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Free class at Whitehorse library will help find everyone’s stories worth telling

Lessons on writing personal histories to begin March 21

Everyone has a story, but most don’t get written down.

Some newly arrived Whitehorse residents are hoping to change that by offering a free course assisting people in getting their personal histories down on paper. Rob and Jane Ficiur both have experience penning personal and family histories gleaned from personal reflection and discussions with those who share their lives.

“It’s easier and harder than you’d think,” Rob said.

“It’s easier because you just start writing, and it’s harder because at first, you don’t have enough information and second of all, you have too much information. So, hopefully, when we do this class, we can make it into simple steps.”

Rob says a key goal he brings to teaching the class is getting people into the habit of writing about themselves. He said many people encounter doubts about whether their story is worth sharing but he said everyone’s story is worth recording.

A chance meeting shortly after the Ficiurs arrived in Whitehorse got them thinking about the stories people carry around. Rob described chatting in a dollar store with a man in his 80s who had been a trucker on the Yukon’s highways for 60 years.

“That guy’s got a story, you know what I mean? I don’t know what the story is. And I haven’t met him again. But he has a story that he could share that’s unique.”

Rob has taught this as a class before in a community where he used to live and Jane has had a hand in the creation of a series of brief histories about her own family.

They have a variety of prompts and exercises planned to get people thinking and writing about their lives.

“For one of the classes, we’ll talk about the dash,” Rob said

“You look at a tombstone, and there’s this number and this number. What happened in the dash?”

Along with helping people recall and organize the important details of their lives, the Ficiurs’ class will also be a creative writing exercise with a focus on language that shows rather than tells.

Rob says that the deadline at the end of the five weekly classes is important to helping people get a complete account of their lives down on paper. Beyond that, structure writers will have a lot of freedom to choose what they want or don’t want to include in it. The Ficiurs say they hope that this exercise will leave people with a new appreciation for their lives and the aspects that make them unique.

“We think everything we do is ordinary and everything somebody else does is extraordinary. Well, we’ve all done some extraordinary things,” Rob said.

The class they are teaching will guide people through the creation of a personal history, but the methods and skills can be applied to writing one for a couple or a whole family.

Jane has been working on histories about her family for decades, completing the first draft of one in 1989. Even in cases where parts of her family didn’t have much that they wanted to share she said she found appreciation from family members when she put together a book that relied more on photos and genealogy information.

Jane said she has a better understanding of Rob’s father’s tendencies to thriftiness and a short temper after hearing about how he grew up amid the deprivation of post-war Italy.

Rob described his recent realization that his daughters in law were the same age his grandmother was when she was left with three children to take care of, a husband in a prisoner of war camp and Nazi soldiers quartered in half her home during the final year of the Second World War in northern Italy. He described the fresh appreciation for his grandmother’s toughness and force of character.

Work on a family history also took Rob back to the brief time his family spent living near Dawson City in the 1960s before returning to Alberta.

The Ficiurs say that the end product of the five weekly classes they have planned will be a written document. The sort of bound books that Jane and her family have put together as their personal histories would require more work, but she described tools and services that make this easier.

The personal history class is set to begin March 21 at the Whitehorse Public Library’s meeting rooms. The second class will be March 28. The Ficiurs say they will take input on scheduling from class attendees beyond that point.

To allow for easier editing and revisions, class participants are asked to bring a laptop, if possible, but class members can also work with pen and paper if that is best for them. If someone who lives out of driving range of Whitehorse wishes to attend, the Ficiurs say they can probably set up a Zoom videoconference feed of the class. The class is being offered free of charge.

Those with more questions about the class can direct them to or 403-580-1255.

Contact Jim Elliot at

Jim Elliot

About the Author: Jim Elliot

I’m a B.C. transplant here in Whitehorse at The News telling stories about the Yukon's people, environment, and culture.
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