Canada’s History Takes Centre Stage in Ottawa-Gatineau

I’m just back from a whirlwind trip to Ottawa-Gatineau where I got to emcee the 10th annual Canada’s History Forum and gala. They were held at the Canadian Museum of History on the Quebec side, and it was a stimulating and inspiring series of events. At the heart of it all, I felt, were discussions about collaboration, respect and relationships.

If you’d like to learn more about the programme, speakers, projects and see recordings, please visit:

Thankful that Canada’s History purchased 15 copies of In This Together, the collection of essays I edited last year, to give to speakers as gifts. Also incredibly grateful to have met Elder Claudette Commanda of the Kitigan Zibi Nation, who welcomed us to the Algonquin territory.


The theme was “Making History Relevant”, and the practical applications in government departments, classrooms, and in broader society. Perhaps nowhere is history more relevant than reconciliation and social justice, so it should come as no surprise that many of the topics focused on community projects involving First Nations and Metis partners/leaders – as well as the troubling situation in Poland about the history of the Holocaust, and the chilling effect legislation is having on free speech and scholarly investigations.

The following day at Rideau Hall, the newish Governor General, Julie Payette gave a rousing talk in English, French, and a bit of Anishnaabewomin about the importance of evidence-based history. I think we were all ready to follow her into orbit (and yes, there were at least three witty ‘space jokes’ during acceptance speeches).











I was particularly pleased to learn about the Indigenous Arts and Stories winners, as well as the awards that went to Dr. Sarah Carter (whose book on captivity narratives blew me away in undergrad) and Daniel Francis, a popularizer of history whose book Imaginary Indians was seminal for my understanding of stereotyping and how we construct identity. These are two of the titles who helped push me toward cultural and social history!

I can’t wait to be a speaker at the National Council for Public History’s conference in Las Vegas in April, and keep connecting with folks who are digging deep into our past – and investigating how we remember. Maybe I’ll see you there!

GG02-2017-0417-065 November 22, 2017 Ottawa, Ontario, Canada Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada, presented teachers and other outstanding Canadians with the 2017 Governor General’s History Awards for their efforts to further an interest in and understanding of Canadian history and heritage. The awards was presented at a ceremony at Rideau Hall, on Wednesday, November 22, 2017. Credit: MCpl Vincent Carbonneau, Rideau Hall, OSGG



Alberta Railway Museum: All Aboard for History and Fun!

It may be a little off the beaten track, but the Alberta Railway Museum is worth the drive if you’re a history buff – or the parent of small children. In fact, when my family and I ventured over on Sunday, June 15 (Father’s Day), the majority of people there were young families, often with grandparents in tow. What a great way to get kids hooked on history!



Me and Andre with Stephen Yakimets, a volunteer with the museum and our conductor for the day. Thanks, Stephen!


Just my kind of humour!


Me and my little guy, Andre, who loved exploring the site during our walking tour.


We almost missed the train (it ran once every hour) because Andre was so absorbed by all the knobs and buttons.


We were issued these tickets, which Stephen-the-conductor punched when we were on board. Neat souvenir!


Shrink Rays and Airplanes: City Hall School

On Monday I got the chance to hang out with the Grade One’s from John A. McDougall school for an hour. It was so much fun!


First we listened to coordinator/instructor Linda Hut take us on a historic walk of downtown Edmonton, with great factoids about everything from City Hall to the Alberta Hotel to an inclined railway up the hill.

Then it was my turn to give a mini-talk about what the “history lady” (aka Historian Laureate does) and share a few stories about Edmonton’s aviation history. It was a blast chatting with them about “parapups”, some of our first aviatrixes, and Wop May’s involvement in stopping the Mad Trapper.

Plus we got to talk about shrink rays, space grass, and fighter planes flying through Edmonton. A pretty awesome way to start the week and I can’t wait for the Citizenship Fair next Friday!


I’m a sticker! How cool is that? The kids get to put this in their journal (and I got to as well!).


Author Q&A on Aviation, History, and Writing/Publishing!

I’ve often said this little apple didn’t fall far from the tree: I was destined to write about aviation because there were so many airplane nuts in my family.

Well, maybe I was also destined to write – period – because of my genetics. I come from a long line of  journalers, journalists, radio play writers, and now…novelists. My mother, Mary Metcalfe, is set to publish her first book this summer. As part of her journey, she’s doing a weekly Q&A with authors on her blog, In the spirit of keeping it in the family, she’s asked me to be one of her first interview subjects.


