During the summer of 1993, the Lakefield Historical Society placed an historical plaque at 8 Regent Street across from St. John the Baptist Anglican Church. Lois Wilson, the first woman moderator of the United Church of Canada, came to the ceremony honouring her friend and classmate from their United College days in Winnipeg. Margaret Laurence purchased the large yellow brick house in March, 1974 and she occupied it until her death on January 5th, 1987. The house was reminiscent of her grandfather’s house in Neepawa, Manitoba and it too had once been a funeral home. (The Neepawa house has subsequently become the Margaret Laurence Home museum.)
In 1995, Ron and Joan Ward of Lakefield owned Margaret Laurence’s retirement house and the Ward family organized a banquet to honour the memory of Margaret Laurence and her 13 years in Lakefield. The Wards were neighbours and friends of Margaret Laurence during her Lakefield years. They purchased the house on Regent Street from Margaret’s children David and Jocelyn in 1993 with the intention of making it a retreat. A Peterborough Examiner article quotes Ron Ward as stating that, “we don’t want it to be a museum and we don’t want it to be a bed and breakfast – we want it to be something in between. People are looking for a place to get away. “The plans for a retreat never quite materialized, and following the refusal of the village council to rezone the property to allow a tea room/bed & breakfast, the Wards sold the house to their son Tim. He took a year off from his Toronto teaching job to return to Lakefield and attempt to turn the house into a centre for writers. Nancy Warren, a friend of the Ward family, was the first “artist in residence” at the house and she was available for guided tours. Tim Ward in a Globe and Mail article explained his involvement with the house by stating, “They [his parents] wanted to do something literary with it. They were keen on having something done with the house that would promote Lakefield and the literary aspects of Lakefield.”
The first public event organized by the Ward family, assisted by a small group of volunteers, took place on July 29th and July 30th, 1995. Events naturally focussed mainly on Margaret Laurence. However, the rich literary history of the community was also acknowledged. “The weekend included a Saturday afternoon walking tour of spots important to Lakefield’s literary heritage, followed by performances and remembrances. In the evening, a banquet, more reminisces and remembrances took place at Lakefield College School.”
Dramatist Helen Porter (who would become a popular part of the LLF) presented three Laurence stories from A Bird in the House during the afternoon session and Lisa Heffron a representative of the Writer’s Union recalled meeting Laurence when they both lived in England.
CBC host Shelagh Rogers acted has master of ceremonies at the banquet entitled “Remembering Margaret: The Lakefield Years” and a number of individuals who knew Margaret personally during that period spoke, including Gary Geddes, Joan Johnston and Alice Williams. Michael Bennett provided musical selections and Andrew Wainwright, editor of “A Very Large Soul” read selections from Margaret Laurence’s letters to members of “the tribe” as she referred to her fellow Canadian writers. Tim Ward and Ron Ward concluded the evening with an outline of their plans for the Margaret Laurence House.
The following year, a group of volunteers formed to plan an annual festival focussing on the pioneer and contemporary authors who have lived in Lakefield and the Kawartha Lakes. In subsequent years, the organizing committee was spearheaded by Shelley Ambrose and Brenda Neill. Quaker Oats was the founding sponsor, but when the company was purchased by PepsiCo the support was discontinued. This shortfall was replaced by a wide variety of local sponsors. There is no financial support for the LLF from any of the arts councils or other government departments. It has continued for the last 15 years to be operated by volunteers from within the local community.
One of the key organizers of the LLF from the beginning has been Shelley Ambrose, who was a new summer resident of Clear Lake in 1995, when the Ward family called the CBC to arrange for a host at the banquet. (Ambrose is perhaps best known as the long time assistant to the late Peter Gzowski when he ruled on CBC national radio and later as the producer of Pamela Wallin & Company on television. Currently she is Co-Publisher of Walrus magazine, following 3 years as the Cultural Attaché in NYC, while Pamela Wallin was Canadian Consul General there.)
Former Trent University professor, Christl Verduyn, recalls Ambrose’s immediate impact on the fledgling festival: “She’d just acquired the cottage outside of Lakefield, and of course she could see the potential in Ron’s plans. So, she got involved, managing to get Shelagh Rogers as the first MC for the very first LLF. Shelley also immediately set about professionalizing the whole thing … the festival grew in leaps and bounds, thanks to Shelley’s connections, and to her organizing abilities. There were some pretty sad little meetings in those early days … But we soldiered on, and after the first couple of years, word spread, and Lakefield folks started to get involved – which was the idea from the very start.”
