His great-grandfather’s letters provided the fodder for Tony Reynolds’ novel, On the Wings of the Morning.
The Comox author spent two or three years writing the story that is loosely based on his great-grandfather’s correspondence from Canada to his homeland of Scotland over the course of about 20 years.
“My mother had 30,000 words of letters that her grandfather had written from southern Manitoba when he was breaking the prairie in 1876,” Reynolds said. “By reading the letters, I had a pretty good idea of the guy’s character, the way his mind worked. What kind of person he was… He had a younger brother who was with him, and we don’t know very much about him. He didn’t stay around long. He kept moving west and he went all the way to New Zealand. So I completely fictionalized him, and made him a totally different character.”
His great-grandfather’s life formed the basis of the novel, which is set during the second Louis Riel rebellion. The brothers, who had been farmers in Scotland, head west from Montreal, first by train and then by foot. When they arrive at open land, they develop a farmstead.
“Because they’re such different characters there’s a lot of interesting stuff that goes on between them. One of them goes off and gets caught up in the Riel rebellion, and gets captured in a town called Cutknife Creek in Saskatchewan, and leaves his brother high and dry.”
Writing the novel was not about making money. It was more a labour of love for the retired Reynolds, who has served as chair of the board for l’Arche Comox Valley and the local farmers’ market.
He and his wife, Rachel, had operated a farm before moving to Comox.
Before coming to the Valley, Reynolds had worked as a civil servant in Ottawa. Before that time, he had spent seven years in India, where he worked as a stringer for Canadian newspapers. At one point, he was nearly thrown out of the country when he reported on India’s involvement with nuclear research. After writing a story for the Globe and Mail, he was informed he would have been given the boot had it not been for then-prime minister Indira Gandhi.
“She was a shrewd lady. She said if we kick him out, that will just draw the world’s attention to the fact that we’re doing this…About 18 months later they announced they had the bomb.”
It was in India where Tony met Rachel, whom he wed 49 years ago. They plan to celebrate their 50th anniversary in India.