Pam Chamberlain published her first book, Country Roads: Memoirs from Rural Canada, in May 2010. The anthology features stories from thirty-four writers, including award-winning authors Sharon Butala and Rudy Wiebe, singer/songwriter George Fox, actor Gordon Tootoosis, Calgary Flames coach Brent Sutter, and Senator Pamela Wallin.
Q. When did you attend Augustana?
A. I started at CLC in 1988, attended CLUC for two years and then graduated from Augustana University College in 1992.
Q. What have you been up to since you left Augustana?
A. I completed a B.Ed. and an M.A. in English at U of A in Edmonton. I've taught in Germany, and across Alberta at Lakeland College, the U of C, and the U of A. I was a sessional instructor in English at Augustana for a few years, which was the highlight of my career thus far. Teaching at Augustana was a dream come true. Now, I'm living in Calgary with my husband and staying home with two-year-old twins, working on writing, and tutoring part-time for Athabasca University.
Q. How did the idea for the book come about?
A. Over the years I've become increasingly aware that, with a rural background, I am a minority in most work and social settings. One day, I realized that even though I'm an Albertan, I have more in common with someone who grew up on a potato farm in PEI than with someone who grew up in inner-city Edmonton. It occurred to me that it'd be interesting to collect stories from across the country from people who grew up in rural places.
Beyond that, though, I think it's essential to preserve stories of rural life. After all, nowadays only 20% of Canadians live in rural areas, and only 2% of Canadians live on farms. With the state of agriculture in this country – following BSE, H1N1, industrialization of farming and consumers’ preferences for processed and imported foods – things don't look good for the small farmer. Even my dad, who has farming in his blood and will likely farm until the day he dies, says that it's not possible for a young family to start from scratch and make a living farming any more. I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that farm kids are becoming a very rare, and they may become extinct. Growing up on a farm was the single most important influence on my life. I wouldn't be who I am today if I hadn't grown up on a farm. It saddens me to think that that experience will no longer be available to most children.
I'd never published a book before, but I applied for a grant from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, and I began sending out calls for submissions. I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. It took five years, but eventually it all came together.
Q. How did you connect with all these outstanding rural voices?
A. My family and friends helped me brainstorm names of well-known Canadians who had grown up in the country, and I began tracking down contact information, and I sent out letters inviting them to take part in the project.
I grew up watching Pamela Wallin on TV, and my dad is a fan of hers. He was the one who told me she is from rural Saskatchewan. Over email, we arranged a time for her to phone me, and I was really nervous. But when, I answered, she asked, "Is this Pam?" When I said yes, she said, "This is the other Pam." That put me at ease. When I told my dad about this conversation, it confirmed his opinion that she is a very classy woman.
Since I grew up in a rural area myself, I grew up watching CBC and CTV, so I was a huge fan of North of 60 and of Gordon Tootoosis, who played villain Albert Golo. I didn’t know how to reach him, so I wrote to the band office at Poundmaker Cree Nation and just hoped that someone would pass the letter on to him. One day, my phone rang, and on the line I heard Albert Golo's distinctive voice. I literally started shaking. I had to remind myself that it was not Albert I was talking to, but Gordon. That didn't stop the shaking. A few weeks later, we met for coffee and an interview in North Battleford, near his home at Poundmaker. I was very nervous, but he is a warm, gentle, and generous man. I was star struck and delighted. To me, having grown up in rural Canada, watching CBC and fascinated by the North, meeting Gordon was better than meeting Brad Pitt.
Q. Where can I find the book?
A. Ask for it at your local independent bookstore or your local public library. It is also available at Chapters/Indigo.
Q. What are you working on next?
A. Compiling an anthology is not lucrative, but it was such a fabulous experience that I want to do it again immediately. I have ideas for three new anthologies, all on rural or environmental themes, so I just need to decide which one to pursue. I am also supposedly working on a collection of short fiction and a collection of my own memoirs. However, frankly I found the anthology to be a lot more fun. Through it, I've "met" (online) people from across the country, many of whom feel that this is "our" book, rather than mine. They are nearly as excited about it as I am about it. I love that.
Q. How did your time at Augustana help you get where you are now?
A. I chose Augustana specifically because it was a smaller campus. In my Grade 12 year, I attended open houses at Augustana and the U of A in Edmonton, and the difference was astonishing. Augustana won me over with the friendly people and individual attention. I still remember Rob Ford, then a senior student, was out in a blizzard directing traffic. When my dad stopped to ask him where we should go, Rob was covered in snow, but cheerful and helpful. He still works at Augustana today.
I felt at home at Augustana. There were more people living me with on 2nd Hoyme than there had been in my Grade 12 graduating class, but they came from rural places like Ardmore, Bonnyville, Hay Lakes, Islay, Millet, Nobleford, Stettler, and Vermilion, so we felt at home with each other right away. So, really, my sense of rural community was only strengthened at Augustana.
Also, it was Augustana that I began to develop confidence as a writer, thanks to professors like Don Myrehaug and Ed Friesen. I loved my courses with Dr. Friesen so much that I switched from an Education transfer student to an English major and finished my degree at Augustana. That eventually led to me becoming a secondary English teacher and doing an MA.