Sunday, May 31, 2009

Maps of British Columbia

I received some amazing maps in the mail on Friday. These are topographic maps in great detail, which are so useful when going over Lillian's route. I had a great time poring over these maps. Not POURING over them, of course.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Helpfulness and some new old books

Lots of people are helping with my quest to find both the mythical and the historical Lillian.
Today I had great responses from both the Yukon Archives (you are great!) and the Smithsonian Institution (hooray for interns!). Another thank you to the Cariboo Library Network (Quesnel Branch) and especially their Inter Library Loan service. Just received a phone call: two books are in, and one microfilm is ready, also.

Another thanks to the Church of the Latter-day Saints Family History Centre for locating films when people said it couldn't be done. Good work!

Went to Books and Company in Prince George today and no, not just for the Mrs. Marple lemon tarts. Found two used books, one on Stewart and one about Anyox. Fascinating reading.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Mythical Lillian versus the Real Lillian

I received an interesting letter in the mail today. From a woman who says that Lillian is a myth and not real at all, and that I'm tilting at windmills and that I'd be better off writing something else.

I think there is a certain amount of information out there about Lillian that has been copied and recopied and plagiarized over the years. No one bothered to do any double checking, they just rehashed the same old thing. That is Lillian the myth. The Lillian that stuffed her dead dog full of grass, for example.

But the real Lillian, the one I'm trying to find, existed. There are traces of her in archives, old files, dusty newspaper accounts and faded memories. She existed within a context of a world that was on the cusp of dramatic change. Old ways gone, only to be found in oral histories or decrepit structures.

My aim is not to perpetuate the myth that is Lillian, rather, it is to explore the history of the time in which she lived, and learn why her story resonates so strongly and incites such passion 80 years later.

"I've just had a brilliant idea" a book by Rob Godfrey

Taken directly from:
"In July 1999 the good ship Marie Anne sailed from Rotterdam, bound for the USA. On board this creaking cargo ship were Rob Godfrey and two Citroen 2CVs. This voyage was the first leg of an epic journey to Prudhoe Bay, on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, a journey that took Rob Godfrey and Jose Oostveen 8000 road miles across North America.
The 2CV Alaska Challenge was not only the first time a 2CV had been driven up to the Arctic Ocean in Alaska, it was also the first time that charity fundraising had been attempted entirely via the internet, and also the first time that an ongoing travelogue had been posted as 'almost live' reportage - the only things that weren't cutting edge about the 2CV Alaska Challenge were the cars.
Delay, deviation and danger while crossing the Atlantic Ocean, breakdowns, bust-ups and bacchanalia during the road journey to Alaska, and lots and lots of pissed-off grizzly bears were all part of what beforehand had seemed like a good idea. I've just had a brilliant idea! is not only an account of Rob's travels, it's also a quirky history of Canada and the Pacific Northwest."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Plugging away - need a bigger plug, maybe

I need to do some filing. I had two occurences today where it took me too long to find reference material. Everything used to be so organized. In beautiful folders, and beautiful piles. Now, everything in my office seems to be melding into one gigantic, slithering mess of papers.

And, I'm writing three chapters at once. This is neither logical nor efficient.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

La piste du télégraphe (1994) a French movie about Lillian

Written and directed by Liliane de Kermadec, this film is known in English as "The Telegraph Route."
NOTE: The character is called Lisa Alling.
"This French film chronicles the amazing-but-true story of Lisa Alling who in 1928 successfully walked from New York City to Siberia via the Bering Straight by following telegraph poles. It was shot entirely in the Ukraine. Lisa, a chambermaid, has had enough of American life and wants go home to Siberia. Because she had no money, she decided it was better to walk than stay in the U.S. any longer. An opportunist, she takes whatever food, warmth and even romance that is offered along the way." ~ Sandra Brennan, All Movie Guide

"Les Acacias Cineaudience release (in France) of a France 2 Cinema, Cinebravo production, with participation of Canal Plus, Sofiarp, UFCA and CNC. (International sales: Cinexport, Paris.) Produced, directed, written by Liliane de Kermadec. Co-executive producers, Patrick Dumont, Ismail Soliman Taghi-Zadeh. Lisa Alling ... Elena Safonova, John ... Christopher Chaplin, Shan ... Cong Shan, Carlo ... Miki Manojlovic, Muriel ... Mylene Demongeot
(English, French and Russian dialogue)
The photogenic Ukraine stands in for the whole of the U.S. and the frozen Yukon, circa 1928, in "The Telegraph Route," a leisurely road movie based on the true story of Lisa Alling, a Russian-born chambermaid who walked from New York City to Siberia. Attractively shot, agreeably goofy pic should make a pleasant addition to fest and tube slates that favor quirky tales of stubborn determination.
Elena Safonova ("Dark Eyes,""The Accompanist") gives a charming performance as the single-minded, penniless trekker with a terminal case of homesickness. After tending to one too many drunken revelers welcoming Charles Lindbergh back to Gotham, Alling sets out, on foot, for her distant birthplace.
Once off the beaten track, privation and deadly cold don't seem to phase Alling as she heads for the Bering Strait by following telegraph poles. She grabs warmth, food and a bit of romance -- including a brief idyll with a dashing young journalist (played by Charlie Chaplin's youngest son, Christopher) -- whenever they present themselves. Alling never explains her mission but ends up winning the viewer's respect.
Scripter/helmer Liliane de Kermadec, making her first theatrical feature since "Aloise" played Cannes in 1975, took her inspiration from a brief magazine article about Alling.
Once one grows accustomed to allegedly American but somewhat Slavic-looking characters named "Mike" and "Billy" speaking French, pic weaves a spell in which period costumes, cars and trains add up to a vintage vision of a sprawling land populated by kindly individuals, in which anything was possible."
I have not seen this film, but if anyone has a copy, please let me know:

