by Beth Kaplan
Writer and CNFC board member Lesley Buxton can’t contain her enthusiasm for her new nonfiction book A Time to Wonder. She and her friend Sue Harper have spent a year visiting twenty small museums in the interior of British Columbia, where they live, for the first of a projected three guidebooks aimed at 9 to 12-year-olds about the regional museums of their province. “We want kids to know how museums came to be, to introduce them to some of the most interesting artifacts,” says Buxton, “and from our interviews with curators and volunteers, to show kids how museums work.”
Lesley grew up in Ottawa, loved museums as a child, and worked for a time at the spectacular Canadian Children’s Museum in Hull. An actor and playwright first, she turned to writing short stories for literary magazines. But in 2013, Lesley and her husband Mark Taylor suffered a devastating tragedy — the death of their sixteen-year old daughter India, their only child, from a disease so rare, only a handful of children have ever contracted it.
Buxton’s first book, One Strong Girl: Surviving the unimaginable, a mother’s memoir, published in 2018 by Pottersfield Press, tells the story of India’s short life, the struggle to find a diagnosis, the heart-wrenching sorrow and yet joy, too, around this inconceivable loss. An excerpt published in Reader’s Digest introduced many readers to the book. In 2018, the memoir won the inaugural Pottersfield Prize for Creative Nonfiction.
“After India’s death,” Lesley says, “the fiction side of my brain did not work anymore. I wanted to make a story from something that really happened. The truth is more interesting.”
Lesley registered for the Creative Nonfiction MFA program at King’s University in Halifax and there met Sue Harper, an accomplished writer and nomadic teacher who after a lifetime of world travel now also lives in the Okanagan. Sue’s memoir, Winter in the City of Light: a search for self in retirement, came out in 2019. She had the idea for a book about museums, and the two decided to write it together. “We’ve both worked extensively doing fun things with kids. She has written twelve textbooks, so we bring different skills to the project,” says Buxton, who for years taught theatre and creative writing to young people. “Sue looks over my stuff, I look over hers.”
Lesley speaks with pleasure about some of their finds. “The museum in Quesnel displays the first turban worn by a Sikh in the RCMP,” she says. “There’s a tiny museum in the town of Greenwood that has created a replica of a room in a Japanese internment camp. In Penticton, I saw an amazing old sweater knitted by a man in a World War 1 prisoner of war camp, to help a friend escape. He found bits and pieces of wool and knitted the sweater so when his friend got out he’d have an item of civilian clothing to wear. You can’t make this stuff up.”
“The museum in Princeton has Sherman’s sword — yes, William Tecumseh Sherman from the American Civil War! It seems that not long before his death he toured through B.C., and he left his sword behind as thanks to the people of the town.”
One of her favourites is the First Nations Museum of Sncewips. “It’s especially beautiful,” she says, “because the items are not artifacts, they are possessions, belongings still in use, they go in and out. There’s a cradle board that will come and go from the museum as it’s needed by new babies in the community.”
“These wonderful museums, often created and staffed by volunteers in the community, are honouring the past and bringing it to life,” says Buxton. “Sue and I hope our books can do the same.”
A Time to Wonder, published by Rocky Mountain Books, will appear in spring 2021.