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History with personality

Sheila Willis’ new history book catches the flavour of the times

ATHABASCA - Smith’s Sheila Willis is a powerhouse of historical knowledge and when combined with her natural ability to bring a story to life, the next logical step for the History Check app creator was to put pen to paper and write a book of short historical stories. 

Titled Alberta History: Short Stories Volume 1 – Lesser Slave Lake Region, Willis credits Charmaine Willier-Larsen with giving her the idea — and courage — to put together the book that started out as something Willier-Larsen could use for her guests at the Bannock n Bed Inn in Sucker Creek. 

“She wanted as part of her experience that she offers to have some historical stuff within her home so that people could learn while they were there,” said Willis in an interview last wee. “So, she asked me to do really short stories on both Treaty 8 and the Edward Hayward murder.” 

The “really short” story of Treaty 8 turned into six pages and once Willier-Larsen read it she told Willis to turn it into a book so, she started with Lesser Slave Lake and her own region of Smith. 

“That's what got me interested in history in the first place; is it Smith and Mirror Landing? There's so much confusion,” she said. “And then there's Port Cornwall. It’s had three names and almost three different locations.” 

An excerpt from Chapter 1 reads: 

“The following June, a raging forest fire started on the south side of the Athabasca River. The settlers on the north side of the river were confident that it would burn itself out at the river, which is about a quarter of a mile wide. However, driven by a terrific gale, it jumped the river at one point, Mirror Landing.” 

In her years of research for her company Impact Tourism and her History Check app, she has gathered a wealth of information and has filed it away in her mind so when she started the book it took just a month to write it, have it proofread and get it published. 

“I have a mind that's a filing cabinet,” said Willis. “So really, when I got ready to write the book I just go back and find stuff for the story that I already made in my mind.” 

Willis said she worked hard to get the names correct as in three different articles she found about the Edward Hayward murder, names were spelled in different ways, then she tried to capture the personalities of all the characters involved. 

“And I think the difference is I didn't want to approach it with dates, and all these people who came up the river, and everybody got together, and they signed this document,” she said. “I wanted people to be involved because that's what it was about; it was about people.” 

And the book has been well-received so far, reaching No. 1 in the History of Canada and Canadian History category in Kindle books, just days after launching the book in partnership with Liberty Multimedia Canada. 

“I want to bring the reality of history home,” said Willis. “First, we have a bunch of self-perceived boredom, because it's history — it's really not boring, history is interesting.” 

The chapters cover the transition from Mirror Landing to Smith; a synopsis of what shaped the area known as Mirror Landing, Port Cornwall, and Smith and the signing of Treaty 8 at Lesser Slave Lake — one of the most important events in the northern Alberta region in how instrumental it was for the people of the Sucker Creek First Nation to push for an investigation into the disappearance of Edward Hayward, which likely would have gone unnoticed and his murderer able to get away scot-free. 

The e-book can be found at on Amazon, or for a PDF version, contact Willis at [email protected] to arrange e-transfer payment. 


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