August into Winter, The Full Catastrophe

Local stories matter. Reading about ourselves in books allow us to see the places we live as important as anywhere else, even Toronto.

Hello Flatlanders,

I once spent a year in Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C. Every time I turned on the TV I could see where I lived as the city is featured in numerous movies and television shows—think the iconic White House explosion in Independence Day, as an example.

I have yet to see either legislature in Manitoba or Saskatchewan blown up by aliens on TV, but while living in Maryland, I could watch so many TV shows saying “hey, I know that street.”

It’s very rare to see the streets of Winnipeg, Regina or Saskatoon in any mainstream movie or TV show, especially as actual streets in these specific cities and not some stand-in for an American destination, like when Moose Jaw and Regina filled in for small town New Jersey in the Ryan Reynolds 2005 film Just Friends.

Having spent most my life living on the Canadian Prairies, seeing the neighbourhoods I walked through everyday on TV was a new experience for me while living in Maryland. No wonder Americans believe they live in the greatest country in the world; they see themselves on TV everyday.

Living in Canada, we are oversaturated with American culture. I’ve spent time in Australia, and they don’t get anywhere near as much American TV as we get. A lot of their content is original to Australia.

Over in China, the government knows the importance of local storytelling as it’s been significantly cutting back on the number of Hollywood movies it imports, while creating more commercial films nationally—from comedies to Chinese science-fiction epics with hopes to export these films globally as a way of introducing China to the world.

Back at home, the glut of American culture pouring over the Canadian border, as well as news being Toronto-centric, has some of us grow up thinking Saskatchewan and Manitoba are somehow inferior to everywhere else, which is why my cousin from rural Saskatchewan decided to move to B.C. after graduating high school—to be somewhere more exciting.

Any Canadian television or film content mostly takes place in Toronto or Vancouver, except for Little Mosque on the Prairies and Corner Gas in recent years. In fact, Corner Gas was exported to 20 countries around the world exposing these nations to life in rural Saskatchewan, showing the people who live on the Prairies are no different than those living in big cities, which is why Lacey, the imported Torontonian character, mostly fits in with the Saskatchewan community.

Local stories matter because it deepens our identity with our respective provinces. Seeing ourselves on TV, movies or in books allows us to see the places that we live as important and as interesting as anywhere else.

While there isn’t much in the way of mainstream TV and movies based in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, there are plenty of books worth reading. So, this week I’ve put together a list of five notable books from Saskatchewan and five books from Manitoba for you to pick up before heading out to your cabin or the beach to enjoy what’s left of our summer.


Local, independent, in-depth.

Our Prairie stories.

See the world premiere of Iago Speaks at Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.

The play is by award-winning Saskatchewan playwright Daniel MacDonald.

At first glance, Iago Speaks appears to follow the events immediately after the curtain comes down on Shakespeare’s Othello, but the story quickly turns, introducing us to Iago’s jailor, a bit player, as he tries to find some purpose in his repetitive task of keeping watch over Iago.

This laugh-out-loud comedic romp into the imagined next chapter of a notorious Shakespearean villain is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.

The show features local Saskatoon actors Skye Brandon and Joshua Beaudry both Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan veterans.

Also on this summer at Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan is Cymbeline

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Five books based in Saskatchewan, written by local authors

1.The Joanne Kilbourn mystery series by Regina’s Gail Bowen, who Reader’s Digest named Canada’s best mystery novelist in 2008.

Okay. This is more than one book, it’s 21 and counting, as Bowen has been writing this series for more than three decades. The series follows a university professor who finds herself occasionally involved in criminal investigations in various parts of Saskatchewan, like at the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon. (The Mendel has since closed in 2015 and was replaced by the Remai Modern in 2017).

As one American Amazon reviewer wrote:

“No other series I’ve found is as comforting yet also a solid mystery. I have truly enjoyed reading about Joanne’s life from the first book till the last.”

2. Halfbreed, by Maria Campbell

This book is a Canadian classic and taught in universities. It was first published in 1973 and is still in print. It’s a memoir of a Métis woman who grew up in Saskatchewan. The latest edition, published in 2019, includes a previously removed chapter, which detailed Campbell being sexually assaulted by an RCMP officer.

Here’s an Amazon review I pulled:

“This story will shake you to your core. The writing is immediate and cuts to your heart. Her life and experience of Canada is so different from mine. I did not know this world existed. Although first released decades ago, this book reads truth and life that could have been published yesterday. It unfolds a life of resilience and compassion. Inspiring. I highly recommend this book for you and everyone you know.”

3. August into Winterby Saskatoon’s Guy Vanderhaeghe, who was born in Esterhazy.

This national bestseller takes place mostly in Saskatchewan and includes excerpts from the Winnipeg Tribune. It’s story of crime and retribution that begins when an RCMP officer confronts a man for a rash of disturbing pranks. An unspeakable act of violence is committed, and the plot is set in motion.

One reviewer on Goodreads wrote:

“I wish I’d read this book for a book club because it’s one that needs discussion. What is the appropriate or required response to evil? By juxtaposing the murderous behavior of a small-town Saskatchewan psychopath with the diary of an idealist who died trying to defeat fascism in the Spanish Civil War, and with headlines taken directly from the newspapers in August 1939 as war comes ever closer, Vanderhaeghe makes us, and his main characters, confront that question. And he provides no easy answers.”

