Running gets on track
October 13th, 2014
Retired Edmonton schoolteacher Charlotte Cameron is launching her book, Running: The Alex Decoteau Story, at the Gabriola Branch, Vancouver Island Regional Library, on November 8 at 1 p.m.
Published by Fictive Press, the book contains her one-act play, Running: the Alex Decoteau Story, first produced at the 2001 Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival to positive reviews. The book also includes an historical note about Alex Decoteau, archival photographs, and a fascinating introduction to the play and to the Alex Decoteau Run. The run, held in Edmonton, Alberta, from 2001 to 2010, brought this aboriginal role model to the attention of hundreds of schoolchildren.
Running: the Alex Decoteau Story, a one-act play for six actors, tells the sad but uplifting tale of a true Cree hero. In 1911, in Edmonton, Decoteau became Canada’s first aboriginal police officer, famous for chasing down and ticketing speeding vehicles on foot. A champion runner and popular figure, Decoteau raced for Canada at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. He fought for Canada in World War I and was killed, in 1917, while running a message at the Battle of Passchendaele. He was only 29 years old.
As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Great War, Major (Retired) David Haas, CD, rmc, who wrote the book’s forward, explains the play’s significance in his review:
“The title of this play has a double meaning. Alex Decoteau was not only a champion foot racer, he served in the army as a regimental runner. In an era before radio existed for infantry battalion communications, and with telephone lines being susceptible to being cut or tapped into, messages between the levels of command were carried by hand—the duty of a soldier called a ‘runner.’ This was hazardous duty in the extreme, and performing it is how Alex Decoteau died.
“He fell nearly a hundred years ago, in the cauldron of the Battle of Passchendaele, the worst of Field Marshal Haig’s repeated failing offensives along the Western Front in Belgium and France. He lies nearby, at the Passchendaele New British Cemetery which contains about 2,101 graves and commemorations from the late 1917 fighting in the area. ….
“At the time of his enlistment on April 24, 1916, at age 28, Alex Decoteau was already a man of public accomplishment: an Aboriginal at a time when racist sentiment in Western Canada was strong and open, he had joined the Edmonton City Police and risen to the rank of Sergeant. A top calibre long-distance runner, he had won a place on Canada’s team for the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. It may be added that his army enlistment was voluntary—Canada did not have conscription at the time, and when it did later his police status would have exempted him…
“The play ends with Canadian Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden’s blunt threat to his British counterpart David Lloyd George, to withhold Canadian troops if there was any repetition of the futile butchery of Passchendaele. The passage is quoted from Borden’s nephew, who witnessed the conversation, and—as a prominent Toronto lawyer years later—repeated it. That battle featured the bloodiest 24 hours in the history of the 49th Battalion (Edmonton Regiment) and its successor The Loyal Edmonton Regiment. It was then that Alex Decoteau died. This book will tell you how that happened, and what manner of man he was.”
Fictive Press was launched in 2011 by Morri Mostow as a division of BizNet Communications, a corporate and marketing communications firm that she and her husband, Doug Long, have been running since the early 1980s, first in Quebec and, since 2005, on Gabriola Island. Running: The Alex Decoteau Story is Fictive Press’s seventh title.
Fictive Press’s first title (published in 2012), The Fool Who Invented Kissing, by Doug Long is a collection of compelling micro-stories, whimsically illustrated by Gabriola artist David Botten, each with setting, characters, plot, conflict, climax and resolution told in exactly 55 words. Fictive Press has since published two poetry collections and a philosophical-religious work in translation by Per K. Brask; as well as a meditation on death, and an historical novel by award-winning children’s author Carol Matas.
ABOUT CHARLOTTE CAMERON
Charlotte Cameron writes plays inspired by historical figures.
No Gun for Annie tells the story of Annie Jackson, Canada’s first policewoman, who joined the Edmonton Police Service in 1912.
Running: The Alex Decoteau Story recounts the tale of Alex Decoteau, a Cree runner and Canada’s first Aborigal policeman, who returned from the Stockholm Olympics in 1912 to a hero’s welcome parade in Edmonton and died in 1917 running to deliver messages between the trenches at the Battle of Paschendaele.
Both plays premiered at The Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival, in 2000 and 2001 respectively.
In 2004, Running was rewritten for a family audience thanks to a grant from The Alberta Foundation for the Arts. Renamed Running, the play premiered during Edmonton’s 100th Birthday Celebration at the Edmonton Art Gallery, now The Royal Alberta Art Gallery. In 2014, Fictive Press published a revised version of the original play, along with historical information and archival photographs.
In 2005, Charlotte and her husband moved from Edmonton, Alberta, to Gabriola Island, BC, where she became fascinated by the life of Malcolm Lowry, the author of Under the Volcano. Everywhere she went on the island she encountered copies of Lowry’s book, October Ferry to Gabriola, and once again got bitten by a bug to tell a little-known story, that of the visit of Malcolm and Margerie Lowry to Gabriola in the fall of 1946.
Cameron identified with the Lowrys’ search to find a home where they could live, love and write. She invented a contemporary couple whose lives mirrored the lives of Margerie and Malcolm and juxtaposed the stories of the two couples in her play, October Ferries to Gabriola. It was first performed as a reading by four actors at The Roxy Theatre on Gabriola in 2009, followed by another reading in 2011 at the 7th Annual Poetry Gabriola Festival. In 2013, October Ferries to Gabriola was again presented as a reading at the 2013 Conference, Island Studies: West Coast & Beyond at The Haven, on Gabriola.
Charlotte Cameron’s other recent writing project (November 2013) involved working with a team of three playwrights and three local mystery writers to create a serial mystery entitled It Happened on Gertie to celebrate the acquisition of Gabriola’s first fleet of buses, which now provide public transportation on Gabriola Island.
Cameron is a member of The Federation of BC Writers, Writers Guild of Alberta, AB Playwrights Network, Theatre Alberta, Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers (CANSCAIP) and the Playwrights Guild of Canada. She is also a director on the board of the Poetry Gabriola Society.