Here’s just one of my answers… To see the rest, or to see about becoming a future Q&A participant, please click on the link above!

Q. What are you working on right now?

A. “As always, I find myself working on a number of different projects simultaneously, but the main two are a nonfiction book on the history of aviation in Canada’s North (due to be published by Frontenac House in 2013) and a historical novel, tentatively titled Chasing Skies.

Both of these projects were sparked by my first book, For the Love of Flying, a history of a Canadian bush airline that really got my career “off the ground,” so to speak, in 2009. After getting my Master’s in Canadian history, I had the opportunity to put my training to good use. The only problem was, I didn’t know anything about airplanes! After two years of researching and writing, I was hooked and wanted to explore the area more – but with my own spin. So the North Book (as I think of it) has a real social/cultural history angle to it, and Chasing Skies follows a female bush pilot who goes to fly in England during the Second World War (as well as her First Nations friend who enlists in the Army). It deals with the social realities of the time period, and is based on a lot of research.”

Canada’s History Magazine Mention

It was really exciting (and flattering!) to see this write-up in the Feb-March 2012 issue of Canada’s History Magazine (formerly The Beaver). Thanks so much to the Canada’s History team, who have supported me and my projects, and consistently put out a high-quality publication about this country’s heritage.

How to track people down – past and present!

I’ve had several people contact me recently who are trying to track down long-lost flying buddies or people related to a particular era or area of aviation (for interviews, research, etc). Here are some general tips on how to do this online, as well as aviation-specific resources.


1. Input the person’s name into Google ( or some other search engine. It may sound obvious, but it’s always my first step and I usually try different things: putting quotation marks around the person’s name (“Pierre Berton” for example), to limit results, trying out nicknames, adding other keywords that might help (a place or thing you associate with them: Canada, Lancaster, etc).

2. If you know what city or province he/she lives in, you might be able to track a phone number and/or address through (in Canada) or (in the US). and are similar sites.


1. Email the Canadian Aviation Historical Society’s treasurer. She can check our database for a name, and if he/she is a member, can forward your contact info (because of privacy laws we can’t give you any of his/her contact info directly).

2. Email the editor of the CAHS newsletter ( and ask to put a request for info in the upcoming edition. If your would-be-contact reads it, he/she can get in touch with you – or maybe someone else will know how to get a hold of him/her.

3. Email the editor of the CAHS Journal to put in a similar request.

3. If he/she used to work for Air Canada or one of its affiliates (Pacific Western Airlines, etc) then you could contact the editors of the Netletter through the AC Family Network  for possible contact details (or a note in their newsletter).

4. If he/she may be a member of the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (which has thousands of members), they might be able to help you out:

Happy hunting (and please add any of your tips in the comments below)!

Deep Research

I’ve been contacted recently by several people embarking on their own writing projects, many of them involving historical research. I love it – the detective work, the chase – but it can be tricky, even after having ethical considerations and methodologies pounded into me for my degrees in history. Being part terrier helps, but for the rest of it, here are few resources I recommend:

1. The Craft of Research by Wayne C. Booth. A great place to start if you’re new to research, or want a refresher.

2. The Joy of Writing by Pierre Berton. This memoir/how-to book by one of Canada’s most popular historical writers is sure to give you the inside story on tips and pitfalls, as well as inspiration to keep going.

3. The Voice of the Past by Paul Thompson. If you’re doing interviews or oral histories, this could be useful.

These are great for the beginner, novice, or professional and won’t bog you down with too much technical jargon or theory. If you’re looking for more info on delving into research issues (evaluating sources, working with First Nations communities, etc), though, feel free to contact me.

In the meantime, back to my piles of books on the histories of the Yukon, Northwest Territories, sovereignty, aviation, and the like! Gotta love it!

Charlotte Gray Comes to Edmonton!