4. Inside The Mental: From Psychiatric Survivor to LSD Researcher, by Kay Parley

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Before she became a psychiatric nurse at “The Mental” in the 1950s, Kay Parlay was a patient there, as was her father and grandfather. Part memoir, part history, the book details Parley’s role in ground-breaking experiments with LSD that brought the world’s leading researchers to the Souris Valley Mental Health Hospital in Weyburn.

One reviewer on Goodreads wrote:

“Extremely well written. The words flow beautifully, like Kay Parley herself is sitting across from you, telling you this in conversation.”

5. From Left to Right: Saskatchewan’s Political and Economic Transformation, by Dale Eisler, who lives in Regina and is the Senior Policy Fellow at the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy.

This book takes an in-depth look at the political landscape of Saskatchewan from its leftist roots to its shift in recent years to the right of centre. The book examines how Saskatchewan went from being the birthplace of the CCF and democratic socialism in North America to the bastion of the Saskatchewan Party, which has become one of the most dominant provincial political parties in Canada.

Former Prime Minister Paul Martin wrote of the book:

“Weaving together the interplay of regional, national, and global issues, Dale Eisler has produced an insightful and compelling analysis of Saskatchewan’s transformation.”

Five books based in Manitoba, written by local authors

1. The Break, by Katherena Vermette from Winnipeg.

The novel, set in Winnipeg’s North End, opens with a violent crime. In a series of narratives from people who are connected, both directly and indirectly, with the victim — police, family, and friends — tell their personal stories leading up to that fateful night.

A reader in the United Kingdom wrote:

“Beautifully written and poignant, I’m so glad I came across this book. The ties that bind this family of mainly women, and the deep, unspoken love between them is so well drawn. There is empathy with almost all the characters, no judgement, just understanding and kindness. I can’t praise it enough, the best book I’ve read in quite a while.”

2. The Full Catastrophe, by Méira Cook, who was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, but now lives in Winnipeg.

The novel details the story of Charlie Minkoff, a thirteen-year-old intersex Jewish boy who lives in Winnipeg. He tries to convince his aged grandfather, Oscar, to have a bar mitzvah since the Holocaust prevented him from having one at an appropriate age.

“Excellent book. The characters are rich, complex, funny, and tragic. I particularly liked the two central protagonists,” wrote one Amazon reviewer. “There are several instances of written correspondence between these people that are laugh out loud hilarious.”

3. The Gunsmith’s Daughter, by Margaret Sweatman of Winnipeg.

The novel is about Lilac Welsh, who lives an isolated life with her parents at Rough Rock on the Winnipeg River. Her father Kal has built his wealth by designing powerful guns and ammunition. He’s on the cusp of producing a .50 calibre assault rifle that can shoot down an airplane with a single bullet, when a young stranger named Gavin appears at their door, wanting to meet him before enlisting for the war in Vietnam. Gavin’s arrival inspires Lilac to begin her own life as a journalist at the Winnipeg Tribune.

“The Gunsmith’s Daughter, possessing the forward thrust of a whodunit, makes for compulsive reading and is clearly the work of a seasoned writer who knows what she’s doing every step of the way,” wrote Ian Colford in Atlantic Books Today.

4. The Unravelling: Incest and the Destruction of a Family, by Donna Besel from Lac du Bonnet.

It’s the antithesis of why a wedding should be memorable. In 1992, at a sister’s nuptials, Donna Besel’s family members discovered their father, Jock Tod, had molested their youngest sister. After this disclosure, the other five sisters admitted their father had assaulted them when they were younger and had been doing so for years. Despite there being enough evidence to charge their father, the lengthy prosecution rocked Besel’s family and deeply divided their small rural community.

“It is a fascinating story that pulls you in right from the get-go,” writes a Goodreads reviewer.

5. Fifty-Four Pigs: A Dr. Bannerman Vet Mystery, by Winnipeg’s Philipp Schott

“This province too often gets short shrift, and is dismissed as dull or as not especially distinct from its western neighbours, but there is a definite ‘Manitobaness’ that I want to introduce to people,” said Schott in an interview with Prairie Books Now.

In what is the first of the Dr. Bannerman Vet Mystery series, a swine barn, near Lake Winnipeg, explodes near a lakeside town, putting veterinarian Dr. Peter Bannerman on a collision course with murder and a startling conspiracy.

“A gripping plot and very well painted characters easy to empathize with is what you get for opening this charming murder mystery, and you might just have a hard time laying it away to get some sleep,” wrote one Amazon reviewer.  

Hopefully, one of these books will grab you. If it does, send me an email and let me know.

Did I miss any other must-reads from around the Prairies? Please send them my way.

Photo of the week

Red Panda ready for a nap
A red panda relaxing at the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg. GETTY IMAGES.

Five stories from Manitoba you may have missed

  1. Brandon University paid over $41,000 in legal fees over sexual harassment scandal
  2. Manitoba launches task force to tackle violent crime in rural communities
  3. A honey of a problem: Manitoba apiaries work to recover from huge winter losses
  4. Banding baby burrowing owls ‘the best day of the year’ — though fate of endangered species uncertain
  5. Manitoba Justice targets money laundering with planned new hires

Five stories from Saskatchewan you may have missed

  1. Sask. woman, accused of faking own death, says she had ‘no choice’ but to flee
  2. I’ve only been a nurse for eight months. The chaos is killing me
  3. Willow Bunch celebrates 150 years with three days of festivities
  4. ‘Grave danger’: Children subject of Amber Alert believed to be with known sex offender
  5. Saskatchewan Party celebrates 25th anniversary in Davidson

Until next week…

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Thanks for reading, and kind regards,

Kelly-Anne Riess

Our Prairie stories matter too.

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