Lucan, Ontario has it’s own controversial historical family, the Donnelly’s. Much research has been done and yet the perspective on what really happened still depends on the story teller. I first met the family through a play written by James Reaney called simply The Donnellys . Having studied the play and formulated my own response many years ago it was fascinating to visit the town museum. I highly recommend you do so if you are in the London area.
To have an opportunity to introduce my unusual family story to the community of readers familiar with their notorious family was indeed a pleasure. Ghost hunters find both families of interest. Although the plot of my story has little in common with the events of the Donnelly narrative, Percy, the patriarch of the Criddles, made use of racial advantages denied to the Donnellys. Comparing the stories on racial and religious issues would make a most interesting study.
My husband, Art, introduced my reading by playing Beethoven’s Für Elise on his classical guitar. I described the ups and downs of researching my ‘forgotten’ great-grandmother’s origins and life on the homestead. As I gathered evidence I learned that Elise Harrer came from a respectable German family who never knew she was a virtual slave to Mr. & Mrs. Criddle and their eight children. Through Elise and her five children’s unpaid labour, especially her sons for over 25 years, the Criddles were able to assume a genteel life in spite of repeated crop failures on the sandy homestead. There were lighter moments in my talk when I described the process of learning to write a book. For instance, I had too many characters for a good story, and furthermore, my main characters were totally unbelievable. One, great grandfather Criddle, was a complete villain and the other, great-grandmother Elise, a perfect saint. Who would believe that?
Among those gathered was another writer, Elisabeth Zavitz, who found my talk very liberating. She had been struggling with “writer’s block” and told me my talk and later reading the book was just the tonic she needed to get her pen moving. Her blog “An Embarrassment of Freedom” is well worth checking out.