Our dog at the StationThe process of writing and creating the Abigail Massey stories has been an exciting one for me, as the author, and for the many people who have gotten involved in this project along the way.

Most amazing for me has been the way this project has become something of a family affair, bringing together so many people who are important to me to achieve a common goal.

It all began several years ago, shortly after I moved to Fredericton with my partner Patti and our golden doodle Marlee to build a new life in New Brunswick. We soon found out that our home in the province's capital city had become something of a vacation destination for our friends and family back in our native Ontario. My sister Lynn was one of our earliest guests.

On her way up from Maine to Fredericton, Lynn had driven through McAdam, where she passed the Station and wondered at the sheer size and beauty of this building. It was too late in the day to stop and still make it to Fredericton for supper so Lynn made a mental note about this surprising Station and kept driving. When she passed through Harvey and saw the Briggs and Little Woolen Mills, she knew she just had to make a return trip to visit these two New Brunswick treasures. Lynn, you see, is an avid knitter and was keen to visit the historic mill that had produced the yarn for so many of her projects.

We were easily convinced to take the drive out Highway 3 the next day.

Briggs Machine
Thanks to the owners and staff at Briggs & Little, the visit to their factory was a memorable one and included a personal tour of the yarn-making factory. Delighted with the success of that visit, we then made the short drive further south to visit the village of McAdam to check out this gorgeous building of massive proportions, dominating the centre of this small village. Even more importantly, we were pleased to find out that the Station and Hotel was open to visitors, complete with guided tours from their friendly volunteers.

Our guide brought the rich history of the McAdam Railway Station and Hotel to life for us as we toured the partially refurbished facility. We loved the diner area especially but our imaginations were most strongly ignited by the presence of the jail cell at the back of the Station. During our tour, the guide also told us that the cost of the full renovation and preservation of this important historical landmark would be in the area of $15-million. Even with the support of provincial and federal government programs (the Station is both a national and a provincial historic site), the village of some 1,300 people was hard-pressed to raise the necessary funds.

lunchcounter shadow
Well, we were all hooked. We visited the Station's gift shop and bought up everything we could to support the Station. Even then, we felt we hadn't done enough.

Work needs to be done One item Lynn picked up was a DVD that had been made of a local-TV documentary on the Station's history. While watching the DVD, learning even more about the Station and its story, we were quite captivated by the interviews with some of the local residents who had lived and worked at the Station over the years, in particular during the period of the Second World War.

refurbishing
Lynn was the one who first suggested that we should pool our particular talents to create something new for the Station to sell in its gift shop. I have a background as a journalist and writer while Lynn is an accomplished graphic designer and artist: why not work together to produce a book about the Station, print a bunch of copies and then donate them to the Station for them to sell to tourists?

With the stories of those young woman who lived in and worked in the Station's hotel and restaurants still fresh in our minds, we decided that our book should be a creative endeavour, that I should write a series of short stories for children, to be set at the Station during the early 1940s, featuring a group of fictional young woman who were employees of the Station and Hotel. Once the stories were finished, Lynn would create illustrations for them and then design the books themselves.

And so Abigail Massey was born. Using the old Nancy Drew and Bobbsey Twins books as inspiration, I began to write what would become a series of 12 short stories involving Abigail, her cousin Martha and their new friends Jenny and Alice. I introduced their boss, the stern Miss Pierce, as well as the gruff but friendly Station Agent Mr. Fitzpatrick and the Station's jack-of-all-trades Gillles LeClerc.

GirlsinDorm
In order to write the stories and make them both realistic and historically accurate, I began to research the village, the Station and the history of the entire province. I discovered a number of interesting, true stories about the Station and quickly learned that it really was a transportation hub for the Canadian war effort during World War II. All kinds of exciting things happened at the Station during that time and all kinds of interesting and well-known figures passed through its doors, ate at its tables and slept in its beds along the way.

So I tried to introduce some of the actual events from the Station's history into the stories as well. In Volume 1's "Canada's Sweetheart", for example, iconic Canadian figure skater Barbara Ann Scott makes a visit to the Station, much to the delight of Abigail, her biggest fan, who is just dying to meet her heroine. Fact is, Barbara Ann Scott did visit the Station around that time and I wouldn't be surprised if one or more of the young women then working at the Station were just as delighted at meeting their idol as Abigail is in the story.

I'm sad to report that my mom passed away during the course of this work but I'm pleased that she was able to read and enjoy early drafts of all 12 of the Abigail stories before she died. She used to call me up to give me suggestions on the latest story she had read, or complain to me that a story had made her cry. We've dedicated the first Volume to her memory; every time I think the work of this project is too much or worry that it won't be successful, I remind myself of how important the project was to her and I steel myself to carry on.

Lunch Exterior
The next step was to have the finished stories reviewed by expert readers, people with the knowledge and expertise to critique the writing, to spot historical inaccuracies, to ensure that the Village and people of McAdam are appropriately presented in the final versions. I can't thank enough people like Patty Smith, Lola Smith, Mary Verne Sinclair and Mary O'Keefe Robak for their kindness and thoroughness in reviewing the stories for me. How else would I have learned that queen sized beds didn't exist in 1941???

Once the stories were written, revised and finalised, Lynn got to work on designing the books themselves and creating the fabulous drawings that accompany each story. While I personally am pleased with the quality of the writing in the stories, I know for a fact that it is Lynn's beautiful design and layout, as well as those wonderful drawings, that give people such a positive first and lasting impression of the books.

The story doesn't stop there, however. Once we got the prototype of Volume 1 in our hands, we approached the McAdam Historical Restoration Commission to pitch the project and get their support and endorsement. A friendly, extremely knowledgeable and dedicated group of people greeted us at the Station itself and embraced the project wholeheartedly, throwing themselves into the planning and marketing process. We decided that the project should be more than just printing 20 copies of the book for sale in the gift shop; that we should use the books not only to raise money for the Station but also to try to further raise the profile of the Station and its history around the province and across the country.

My brother stepped in with an offer of his expertise with regard to websites, email addresses and all things technical, helping us to set up this webpage for example. My other sister came forward to help us make contact with various members of the media in NB and Ontario. Meanwhile, my partner Patti has been directly and actively involved in the project every step of the way, from helping to design order forms to reviewing stories and promotional materials to helping to plot marketing strategies.

We've made many more visits to the Station over the course of this project, as much to enjoy the beautiful building and its surroundings as to catalogue its many rooms and features for inclusion in the stories and drawings. We've been impressed with the amazing work that has been done to restore various areas of the building and our admiration for the efforts and dedication of the people of McAdam has only increased with every visit.

It truly has been a family affair for me, a joyful, joyous experience for a great cause.