothers of both the bride and groom were in black dresses. The bouquets included pink roses, sweet peas and forget-me-nots.
Fletcher was a descendant of the Selkirk Settlers, most of them Scottish Highlanders who settled on the banks of the Red River in the early 1800s. Fletcher grew up in the brick farmhouse in the Winnipeg neighbourhood of East Kildonan that his father had built overlooking the river. Lou and Fletcher raised five of their six children there. One daughter died at age two.
The house was large, and British Air Force pilots who were training near Winnipeg during World War II often billeted with the Campbell family.
Fletcher died of a heart attack in 1944, leaving Lou a widow for 34 years. Fortunately, he had been a successful lawyer and does not seem to have left her with financial concerns. Granddaughter Barbara recalls that Lou wore a mink coat – considered a necessity in Winnipeg’s cold climate. 
For the first 16 years after her husbands’ death, Lou continued to live in the house in East Kildonan and focused her interests on her now grown children and her grandchildren. Great-niece Fran has happy memories of Lou coming to visit in London, Ontario and making wonderful cinnamon buns. According to another family story, Lou was a good cook but sister Lillian was not, so Lou used to do the baking when Lillian had guests for tea.
In 1960, Lou sold the house and moved to Vancouver Island to stay with her sister Jessie and husband Rev. Tom McMillan. After Jessie died in 1961, Lou lived for several years with daughter Alison Hermon in Montreal. It must have been during that period that the barbecue took place.
Lou returned to Winnipeg when Alison’s family moved to Vancouver, but by that time she was not well. She died on Aug. 12, 1978, age 86. She is buried with her husband and several other Campbell family members in the old Kildonan Presbyterian Cemetery, Winnipeg.

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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