When sitting down with Banff storyteller Bob Clarke, author of the Trig Carlyle series, it is difficult, if not impossible, to stay on topic.
Rather than talk specifically about Gold Fever, Clarke’s newest book in his series, which he began publishing in 1995, Clarke, who has a long-standing passion for Western Canadian history, heads off on all sorts of wonderful tangents, happily sharing the history of this region and beyond.
Clarke, who could charm a grizzly bear out of an easy meal, freely admits he’s not a writer, but he is a gifted storyteller who loves to share what he has learned over the years.
And he’s like a little kid that way. Clarke is so excited about the history of the West that he can’t help himself; he’s compelled to share.
For those not in the know, Clarke is now on his sixth book about the life of his fictional character Trig Carlyle, an Irish fur trader turned rancher, as a means to work through the history of Alberta. He hits all the high points as he moves through many of the different aspects of history, including the Klondike gold rush, which began in earnest in the summer of 1897, and its effect on Edmonton.
Edmonton doubled in size during the gold rush as people moved overland towards the gold fields of the Klondike, with many of these overlanders giving up on the rush and settling down.
“A lot of people got there and discovered how far it was to the Klondike and they turned back or stayed,” Clarke said.
He also explores the changing nature of the West and how so-called progress affected aboriginal people and people with mixed descent.
“The big land companies went to Regina, the capital of the NWT at that time and lobbied to settle land claims so they could begin farming.
“An influx of British settlers in the Alberta district put a different attitude on the people. People who were equal were suddenly lower caste,” Clarke said.
In 1905, to vote, you had to be male, 21 years old and of British descent, which Clarke said left out women, native people and other European settlers, such as Ukrainians.
Through his Trig Carlyle series, Clarke hopes to help readers understand the broad spectrum of Western Canadian history, do his part to raise its profile and debunk old myths and ideas, such as not understanding the difference between the Red River and Northwest Rebellions.
“I’d run into these things and people don’t know that, but they knew all about Davy Crockett. I got so I resented the fact that we didn’t get more material about Canada,” Clarke said.
But at one time, Clarke said he was still ignorant of the history, even though he thought otherwise.
“I foolishly thought I was knowledgeable in Western Canadian history until I began to research and it was very, very humbling,” he said, adding, for example, for the longest time he had no idea there was a difference between coureurs de boie (runners of the woods), unlicensed fur traders and voyageurs (travellers), who served the fur trading companies.
Clarke has got one more book in him; book seven, before he wraps up the series. The last book will take the history the books are based upon to 1905, when Alberta became a province, signaling a new chapter in the history.
His original idea turned into a series after he realized he had too much material, a result of his love of the research aspect.
“I had a story to tell. I couldn’t get it all told, so I carried on,” he said.
Clarke hopes readers challenge his assertions about Western Canadian history and his facts as yet another way to help correct assumptions and errors in our history.
“I hope people that pick up my books say ‘he’s full of hot air’ and try to find out,” he said.
But be prepared if you do, Clarke knows his stuff, and he loves nothing more than getting a chance to talk about the history of Western Canada.
Clarke will be in Cascade Plaza in Banff next to Indigo Books to sign books, Friday (June 24).