CANORA — As regular Canora Courier readers may recall, New York City-based journalist and author Wayne Hoffman visited Canora in 2017 for the purposes of researching a book he was working on at the time.
Hoffman has completed the book, The End of Her: Racing Against Alzheimer's to Solve a Murder, where he explores the question of who was behind the brutal unsolved 1913 murder of his great-grandmother, Sarah Feinstein. At the same time as he was working on the book he was facing another tragedy, his mother’s decline from Alzheimer’s.
The Canora connection which Hoffman discovered is that Sarah’s husband David was working with several brothers as cattle buyers at the time. Even though they lived in Winnipeg, they spent plenty of time in Canora on business, and kept a home here from about 1906 to 1913. In fact, David was in Canora on business at the time of his wife’s murder.
In the book, Hoffman describes Canora as “a small town untouched by the outside world.”
He devotes an entire chapter, Good Spirit Country, to his time in Canora in June 2017.
“At the end of Main Street, I parked in front of the Canora Hotel, which is more than a century old, and looks every minute of its age. This was a prominent building—a three-story brick block that today comprises eight guest rooms over a bar and restaurant—that my relatives would surely have known well. They would have arrived in Canora not by road, but by train, and as they exited the station, the first building they would have seen was this hotel, just across Railway Avenue. A hundred years ago, after a long day buying cattle on the ranches outside town, my great-grandfather and his brothers might have stopped for a drink in the street-level bar.”
Even though he didn’t know anyone prior to his stop in Canora, it didn’t take Hoffman long to find friendly local residents who were more than willing to help him in his search, including Brandi Zavislak, community development officer.
“Zavislak seemed intrigued, particularly by the murder; this wasn’t the kind of story she heard on a typical day, about this sleepy town’s connection to a crime that made headlines across Canada.
“Before we walked back up Main Street to the train station, she called Joy Stusek, the volunteer who runs the museum, and told her we were on our way. Then she called reporter Rocky Neufeld at the Canora Courier, and told him to meet us there.
“In any small town, outsiders stand out. So as Zavislak and I walked the few blocks from the town office up to the train station, where the museum is located, cars would stop, and drivers would roll down their windows to ask her, “Hey, Brandi, who’s that?” Everyone knew her, and nobody had ever seen me before. “He’s a writer, from New York,” she’d say. “He’s here investigating a murder.”
Stusek gave Hoffman a tour of Canora’s CN Station House Museum, where he found numerous items that helped him understand Canora in a broad sense, “but there wasn’t much that connected me to my family’s specific history—not the quilt, or the giant soda bottle, or the delicious tap water. And then I saw a small item on display that seemed quite old. ‘This is the train station’s original telegraph,’ Stusek said.
“I’d found a piece of my story. It was this very machine that transmitted the message to my great-grandfather back in 1913, telling him that his wife was dead, and he needed to return to Winnipeg at once. It was just past noon on a Friday when he got the message. I imagine he was returning to town after spending the morning on the family farm a few miles away. Distraught, he probably packed a suitcase as quickly as he could before heading back up Main Street, past the Canora Hotel, to the train station.”
The publication date for The End of Her: Racing Against Alzheimer's to Solve a Murder is February 15. For more information, visit waynehoffmanwriter.com.