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Local author reimagines Sexsmith’s history in new book

Historian and author David W. Leonard has released his 11th book, a revised version of The Trail to Assumption, which paints the history of his hometown of Sexsmith in the 20th century.

Leonard then wanted to tell a story of someone that lived during that time, as not much history has been written about Sexsmith.

“This novel deals with the struggle of a man who grew up in the early 1900s and was part of the heroic war effort, but finds himself struggling to fit in and alienated from the general public. He spends most of his spare time at a tavern or bar, where he feels a sense of belonging. He wants to find a woman to spend time with, and build a relationship,” he explains.

“He ends up spending a lot of time with an Indigenous woman in Sturgeon Lake, who is married and in an abusive relationship. That was completely frowned upon at the time, to spend any time or develop a relationship with an Indigenous person, so he felt more and more isolated. The story relives his life and the ups and downs he experienced trying to find himself.”

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Leonard helped establish the archives in the Northwest Territories and Edmonton, but he’s always been fascinated by the Peace River Country.

“I was looking at a map one day and I noticed that all the pockets of Western Canada with large settlements had a railway. In 1914, the Peace River Country region had no railway but still saw large-scale settlement. Back then, without a railway, you would think that the market economy would really suffer. I always wondered what brought people there,” he says.

As Leonard says, Sexsmith became what was once known as the grain capital of the British Empire.

“Over a ten-year period, from 1939-1949, Sexsmith was the number one supplier of grain to the British Empire. In fact, it produced more grain than any other port for them,” he says.

The novel is dedicated to Clifford Williams, who was a good friend of Leonard and his father before he passed away. David W. Leonard was inducted into the Alberta Order of Excellence in 2007 and has played a key role in the preservation and understanding of Alberta’s history.

The revised version of The Trail to Assumption is available at the Grande Prairie Museum, Sexsmith Museum, and Coles in Prairie Mall.

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