Trotting After a Story

Trotting After a Story

Heather M. O’Connor

I’m writing this post from Quetico Provincial Park. Far from home. Far from the Internet. But very close to a subject near and dear to my heart—the Lac La Croix pony.

In the beginning

I first heard about this endangered Canadian breed about a year ago, after writing a blog post for Ontario Parks. The Lac La Croix pony was once bred by Ojibwe people living around the northwest corner of Lake Superior. Darcy Whitecrow, an Ojibwe elder and breeder, says the ponies used to “run in the forest like the deer.”

I was hooked.

Pre-Internet research
Quetico library
John B. Ridley Research Library

This little-known piece of Canadian and First Nations history was in danger of being lost. It’s not easy to dig up details on a pony that almost disappeared 40 years ago, especially when the topic is a First Nations pony from Northwestern Ontario. There aren’t a ton of resources. Those that exist are mostly uncatalogued.

My best hope was to visit Quetico Provincial Park. Ponies from the breeding program at Grey Raven Ranch visit the park once a year. I could see the ponies, compare notes with Darcy and his wife Kim, and research the ponies at the John B. Ridley Research Library, located right in the park! I could also collect oral histories from local residents and First Nation elders.

Just one problem. How would I pay for this trip?

Opportunity knocks
Quetico cabin
My cabin by the lake

That’s when I learned about Quetico’s artist-in-residence program, funded by the Quetico Foundation. Two weeks of writing time in a rustic lakeside cabin. Or, if I preferred, a tent-camping or back country experience. My only commitment? Offer a public reading or workshop.

Though the residency mainly attracts visual artists, it’s open to a broad spectrum of the arts. A spot is set aside each year for an emerging artist and a local artist.

The park staff encouraged me to apply. Several months later, I received good news. I would be their first writer. (Thanks, Quetico!)

Problem solved

Even with my accommodations covered, it would still be a costly trip. Airfare to Thunder Bay. A rental car. Food and gear.

The project had cultural and heritage value, and had already inspired a number of fiction projects. So I applied for a Marion Hebb Research Grant from the Access Copyright Foundation.

I got it. (Thank you, Access Copyright!) The grant covered three-quarters of my expenses.

Heather and a ponyCarpe diem

Now, here I am. Poring over the park’s rich archives. Talking to people with the pre-Internet history and equine expertise that I lack. Sharing breaths nose to nose with these beautiful and remarkably intelligent animals. Loving every moment.

Why? Because I asked.

Research grants and residencies are created to help us chase our stories. The opportunities are out there. What are you waiting for?


Do you want to learn how to find residencies and grants, and write winning applications? Sign up for Get That Grant, Writescape’s popular hands-on grant-writing workshop. Coming to York Region in October. Stayed tuned for details.

Can You Write While Travelling?

Can You Write While Travelling?

Ruth E. Walker. My husband and I were visiting our son, daughter-in-law and grandsons in the Texas Panhandle last month. We had a hotel booked for most of the visit so I thought I might have time to do a bit of writing. After all, during the week, our grandsons were in school and their parents were working. Free time, I thought.
Hah! I’d forgotten how exhausting and complicated travel can be. Most of our “spare time” was spent in busy mode (planning and taking day trips, helping out around the house, etc.) Any other spare time was devoted to recovery mode: sleeping. (Grandparents everywhere will understand this.)

So I didn’t write. At least, not on paper.

The thing about travel is that you experience difference and, for writers, difference is pure inspiration gold. While we have been to Texas a few times in the past few years, it’s still intriguing to see men strolling through the modern Dallas airport, sporting wide-brimmed Stetsons and stylish leather jackets. There’s a kind of Texas-walk — confident and straight-ahead. And Texas talk, too — How y’all doin’? (If there is a group of you, it becomes: How all y’all doin’?)Stetson wearing man

There’s difference in food. Biscuits and gravy is on almost every menu and Taco Bell Texas figured out how to work it in: get your taco fixings in a tea biscuit. Before ordering iced tea in restaurants, I remember to ask for “sweet tea” or it comes decidedly unsweetened.

And in every Texas hotel we’ve ever stayed at, the waffle irons at the “Breakfast Included” stations are in the shape of the state.Texas

So what does this have to do with writing? Being somewhere different — whether on vacation or on a writing retreat — it tickles your mind and your senses. Sour gas odours from the oil wells.Oil drill in Texas Billboards touting Texas Pecan Company offering nut cracking services. Pecans fresh from my son’s front yard tree (and cracked locally.) The sticky and soft texture of a white tail deer’s tongue and lips taking a carrot from my hand. The quick intake of passengers’ breath when our plane hit strong turbulence coming home.


In short, the senses are on overdrive. For me, that usually results in my imagination working overtime, and it was certainly the case this time.


I’ve come home with an idea for a play. It’s rough. It has nothing to do with Texas. But it does have a lot to do with airplanes that encounter far more than turbulence. I’m excited just thinking about the possibilities of that play, of the characters, of the idea behind it all. Once I finish my current manuscript, I’ll be working on that script. I might even work in something about waffles. And pecans. And maybe even Texas. Or maybe none of it will end up in the play. Just the plane. Or maybe just the turbulence.


Remember that writing is not always about putting words on paper. Sometimes writing is all in your mind, full of inspiration and potential, just waiting its turn to land on your page.