Candace Savage         Home Geography of Blood Books Up Close Reviews Essays Audio & Video

Candace Savage was very nearly born on the front seat of a pickup truck somewhere between Valhalla Centre

(a cluster of frame houses at the intersection of two gravel roads in the Peace River Country of northern Alberta)

and the Grande Prairie hospital. Her mother, Edna Sherk, had resigned her position as the primary teacher at the

local two-room school a few months earlier, to prepare for her first child, but her dad, Harry, had stayed on as

principal and senior teacher. The trip to the hospital had been delayed until classes were dismissed for the day,

and what with a bitter wind to slow their progress and rutted roads to hasten the birth, the baby came within

minutes of being delivered en route.

In the event, of course, she was born to care and comfort (on 2 December 1949), and so her life continued. Her

first word was “book”–or so her bookish parents said–and though the family didn’t have much of a library, her

mother always found something to read to her.  After her two younger sisters were born, her mother read to them,

too, so that Candace was able to extend the pleasures of bed-time stories almost into her teens. For several

years, the family subscribed to a series of children’s classics called Junior Deluxe Editions, hard-bound books with

tan covers and pastel backs that arrived each month by mail.  They bore titles like  Anne of Green Gables, The

Jungle Book, Little Women and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Cuddled up on the couch with her sisters,

listening to their mother’s voice, Candace soaked up the rhythms of written English. To this day, she still writes “by

ear,” listening to the beat of her sentences as she composes them.

 
 
 

Even though she often found school dead boring, she was good at passing tests and, in 1967, was admitted to

the University of Alberta in Edmonton on a scholarship. She graduated four years later with an Honours Degree in

English and was awarded the Governor-General’s Gold Medal and the Rutherford Gold Medal in English for the

year of her graduation. As part of her program, she completed an independent-study project on metaphor with

Wilfred Watson, who was a poet, philosopher and playwright as well as a professor. He encouraged her to develop

a kind of intellectual “peripheral vision,” so that, by looking at things from an angle instead of straight on, she could

notice patterns and connections that were otherwise hidden.

By this time, Candace had been bopping around Alberta with her family for twenty-odd years, with stops in

Beaverlodge, Vermilion, Pincher Creek and Edmonton and a couple of brief forays into northern British Columbia.

In 1970, she married Arthur Savage, a physics graduate whom she had met at the U of A, and they moved to

Saskatoon, where he found work as a lab instructor. What to do? For several years, she teased herself with the

idea of doing graduate work in English or History or Biology or Medicine or Medieval Studies....  But eventually she

realized that (a) as a female, she could expect a rough ride in academia and (b) she could be more creative

without the strictures of a narrow discipline. And so she started to write.

Her first books—A Harvest Yet to Reap (co-authored with three other women) and Our Nell (a biography of

Nellie L. McClung)—explored the history of women in western Canada. Then, when Arthur decided that he wanted

to write, too, she collaborated with him on a book about the mammals of western Canada.  These two themes—

women’s/cultural history and natural science—have persisted throughout her career and, between them, have so

far found expression in more than two dozen books. By allowing herself to roam across the widest possible range

of subjects, she keeps her mind on high alert and avoids the risk of becoming complacent or over-confident!

 
 

A daughter, Diana, was born in Saskatoon in 1979, and Arthur died unexpectedly about two years later. After

moving to Edmonton and then to Yellowknife, Candace and Diana returned to Saskatoon in 1990, where Candace

served for a term as Writer-in-Residence at the Public Library. In 1992, Candace had the good fortune to meet

Keith Bell, a historian who teaches in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Saskatchewan, with

whom she fully intends to live happily ever after.

 

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