The most active of the Lakefield volunteers was Brenda Neill, who became co-chair with Ambrose in1998, following a 34 year career as a teacher with the Peterborough County Board of Education. Neill provided the essential links to the local community via her many volunteer connections to various churches, the SEL library (of which she was the board vice-chair), service organizations, as well as local sponsors and volunteers. It was she who tirelessly built the literary festival organization at the grass roots level, while Shelley provided the strategic direction and booked most of the authors. Neill’s accomplishments were recognized when she was inducted into the LDSS Wall of Honour in 2005: “Under her leadership, this festival has maintained a local emphasis while establishing itself as a widely known and highly respected event in the broader Canadian arts community.”
As a more formal non-profit organization evolved, it became necessary to create a mission statement which read: “To enhance the cultural stature of Lakefield and the surrounding area, through remembering and celebrating its literary heritage and by showcasing current Canadian authors.” This simple statement has served the organization well over the years and provides a guiding principle for the coordinating committee, as they prepare for the next festival. The LLF is now held annually on a weekend close to Margaret Laurence’s birthday (July 18th).
While the Lakefield Literary Festival was launched as a celebration of Margaret Laurence, it has become a celebration of the rich literary heritage of Lakefield and the surrounding area which includes the works of Catharine Parr Traill, Susanna Moodie, Isabella Valancy Crawford and John Craig, among others, all of who lived and wrote in Lakefield. Over the years, additions to the festival have included a Children’s Tent, Young Adult readings, displays at Christ Church Community Museum and Memorial Hall, the Young Writers at The Lakefield Literary Festival Contest, boat cruises, feature films, readings in the park with authors, in one case arriving via birch bark canoe and events held in a beautiful century old barn. Sunday services at the Lakefield United Church and Christ Church Douro, provide an emphasis on spiritual and literary links. Book lovers from across Canada and the United States have discovered this unique literary venue and its reputation with the reading public and the author community is now well established.
Lakefield Literary Festival Authors, Speakers, Performers and Hosts
1995 – 2015
1995 July 29-30
Shelagh Rogers Host
Joan Johnston, Gary Geddes, Helen Porter, Alice Williams.
1996 July 20-21
Shelagh Rogers Host. Rohinton Mistry, Dr. Christl Verduyn, Dr. David Staines, Helen Porter
1997 July 26-27
Shelagh Rogers Host. Helen Porter, Michael Peterman, Elizabeth Galvin, Patrick Crowe and Keith Clarkson, Drew Hayden Taylor.
Childrens; Troon Harrison ,Gail Chislett, Bill Slavin
1998 July 18-19
Shelagh Rogers Host. Elizabeth Galvin, Prof. Elizabeth Hopkins, Dr. Kim Krenz, Helen Porter, Erika de Vasconcelos, Katherine Hooke, John Lennox, Ruth Panosfsky, Nino Ricci, Peter Gzowski, Fourth Line Theatre scene from The Stone Angel, Helen Porter. Janet Lunn and Peter Gzowski presented and read aloud the 1st Young Writers Awards (2 winners, Junior and Senior, non-fiction category only in that first year)
Childrens and YA Troon Harrison, Janet Lunn, Kady MacDonald Denton
1999 July 17-18
Shelagh Rogers Host. Jane Urquhart, Drew Hayden Taylor, Helen Porter, Jean Murray Cole, Sylvia Sutherland (host), Enid Mallory, Troon Harrison, Sean Kane, Joey Slinger, Richard Pope, Neil Broadfoot, 4th Line Theatre’s Tim Crease, Laurel Pluck, Caron Garside.
Childrens and YA Sheree Fitch, Julie Johnston, Troon Harrison.
2000 July 15-16
Wayne Johnston, Charlotte Gray, Tom Allen (host), Charles Foran, Roy MacGregor, Ormond and Barbara Mitchell, Elizabeth Gray (host), Helen Porter, Elizabeth Thompson, Jean Murray Cole, Aileen Young.
Childrens and YA Ted Staunton, Kim and Eugenie Fernandes, Roy MacGregor
2001 July 14-15
Shelagh Rogers Host. Michael Ondaatje, Elizabeth Hay, Kirk Wipper, Charles Pachter, Sheila Johnston, Dr. Giles Bryant, Judith Skelton Grant, Carol Roberts, Gail Corbett, Troon Harrison.
