Have you ever read “The Thirty-Nine Steps” or seen the Alfred Hitchcock movie based on it? Have you ever borrowed a book from one of the libraries in our area? If so, you have accessed a little piece of Spirit River history.
Sir John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir of Elsfield and Governor General of Canada from 1935-40, was the author of The Thirty-Nine Steps and many other books (2 – 3 a year). His wife, also a prolific author, was the driving force behind the provision of rural libraries in western Canada.
She established the first real library at Rideau Hall during her time there as vice-regal consort. From that stock of 40,000 books, trainloads were dispatched to the west in order to promote literacy. The “Lady Tweedsmuir Prairie Library Scheme” served many, helping the long winters pass more pleasantly.
He helped establish the Governor-General’s Literary Awards, an annual prize still given 76 years later for the most excellent Canadian books in several categories and languages.
Canada’s proud literary merit is boosted each time the GG awards are announced.
Together, Lord and Lady Tweedsmuir travelled extensively, wanting to know thoroughly the country and her people. They reached out to everyone, speaking personally with as many Canadians as they could and encouraging a unique, united Canadian identity. Lord Tweedsmuir declared this was the job of the Governor General. His background in communication, politics and the church gave the Baron the experience to approach and listen to people. Lady Tweedsmuir was equally adept in her interactions with all sorts of people, as well as in her wish to hear and help. This was especially important during the Great Depression.
The Tweedsmuir’s were a very distinguished vice-regal couple. They made an impression wherever they visited. The Peace Country was no exception.
In Mid-August 1939, the vice-regal party arrived in our area for a whirlwind tour. Peace River, Hines Creek and Spirit River were towns not to be missed. The Calgary Herald recorded the rows of people on hand to greet the literary pair, mentioning that Lord Tweedsmuir showed particular interest in the Mackenzie Cairn and that Lady Tweedsmuir was informed of the progress of her rural library initiative.
It was her idea that villages and towns should compile their own history books to make sure the past was remembered. A “Tweedsmuir” is a scrapbook style history of a town with biographies of residents and properties, full of pictures, anecdotes and historical facts. Does our Chepi Sepe history book come to mind?
Next time you settle down with a Governor General’s Award winning book, perhaps borrowed from Spirit River Municipal library, maybe you’ll remember Lord and Lady Tweedsmuir. Will you wonder if, 73 years ago, they looked upon the very spot you occupy and thought that they could reach so far into the future?