Tales from the Great Divide
What is Tales from the Great Divide?
Tales from the Great Divide, Vignettes on the Origins and Early History of Canada’s Great Divide Trail and Great Divide Trail Association is my self-published compendium of stories from individuals involved firsthand in the start and development of the GDT and the GDTA. While technically nonfiction, the tales are based on recollections and the human memory is not always entirely accurate. Nevertheless, a reader can gain a good sense of the truth from the variety of information sources used. These include transcripts of storytelling sessions and telephone interviews, personal letters, and previously published written materials, photographs, illustrations and maps, plus more recently written accounts of past events, and footnotes with supplemental information.
A copy of the Collector’s Edition of Tales from the Great Divide can be viewed by appointment at the University of Calgary’s Taylor Family Digital Library, as it is part of the GDTA fonds within the Glenbow Archives in the University of Calgary’s Special
Collections and Archives. The GDTA and the Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) also each have a copy of the Collector’s Edition in their files. Only 30 copies were printed and sold, so the document is technically out of print. However, you can order a pdf version.
The idea to document the origin of Canada’s Great Divide Trail (GDT) and the Great Divide Trail Association (GDTA) emerged during the GDTA Signature Trip from July 18 to 22, 2018. Dave Higgins, Mary Jane Kreisel (née Cox) and I, who were part of the original Project: Great Divide Trails crew, plus Jeff Gruttz and Lani Smith, who were involved in the early days of the GDTA, all signed up for the fourth GDTA work party in 2018 to build trail in the southern High Rock Section. While sitting around the campfire one evening, Wayne Marshall, one of the individuals who resurrected the GDTA after its period of senescence in the early 2000s, asked the five of us who were involved in the 1970s to 1990s to share our recollections on how the whole idea of the GDT and GDTA started. The other volunteers enjoyed this sharing of anecdotes and stories around the campfire. Julien Cossette, then a relatively new and active volunteer trail builder with post-graduate training in anthropology, noted how important it was for all of the so-called “originals” to get their stories written down. The group felt especially motivated since Lani Smith had nearly died of a heart attack two and a half years before.
This GDTA work party campfire discussion sparked the idea to record the stories of the early founders of the GDT concept and the GDTA. I organized a couple of storytelling sessions that September, and others provided their vignettes via telephone and email. To augment the oral accounts, a few wrote additional stories about certain incidents or provided factual information and their perspective and opinions on events. Several individuals scanned and shared pictures, publications, artwork, excerpts from personal letters, etc.
The first iteration of Tales from the Great Divide evolved organically. The first storytelling session took place on September 4, 2018 and included me, Dave Higgins, Mary Jane Kreisel (née Cox), Wayne Marshall, Lani Smith, and Cliff White. Everyone sat in Dave and Mary Lou Higgins’ living room in Calgary, Alta. Valerie Larsen from “As I Recall” [asirecall.ca] used a stenograph machine, her laptop and a tape recorder to document the stories.
This first session took on a very exploratory, free-form and open-ended format. Participants’ expectations varied. They had different ideas about what the final product should look like, from a simple transcript of stories from 1974, to a more comprehensive and illustrated history of the GDTA. Discussions focused mostly on Project: Great Divide Trails and some of the early history of the GDTA. Mary Jane Kreisel (née Cox) posed some questions in order to try to understand the course of events and rationale for certain decisions.
During this first storytelling session, we realized that one meeting was insufficient to cover the whole GDT origin story. Some of the early players and their stories were missing since they lived in other cities or provinces and/or were not available that day. Several present thought the final product should include the early work in the mountain national parks that preceded Project: Great Divide Trails, as well as more on the formation and early years of the GDTA. This spurred another storytelling session, four telephone interviews, and several email inquiries soliciting written material to fill in the gaps.
The second storytelling session on September 30, 2018 focused on the establishment of the GDTA, its early trail crews, work parties and accomplishments. The meeting took place at the home of Desmond Allen in Calgary, Alberta. I posed a series of specific questions, which were shared in advance with the key participants (Nick Allen, Jeff Gruttz, and Lani Smith). This provided greater structure and consistency to the information collected. Time was also provided to participants to tell stories pertinent to other time periods in the GDTA’s history. Valerie Larsen and Julien Cossette each posed a few supplemental questions.