Children and YA Don Gillmor, Marie-Louise Gay, Richard Scrimger
Kids T-shirt design: Marie-Louise Gay
2002 July 20-21
Shelagh Rogers and Erica Ritter Hosts. Richard B. Wright, Michael Peterman (host) Molly Thom “The Bush Ladies” (Mary Ann Macdonald, Wendy Springate, Elva Mae Hoover and Meg Hogarth), Prof Elizabeth Hopkins, 4th Line Theatre’s Rob Winslow, Dennis Lee, David MacFarlane. Rosemary Ganley
Stoney Lake Cruise #1 Shelagh Rogers, Linwood Barclay, Christie Bentham, Katherine Hooke.
Childrens and YA Kathie Stinson, Jan Thornhill, Dennis Lee, Troon Harrison, Connie Brummel Crook
Kids T-shirt design: Jan Thornhill
2003 July 19-20
Andy Barrie Host. (In the big outdoor tent) Wayne Johnston, Charlotte Gray, Janice Kulyk Keefer, Drew Hayden Taylor, Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, Edna Manitoba (host). Helen Porter, Drew Monkman, John Gray (host) Ed Arnold, Bill Boyd, Roy MacGregor. Rev Dr David McKane
Stoney Lake Cruise #2 Helen Porter (host) Diane Baker Mason, Susan Coyne, Roy MacGregor
Art Exhibit “In Their Own Words” papier-mache busts of 11 Canadian authors by Susan Longmire held upstairs at the old town hall.
Childrens and YA Janet Wilson, Werner Zimmermann, Gillian Chan, Joanne Findon, Troon Harrison.
Kid’s T-shirt design: Janet Wilson
2004 July 16-17-18
Michael Enright Host. Frances Itani, Elizabeth Hay, John Bemrose (had to withdraw day before) Paul Quarrington, Joe Fiorito, Sylvia Sutherland (host on the day after the Ptbo flood), Jack Batten, Kim Moritsugu, Maureen Jennings, Andrew Pyper, Helen Batten (host) Marjorie Harris, C. David Johnson,(host) Mark Kingwell, Lyall Powers, Muriel Wood (artist), Christl Verduyn (host)
Art Exhibit at CCCM Muriel Wood’s illustrations “The Olden Days Coat” by Margaret Laurence
Childrens and YA Joe Ellen Bogart, Ian Wallace, Troon Harrison, Kit Pearson, and
Kids T-shirt design: Muriel Wood
2005 July 15-16-17
Charlotte Gray, Noah Richler Hosts. Ann-Marie MacDonald, Merilyn Simonds, Lesley Krueger, Charles Foran, Alison Wearing, Charlotte Gray (host) Michael Winter, John Bemrose, June Callwood, Helen Porter, John Muir, Lawrence Scanlon and Stephanie Ford Forrester (host)
De La Fosse Exhibit at CCCM
Childrens and YA Jean Little, Robin Muller, Julie Johnston, Lynn Westerhout
Kids T-shirt design: Robin Muller
2006 July 14-15-16
June Callwood, Robert Harris (host,) Camilla Gibb, Nelofer Pazira, Donez Xiques, Barbara and Ormond Mitchell, Michael Posner, Sylvia Sutherland (host), Judy Fong Bates, Joan Barfoot, Katherine Govier, Tony Bigg, (host) Graeme Gibson , Troon Harrison and Jean Murray Cole (host)
Childrens and YA Deborah Ellis, Andrea Beck, Celia, Barker Lottridge
Kids T-shirt design: Andrea Beck
2007 July 13-14-15
Charlotte Gray, Anne Laurel Carter, Susan Whelehan, Michael Crummey, Noah Richler, Wayne Johnston, host Ken Alexander, Christl Verduyn, Michael Peterman, David Staines, Helen Porter, Karen Connelly Rawi Hage, Bill Richardson (Host) Paul Socken, Matthew Kydd, Joey Slinger, Drew Hayden Taylor, James B. Douglas.
Childrens and YA Kenneth Oppel, Nancy Belgue, Anne Laurel Carter, Bill Richardson.
Kids T-shirt design: Cynthia Nugent
2008 July 18-19-20
Karin Wells (host) Stevie Cameron, Joe Fiorito, Brian Valee, Michael Peterman, Hugh Brewster, James Bartleman (host), Helen Humphreys, Diane Schoemperlen, Becky Mason (host) James Raffan, Carol and Bruce Hodgins, Nora Foster Stovel, film director Kari Skogland unable to come so actress Christine Horne came as a surprise visitor to the screening of “The Stone Angel”.