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Even more confusing

Just when I think things are getting calm, things get confusing. Every time I receive more information, it just adds more questions. Not that I'm complaining. I'm just sayin'.


I think I need to do some filing. OK, this picture is not actually MY pile of paper. Mine is not nearly as orderly or as tidy as this. And of course, I have more than one pile. I have two piles on the floor, mostly correspondence. Estimate: 1 foot high. I have two other piles, sort of organized, sort of not, on my bookshelf. I have the "Yukon Chapter" on the side table. This pile now includes books, words I've written, notes to myself, and an empty file folder. I went to the library yesterday, and now I have a pile of books about sternwheelers.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A day off, full of work

I had a day off from my "real" job today, and had a great time this morning getting off some correspondence to people about Lillian. Plus, I was able to go to the library and put in an Inter Library Loan request, and also picked up some books for background information. I'm looking forward to an evening with all of these books.

I also corresponded via email this afternoon with a few researchers, and before you know it, it's almost 7 pm.

No writing today, but probably a page before bedtime.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Canada Genealogy AKA Jane's Your Aunt

My friend M. Diane Rogers has an absolutely marvellous blog:
It's all things genealogy, and women's history, too. Updated regularly, and full of interesting tidbits. She very kindly mentioned my quest for Lillian Alling on her blog recently.

Great weekend for writing

It was a great weekend. Not only was the weather warm and sunny, I also got quite a bit of writing done. It was rather unexpected, because I'd been holding off on doing more writing on the Yukon chapter until some photocopies arrived this week. But a book I picked up at last week's used book sale was very inspirational, and useful as well. So this "extra" writing will go in a chapter I'm tentatively calling "Survival in the Wild" and it's made me even more of an admirer of Lillian, and has affirmed my belief in her even further.

My writing buddy

Whenever I write, my cat is always very interested. Mr. Ruffleshins von Marmalade (AKA Big Red), when he's not repeatedly opening the same cupboard, or staring disinterestedly at birds, keeps me company and keeps my feet warm, too.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Review of Cassandra Pybus's book, "The Woman Who Walked to Russia"

Bookends: This book got lost along the way
by Dan Davidson
The Woman Who Walked to Russia
Reviewed: May 30, 2003
By: Cassandra Pybus
Publisher: Thomas Allen Publishers
238 Pages, $24.95

