Caledon Citizen Feature: The Brickworks
Cheltenham Brickworks buildings inspire Port Perry author’s newest novel
Lucy E.M. Black began working on “The Brickworks” six years ago after a trip to Caledon
By ZACHARY ROMAN
The Cheltenham Brickworks became operational in 1914 and remained in operation until the 1950s. Its buildings are still visible off Mississauga Road, just a little north of King Street.
When Port Perry author Lucy E.M. Black was visiting Caledon six years ago, she saw the abandoned buildings and was inspired right away. She and her husband parked their car and walked towards the old brickworks buildings.
“It was a really stormy day when I was there… I thought it was really romantic,” said Black, who recalls taking a picture of the buildings that she loved.
Her husband found a piece of brick on the ground that was studded with straw, which Black took home and put on her writing desk.
“It just spoke to me, I thought, ‘I need to learn more about brickmaking’,” said Black.
She quickly immersed herself in the subject and found herself travelling to Saskatchewan to visit the Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site.
Black said she also travelled to Scotland, as pre-World War One Scotland was very advanced in terms of industrialization.
“Those immigrants brought those skills and passion with them when they emigrated [to Ontario],” said Black.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, Scottish immigrants settled in many of what are now Caledon’s villages and hamlets.
“I had all this research, and suddenly these two young Scottish men walked into my head and the novel began… men with a dream, that’s how it all started,” said Black of her new novel, The Brickworks.
It’s her fourth novel, and it follows the stories of two Scottish men, Brodie and Alistair. The novel begins with the tragic Tay Bridge collapse in Scotland in 1879 — and young Brodie’s dad was the driver of the train crossing it at the time.
Brodie was traumatized and left home, soon finding a safe haven with his uncle in Edinburgh. There, he studied engineering, intent on proving the bridge disaster was not his father’s fault. He then goes to a small rural community in North America where he befriends Alistair, another Scotsman. Together, they establish a brickworks and change the lives of all they encounter.
“We have these enterprising young Scotsmen who brought their engineering and brickmaking expertise to Ontario just at the time when there was a need for such things,” said Black. “That sense of possibility that took place at the turn of the 19th century… there was a real sense that anything was possible. It’s so exciting”
Black spent about four years writing, researching, and editing The Brickworks. She’s now immensely proud that it’s ready to be shown to the world.
Black and her husband often take drives to Caledon from Port Perry, which is a community east of Caledon on Lake Scugog. They love looking at the changing leaves in the fall, and Caledon has a special place in Black’s heart. The pair often visit the Cheltenham Badlands and enjoy driving through the Forks of the Credit.
“[The Brickworks] was very much influenced by the richness of your community,” said Black. “It’s such a beautiful place and a place that we return to and visit regularly.”
Black is a retired educator, having been a principal for 10 years, a vice-principal for 10 years, and a teacher before that. She retired when she had two books accepted for publication in 2017, and since then she’s been focusing on her writing career. She’s enjoying being a part of the writing community and has taught workshops in addition to working on books.
While obtaining a degree in English literature, Black’s major area of study was 19th century British fiction.
“I’ve been steeped in the literature and the history of that period,” said Black.
When she and her husband first moved to the countryside, she became interested in local Ontario history. She joined her local historical society and began digging into Ontario’s past.
The Brickworks will be available for purchase on October 14 and is published by Now or Never Press, a company from Vancouver. On October 14, there will be a book launch in Uxbridge at Blue Heron Books from 3 to 5 p.m. — Canadian author Rachel McMillan will also be there. In addition, an archaeological company that endorsed Black’s book for its historical accuracy will have a display at the launch.
“I think this one’s really going to resonate with people. There’s a great deal of history, there’s immigration stories and technical information; but, there’s also romance,” said Black. “Bricks, science, technology, love: how can you go wrong?”
McMillan said Black’s book is wonderfully researched and lovingly told.
“Black again pulls the curtain back on lesser explored moments in history weaving a compassionate tapestry of determination, innovation, and love that fits well into the tradition of beloved national storytellers Michael Ondaatje and Genevieve Graham,” she wrote.