MOOSEJAWTODAY.COM — Stories about Moose Jaw’s early history could have been lost forever if not for renowned writer Leith Knight, who helped preserve those tales through her beloved columns and the library’s archives.
Knight — née Docherty, born April 13, 1924 — started working for the Moose Jaw Public Library as the chief librarian’s secretary in 1961 before moving on to other roles, including assistant head librarian, head librarian and duties in the reference department.
She later helped develop the venue’s archives department, making Moose Jaw the first public library in Saskatchewan to have such a department.
Knight began writing on various topics in 1953, while she began producing a weekly column for the Moose Jaw Times-Herald in 1969 titled “Historically Speaking,” which continued until 2013. She also wrote two books called “All the Moose … all the Jaw” and “Birds of the Moose Jaw Area.”
She died on June 27, 2013, at age 89.
It’s estimated that she wrote more than 2,000 columns during her career.
More than 60 years after establishing the archives and over a decade since her death, the library held a reception on Feb. 7 to unveil a plaque commemorating the woman and her efforts to preserve the community’s history.
Nearly 20 people attended the event, including father and son Larry and Scott Hellings, who co-wrote “A Knight to Remember.” The book — which they released last spring — brings together 104 columns that Knight wrote for the Times-Herald.
The gathering also coincided with Provincial Archives Week, which ran from Feb. 4 to 10.
“I’m very pleased with how (the plaque) came out. It turned out better than I had hoped,” said Scott, a former reporter with the Times-Herald and Moose Jaw Express and past chairman of the heritage advisory committee.
The commemorative event was a “full-circle moment” for the Hellings because their journey to write the book started in the archives during Archives Week in 2018 while attending another event to honour Knight’s contributions to the department, he explained.
The father-son team had already been compiling the woman’s articles, but after seeing the turnout and how many people cherished her work, they were convinced to push forward and make the project a reality.
“Leith Knight was a remarkable woman … . Without her, we likely would have lost so much of our history,” Scott said, noting she regularly used the archives to research the community’s early years.
“She had a great knack for finding (old and) interesting stories and then re-telling those stories in a captivating manner.”
The Hellings wanted to include photos to accompany the text in the book but ran into problems — lack of photos, photo quality, design issues and printing costs — that discouraged them from doing so.
They realized the project was not about showcasing old photos but about highlighting Knight’s words and the history she worked to preserve.
Scott hoped the book would inspire people to visit the archives to find those old photos, search for more of Knight’s articles or browse through other materials in the collection.
“One thing that always made me smile was finding stories that show that the more things change, the more they stay the same,” Scott chuckled, citing stories Knight wrote about snow clearing, crumbling streets, fighting on city council, crime and fires burning down beloved old buildings.
“This is truly a gem of the library’s collection, and we owe it all to Leith,” he said, before reading a column about the circus coming to town.
The Hellings said they have talked about writing a second book based on 80 other columns they have collected and the inquiries they have received from residents.
Yet, they said finding a publisher to print their first book in small quantities proved challenging. Scott found a company in the United States that would print one at a time — he gave his dad the first copy at Christmas 2022 — but that was expensive while they faced import issues.
He eventually found a Canadian company to print their books one at a time, which is what they’ve been doing ever since.
“It was a journey, but if I were to do another one, it would come along a lot faster,” added Scott.
The Hellings thanked Hilda Davies, a friend of Knight’s, for re-typing the columns for publication, and library archivist Stephanie Jeanes for her assistance.