The enormity of the project started to dawn on me. How do I find and reach all the women who lived in Telegraph Cove over its first 100 years? Almost all of them came with a husband who worked in the mill, and some didn’t stay long. Many would have died by now, so to get their stories I would have to try to find their children. Daughters often change their name when they get married, so how to find all these wisps from the past?
Thankfully, my mother had kept in touch with the main families that lived there in the post-war years, and, incredibly, many of the matriarchs were still hale and hearty. I wrote, emailed and phoned to every contact I had or could be directed towards. I explained my idea and asked if it would be okay to interview the women about their lives. They all remembered me as a girl, and knew my mother and my mother’s family and so doors were literally and figuratively opened.
I planned little road trips to Vancouver Island and other small islands nearby. I slept in spare rooms or motels, and renewed acquaintance with these mavens of my youth. Those that had daughters who had grown up in the Cove gave me those names and contact details, as I thought it would be interesting to interview the next generation of women, to learn about their experiences growing up in Telegraph Cove as a child and, crucially, to provide insight into their mother’s story, as well as details and anecdotes, and lessons learned from their mothers that may inform their own lives.
I found a good, easy to use, voice recording app on my ipad that was indispensable. Using this allowed me to concentrate on the person and what was being said, rather than on trying to make notes, without eye contact. I wanted to watch them tell their story, in their own words, so that I could later listen to it again at leisure. This way, I could use as much as possible of their voices in the writing.
I also wanted to make sure I got things right, and didn’t trust my short term memory to jot things down with accuracy. Having these women know me not only made the experience a wonderful reconnection on a personal level, but they opened up to me more expansively than they would have to a stranger. This I knew was an enormous advantage, but I also felt a responsibility, which grew a little heavier over time. I started to feel very protective to these women, many of whom had lived through some real challenges: physical, emotional, financial.
I knew i was really on to something when I saw their eyes light up to tell of their lives, being asked about things that had never been considered of any importance to anyone except perhaps their children and grandchildren, if they were lucky. Everyone has a story, and some of the pioneers of rural living have remarkable stories that have vanished into air once the person dies, unless they are recorded and valued. Particularly women, whose everyday lives have rarely been given as much attention as that of men in the same circumstances
Another great advantage that I had to bring to the interview process was familiarity with Telegraph Cove, its history and environs. Many things did not have to be explained to me once they were told. This aided the conversational flow, and made the entire process so enjoyable, these lengthy conversations over tea and cookies (and I ate a lot of fabulous cookies!)
When finished with individual interviews (which I tried not to belabour for my subjects’ sakes) I would ask about other people who had lived at Telegraph Cove during their time there, and whether there were any contact details or information I could use to find them. In this way I was able to build a cache of names and dates to flesh out the epochs of 20th century Telegraph Cove.
It took almost 2 years to weave in these road trips to fit around my life’s other demands and work schedule. Many, many times I was thankful that Telegraph Cove was such a small community, and that the key people were finite in number!