The Way We Were
The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the October 01, 2008 issue. Reprinted with permission.
Memorable character lives beyound the last page
by Catherine Joyce
It is a cliche to say that writers write what they know. Yet sometimes in digging deeper a writer may move beyond what he consciously understands to create a character so emblematic of a time and a place that he lives on after the last page. In his new book, "Tales of Finnigan Leblanc, Prince of Mushrat", Preston Wilson has created such a memorable character - the lovable, true-blue Finnigan of the Gatineau Hills.
First, a bit about Preston. A fifth generation scion of the Wilson/Cross family, Preston was born in 1934 in Cascades where his father, "Billy" (WS. Wilson) ran just about everything from the Tip Top restaurant and dance floor to the local newspaper, "The Gatineau Echo".
Imagine being a kid watching the grownups dance on a Saturday night to the tunes of Earl Pennock's orchestra, or sneaking a peak at the floor show of Miss Dimples O'Neil and her six dancing girls from the Lola Thompson Revue. During the week there would be boxing matches between the likes of Owen Dickens, Ottawa district Heavy Weight champion, and Tony McCarthy, boxing idol of the Ottawa Rough Riders. With its big stone fireplace the Tip Top was always a welcome refuge on wintry nights when blizzards sent motorists into the ditches along the winding River Road; they'd just curl up in one of the booths until the roads were cleared the next day.
This then was Preston's childhood, a passing parade of local characters coming to enjoy the fun and laughter at the Tip Top. Steeped in a culture of close family and community ties, he grew up in an era of little money where simple pleasures drew people together - hunting, fishing, swimming, playing softball or just walking the rails.
After a degree at Carleton Cniversity, Preston became a geologist in Ottawa, married his sweetheart, Melva Woods, and settled down in Cascades to raise their son, Tim. With his love of the Hills and passionate community spirit, he has continued the traditions of his father - fostering Cascades as a mecca of family activity through the Cascades Club and keeping history alive through his work with the Gatineau Valley Historical Society.
Enter the lovable 'Finnigan Leblanc'. Who could forget him? Preston has poured what he deeply cares about into this unassuming man who manages to cobble together a life on the fringes of society. Yes, his story belongs to an almost forgotten era in the Hills - of a simpler people in a simpler time - but Finnigan leaps off the page right into your heart. He is Everyman, tilting at windmills yet unwaveringly committed to a world vision he believes in - the care and support of strangers, neighbours, friends. Through good times and bad Finnigan lives by an ethic of such optimism, good humour, resourcefulness and humility that you root for him at every turn.
Go read the book and find out what Finnigan, Prince of Mushrat, gets up to. Laugh, cry, wish he were a member of your family. With the legacy of Preston Wilson, we should all be so blessed.
"Tales of Finnigan Leblanc, 'Prince of Mushrat", is available at Solstice Books, Chelsea Books, Chapters online www.chapters.indigo.ca books, and through General Store Publishing, www.gsph.com
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