‘I made a conscious decision to be just as curious about my home’: 5 Questions with MaryLou Driedger

MaryLou Driedger is a writer from Winnipeg, Manitoba. She is a well-known columnist for both the Winnipeg Free Press and the Carillon. She is a retired teacher who moved to Winnipeg after teaching in Hong Kong for six years. You can read her blog here.

  1. When did you know you wanted to become a writer?
    • In grade five I wrote a story about a big snowstorm in Steinbach. My teacher sent it to The Carillon and they published it.  My Mom cut it out and framed it. I was an insecure kid and having my story published was a confidence booster.  I think that’s when I decided I wanted to be a writer. Of course I didn’t know then I’d become a Carillon columnist in 1986 and when I was a grandmother I’d still be writing for the paper.
  2. Has anything you’ve written ever generated controversy? How did you handle that?
    • I was a Faith Page columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press for three years. I had to quit when we moved to Hong Kong and in some ways I wasn’t that sorry because I regularly received fairly hateful mail.  People told me I was going to hell, I wasn’t a Christian and I had no right stating my opinion publicly because I was a woman. Some said I wasn’t intelligent enough to understand what I was writing about, or I was a spokesperson for the forces of evil. One reader even put me in league with the Nazis.  I tried not to let it bother me but I wasn’t always that successful.  A couple of times I have written things that unwittingly hurt people I care about and that is much harder to handle than criticism from readers I don’t know personally. Once after visiting Israel I wrote a blog post reflecting on how I felt about all the people who carry guns there and it received hundreds of comments many of them quite scary. Eventually I just deleted the post.
  3. You often write about your travels around the world. What is your favourite place you have visited?
    • My favourite place was Ukraine. My husband Dave and I had both read memoirs written by our family members so we knew detailed stories about their life in Ukraine.  We hired a private guide and visited the abandoned school where Dave’s father was born and the lake on his great grandparents’ huge estate. The little house where Dave’s Mom was born was the site of some pretty horrific events and we were in tears when we found it. We located my great great grandfather’s tombstone and the tombstones of two of Dave’s great uncles.  I found the school my grandmother attended, the pond where my grandpa swam with his horses, the church where my grandparents were baptized and the train station where our families left for Canada.  We even had a picnic on my great grandparents’ farm land.  We got to travel back through our families’ histories in Ukraine and that made it different than all our other trips.
  4. What have you learned about home (Manitoba) from travelling the world?
    • I learned it is a fascinating place.  As a writer I approach new destinations with curiosity, doing research, journaling, reading the country’s authors, trying local food and learning as much as I can about the place.  So when we moved back to Manitoba after living in Asia for six years I made a conscious decision to be just as curious about my home.  I took Manitoba history and literature courses. I applied for a job at the Winnipeg Art Gallery where I’ve learned a great deal about Manitoba artists.  I also work with university education students in Winnipeg inner city schools where I’m exposed to the astounding diversity of our multi-cultural population. I enjoying writing stories about Manitoba people and places and in doing so I’ve discovered our province is far more fascinating than I used to think.
  5. What is one place you think it’s essential for out-of-town guests to see in Manitoba?
    • We like to take out of town guests to Fort Whyte to see the bison and learn about how indigenous people used to live on the prairies, to the Peasant Cookery to eat locally sourced Manitoba food and to The Forks to walk along the historic river path. I show them the public art in our Exchange District neighbourhood and talk about how the pieces are connected to Manitoba history and culture.  If visitors are interested in learning about Mennonites we go to the Steinbach Heritage Village Museum and quite a number have wanted to visit the Human Rights Museum. For many of our guests though just driving in the Manitoba countryside and seeing all that vast open prairie and the big sky is the most unique experience.

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