I offered to work with Valerie Larsen to produce the document with support from Jeff Gruttz, Dave and Mary Lou Higgins, Mary Jane Kreisel (née Cox) and Lani Smith. This group became the Tales project team with me taking on the compiling and editing role, and the others contributing information, photographs and advice. Jeff and Mary Jane kept the GDTA Board of Directors informed about the project’s progress. Mary Jane developed the project budget and fundraising plan with input from me and Val. Mary Lou oversaw the project’s financial accounting.
Valerie conducted four telephone interviews, the first with Dave Zevick on September 16, 2018, the second with Chris Hart on September 19, 2018, the third with Dianne Pachal on October 25, 2018, and the fourth with Jim Thorsell on April 18, 2019. I found and contributed excerpts of letters I had written to my sister that described key events in the early history of the GDT and the GDTA. I wrote two stories highlighting experiences on the GDT in the 1990s, consulting with GDTA volunteers, Chris Morrison and Chris Junck to check facts. Dave Higgins retrieved past GDTA newsletter articles that elaborated on topics that arose during the storytelling sessions.
Valerie transcribed the conversations from each of the two storytelling sessions. She transcribed all four of the telephone interviews and sent all of these individual files to me. I edited all of the individual transcripts. I corrected any typographical errors (spelling or misconstrued words), clarified the text through parenthetical additions about body language and identified which person or item was being addressed or referred to. I provided context, editorial comments and additional information through footnotes.
Valerie posed questions about the document’s title, cover, structure and format, to which the Tales project team (Dave, Mary Jane, Jeff, Lani, and I) responded. Based on that input, Val and I then worked together to develop an organizational structure for the document, with provisional chapter headings and content related to the chronological time periods relevant to the history of the GDT and the GDTA. Since the transcripts contained conversations that wandered all over the place from the past to the present, this decision dramatically increased the project’s complexity and thus the workload involved in developing the document.
I followed up on some of the gaps identified in the storytelling sessions, contacting Jim Thorsell and requesting his input. I asked Julien Cossette to write a Foreword, Lani Smith to prepare a Prologue, and Brad Vaillancourt to author the Epilogue. I solicited information from Jeff Gruttz, Brad Vaillancourt, Dave Higgins and Dave Hockey and also documents and websites to inform the development of the GDT Timeline and fact check other material. She requested biographies and before and after pictures from everyone who contributed to the storytelling sessions and telephone interviews. I prepared original material for the document, consulting with others on the project team as needed.
Lani Smith provided Valerie with most of the historic photographs from 1974 to 1977, as he had compiled them in the previous few years. In late July 2019, Dave Higgins provided scanned images of the original slides taken by the six Project: Great Divide Trails crew members in 1974. Jeff Gruttz, Wayne Marshall and I supplied most of the other photographs. More came later from Des Allen, Julien Cossette, Chris Hart, Dave Higgins, Dave Hockey, Chris Morrison, Jim Thorsell and several others. Valerie and I spent many hours tracking down the names of photographers so their images could be acknowledged, and documenting details to inform development of captions for all images.
Valerie assembled all submitted materials into a rough draft for each chapter, trying to select sections of the storytelling conversations that related to the different time periods in chapters three, four and five. She later added pictures, which led to formatting issues in subsequent drafts. I reviewed and edited all draft chapters, identifying sections of dialogue and photographs that had to be moved to a different chapter because they did not fit with the theme of the chapter they were in.
Later versions that included pictures were reviewed by the people whose stories were being told, i.e. Jim Thorsell reviewed, edited and provided additional information to inform Chapter Two and Dave Higgins, Mary Jane Kreisel (née Cox) and Chris Hart reviewed Chapter Three. In June 2019, Cliff White and Chris Hart each contributed an additional story for Chapter Three. In late August 2019, Chris Hart revised his story and edited the transcript of his telephone interview. Mary Jane Kreisel (née Cox) added another story in early September 2019. Various individuals contributed numerous photographs and scanned images throughout the summer of 2019 right up until the manuscript went to print, with each picture necessitating formatting adjustments.
