A Tale of Two Divas


The Curious Adventures of Jean Forsyth and Edith J. Miller in Canada’s Edwardian West

Elspeth Cameron with Gail Kreutzer

About the book

Brilliant singers and extraordinary women, Jean Forsyth and Edith J. Miller epitomized a golden age in Canada’s burgeoning West, where the only entertainment was live, and live performance was the beating heart of cultural life.

Beginning as soloists in Manitoba’s church choirs, soprano Jean Forsyth and contralto Edith Miller took different–though crisscrossing–career paths, navigating an era of remarkable change, from the constraints of late Victorianism to the liberation of the Roaring Twenties. One rose to international stardom and the pinnacle of society, singing for the King of England. The other met the new challenges of the day in a flurry of philanthropic and entrepreneurial activity, crowning an already celebrated career. Each struck out on her own, to struggle–and find–success in a world where opportunities for women were scarce.

Much has been written about the history of the pioneer Prairie West, but rarely has its social arena been so thoroughly examined. Rich in detail, abundant with extraordinary and colourful characters, A Tale of Two Divas is a fascinating and inspiring tale of a bygone era that resonates with our very own.

About the author

Elspeth Cameron is the author of three award-winning biographies: Hugh MacLennan: a Writer’s Life (1981), which won the Canadian Biography Award for that year and was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award, Irving Layton: A Portrait (1985), and Earle Birney: A Life (1994). Her 1997 memoir No Previous Experience: A Memoir of Love and Change won the W.O. Mitchell Literary Prize. Her biography of two Toronto sculptors in And Beauty Answers: The Life of Frances Loring and Florence Wyle (2007), was shortlisted for the 2008 Toronto Book Awards. She was also the recipient of the UBC Medal for Canadian Biography in 1981 and the City of Vancouver Book Award in 1995. She has taught English in Canadian Studies at Concordia University and the University of Toronto, and was a professor in the English Language and Literature Department at Brock University.


News & Reviews

The Enterprise

Click the link below to read our excerpt of The Enterprise‘s article, page 13:

Roger Newman’s interview with Gail Kreutzer, who researched material for A Tale of Two Divas: The Curious Adventures of Jean Forsyth and Edith J. Miller in Canada’s Edwardian West in collaboration with author Elspeth Cameron.

Page 13 of The Enterprise- New biography details the lives of adventurous pioneer singers

The Interlake Spectator

Gimli Woman Special Part in Historical Novel

What started off as a chance correspondents with one of her favourite authors, turned into a captivating non-fiction novel for one Gimli woman.

Evergreen School Division teacher Gail Kreutzer, and Elspeth Cameron, well-known Canadian historical biography recently published the book A Tale of Two Divas: The Curious Adventures of Jean Forsyth and Edith J. Miller in Canada’s Edwardian West. The book chronicles the life of two Canadian singers, their philanthropic activity and for one, her famous performance for the King of England.

“In my lifetime, I never thought i would be part of a published book, never mind doing a book with Elspeth. I’ve been a great admirer of her writing for many years,” Kreutzer said to the Interlake Spectator, Feb. 8.

Her journey started when she read Cameron’s book Aunt Winnie. In the book, she read a section that featured Forsyth, stating she could have been the founder of the Winnipeg Humane Society in 1893. Kreutzer, who had spent many years working with the organization, even serving on its board, was impressed by Forsyth and wanted to learn more about her.

“So I started doing some digging, and the more I dug, the more I found on Forsyth,” she said.

She wrote an email to Cameron, asking her to write a book on Forsyth, to which Cameron was initially hesitant.

Kreutzer researched about Forsyth anyway, amassing heaps of information on the little-known singer, then sending it to Cameron. Cameron slowly made her way to reading the material and was hooked.

“She had said she was not planning to do anymore book writing, but she was prepared to do this project,” Kreutzer explained. The pair spent months corresponding via email, with Kreutzer doing the research and Cameron piecing together a cohesive narrative…”

View the full article here.


Unrelenting researcher: ESD employee sparks book idea

by Patricia Barrett

[…] In some chapters, Cameron creates a compelling fictional narrative (based on factual documents Kreutzer obtained) of significant events in the singers’ lives. Her novelistic ingenuity brings the characters, their manners and their thoughts to life.

“It really gives you a picture of cultural life during that time,” said Kreutzer. “A lot of things have been written about Western Canada during that period of tim in the early years, but nothing has focused on the cultural day-t0-day life.”

Given Cameron’s extensive writing experience (biographies on Canadian literary and cultural icons), Kreutzer tasked her with the job of writing the book.

“I had said to her, ‘I think you should write another book,'” said Kreutzer. “I was trying to convince her to write this book. I kept sending her packages and packages of material because I just couldn’t believe all this stuff I was finding. I thought this woman’s [Forsyth] story deserves to be told.”

Cameron initially resisted. In the Acknowledgements at the back of the book, she reveals her reluctance to pursue the story. She wrote: “I emailed back a lukewarm response because I thought of Aunt Winnie as my last book.”

Kreutzer was undeterred.

“I kept sending her stuff because I thought if anybody could write this, it was her.”

Kreutzer herself is no stranger to the written word but had not tackled a book.

“I’ve done articles in local magazines like H2O and the Winnipeg Humane Society’s newsletter, and I did a tribute to Jean Forsyth on their website,” she said. “I also co-hosted a radio show on CJOB called All About Animals.”

In the face of Kreutzer’s persistence, and stacks of documents about Jean Forsyth that would arrive at her St. Catharine’s (Ont.) home, Cameron finally relented.

Read the full article here


BIO022000 Biography & Autobiography/Women BIO002000 Biography & Autobiography/ Cultural Heritage BIO004000 Biography & Autobiography/ Composers & Musicians
250 pp 6 x 9 in