Me and Charlotte Gray after her talk in Edmonton
I was absolutely thrilled to learn that Charlotte Gray, my CanHist hero, was going to be in Edmonton this week as a guest of LitFest and STARFest. Last Saturday night she spoke at the St. Albert library to a room full of fans – one of the most responsive audiences I’ve ever encountered, in fact. They made all the appropriate noises at all the appropriate times during her presentation, and it was obvious they were smitten with her and her works.
The book up for discussion that night was her latest, Gold Diggers, which was published last year by HarperCollins Canada. I happily bought my copy for her to autograph, and it actually comes at the perfect time (which, I find, is often the case with books).  I just dove into my gold-rush-era material for my book on northern aviation – there was a balloon ascension in Dawson City in 1899 – so her tome will provide great background and description. Of course I’ll still get out Pierre Berton’s Klondike (after all, there’s supposed to be a mention of the ascension in it), but it’s great to have a more recent, socially-balanced tome to work with.
It was wonderful to finally meet Charlotte in person. She called me last November after I had Skyped-in to the Berton House Gala fundraiser in Toronto from Dawson. And we shared the same space at different times in Berton House, of course (and I made sure to put my book next to hers on the bookshelf!). But to get the chance to chat for a few minutes and shake her hand was, well, a highlight in this young historian’s life.
Thanks, Charlotte, for continuing to convince Canadians their history is interesting and relevant, and for embracing the filth, messiness, lace, and rubber boots of the past. 

Murder in Life and on the Page

I often write about aviation history these days and am invariably asked if I’m a pilot. Back in university when I was focused mostly on First Nations history and missionaries, people also made assumptions about my religious background (although interestingly few wondered if I was FN, even though I fit right in at Kahnawake and Kanesatake).

I’ve heard the argument that you need to be an “insider” to write about a topic, and in most cases I don’t agree. My stock answer is that I’m not a pilot, missionary, or a lot of other things that I write about; we also can’t teleport back to the Paleolitic Age, New France, or Confederation, but that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) stop us from writing about the past…

Unfortunately one Edmonton-area film-maker decided firsthand knowledge might improve his art. This week the first-degree murder trial of Mark Twitchell began, and very strange details are coming to light about the “Dexter Copycat”: Mr. Twitchell lured men to his garage by pretending to be a woman on a dating site, then successfully bashed one over the head with a copper pipe before dismembering, burning, and disposing of the body parts.

As the Crown Prosecutor said,“[The accused’s] plan was, quite simply and shockingly, to gain the experience of killing another human being.”

Of course at this stage it’s impossible to know if Mr. Twitchell is just very mentally disturbed (my guess would be he is) or if he’s an ardent subscriber of the “experiential” school. Either way, this case is just one more argument for relying on research and empathy rather than a “been there, done that” approach to writing.

Passing the Conch

Last Friday I spent the morning as one of the speakers at a Young Readers Conference in Edmonton. During each of the two 40-minutes sessions, I worked with 25-odd students ranging in age from 10 to 15, talking about aviation history. It was terrifying. Exhilerating. Fascinating.

I got an email about this “gig” out of the blue last December from one of the conference organizers. It was the same day I’d acted as a history fair judge at the Dawson City elementary school. I was high on the shy smiles and enthusiasm of 9 to 11 year olds who’d dressed up as European explorers or First Nations leaders, who’d dug up family histories, and created historical dioramas and board games. When I read the email, I thought – sure, why not?!

Then the doubts crept in. I’d never really worked with kids before: growing up I didn’t do much babysitting and never worked as a camp counsellor. As a teaching assistant at the University of British Columbia the youngest students were 17. Doug didn’t help, reminding me how his daycamp job mostly taught him to dodge fists to the groin and how his grade 6 class had given a substitute teacher a nervous breakdown. Great…

I spent much of the past week stressed out. Images from Lord of the Flies kept coming to mind. I had a dream that I dropped F-bombs in front of an auditorium of kindergardeners. During my waking hours I endlessly worked and reworked my powerpoint, my notes, my activities.

The best tip I received was to focus on salacious stories and gory details… crash stories and tales of dead bodies stored in ice-cold lakes went over really well. The top pieces of advice I would give myself (and others) for future forays into this world:

  • You don’t have to position yourself as an expert with kids (like you do with adults). They’ll listen to you if you’re entertaining and engage them – not because they think they should.
  • Everyone likes to be told stories and being read to is one of the best things in life.
  • Get as much information on your learners as you can to gear your material to them appropriately.

I learned after my sessions that these students were from “inner city” schools, that some were considered “at risk.” It turned out most had never been on a plane before – of any kind – and didn’t know much about local, regional, or national aviation history.

On Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, history, reading, and writing probably rank pretty low for these kids. These kinds of conferences are a great way to show what’s out there and I was so impressed with the dedication of the teachers and staff: they create and run innovative programs for the students; fundraise to subsidize trips for those without the means to go on trips; and obviously care very much for their young charges. I was also very impressed with the students – even though they were more rambunctious than my usual groups of genealogical and historical societies.

Impressed. Humbled. Inspired.

© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.