Poet with ties to Fort Frances stopping at market with first book

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

An author with strong ties to the community is celebrating the release of her first book of poetry and will be coming to town to sign copies for friends and fans.

Elaine Barr is a former OPP officer with a long list of ties to Fort Frances and the Rainy River District in general. Barr was born in Fort Frances, but raised in the Atikokan area. Following time with the Canadian military, Barr returned to Atikokan for work, where she spent time as the executive director for the Atikokan Native Friendship Centre, before moving to work at the paper mill in Fort Frances. It was at that time that she started up with the OPP, where she remained for the rest of her career, retiring from the force in 2017.

Now, following a varied career in and around the town, Barr will be returning to Fort Frances and the region to promote her first book of collected poetry, titled “Blame it on Betty.” Originally published in May 2021, Barr said it’s the culmination of a lifetime of passion for writing.

“I started at a very young age and I wrote poetry, short stories,” she explained.

“My friends had crushes on boys and they wanted me to write a story about them, so I did. I never kept any of those stories, I handed them on to my friends, but there was always that passion there to write. I always thought that someday I would write a book, but with the booming career and everything going on, I just didn’t have the time.”

Once Barr retired,and the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Barr decided there was no better time than the present to finally sit down and accomplish her longtime goal.

“I thought ‘OK, I’m not going to waste this year,’ and that’s when I actually started writing,” she said.

“I had a few family friends and followers who were always encouraging me to write. They said, ‘you’ve had such a colourful, traumatic life, you really need to write about it.’ So I thought, ‘yeah, I’ll do it.’ So that was a perfect time for me to do it, when we got locked down it was time to take it serious and do it.”

The book of poetry, Barr explained, is really a sort of memoir, spanning what she described as six different stages of her life, from her younger days right through to the time she spent in the OPP and then into what comes next for her.

Barr said her poems, which she considers more short stories that rhyme, are a mix of the real and the hypothetical. Some of the pieces in the book are actually from the time period she’s grouped them into, which she said she did because she wanted to show off her progression as a writer and poet over time. The poems also delve deep into the traumas and hardships she’s endured over the course of her life, including her time struggling with alcoholism and questioning her sexual identity

On her time as a police officer, Barr noted that her poetry allowed her to express a unique side of the job that might not commonly be explored.

“With my policing stories, there was an opportunity for me to humanize policing, really,” she said.

“To let people see that we’re not just charging in there with guns and beating people up, that there was an emotional side to it. The stories I’m relaying are all anonymous, there are never any names. But the ones I’ve remembered all my career are the victims of crime, those are the ones that had an impact on my life. Those are the ones I’m dedicating stories to.”

Since the release of her book, Barr said she’s been getting “great” feedback from those who have read it, and the widespread availability of the book means she doesn’t have to focus on selling copies when she embarks on the tour.

“It’s being sold online worldwide at all the major sites,” she said.

Elaine Barr

“I’m not so much doing sales, I’m doing this tour to put some signatures on books. I didn’t know I was actually going on a world tour when I did this thing, I wasn’t thinking that it was going that way. I thought I was just sharing with a few family and friends. But I guess when you put a book out there on the world market…”

Barr will be in Fort Frances at the Rainy Lake Square for the market tomorrow, August 19, where she will be available to chat with friends and family and sign a few books for those who are interested. After a stop here she will continue on to Kenora, Dryden, Sioux Lookout and Thunder Bay, locations she’s chosen because of personal connections she has there.

As for those who have long held a desire to write and publish their first book but simply have never gotten around to it, Barr advises that there’s no better time than the present to start, especially for those who have recently gained extra free time from retiring.

“Once I started, I was committed to it,” she said.

“I woke up everyday and it was a writing day. It takes some commitment, but if you have the desire and the will to do it, you’ll make the time to do it.”