Last Night’s Literary Walking Tour of Steinbach

I’m not sure if you know this about me, but I’m married to a published author, Andrew Unger, creator of The Unger Review, author of the compilation Best of the Bonnet and the award-winning novel Once Removed. He doesn’t only create literature that hits a little close to home (we live in Steinbach, a veritable hotbed of Mennonites) but he also reads a lot. (Not a surprise.) In his reading, he has compiled a significant list of authors who have written about Steinbach and has developed a literary walking tour of Steinbach wherein we visit these sites, hear what authors have had to say about them, and absorb the meaning.

I have attended this walking tour twice now — both previous times it was a private event, once with a book club and once with co-workers — but it’s a privilege I will never tire of. I swear it hits different every time.

So, last night was the first time he offered this to the public (for a $15 fee, which came with $2 off at The Public where the tour began and concluded).

Early June is an absolutely gorgeous time here. Everything is lush and blooming and surreal. Everyone emerges from their home and walks around in a daze. The sun sets very late and we’re bathed in a surreal glow. (And yes, more shenanigans also occur.)

In this dreamlike state, this award-winning writer takes us on a journey into Steinbach’s literary past, and our feet follow.

Some thoughts from last night:

First of all, just like the readers of this blog are intelligent and fascinating, so too were those who chose to join this walking tour. I felt like by seeing it through their eyes, their attentiveness and curiosity, and hearing what they had to say as we walked from point to point on the tour, the experience was enriched.

Andrew and I have been on a lot of walking tours in various locations around the world and some meetup spots are awkward or uncomfortable or tricky to get to. I’m not biased at all when I say that meeting and concluding at The Public is a fantastic move. We just hang out at the bar (I had a coffee to get my energy up after work, haha) and attendees trickle in and it starts to feel like a party. It’s fun to all leave together on foot as we begin our adventure.

Folks ’round here are not super-accustomed to seeing walking tours, let me tell you. But, maybe they’ll get used to it and join the next one! Maybe they didn’t know this one was being planned and would’ve liked to join, had they known. (They’ll get their chance — I think another one may happen in the fall, perhaps late September, “watch this space!” as they say.)

Another neat thing about The Public is their location in downtown Steinbach which is dead centre, in the middle of the tour Andrew has planned based on sites written about by Steinbach authors.

Writing about real things is tricky business, and many of these authors have received pushback on what they’ve had to say. (Heck, even I with my little old blog have received pushback!) I guess now is a good time to mention Miriam Toews, Steinbach’s most famous author, most famous daughter I think actually. (Again, I’m about to receive pushback perhaps… so be it!) She has written about Steinbach a fair bit, which made locals salty. Perhaps there is saltiness even today as there is still no street sign honouring her. I don’t think there’s a great explanation for why this cannot be. The reason you assume, is the reason it’s “impossible”. (Prove me wrong, Steinbach! But just so you know, there’s only one way to prove me wrong — just do the thing, for Pete’s sake.)

In case you missed it, the tour featured authors including poet Patrick Friesen (award-winning author of The Shunning among many others — just to clarify that no this is probably not the Patrick Friesen you know — no offense to the other Patrick Friesens, of whom I know at least three), MaryLou Driedger, Lynette D’Anna, Byron Rempel, Casey Plett, Miriam Toews, and yes Andrew Unger. There are more.

The sites we visit, that we stand on, where we ponder together… bring it all alive. And then the discussion over pints at a big table in the middle of The Public afterward just really brings it home. I cannot wait for the next one!