Bonnie Patterson hosted the dinner
Childrens and YA Bob Barton, Barbara Reid, Hugh Brewster, Shane Peacock, Holly Bennett
Kids T-shirt design by Barbara Reid
2009 July 17-18-19 15th Annual LLF
Shelagh Rogers Host, Jocelyn Laurence gave the Remembering Margaret talk at Dinner
Alistair MacLeod, Nino Ricci, Donna Morrissey, Sheree Fitch, Betsy Struthers (host), Louise Penny, Andrew Pyper, Pat Capponi, Drew Hayden Taylor, Alissa York, Gil Adamson.
Childrens and YA Budge Wilson, Bill Slavin, Sheree Fitch
Kids T-shirt design: Bill Slavin
15th Anniv. adult T-shirt image by Tony Jenkins of the Globe and Mail
2010 July 16-17-18
Margaret Atwood, Charlotte Gray (host), Charles Foran (host) Michelle Berry, Drew Hayden Taylor, Michael Crummey, Linden McIntyre, Douglas Gibson (host), John Boyko, Charlotte Gray Richard Gwyn, Sylvia Sutherland (host), Rev. Dr. David McKane.
Childrens and YA Norah McClintock, Kady MacDonald Denton, Frieda Wishinski
Kids T-shirt design: Kady MacDonald Denton
2011 July 15-16-17
Terry Fallis, Kevin Sylvester(host), Trevor Cole, Merilyn Simonds, Charles Foran, Louise Dennys (host), John Boyko (host) Peter Berhens, Lisa Moore, Suzanne Desrochers, Michelle Berry (host), Alexander MacLeod, Sarah Selecky , Rev Bob Hartley, Reeve Mary Smith
Childrens and YA Loris Lesynski, Kevin Sylvester, Vicky Grant.
Kids T-shirt design: Loris Lesynski
2012 July 20-21-22
Lynn Coady, Andrew Pyper (Wayne Johnston unable to come (day of) was replaced by Andrew Pyper on no notice at all) Charlotte Gray (host), Frances Itani, Steven Heighton, Charles Foran (host), film makers Peter Raymont and Nancy Lang, Joan Murray, Roy MacGregor, Kim Moritsugu (host), Dan Needles, Scott Thornley, John Moss, Gail Bowen. David Wilson. Reeve Mary Smith
Childrens and YA Ian Wallace, Rachna Gilmore, Richard Scarsbrook
Kids T-shirt design: Ian Wallace
2013 July 12-13-14 Date change year
Thomas King, Lee Maracle, Drew Hayden Taylor (host), Enid Mallory, Connie Brummel Crook (did not show up) Jean Murray Cole (host), Douglas Gibson, Lewis MacLeod (host), Linda Spalding, Kathleen Winter, Lauren B. Davis, John Bell, John Boyko, Michael Epp (host). Mayor Mary Smith.
Childrens Linda Bailey, Bill Slavin, Esperanca Melo.
Kids T-shirt design; Esperanca Melo
2014 20th Anniversary July 11-12-13
Shelagh Rogers spoke at the dinner
Richard Wagamese, Mark Abley, David Newhouse (host), Lawrence Hill, Michael Peterman, Richard Plant, Charlotte Gray, Alison Wearing (performance), Christl Verduyn, (host) Maureen Jennings, Carolyn Jones. Mayor Mary Smith
Margaret Moment 1985 audio recording Peterborough YWCA Woman of the Year event, DVD with images compiled by Jim Forrester, introduced by Lynn Zimmer
Childrens Sheree Fitch, Werner Zimmerman
YA Event: done in the schools now in April/May; Sigmund Brouwer reaching almost 400 students.
Kids T-shirt design: Werner Zimmerman
2015 July 10-11-12
James Raffan, Shelley Wright, Jennifer Kingsley, Tim Irvin (host), Jennifer Robson, Michelle Berry, Jonathan Bennett, “Alchemy” (Craig Paterson, Lea Harper and Peter Woolidge), Lewis MacLeod (host), Frances Itani, Heather O’Neill, Helen Humphreys, Orm Mitchell (host), Linwood Barclay, Vicki Delany, Robert Rotenberg, John Moss (host)
YA Event: done at the LDSS and LDIS in April: Teresa Toten, about 300 students
Childrens: Helaine Becker, Aubrey Davis, Ruth Ohi
Kids T Shirt design: Ruth Ohi