"This week’s review is probably not for the faint of heart. If you had access to a collection of Bookends columns you would be hard pressed to find me spending much time saying anything nasty about a book. Generally speaking, you only see reviews of books that I got some pleasure from or that I thought were well done.
This week I’m breaking that rule.
The mysterious tale of Lillian Alling, The Woman Who Walked to Russia, has a lot of potential as a story. It could be a good historical detective story or it could be fictionalized as an effective novel. Cassandra Pybus’ book, originally published as The Raven Road, is neither of these.
Perhaps it is the change of title that misleads the reader. Pybus intended to write about Lillian Alling. Part one of the book, “Looking for Lillian” will be a good starting point for anyone else who chooses to tackle this topic, because Pybus spent a lot of time and energy trying to figure out just who Alling originally was and where she might have come from. Her quest for a country of origin and the mystery woman’s real name - “Alling” really doesn’t sound particularly Russian - make good reading. I recommend the first 43 pages of this book as a pleasant exercise.
After that, well ....
I should probably mention my own quest for knowledge at this point. When I began to get really annoyed with this book (more on that later) I spent the better part of an afternoon doing internet research on both Alling and Pybus. The late Don Sawatsky wrote a pretty good article on the mystery woman back in 1997. In addition, there are quite a few other articles floating out there as well as a review of a play called “All the Way to Russia With Love” by Susan M. Flemming, which played at the Ottawa Fringe Festival in 2002.
There are a lot of references to Pybus as well, and the general laudatory tone of most of them made it still more difficult to understand how this book got into print. She’s a historian of note, a writer with controversial views, an editor and (hard nosed) critic of other peoples work. It was reading a couple of her dissections of other peoples' books that made me decide to write this column.
Having set us up for a good exploratory journey, Pybus instead serves us up a book which is mostly concerned with how she and her travelling buddy, Gerry, find out that they aren’t compatible companions after all these years. They squabble over food, sleeping arrangements, hikes in the bush and just about everything you can think of between Vancouver and Dawson City, where they finally part company. This tale is more like Pybus’ revenge than anything else and should certainly guarantee that the two keep a continent between them from now on.
Up to their arrival in Dawson, though, I was still having a bit of fun with the book, regretting what might have been, to be sure, but not ready to run.
Her first sight of Dawson, as described from a bluff above the town, doesn’t exist. There is no bluff along the Klondike Highway leading to town (it's in a valley, you see) and no way she could have taken her Pathfinder anywhere to see what she describes. Her description of the Yukon River Hostel rings true, though White Ram Bed and Breakfast will probably not be pleased by her account of that establishment.
For here on, however, it all goes to hell pretty quickly. There are places in Dawson where you can use the internet, but the Visitor Reception Centre on Front Street is not one of them. Nor is it possible to take a shower there, (though some of our summer transients have been known to wash their hair in the washroom sinks). Pybus claims to have done both.
She also claims to have spent a lot of time in the library, which she somehow fails to notice is a joint school/public facility (my wife was the teacher-librarian at that time). While there she merrily romps though books that the library doesn’t have, including a set of memoirs by John Franklin and archival quality copies of the Dawson News. Ripping through local folklore she completely dismisses as a fabrication the well-documented story of the Bishop Bompas, the Bishop Who Ate His Boots, and ventures a variety of half-baked and ill informed opinions on numerous subjects, waxing eloquently about the “one man tourist industry” built around the legend of Jack London while ignoring totally the fairly obvious references to Robert Service, Pierre Berton and an interesting Austro-Hungarian chap named Jan Welzl, who is worth a book by himself.
From the top of the Midnight Dome she manages to describe the Yukon River as “milky”, making one wonder if she ever actually looked at it, or was even here. “Murky” would be the right word most of the time as it is full of silt from rivers upstream.
Oh, she was here. I have verified this from talking to a few of the recognizable people who are described in the book. But her account of the town is downright sloppy for someone who is supposed to be a bright light on the Australian academic scene.
Later on, I met someone who had lived in Atlin for a time and had a similar litany of complaints to make about her handling of that town. If two of the places she wrote about were badly handled, I thought, how can I have any confidence in her account of the rest of the trip?
The simple answer is that I can’t, and I don’t think you should, either. This book got lost on the trail of a mystery woman, and should probably have stayed that way."

- review courtesy of Dan Davidson
Dan Davidson, who writes a book review column called Bookends and runs in the Whitehorse Star, Fort Nelson News and online at (Mac's Fireweed Books).

Graphic Novel about Lillian Alling by Kerry Byrne

Here is a review of Kerry Byrne's graphic novel, Lillian the Legend. The review was written by Dan Davidson, who writes a book review column called Bookends and runs in the Whitehorse Star, Fort Nelson News and online at (Mac's Fireweed Books).

Lillian the Legend
by Kerry Byrne
Conundrum Press
64 pages

"There have been numerous books about the strange tale of Lillian Alling, a Russian immigrant woman who turned up in New York City in the 1920s, got very homesick while working menial jobs in the New World, and decided she would walk home. Refusing all opportunities for rides, she walked to Chicago, to Minneapolis and to Winnipeg, after which there's a blank space in her legend until she turned up on the Yukon Telegraph Trail. There she was arrested and sentenced to prison for vagrancy by a judge who, is it generally felt, did that to keep her from dying on the trail in the winter.

Released in the spring she continued on her trek, arriving in Dawson in the fall of 1928 and wintering there. According Susan Smith, a Quesnel writer working a book about her, Lillian left here in 1929 and was eventually reported in Teller, Alaska and Providenja, Siberia.

Kerry Byrne's graphic novel version of Lillian's story ends there and with a bit of a mystery, because no one knows if she kept walking until she reached her eastern European home or not.
The book is a bit crowded and static. When she allows herself to draw a big panel Byrne is at her best to my taste. The work does, however, do justice to the story and is worth the read.
Byrne spent several summers and a winter in Dawson in the early 2000s, and was involved with the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture. She produced some tiny graphic stories in 6 cm by 6 cm panels which make up the last 12 pages of this book. One is the true story of a would-be gold miner who drowned under the river ice while diving for gold in the middle of the winter."

- review courtesy of Dan Davidson
To find out more about this graphic novel, please go to:

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Used books, Ted Eames: his journey and his poem

Went to the museum's used book sale today. It is a fundraiser for the Friends of the Museum, and there were thousands of donated books. I got two bags full, and some are directly related to my background research in Lillian. Got a totally fascinating book on Russian history, one on travel in the Alaska-Yukon corridor, another on Yukon place names, and a few books on writing non-fiction.

The Yukon chapter is shaping up (slowly). I'm enjoying the process of thinking about how I want to write this chapter. Of course, the way I originally imagined it is not working. So now, I must just write to see what comes out. And see what information and background I'm missing.

So many people are interested in Lillian. Just got a wonderful email from a Ted Eames who is writing a book about his travels in Northern BC and area. He was here in 2007, and will be back probably September 2009. He sent me a narrative, imaginative poem about Lillian's travels and troubles. I just loved it!

If he doesn't use it in his book, maybe he'll let me use it in mine. Ted? Are you reading this? :)