Burton K. Janes
Ginny Ross, a pre-teen living in Harbour Grace, has a dream — she wants to be a pioneer of flight.
However, there are significant obstacles to her success. Who will take her seriously? Wherever will she find the money for flying lessons at the height of the Great Depression? Will anyone try to stop her? Will anyone support her at a time when most pilots are men? Does she have the courage, determination and stubbornness to make her dream come true?
This is the conundrum Heather Stemp (nee Ross) writes about in her novel, "Amelia and Me."
A retired schoolteacher living in Ontario, Heather has a personal connection to Newfoundland, especially Harbour Grace.
"My father’s grandfather, Joe Ross, emigrated from County Cavan, Ireland, in the early 1800s," she explains. "He came to his uncle, Harrison Ridley, in Harbour Grace." Heather’s family lived in the Conception Bay town until World War II, when they relocated to Toronto.
"Their attachment to Harbour Grace was strong," she adds, "and they returned often. We came with them, and Harbour Grace became an important part of our lives, too."
It should come as no surprise that Heather’s word portrait of the town is close to the real thing.
"Because I came to Harbour Grace as a child, as well as an adult, I know the town well," she says. She spent a lot of time at the Archibald Hotel, which her Aunt Rose owned. Her Uncle Herm owned Archibald Farms. She also spent much time at Bannerman House.
"We spent the whole summer in my Uncle Harry’s house, which was behind Pike’s Hotel. As a child and as a teenager, I explored every nook and cranny of Harbour Grace."
Heather chose to frame her story as juvenile fiction. "The story was written through the eyes of my aunt, Ginny Ross, when she was 12 years old," she says. "Her observations and experiences will appeal to 12-year-olds, as well as adults."
Ginny has plenty of pluck, which the dictionary defines as courage or resolution in the face of difficulties. The reader won’t be surprised that she actually writes a letter to her heroine, Amelia Earhart.
"You see," she explains, "I have a problem. I want to be a pilot like you, but I don’t have anyone to teach me how to fly …
"My papa (grandfather) thinks I should follow my dream to be a pilot. My friends ... say if anyone can do it, it’s me. I think this proves there are people who know I’m serious about my dream and believe in me.
"I know I have to finish school, so my goal for now is to make all the arrangements for my flying lessons. Then, when I graduate, everything will be in place for me to learn how to fly …
"I’ll work very hard and do everything you suggest."
Heather dedicates her book to Ginny’s great-great-nephews and nieces.
"When Ginny died in 2001," she writes, "we lost our last Ross family member from Harbour Grace. (My dad passed away in 1993.) As the eldest of four children, I had heard more of the family stories. It occurred to me that if I didn’t write them down they’d be lost forever. The book actually started as a family history. After some research, I discovered our link to the aviation history of Harbour Grace — and what a rich history it is. That is when ‘Amelia and Me’ was born."
She wrote "Amelia and Me" for two reasons: "I wanted my grandchildren to know their Newfoundland history. I also wanted other readers to know what a great place Newfoundland is, especially Harbour Grace."
Does Ginny Ross ever learn to fly? Readers of "Amelia and Me" will have to await a sequel.
"In my next book," Heather says coyly, "Ginny continues her adventures in Harbour Grace; Lafayette, Illinois; and Gander. Her original dream still dominates her life.
"The book is for anyone who has ever had a dream."
Heather adds a few flourishes that lend credibility to her work of historical fiction. For example, there’s a map of Harbour Grace, locating sites relevant to the book. There are more than 20 vintage photos, including Joseph Ross’ store, Archibald Boot and Shoe Factory, Amelia Earhart after she lands at Harbour Grace, and the Archibald Hotel. Finally, a glossary explains select words used in the book.
"Amelia and Me" is published by Pennywell Press, an imprint of Flanker Press, St. John’s.
— Burton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His column appears in The Compass every week. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org