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Local author and historian coming to Petrolia Library

By Melissa Schilz, Postmedia Network

Local author and historian David D. Plain has written several books, including a poetry book and historical fiction based on the life of his great-great-great grandfather, Ojibwa Chief Kioscance, or Young Gull. He is offering a workshop at the Petrolia Library on Feb. 28. Photo provided.

Local author and historian David D. Plain has written several books, including a poetry book and historical fiction based on the life of his great-great-great grandfather, Ojibwa Chief Kioscance, or Young Gull. He is offering a workshop at the Petrolia Library on Feb. 28. Photo provided.

David D. Plain’s family history has deep roots in Lambton County and across the continent. The aboriginal author and historian, who was born in London, is a member of Aamjiwnaang First Nation, and he has written several books, mostly works of historical non-fiction.  

This month he will be presenting at the Petrolia Library about the Ojibwa waterways or canoe routes that were used for war, trade and their cyclical lifestyle.

Throughout the 1990s, Plain studied in Toronto at Tyndale Seminary, where he received his Bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies and his Masters in Theological Studies.

Plain said his interest in history goes back to when he was in grade five at London Road School.

“I remember the first day of school, the teacher said…we’re going to be studying history this year and we’re going to roll back the clouds of time,” he said. “That hooked me.”

Plain said during his studies of Church History over the years in post-secondary, he wrote plenty of papers and learned how to research meticulously. His studies later translated into a keen interest in his family’s genealogy, in which he could utilize his new-found skills in research.

“I have an interest in my own history, Native history,” he said.

His love of writing first blossomed in high school when he attended S.C.I.T.S.

In 1961, when he was in grade 10, he wrote a short story, and it was the first piece of writing he had ever done.

“The teacher gave me a really good mark on it and asked me if he could keep it,” he said. “I let him keep it, I went off, got married, had kids, moved to Toronto and then Florida.”

Plain returned to Sarnia when he was in his early 40s, and he ran into his teacher, who told him he still had that story he wrote, sharing it with new students every year. Just a few months ago, the piece of paper was brought back to Plain, after it was found when clearing out the teacher’s old desk.

Since he began writing books about 10 years ago, he’s earned a prestigious publisher’s award, as well as four Gold Seals for literary excellence. He was also on Mayor Mike Bradley’s Honour Roll in 2009.

It started with Plain writing down the history to preserve his family’s story for generations to come, something he values deeply and want to always be remembered.

“I’ve got a big family, and a lot of the younger ones don’t know the history at all,” he said.

Plain said they held a family gathering in 2006, for which he wrote a 100-page manuscript as a souvenir for family members. From there, he published his first books, one on the history of his family, the Plains, and one celebrating First Nations culture.

“Half of it was history and half of it was culture, and after I looked at the document and thought, I’ve got two books here!” he said.

These first books of his are called The Plains of Aamjiwnaang and Ways of our Grandfathers.

Plain said there are a long line of chiefs in the family – he is a grandson of Chief On The Plain, which is how the family name Plain came about.

Plain said his grandfather lived a traditional lifestyle, but when he was a boy, the reserves first began to come about, and he and his family were forced to take on a new way of life.

“He didn’t like it,” Plain said.

When he was about 14, he went on a four-year canoe trip to the foothills of the Rockies and back again to look for his ancestors.

“It’s our belief that the path of souls led in a westerly direction,” he said. “When he came back they gave him a new name, Zaag-mshkodewe, which means ‘On the Plain’.”

Later, he converted to Christianity. After being baptized, they changed his name to Nicholas, shortening ‘On the Plain’ to simply ‘Plain’.

“That’s where all the Plain family comes from,” he said, noting that across North America just over ten years ago, he found there were about 1000 Plains.

“We’re all over,” he said with a laugh. “It’s a big family.”

Besides his non-fiction works, Plain has also written a historical fiction novel, called 1300 Moons. Plain has co-authored a screenplay for a pilot episode of Three Fires, a drama series based on the book, which is centered around the biography of his great-great-great grandfather, who was an Ojibwa War Chief.

It’s been no easy task, and Plain has spent significant time digging in historical records and reports kept by government officials and other historians. He said some of it was also oral history passed down by family members.

But he does it to keep the history alive and protected. A culture that has been threatened over the last several hundred years, his work aims to enlighten and engage readers. He’ll be sharing some significant pieces of what he’s learned over his lifetime in his workshop at the end of the month, including information about historical battles and traditional hunter and gatherer lifestyle.

 

IF YOU GO:

When: February 28, 6:30 p.m – 8:00 p.m

Where: Petrolia Library

Cost: FREE. Call to pre-register: 519-882-0771

 

Mschilz@postmedia.com