Brown Bag History: Cathy English Q&A

Brown Bag History – Revelstoke Origins is being released to the public today. We asked author Cathy English about the talks and the book.

Cathy English holds up a copy of the new Brown Bag History book at a special talk at the Revelstoke Museum & Archives on Wednesday.

For more than a decade, Cathy English, the curator of the Revelstoke Museum & Archives, has been regaling people with tales of the community’s history through her Brown Bag History talks.

Launched in 2003, English has given more than 200 lunch-hour talks on Revelstoke history, covering everything from the town’s founding to politics to business to sports.

Next week, the museum will be publishing Brown Bag History — Revelstoke Origins, a 144-page collection of 12 of these stories, written by English.

The stories focus on the early history of Revelstoke, from the original First Nations inhabitants to the development of the community. The stories look at how the town started out as Farwell, how a land dispute between its founder and CP Rail led it to shift to Mackenzie Avenue from Front Street, and why it was named after a British lord. It also looks at the Revelstoke smelter and the first ascent of Mount Begbie.

The soft-cover book will be launched at the museum today, June 25, from 3–5 p.m. You’ll have the chance to buy a copy of the book, and get it signed by Cathy English. The Modern Bakeshop is providing a cake for the occasion.

The book sells for $20.

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We conducted a question-and-answer with English via e-mail. Here’s what she had to say about the book:

Revelstoke Review: Why did you start doing the Brown Bag History talks? What was the first story you told?

Cathy English: Brown Bag History started in April of 2003. The very first presentation was a talk by retired railroader Ernie Ottewell on railway history. The next talk, on May 7, 2003, was the first one presented by me and the topic was gardening and farming. At that time, we were fundraising for the Heritage Garden, which was under construction. We were holding a raffle and this talk was presented before the raffle draw.

How do you decide what stories are worth telling? What’s your favourite story?

When it comes to choosing the topics, I look at significant dates to see if there is anything that is coming up regarding an anniversary. Each year, I like to do a topic on what was happening in Revelstoke 100 years ago from the current year. I also look at topics that I think would be of interest, and topics that we have a lot of information on. I have enjoyed most of the talks that I have given – I would say there were only one or two that I didn’t find personally interesting. It’s hard to choose one favourite, but I do very much enjoy the stories of the Farwell Police War, and the Farwell dispute.

Why did you decide to write this book?

I had the idea of creating a Brown Bag History book for some time, and with the support of our Board of Directors, we decided that this was a good time to move forward with this project. We have had great success with our two previous books, Reflections – Photographs by Earle and Estelle Dickey and First Tracks, and felt that it was a good idea to start putting some of my research into book form. This is another way for us to fulfill our mandate of sharing the history of Revelstoke.

This book contains 12 of more than 200 stories. How did you choose the stories for the book? Can we expect another 10 more to complete the collection?

We decided to produce a 144-page soft-cover book, so of course that limited the amount of material that could be included. We are looking at the possibility of a series of books, so with that in mind, I decided to choose a theme for about 10 potential books. The obvious first theme was on the early development of Revelstoke, so for the first book, I chose stories that focused on the Farwell settlement and how Revelstoke came to be. The first chapter is on the Sinixt First Nation, which I felt was an important beginning to the book.

What stories from Revelstoke’s history do you still want to tell?

There are still many stories to be told. I did one recently on Revelstoke pioneers and realized that I could easily do at least 10 more talks on that subject. I haven’t yet given talks on the communities of Donald or Beaton, so those will probably be upcoming presentations. Seeing that I have been doing the talks for 12 years, I have started doing some repeats if I am pressed for time, but I always appreciate the opportunity to do more research for new talks. I also welcome ideas from our audience on what they would like to hear.

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