Unfortunately, the software Valerie used proved incompatible with Microsoft Word, the software used to create drafts suitable for editing. She invested a huge amount of time in trying to format the complicated array of text and photographs. The size and complexity of the manuscript exceeded anything she had produced to date and led to major technical challenges. This prompted me to hire desktop publisher and graphic designer Louise Beinhauer of L.B. Word Works and a printing firm, First Choice Books in Victoria, B.C., to produce the final document.
During the summer of 2019, people involved in the Tales project were away hiking, camping, trail-building, travelling, and in one case, moving residence from Alta. to B.C. Thus, Desktop Publisher Louise Beinhauer and I did not receive their input on a few chapters and some new materials (text and photographs) until early September. That summer, progress was also hampered when the computer hard drive crashed that contained the original transcripts and first drafts of the document’s components and when Telus experienced major technical issues preventing the delivery of emails to anyone with a Telus email account, including Louise. In the few months before the scheduled book launch at the GDTA’s Annual General Meeting (AGM), Val, Louise and I, aided by the rest of the Tales project team, managed to crib together what became known as the Collector’s Edition, completing the book in time to have it printed, bound and shipped to Calgary for its launch on September 30, 2019. To meet that deadline, the Collector’s Edition had to be quickly assembled and rushed to completion without a final thorough proofread from start to finish. As a result, it contained numerous errors from misspelled names to incorrect caption labels. Despite these obstacles, a reasonably good first edition was produced in time for the book launch.
Only 30 copies of the Collector’s Edition of Tales from the Great Divide were printed, 18 of which were pre-ordered and paid for in advance by contributors. The remaining copies sold out by mid-November. I decided to produce another edition in order to correct errors found in the first edition.
Here is a link to an article in the Great Divide Trail Association’s Pathfinder Newsletter Spring 2020 written by Sue Blanchard about the Collector’s Edition entitled Tales from the Great Divide, Its History, Its Founders, Its First Hilarious Book.
What is the Difference Between the First (Collector’s) Edition and the Second Edition of Tales from the Great Divide?
The Second Edition of Tales from the Great Divide corrects numerous errors found in the first edition after it was printed. In addition, it includes new material to address omissions that readers of the Collector’s Edition identified. It also provides updates, including an Afterword on the effects of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic on the GDT and the GDTA. It contains five segments from the storytelling sessions that were inadvertently left out of the Collector’s Edition. Additional information from Tales project team members and others involved in the GDTA’s history along with the discovery and review of past newsletters and other written materials enabled me to clarify facts, expand the detailed timeline (Appendix A), add a Bibliography (Appendix C) and list past GDTA volunteers (Appendix E). I removed images that were either repeated or considered ineffective and added some new pictures and maps. Enhancements to improve the quality of images and text were also made. I added Readers’, Style, Content, and GDT/GDTA History Enthusiasts guides to the start of the document to aid the reading experience. The Second Edition is 416 pages long with over 300 images and illustrations. It thus contains an additional 116 pages and 100 more images than are found in the Collector’s Edition. It is a very complete and accurate account of the history of Canada’s GDT and the GDTA.
The pdf of the Second Edition of Tales from the Great Divide is for sale on this site for $25.00 (Canadian). The print version can be ordered from Amazon via their Kindle Direct Print-on-Demand service for $85.00 plus shipping (free shipping for Amazon Prime members) and taxes. The author also has some print versions available for sale for $65.00 plus shipping. You can contact Jenny via the Contact Form on this website.
Read Peggy Taylor's review of the Second Edition of Tales from the Great Divide in Volume 49, Issue 4, Winter 2021 Edition of The Island Bushwhacker (the Alpine Club of Canada, Vancouver Island Chapter Newsletter). Her review is on page 10 under the "Film and Book Recommendations" section.