From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:
With a writing career spanning almost 60 years, Margaret Atwood has become one of Canada’s most prominent authors.
But did you know she has a local connection?
In 1945, Margaret Atwood’s family moved to Sault Ste. Marie. Her father, entomologist Dr. Carl E. Atwood, was instrumental in founding the Forest Insect Laboratory. In fact, it was under his guidance that Sault Ste. Marie was chosen as the bug lab’s location. His work centred on spruce budworms, searching for a way to deal with the infestation.
Margaret Atwood was five years old at that point. She remembered her family spending summers in the woods north of the Soo. She and her brother would pick blueberries, and their mother would pay them at a rate of a penny for every cup.
In colder months, they moved into town, living in a house on the 200 block of Pim Street.
While in the city, Atwood studied dance, scoring a role as a half-windmill in a class concert. Around this time, she also started to write. At five, she wrote, illustrated, and hand-bound her first collection of poems: Rhyming Cats.
Her family’s stay in the city was short-lived. They moved away after just one year, when her father obtained a teaching job with the University of Toronto. But even when living elsewhere, they had a camp at Pointe Des Chenes that they continued to visit for years.
In 1983, Margaret Atwood, now a celebrated writer, returned to Sault Ste. Marie to host a reading and author visit. The event was sponsored by the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and took place at Korah Collegiate. Approximately 800 attendees packed Korah to hear her read from her then-newest work, Murder in the Dark. Looking back at the event in a Globe and Mail article, a journalist covering the event recalled the nervous energy that filled the air at the prospect of hosting CanLit royalty.
In 2001, she was back in town, receiving an honourary degree and providing the convocation address at Algoma University College. Her speech focused on the state of the environment, urging students to make positive change in the world.
Today, you can look through Margaret Atwood’s books for references to Sault Ste. Marie. The city and surrounding area appears as a setting in some of her short story collections — including Bluebeard’s Egg and Murder in the Dark. The Soo also features in sections of her novel, Cat’s Eye.
She may not have lived in Sault Ste. Marie for long, but her childhood experiences up north have left their mark on her writing and on Canadian Literature.
Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.