SSJ: Welcome! Tell us about yourself
EL: I’m originally from Melbourne, Australia and I’ve lived in and around Vancouver for over 25 years.
For most of those years I’ve worked as a business reporter, a freelance journalist and feature writer. I’ve worked in the business, city and feature sections of the Vancouver Sun, as the Vancouver correspondent for Marketing Magazine, and as a researcher for CBC-TV.
I’m also a mother with a passion for history and heritage houses and I’ve managed to parlay those interests into four books: Frommer’s with Kids Vancouver; At Home with History: the untold secrets of Greater Vancouver’s heritage houses; co-author of The Life & Art of Frank Molnar, Jack Hardman & LeRoy Jensen; and Sensational Victoria: bright lights, red lights, murders, ghosts & gardens. Sensational Victoria is a book about the city’s famous and infamous, the ordinary and the extraordinary, filtered through the houses in which they lived.
I just finished reading Sensational Victoria.
I loved the book! How did you get starting writing it?
In many ways the book is a follow up to a series of magazine and newspaper articles about the histories and mysteries behind various houses across Canada; and At Home With History, published in 2007, and my blog. A book on Victoria with its history, gorgeous houses and eccentricities seemed a natural next step.
When I first started writing about houses I’d pick these gorgeous mansions—on Vancouver’s West Side, Shaughnessy, New West, etc. I’d spend weeks researching them, only to find that nothing very interested ever took place there. I now start with the story and it doesn’t matter if the house is a 100-year-old heritage mansion or a humble cottage—it’s all about the story.
Tell us about your previous books.
I wrote Frommer’s with Kids Vancouver in 2001 and part of the appeal was that I could include my children then aged, two, five and eight in the research. We road-tested everything—from kid-friendly restaurants to parks and gardens, hiked trails and visited dozens of attractions.
After the book was finished I don’t think we left the house for about a year!
At Home with History is a collection of real life stories designed to bring to life the glamorous and not-so-glamorous social histories of various heritage homes in Metro Vancouver—stories of brothels and bootleggers, secret rooms, ghosts and Shakespearean-style murders.
The Life & Art of Frank Molnar, Jack Hardman & LeRoy Jensen is the second in a series on the Unheralded Artists of BC. I profiled Frank Molnar, and the book is filled with gorgeous reproductions of the artist’s paintings and sculptures, personal photographs and previously untold stories.
Sensational Victoria: bright lights, red lights, murders, ghosts & gardens is a follow up to At Home with History in some ways, but the stories are structured in themes such as legendary women, celebrities, artists, brothels and murders, and we have included maps—one has a walking tour with Emily Carr around James Bay in 1913—and hundreds of photos designed to (hopefully) appeal to visitors interested in history and heritage houses and wanting something a bit different than the typical guidebook or tourist brochure.
What is it that you like about British Columbia history?
To discover that it’s more than gold mining, white males and railways. That once you start digging there are amazing women that have carved out their place in history and helped change our world. There are adventurers and fascinating stories from visible minorities—the Chinese, Indo Canadians and First Nations to name a few—which give an entirely different point of view, as do the ordinary immigrants—the Italians, the Japanese and the black community--ordinary people with extraordinary stories that often go untold.
I concur! What books are you reading right now?
I usually have more than one on the go and my tastes range from popular fiction to long-out-of print non fiction. By my bed at the moment is Where’d you go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple; Fred Herzog Photographs, and Aaron Chapman’s Liquor, Lust, and the Law.
Tell us about your next projects.
I’m juggling a couple of different projects. Instead of printing more copies of At Home with History we’ve decided to do an update. I want to make it more appealing to visitors, offer lots more photos—both archival and present, and restructure it so that it’s thematic rather than geographic. As well, there are about 10 of us (including John Belshaw, Aaron Chapman, James Johnstone, and Lani Russwurm), collaborating on a book about the seedier side of Vancouver’s history.
I look forward to both the update of At Home with History and the book about seedy Vancouver, both projects sound marvellous. Anything else you’d like to say to our readers today?
Writing about history for me is all about the thrill of the chase. It’s uncovering connections that you never knew were there, it’s finding descendants of people who lived a century or more ago to tell you their stories, and it’s finding that nugget of information that no one knew was there.
How can people buy your books?
Sensational Victoria should be easy to find in any major bookstore, on the ferries, and Munro’s Books in Victoria have been really supportive. You can buy it online through Amazon or Chapters/Indigo or through my publisher at Anvil Press. At Home with History may be a little trickier to find, but there are still copies circulating, and The Life & Art of Frank Molnar, Jack Hardman & LeRoy Jensen should still be in bookstores or available through Amazon and at Mother Tongue’s website.
How can people find you on line?
*Editor's note: Here's a nice piece by Eva Lazarus in which she discusses her book Sensational Victoria: