I had already written a book for Scholastic's Dear Canada series and loved doing that and seeing how readers connected to stories from the past, so I was thrilled when the I Am Canada series was announced and I was asked if I would like to write about the War of 1812.
I am a history buff and love researching a time and place. Living in Southern Ontario, I knew that this had been one of the major battlegrounds, so I decided to find out what the war would have been like for a boy living just a few kilometers away from my home. Researching the big battles was easy—a lot had been written about them—but it was harder to find out about the lives of ordinary people. Few had the time to write, some, perhaps, were not even literate. By chance, I stumbled upon the diary of a farmer in Ancaster, Benjamin Smith.. I read the original on microfilm in the Archives of Ontario. It's not a diary, like you or I would write. He wrote perhaps a line each day, often not much more. For example: "Threshed oats in the barn." But if you looked deeper there was so much more. In terse, little sentences he recorded major life events, such as the loss of a child, going to war, and the community he felt with those around him. After reading that, I felt I knew what life was like for a farmer at that time, and created a life for my character, Sandy MacKay—a life that I hope resonates for readers because although it's very different in many ways, they will recognize that Sandy's hopes, dreams and feelings are very much the same as theirs.