Book receiving recognition was penned by former resident

People in the Kamsack area were among the first to hear about a book that has gone on to garner recognition.

When We Were Shadows is the title of this book, written by a former Kamsack resident, Janet (nee Minuk) Wees. Published by Second Story Press in April of 2018, it is part of a series, Holocaust Remembrance Books for Young Readers, and has also been translated into Dutch.

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On July 25, 2018, Wees did a reading from this middle-school (nine to 13-year-olds) novel at the Kamsack Public Library.

“It was a homecoming beyond my wildest dreams!” said Wees. That night she donated a signed copy to the Kamsack Public Library.

The next day she did a book signing at Coles in Yorkton, where the book may be purchased.

In October, 2018, the novel was nominated for the Red Maple non-fiction award, in the Forest of Reading Program sponsored by the Ontario Library Association.

In May, in Toronto, it was chosen as an Honour Book (second place out of ten finalists) in its category. Students involved with the program read nominated books and voted for their favourites.

“To know that students chose this book, makes the honour even more meaningful,” said Wees.

That same month the novel was short-listed for the Rocky Mountain Book Award, which is a similar program to Forest of Reading but for Alberta students. The award will be given in May 2020.

“Even though the book was written for younger readers, adults have been reading it and inviting me to their book clubs,” she added.

Wees, whose maiden name is Minuk, lived in Togo from 1948 to 1959, and Kamsack from 1959 to 1964, taking all of her secondary schooling there. “My parents and brothers lived there long after I left the area,” she said.

Recently, in the autumn edition of news&views, the publication of the Alberta Retired Teachers’ Association, Wees had an article published titled It’s a Small World, which she wishes to share with readers of the Kamsack Times, as follows:

It’s A Small World

by Janet Wees

There’s a theory that each of us is only six degrees of separation away from anyone else. Microsoft researchers have proven it after checking electronic messages among 180 million people globally.

I also have a premise that if you’re from Saskatchewan, there are only two degrees or at most three. This is based on a few experiences, and I bet any Saskatchewanian will support the contention.

I spent my childhood and university years in Saskatchewan. My hometown sweatshirt reads “Kamsack, somewhere in the middle of Canada,” which I intentionally wear when I travel. Whenever I have worn it, someone usually comes up to me and says, “I know XYZ from Kamsack,” or “I used to live in Kamsack.”

The biggest “small world” experience I have encountered occurred in Lindsay, Ontario. I was pregnant and had a rash all over my body. I went to a Dr. Lindsay in the town of Lindsay. He looked at my file and the conversation went like this:

“Hm, Saskatchewan. Do you know where Togo (pop. 250) is?”

“Yes! I lived there!”

“Do you know M.K.?”

“She lived next door to us and was our babysitter.”

“I married her. Do you remember the jet that used to fly between the elevators? It was me courting M.”

“OMG that was you? My father reported you to the authorities.”

Turns out, I had German measles in my third month of pregnancy, and after that connection I trusted Dr. Lindsay absolutely. Almost named my daughter Lindsay. She was fine, as it turned out.

Before Expo 86, there was a B.C.–Saskatchewan reunion at BC Place. I met a friend from the University of Saskatchewan unexpectedly but really not a coincidence at a reunion like that. She said she had to go to her hometown spot to meet her brother, whom I’d never met. When we got there, she introduced me to her brother, and who should be standing next to him? MY brother! Turns out that our brothers were best friends! Had been for years! I never knew her brother’s last name; he was just “Rob” in conversation.

Later that night at the dance, with music performed by Connie Kaldor (naturally!), everyone with whom I danced had a connection to someone I knew! Whenever there was a polka, I was wont to pull some unsuspecting soul from the fringes. One I captured worked with my sister-in-law. Another guy was a cousin to a woman who attended university with me in Calgary. Someone else knew a colleague in Calgary, and so it went all night.

I always wear a Canada pin or T-shirt when travelling overseas. It works a lot like the Kamsack sweatshirt. In a Paris washroom in 1991, I met a woman from Prince Albert who worked with a friend of mine from U of S days. She saw my Canada pin and the conversation began, “Where are you from?”

Interestingly enough, twenty-four years later, this time in Amsterdam, I met people who knew that same university friend from Prince Albert! We were staying at a B&B and a couple from Canada moved upstairs on our last day. We met them coming down the stairs and of course exchanged location questions. Turns out the woman not only knew my Prince Albert friend but had also worked in Winnipeg with someone I knew from Kamsack.

One day while I was volunteering at the Calgary airport, I stopped for lunch beside an older man, a young woman, and a baby. When they said they were flying back to Saskatoon, I said I’d gone to university there. They asked me where I was from and when I said “Kamsack,” his excitement rose. He said, “Do you know Togo?” He was from a family that I knew and was coming from a funeral for a man I remembered from my childhood.

A small world experience at the Calgary Airport happened when Calgary hosted the Juno Awards a few years ago. I was waiting with Burton Cummings while his wife filled out forms. We talked about Winnipeg, and I mentioned my maiden name because it’s well known there. Turns out that his piano lessons were a few doors down from my cousin. They used to play together when younger. That’s two degrees of separation from Burton Cummings!

A more global two-to-three-degree separation at the airport, was when I met a young man who had disembarked from KLM and needed help. I asked him where he lived in Holland. He mentioned Nunspeet (pop. 27,000), which excited me because I knew someone there. Now, you may say that age-old adage “Do you happen to know…?” doesn’t work more globally. But it did this time! I told him my friend’s name and he said, “She’s my mother’s best friend.” He pulled out his phone and called his mother in Holland!

On a train in Spain one summer, two couples, who were strangers, sat across from each other. One man warned the other not to put his suitcase on the top shelf or it would fall. The train did a quick stop and the suitcase fell. The four started talking and soon discovered that one couple was from Winnipeg and the other was from Kamsack! The Winnipeg couple included my first cousin; the Kamsack duo were friends of my brothers. In Europe, on a fast train, coincidentally sitting together, four people, connected to the same people from Saskatchewan, my brothers.

Try out my theory the next time you travel. Always wear Canadian insignia. If you are from Saskatchewan, Roughrider shirts or hats are a great conversation starter. Any Canadian sports insignia attracts new friends overseas. In Holland, just seeing our maple leaf means a hug from locals in thanks for Canadian liberators during the Second World War.

Where are YOU from? I wonder, who do WE know in common?

Janet Wees obviously loves to travel and even while not travelling volunteers as a White Hatter at YYC. Among various extracurricular activities, Janet taught students with special needs, developing a program for Gifted/LD kids. More recently (2018), she’s written an award-winning middle school novel.

Printed with permission.

© Kamsack Times