Lindsay R. Ruck, born in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, is a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism in Ottawa. Since graduating in 2008, she has worked in the marketing, communications and publishing fields. Similar to her grandfather, the late Calvin W. Ruck, she has a deep and abiding respect and affection for her home province of Nova Scotia and recently returned to Halifax, after living in Ottawa for 12 years to further her career as a writer and editor. Her latest book is a biography of Dr. John Savage called Against the Grain (Pottersfield Press).
In this interview, Lindsay talks about the inspiration her grandfather Calvin W. Ruck has given her and her interest in history.
Can you tell me about your grandfather, Calvin W. Ruck?
I know I’m biased, but my grandfather was an incredible man. He grew up in Whitney Pier and eventually moved to Halifax to work as a sleeping-car porter with the Canadian National Railway. He dealt with racism and discrimination on a daily basis, but he never wavered or stopped fighting for what was right. He fought for basic human rights, like haircuts at local barber shops, jobs for black men and women at local businesses, and land titles for residents who lived in communities their entire lives but still weren’t properly acknowledged as property owners. He brought dry cleaning services and school supplies into communities that went without up until that point. He was never content with the status quo and spent his entire life improving the lives of others. He would eventually go on to be appointed to the Senate of Canada and was able to continue his work on a larger platform. He will always be one of my greatest inspirations and his life is a testament that anyone can do anything if they put their mind to it and believe that they can make a difference.
Why did you decide to write about him in the book Winds of Change?
Among other job titles, my grandfather was an author and historian. He wrote a book about the No. 2 Black Construction Battalion and was working on a second book when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. It became apparent that he would no longer be able to tell the important stories of the past and that included his own incredible story. When I started thinking about this project, I had just graduated with a journalism degree and was figuring out what to do next. Writing has always been my passion and being able to tell the story of my grandfather’s life was a huge honour. For me, it was the perfect first swing at the bat as an author because I was confident in his story, I was passionate about the subject and I wanted others to know just how incredible he was. So many people after reading the book have said they didn’t realize he did this or that, or they had no idea black families endured so much in Nova Scotia. I wanted people to know we are where we are today because of trailblazers like my grandfather, and there is still a lot to do to continue the work he began in this province and in this country.
How did you write the book? What kind of research did you do? Were you able to interview him? (I realize he passed away in 2004.)
When I first started writing the book I was living in Ottawa. My grandparents lived with us in Ottawa and although my grandfather had passed away by the time I started working on the book, he had left boxes and boxes of documents ranging from transcripts of speeches he’d given to post-it notes where he had written down thoughts, names, and titles of books and newspaper articles. So the early days involved digging through all of those boxes and piecing together any relevant information pertaining to his life and the projects that were most important to him. Once I moved back to Halifax, I had a chance to meet with several of my grandfather’s colleagues, friends and family members. Those first-person accounts were really special for me and I was able to see how moved people were by one man’s actions. But my favourite interviews were the ones with my grandmother. Talking about how they first met, the loss of their daughter (my aunt), and the struggles of a young mother were all things we never talked about before and I will cherish those conversations most.
What are some of things that you take away from his life story?
There’s so much to be learned from how he chose to live his life. One of the biggest takeaways is standing up for what is right and not being afraid to speak up. My grandfather was fearless. He didn’t come from a wealthy family. He had to leave school when he was quite young to get a job and support his siblings. (But would then go on to get his high school degree and obtain a university degree in the 1970s – becoming the oldest in his graduating class.) These things never held him back. If he saw something was wrong, he figured out how to make it better. He also had a way of speaking calmly and concisely to get his point across. When people go into battle, sometimes they think the louder they are the better, but my grandfather believed the opposite. He came armed not with fists and weapons, but with a calm demeanour that somehow could captivate a room and change the minds of even the most stubborn of individuals.
Your latest book is a biography of John Savage called Against the Grain. Tell me about the title.
