Rachael Preston could feel a story as she stood in front of a plaque on Hamilton’s Waterfront Trail.
An old archival photo showed boys lined up in swim trunks on the worn boathouses of Cootes Paradise in the Ontario city.
“I thought wow, what a childhood and to be just on the edge of the city,” said Preston, whose book The Fishers of Paradise was unveiled along the same trail this month as the 16th installment of Project Bookmark Canada, described on the organization’s website as a “one-of-a-kind Canadian cultural innovation” that places fiction and poetry in the exact Canadian locations where literary scenes are set. There are bookmarks from Newfoundland to Vancouver.
The Fishers of Paradise is set among fictional residents of Hamilton’s historic boathouse community at Cootes Paradise, and explores Hamilton in the 1930s, the City Beautiful Movement and what it means to live beyond the margins, a press release for the bookmark project says.
Preston, who now lives in Nanaimo, built the fictional story within the framework of a historical one but she’ll tell you, you have to write a story about people, not events.
This one was inspired by 130 families that lived in the boathouse community that the City of Hamilton wanted to get rid of, according to Preston, who said one politician had a plan or a dream for Hamilton to join part of the City Beautiful Movement and beautify the northwest entrance. Archived city minutes showed Preston how much people were offered for their homes – some were as low as $45.
This is the third book for the author, who won the Hamilton Arts Council’s inaugural Kerry Schooley Book Award for The Fishers of Paradise in 2013 and this year had it published in a new edition by publishers Wolsak and Wynn. She also taught creative writing for more than a decade at Ontario’s Wilfrid Laurier University and Sheridan and Mohawk colleges before moving to B.C. in 2003.
Preston calls the idea of bookmarking stories in the same spot where scenes took place a fabulous idea and one that brings literature to people and gives it a geographic face. That her book is on the literary trail is the most amazing thing that’s happened in her career, she said.
“It’s actually really special that I came upon the story by walking on the trail and I saw a plaque and now the story that I wrote because of that has been honored with a plaque along that same trail,” she said. “There’s a beautiful symmetry in that.”
Preston will read from her book at the Nanaimo Harbourfront Library July 28, 6:30-7:30 p.m., along with Jennifer Manuel, author of The Heaviness of Things that Float.