Young Ginny Ross of Har­bour Grace wants to fly

The Compass - - OPINION -

Ginny Ross, a pre-teen liv­ing in Har­bour Grace, has a dream — she wants to be a pi­o­neer of flight.

How­ever, there are sig­nif­i­cant ob­sta­cles to her suc­cess. Who will take her se­ri­ously? Wher­ever will she find the money for fly­ing lessons at the height of the Great De­pres­sion? Will any­one try to stop her? Will any­one sup­port her at a time when most pi­lots are men? Does she have the courage, de­ter­mi­na­tion and stub­born­ness to make her dream come true?

This is the co­nun­drum Heather Stemp (nee Ross) writes about in her novel, “Amelia and Me.”

A re­tired school­teacher liv­ing in On­tario, Heather has a per­sonal con­nec­tion to New­found­land, es­pe­cially Har­bour Grace.

“My fa­ther’s grand­fa­ther, Joe Ross, em­i­grated from County Ca­van, Ire­land, in the early 1800s,” she ex­plains. “He came to his un­cle, Har­ri­son Ridley, in Har­bour Grace.” Heather’s fam­ily lived in the Con­cep­tion Bay town un­til World War II, when they re­lo­cated to Toronto.

“Their at­tach­ment to Har­bour Grace was strong,” she adds, “and they re­turned of­ten. We came with them, and Har­bour Grace be­came an im­por­tant part of our lives, too.”

It should come as no sur­prise that Heather’s word por­trait of the town is close to the real thing.

“Be­cause I came to Har­bour Grace as a child, as well as an adult, I know the town well,” she says. She spent a lot of time at the Archibald Ho­tel, which her Aunt Rose owned. Her Un­cle Herm owned Archibald Farms. She also spent much time at Ban­ner­man House.

“We spent the whole sum­mer in my Un­cle Harry’s house, which was be­hind Pike’s Ho­tel. As a child and as a teenager, I ex­plored ev­ery nook and cranny of Har­bour Grace.”

Heather chose to frame her story as ju­ve­nile fic­tion. “The story was writ­ten through the eyes of my aunt, Ginny Ross, when she was 12 years old,” she says. “Her ob­ser­va­tions and ex­pe­ri­ences will ap­peal to 12-year-olds, as well as adults.”

Ginny has plenty of pluck, which the dic­tionary de­fines as courage or res­o­lu­tion in the face of dif­fi­cul­ties. The reader won’t be sur­prised that she ac­tu­ally writes a let­ter to her heroine, Amelia Earhart.

“You see,” she ex­plains, “I have a prob­lem. I want to be a pilot like you, but I don’t have any­one to teach me how to fly …

“My papa (grand­fa­ther) thinks I should fol­low my dream to be a pilot. My friends ... say if any­one can do it, it’s me. I think this proves there are peo­ple who know I’m se­ri­ous about my dream and be­lieve in me.

“I know I have to fin­ish school, so my goal for now is to make all the ar­range­ments for my fly­ing lessons. Then, when I grad­u­ate, ev­ery­thing will be in place for me to learn how to fly …

“I ’ ll work very hard and do ev­ery­thing you sug­gest.”

Heather ded­i­cates her book to Ginny’s great-great-neph­ews and nieces.

“When Ginny died in 2001,” she writes, “we lost our last Ross fam­ily mem­ber from Har­bour Grace. (My dad passed away in 1993.) As the el­dest of four chil­dren, I had heard more of the fam­ily sto­ries. It oc­curred to me that if I didn’t write them down they’d be lost for­ever. The book ac­tu­ally started as a fam­ily his­tory. Af­ter some re­search, I dis­cov­ered our link to the avi­a­tion his­tory of Har­bour Grace — and what a rich his­tory it is. That is when ‘Amelia and Me’ was born.”

She wrote “Amelia and Me” for two rea­sons: “I wanted my grand­chil­dren to know their New­found­land his­tory. I also wanted other read­ers to know what a great place New­found­land is, es­pe­cially Har­bour Grace.”

Does Ginny Ross ever learn to fly? Read­ers of “Amelia and Me” will have to await a se­quel.

“In my next book,” Heather says coyly, “Ginny con­tin­ues her ad­ven­tures in Har­bour Grace; Lafayette, Illi­nois; and Gan­der. Her orig­i­nal dream still dom­i­nates her life.

“The book is for any­one who has ever had a dream.”

Heather adds a few flour­ishes that lend cred­i­bil­ity to her work of his­tor­i­cal fic­tion. For ex­am­ple, there’s a map of Har­bour Grace, lo­cat­ing sites rel­e­vant to the book. There are more than 20 vin­tage pho­tos, in­clud­ing Joseph Ross’ store, Archibald Boot and Shoe Fac­tory, Amelia Earhart af­ter she lands at Har­bour Grace, and the Archibald Ho­tel. Fi­nally, a glos­sary ex­plains se­lect words used in the book.

“Amelia and Me” is pub­lished by Pen­ny­well Press, an imprint of Flanker Press, St. John’s. — Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Com­pass ev­ery week. He can be reached at

bur­tonj@nfld.net

LET­TER TO THE EDI­TOR

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