It wasn’t until I neared the end of writing this book that I thought of Against the Grain. In my opinion, it really sums up the biggest theme in the book, which is making unpopular decisions and doing things that weren’t always well-received. Politics aside, Dr. Savage was a huge advocate of sex education in the schools and this was at the time when the topic was considered taboo. He worked with drug addicts and alcoholics and opened a detox centre for those who were essentially tossed to the side by society. He then battled day in and day out to reform a province that wanted nothing to do with his ideas and fought him at every turn. He went against the grain and was unapologetic in his beliefs and actions when he truly believed he was doing what would be best for a people and a province.
Why did you want to write about John Savage? Did you see in him qualities he shared with your grandfather?
My grandfather and Dr. Savage worked together in Preston. When Dr. Savage discovered the area didn’t have a medical centre, he knew he wanted to do something about it. Among other volunteers, my grandfather and Dr. Savage not only brought a medical centre to the community, but also a daycare and a ball field. They both believed that if they saw a void or if something wasn’t right, it needed to be corrected and if they couldn’t do it themselves, then they would find the right people who could make it happen.
I was quite young when Dr. Savage was premier of Nova Scotia, but I was certainly aware of the major moves he made while in power, such as the amalgamation and the HST. I was intrigued by what I did know about him and it was apparent there was so much more to this man than just a politician and I really wanted to uncover those other layers and tell a complete story of his life.
In the books that you write, you seem to gravitate to history. Why do you think you went in that direction?
When I was younger, I wanted to write YA novels and children’s books and I filled notebooks with ideas that catered to those age groups. I really had little interest in history, especially when it came to writing about it. It wasn’t until I began considering my grandfather’s biography that my fascination grew in telling others’ stories. Growing up, my history textbooks held very little in relation to black history and while working on Winds of Change I began to feel a responsibility to tell those stories that get lost in school curriculum. While it was never part of the plan, I feel incredibly grateful and honoured to tell these stories. A few weeks ago one of my high school teachers sent me a message saying a student included a line in their presentation that started with “As author Lindsay Ruck stated….” That is exactly why I now gravitate towards historic literature. So that students will learn far more than I did about the stories of incredible individuals who made a difference, who stood up for what they believed in and fought racism and discrimination to make a difference. There is a void that needs to be filled when it comes to black history resources and I hope to help in filling that void. That’s not to say those YA novels still won’t become a part of my repertoire someday!
I see you have another book coming out this fall — Amazing Black Atlantic Canadians. Who are some of the people you profile in that book?
There are so many incredible black Atlantic Canadians and I couldn’t include them all in the pages of this book, but I tried to feature a wide range of men and women, including athletes, artists and educators, both past and present. Operatic greats Measha Brueggergosman and Portia White, the coloured hockey league, Halifax activist Quentrel Provo and the No. 2 Black Construction Battalion are all featured in this book. I’m so excited to see it released so kids can learn all about these incredible individuals.
OK, changing direction. You’ve got a toddler and a newborn with you at home. What has that been like during these strange days?
My son was born just days before the stay at home order was issued and so our family and friends still haven’t been able to hold him or spend that special quality time with him in those early days with a newborn. That’s been tough for sure. My daughter is two years old and trying to explain to a toddler why she all of a sudden can’t see her friends or spend time with her cousins is difficult. On the flip side, I keep thinking how blessed we are to have welcomed a happy and healthy baby boy into the world who is so loved by so many already. Life can become so busy and this has forced us to slow down, appreciate the little things and really just enjoy being together with our growing little family.
I wouldn’t imagine you would be able to write at all with two little humans depending on you … have you?
Despite this being my second child, I still naively thought I would write during the “down time.” So far, that hasn’t happened. I’m still working on finishing up Amazing Black Atlantic Canadians and have been able to tackle that in short spurts so far. I certainly have a lot of notebooks to fill with new ideas and storylines that are currently sitting in my brain waiting to be explored further.
What do you miss the most from the time before?
Time with my family. Both my husband and I come from very close-knit families and not being able to just pop over to their homes or invite them over to our place for dinner is very odd and a huge adjustment. This is something I will appreciate even more once this is all over.
- Questions by Marilyn Smulders