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Capturing magic of the Heritage Carousel in a children's book

'The children’s reactions are priceless after reading The Magical Midnight Rescue. They all want to ride the carousel this summer and find Sir Winsalot'

The North Bay Heritage Carousel has been an iconic landmark in the city’s waterfront area for over twenty years. Typically, open from the middle of May, around Mother's Day weekend, right through to Thanksgiving Monday in October, the Carousel brings lots of laughter and joy to riders of all ages all summer long.  

What makes this carousel so special is the true community spirit that went in to bringing the ride to what we see it as today.   

A brief history on their website tells us that in 1998, a volunteer of the Heritage Railway named Barry Jacobs, suggested to Rod Johnston, the Chairman, that a carousel could be a great second attraction next to the railway. After a business plan was developed and approved by The City of North Bay a gentleman named Todd Goings of Marion, Ohio, was contacted to rebuild a 1908 Herschell-Spillman mechanism.  Chuck Kaparich of Missoula, Montana then carved 28 of the horses on the carousel and the North Bay Wood Carvers carved 9.   

Each of these horses were put up for adoption and were adopted in about three months, with the plaques indicating to this day who adopted the horse and what they named the horse.  Local artists were approached to paint 33 horses and 28 original paintings of local scenes with the design reflecting life in northern Ontario, and the carousel was assembled by its dedicated volunteers.  

With all of that goodwill put toward a project like this, it’s no wonder some people truly believe there is something magical about the carousel, including Martha Attema, the co-author of the book The Magical Midnight Rescue.   

“It is about a young girl named Lilly who discovers the horses on the carousel come to life after midnight but one of them has gone missing,” says Attema.   

Born on a dairy farm in Friesland, the Netherlands, Attema has always had a passion for writing. “Growing up I loved horseback riding and writing books for all my dolls and stuffed animals,” she says.   

Attema was a kindergarten teacher in the Netherlands, but moved to Canada in 1981 with her husband and three children, settling in North Bay.   
“English was a new language to me when I first arrived here,” she says. “To learn the language, I went to university to obtain my B.A. and B. Ed and was thrilled when I was able to become a kindergarten teacher here in Canada.”  

That’s where she began writing poems and stories for her students and even took some creative writing courses at Canadore College where she was, “encouraged to submit my work to publishers.”  

Attema says it took many years of trying but eventually she was able to become a published author, “which was a dream come true.”   

Most of Attema’s work revolves around historical fiction for younger readers. Her third book, Daughter of Light is set in the Netherlands during World War II and follows nine-year-old Ria and her family’s struggle to overcome a harsh winter while her town is occupied by the Nazi regime.  The novel was a Sydney Taylor Notable Book for older readers in 2001. 

“While I love writing for young children, some of my work is a bit darker,” admits Attema, whose first book, A Time to Choose, won The Blue Heron Book Award, in 1996. However, The Magical Midnight Rescue is a much lighter read for younger audiences and Attema says it was a collaborative passion project between herself and her good friend Marla J. Hayes, who sadly passed away one month before the pandemic hit. In 2007, Marla had published the book, How the Carousel came to North Bay, a non-fiction book about the making of the carousel and the carving and painting of the carousel horses. 

“Marla and I had never produced a book before,” says Attema.   

“Collaborating on writing the story was the easy part and we enjoyed brainstorming ideas and then developing these ideas into a story. Finding an illustrator was the first challenge.”   

Attema says that’s when they found Skye Hilliard who was a local student pursuing an art degree. “She spent many hours designing and illustrating our story,” says Attema, adding “Bernard Penney from Penney and Company in Powassan, helped us with the layout and the production of the book.”  

Attema says their goal was “for the book to become a fundraiser for the maintenance of the Heritage Carousel, but after Marla passed away and the carousel was closed for two seasons due to the pandemic, that did not work out as we had hoped.”  

That led Attema to eventually donate the book to the North Bay Museum and some schools in the Near North District School Board so that it could be given to students in kindergarten classes.   

Attema has done some readings of the book with the students and says,” The children’s reactions are priceless after reading The Magical Midnight Rescue. They all want to ride the carousel this summer and find Sir Winsalot,“ who is the main character that goes missing in the story.   

“They find the magic fascinating and we’ve had great discussions about the carousel horses being magical and if they do come to life at midnight. Other questions I encountered, ‘How come Lily doesn’t fall off Sam, while they are flying?’ And, ‘Why did the bad guys steal Sir Winsalot?’ And ‘Lily fibbed when she wrote her dad a note saying she went to her friend's house.’”  

Attema adds, “During class visits I will show the students how the carousel was made, using photographs Marla took during the carving and painting of the horses at The Stable, in the North Bay Mall.”  

Attema says they wanted to pay tribute to such an important piece of North Bay’s culture and identity through this story.  “The Heritage train and Carousel are popular due to the many hours volunteers have put into both projects,” says Attema.   

“North Bay residents could follow the progression of the carousel horses being carved and painted in The Stable, an empty store in the North Bay Mall. The carousel is unique because it was created right here, in North Bay, by local carvers and artists. Marla was at The Stable often and she took amazing pictures of the horses as they were ‘coming alive.’” 

Attema says it is exciting to see the carousel open this year and, “I hope many people young and old will feel the magic as they ride the carousel. I know this would please Marla as the carousel horses were her passion.”  

Adding to her own passion, Attema says, “After the release of my Middle Grade Novel, Awesome Wildlife Defenders, a story about mental health, friendship, family, the environment, and endangered species, my next YA novel is historical fiction.”   

Attema says, “The story is set in the south western part of The Netherlands in 1953, during a devastating flood. This novel is scheduled for publication, by Ronsdale Press, Vancouver, in the Spring of 2023. This is my eighth novel for young people and it will be called ‘When the dikes breached.'"

If you have a story idea for the “Rooted” series, send Matt an email at [email protected]

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Matt Sookram

About the Author: Matt Sookram

Matthew Sookram is a Canadore College graduate. He has lived and worked in North Bay since 2009 covering different beats; everything from City Council to North Bay Battalion.
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