Over the course of 30 years, once a year, Hay River has become acquainted, engaged and intrigued by several sets of intermingling fictional characters.
There was The Great Christmas Gift Exchange, a story about an uncle who unexpectedly acquires a young family after his brother is killed in an accident and his sister-in-law becomes ill and dies tragically.
There was The Unusual Christmas Play, a tale with a humorous beginning. A director is shouting at his actors who don’t seem to be absorbing the gravity of nativity. “King Herod is contemplating infanticide!” he yells.
All of these characters were hatched from the imagination of long-time Hay Riverite Vicky Latour.
In 1979, Latour wrote her first fictional story for The Hub’s Christmas issue. By 1984, they had become an annual ritual in this newspaper’s December ‘B’ section.
But there will be no story from Latour in this year’s Christmas section. This year, The Hub tells of the woman behind the narratives, and her inspiration.
Originally from England, Latour has lived in Hay River, in the same home, for nearly 41 years. She moved to Alberta when she was 11 after her father was posted there while in the Royal Air Force. By 21, she moved to Whitehorse in 1957 to work as a civil servant. She moved to Aklavik in 1958. From then on she has lived most of her life in the NWT, residing in Aklavik, Inuvik, Tuktoyaktuk and Hay River.
“The territory was a very different place 40 years ago,” said Latour. “There’s been all sorts of upheaval and change and I got to write a lot about it.”
Once Latour moved to Hay River, she took up writing, editing and toiling for publications like Tapwe and The Hub until around 1995.
She began writing her Christmas stories in 1979 as a testament to how Christmas used to be celebrated. Many subjects, characters and overarching themes were inspired by the nativity – what Latour says is the true importance behind a traditional Christmas and one that’s become all but lost.
“It’s this wealth of tradition and contribution to music and art and writing that has been inspired from the nativity event itself,” she said. “It is not just a red-coated gentleman popping down the chimney with his pipe. The world doesn’t celebrate Christmas in the same way.”
The entrance into Latour’s home illustrates how much story, real or fiction, has permeated her life: from history books to photography compilations to shelf upon shelf of novels.
Aside from the countless news articles, features and her column ‘Getting Personal’ featuring prominent Hay Riverites, their pasts and their achievements, she published a children’s book with local illustrator Leslie Buckerfield, and has a drawer full of her own writing.
She also served as co-chair of the Hay River Museum Society for many years and is an avid community volunteer.
For the much awaited Christmas edition, Latour said she would begin thinking about her plot lines in August, fretting all the required hours over her characters, scenes and storyline. Her narrative was usually around 10,000 words. She often inadvertently inserted social commentary with subjects touching on poverty, war and elders.
She also wrote non-fiction articles about those whose duties took them away from Christmas celebrations on account of service – members of the Coast Guard and the RCMP, healthcare professionals and fishermen.
Christmas stories will now remain in back issues and archives.
“It’s not that I lay down the pen,” said Latour. “It’s that things changed. The way I always thought of the Christmas section was as a gift to the community. It was a break from the horror, sad states and politics, and it just celebrated the gift of the season.”
Christmas now is all too much of a rush for Latour. She sees journalism the same way.
“For my columns, I spent a lot of time with people because that’s how you got a sense of who they really were,” said Latour. “That Christmas paper had three sections and we worked like stink on it. But the ‘B’ section was always a big thing. When I first started writing my stories, Christmas still sort of meant something, but you can’t take the gospel and rewrite it.”
— Angele Cano