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That time W.O. Mitchell stopped by for two weeks

This edition of Remember This looks back on a very early Algoma Fall Festival guest
Renowned Canadian writer W.O. Mitchell speaks at the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library in 1972. Sault Ste. Marie Public Library archive photo

From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:

In 1975, local aspiring writers had a chance to learn from an award-winning author when W.O. Mitchell stopped by.

Mitchell, hailing from the prairies, famously wrote the novel Who Has Seen the Wind, a well-loved Canadian book. In 1973, he’d become an Officer of the Order of Canada, an award that recognized his outstanding literary contributions.

Just two years later, he was in Sault Ste. Marie as part of the Algoma Fall Festival. The festival itself was still in its infancy, having only been incorporated in 1972.

Mitchell ran several workshops while in town. For audience members of all ages, he led a lecture at the White Pines auditorium. Approximately 500 people attended the three-hour event; Mitchell was so engaging that time apparently passed in the blink of an eye. His event closed with a spontaneous standing ovation.

For two weeks, he provided classes to local students in Grades 6-8 on the subject of creative writing. Working as an actor before he got into writing, he had a reputation for being an engaging, larger-than-life speaker who could enliven and inspire students.

As pictured, he also visited the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library. This workshop was geared toward younger children, in Grades 2 through 4. The library program was called The Magic Lie, based on his belief that writers are similar to both liars and magicians, creating words that seem real but aren’t. Part of his goal was to increase children’s confidence in their own ideas – or, as he put it, to “have a swelled head,” which he described as an admirable quality.

Mitchell felt that for this younger audience, he was reaching them at a crucial time to get them interested in the creative arts. It was important to him that he be able to “give [children] that creative nudge . . . before they’ve lost that spontaneity . . . before the world is too much with them,” he told the Sault Star.

His time in Sault Ste. Marie wrapped up in early October of 1975. However, if descriptions of his lectures and workshops are anything to go by, he doubtless had a lasting impact on students – and maybe even inspired a few budding writers.

Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.

Find out more of what the Public Library has to offer at and look for more Remember This? columns here