An upcoming anthology about immigration and colonization in northern Ontario - penned by a number of authors from across the north - will also feature a literary voice from Sault Ste. Marie.
Sarah McComb, who contributed to the book 150 Years Up North And More, says that her writing for the book took shape last year while she was visiting her grandfather in the hospital.
“That was my big push to start researching his family history,” said McComb.
McComb knew that her great-grandfather had immigrated to Canada from Croatia as a young man, and after hearing several stories about him, decided to dig up records of her family history. She was also looking for things to talk about with her grandfather while he was in the hospital, often bringing him articles and documents “to help fill his day.”
“Stories of immigration to Canada and a lot of the discrimination that immigrants faced and continue to face, that’s something that is kind of universal,” said McComb.
“I did try to root it as much as possible in Sault Ste. Marie, but there’s a lot of aspects that aren’t specific to Sault Ste. Marie.”
After roughly a month of research, a week of ‘intensive writing’ and a ‘ton of editing,’ McComb had a piece of creative nonfiction in order to contribute to 150 Years Up North And More.
“This past summer I saw a call for submissions from Latitude 46 Publishing, which is a publishing house I’ve really been following and loving what they’ve been doing since they started up,” McComb said.
McComb says that her contribution to the anthology is ‘firmly rooted in Sault Ste. Marie.’ Her grandfather, along with a business partner, started up the New Toronto Hotel in the city’s west end in the 1930s. The establishment was located on the corner of James Street and Cathcart, next to Spadoni’s Furniture.
“It’s no longer there, but my grandfather and I... we’ll drive past the empty lot and he’ll tell me about things he remembers about the building, and what he remembers about downtown,” said McComb.
“I really wish that I could’ve gotten the chance to see it as my grandfather saw it when he was growing up,” she continued. “He can tell me as we go down the street the names of the different people who lived there, or who owned the stores, and what specific stores they were. I get such a strong sense of community from him.”
McComb says that she was taken aback by some aspects of her grandfather’s stories, especially accounts of racism towards immigrants who lived in the west end of Sault Ste. Marie.
“A lot of people who lived in the west end couldn’t cross Gore Street and go east without getting attacked.” she said. “Things like that were really surprising to hear.”
“It’s one thing to hear your own family’s stories and be fascinated by them, and it’s another thing entirely to find out that this thing I’ve written about my family is going to be published in an anthology.”
150 Years Up North And More, published by Sudbury-based Latitude 46 Publishing, is available for preorder, and is set to be officially launched March 24.