I have written and published 12 nonfiction books of biography and popular history. Most are about colourful characters from Canada’s West. The others include the biography of a prominent Irish-language poet of the 19th century named Yellow Mary O’Leary, my own autobiography, and the centennial history of the Calgary Public Library.
Meet some of the hundreds of writers, artists, actors, musicians and movie stars I interviewed during my 15 years as a newspaper entertainment reporter. Amazon claims the Ebook is more than 400 pages long and that it takes forever to download. But somebody miscalculated badly. It is, in fact, less than 300 pages long and it downloads instantaneously.
Why does the song “Amazing Grace” still occupy a very special place in the repertoire of singer Judy Collins? Why did Robertson Davies abandon what appeared to be a successful career as a playwright in Canada to start writing novels? Why did Sophia Loren go back to Italy to serve a jail term for tax evasion? Why did Tom Lehrer totally disappear from the scene after establishing himself as one of America’s cleverest and wittiest satirical songwriters? Why did Michael Nesmith quit The Monkees to start making music videos? Why did Shari Lewis start conducting symphony orchestras after she had endeared herself to kids all over the world with a comedy ventriloquism routine involving a cute sock puppet named Lamb Chop? Why did Chubby Checker go through 20 pairs of platform boots a year to keep his audiences twisting the night away? These are some of the questions Brian Brennan asks and answers in this collection of stories based on conversations he had with celebrities during his 15 years as a newspaper entertainment reporter. In many instances, Brennan reports on things they said which weren’t included in the original articles. The featured celebrities also include Tennessee Williams, Chuck Berry, Tammy Wynette, Bob Newhart and many others.
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Rogues and Rebels introduces you to 32 larger-than-life Westerners – some infamous, some obscure – who dared to be different.
Watch the trailer here:
Discover the unforgettable characters who made the West what it is today. You know many of them by name: Ralph Klein, Nellie McClung, Tommy Douglas and Clyde Gilmour. Others are less well-known: the inventor of the Bloody Caesar; those who assumed fake identities to further their ambitions; Brother XII, the mysterious cult leader, and more.
Listen to an interview Brennan did about Rogues and Rebels with Chris dela Torre, host of CBC Radio One’s Daybreak Alberta, by clicking HERE
Here’s a complete listing of the featured mavericks:
Peter Pond: Explorer, fur trader and brawler
Jerry Potts: Metis warrior and police scout
John William Tims: Anglican missionary
Joseph “Fightin’ Joe” Clarke: Pugilistic municipal politician
Nellie McClung: Writer, feminist and social reformer
Winnifred Reeve (Onoto Watanna): Novelist and poseur
Edward Arthur Wilson (Brother XII): Religious fanatic and swindler
Jack Krafchenko: Career criminal
Morris “Two-Gun” Cohen: Pistol-packing Englishmen in the Chinese Revolution
Mike Mountain Horse: First World War veteran
Margaret “Ma” Murray: Iconoclastic newspaper editor
Will James: Cowboy artist, author and masquerader
Tommy Douglas: Political leader
Gladys Arnold: War correspondent
James H. Gray: Social historian
Clyde Gilmour: Broadcaster
Ruth Gorman: Social justice advocate
Stu Hart: Wrestling promoter
Melvin Crump: Musician and civil rights activist
Jack Webster: Talk-show host
Stan Waters: Soldier and elected senator
Roy Farran: Decorated war veteran and politician
Hal Sisson: Lawyer, author, comedian and marbles player
Milt Harradence: Gun-toting lawyer and judge
Donald Cormie: Disgraced financier
Claire Chell: Co-inventor of the Bloody Caesar
Robert Kroetsch: Author
Shay Duffin: Entertainer
Rick McNair: Theatrical free spirit
Ralph Klein: Journalist turned politician
Heather Robertson: Author and journalist rights advocate
Billy Cowsill: Singer
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Alberta has a reputation for attracting and producing characters with little respect for the law and less for public opinion.
Meet Bill Peyto (pictured on the cover), the legendary mountain man who once let a lynx loose in a saloon to see how quickly the drunks could escape. Or Calgary’s notorious prostitute Pearl Miller, who left such an impression with Canadian soldiers in the Second World War that they responded to the American sign “Remember Pearl Harbor” with “To hell with Pearl Harbour, remember Pearl Miller.” Or Elizabeth “Sweaty Betty” Abbott, an Edmonton slum landlord known for punching out abusive husbands and taking care of their battered wives. Or the reluctant Lord, Fred Perceval, who inherited the title Earl of Egmont but decided after living in his English castle for a few years that he really wanted to be a rancher after all.
They come from all corners of the province and they’re a wild and unruly bunch, but Alberta couldn’t be prouder of them. Scoundrels and Scallywags is a salute to those who have lived within Alberta’s borders – but outside the boundaries of convention.
“A collection of riveting tales about the adventurers, eccentrics and outlaws who dared to be different, and who definitely would not tolerate being ignored.” –Western Living magazine
“Here is Alberta history in bite-sized, easily digested portions, a lively and entertaining romp through the years.” –Calgary Herald
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The origins of the Calgary Public Library date back to the first decade of the 20th century when Calgary was emerging as Western Canada’s fastest-growing farming and ranching centre.
Prominent among those women was a literary enthusiast named Annie Davidson who led the successful drive to have Alberta’s first public library built in Calgary. With an endowment from the Carnegie Corporation, the Calgary Public Library opened to the public in early 1912 and soon became a boon to book lovers of all ages. Over the ensuing century it has continually proven its value to seekers of enlightenment, enrichment and entertainment.
Much more than a repository for books, this award-winning institution provides a cornucopia of services and programs to empower, enable and excite the imagination of the community. In The Calgary Public Library: Inspiring Life Stories Since 1912, award-winning popular historian Brian Brennan introduces us to the principals in the Library’s ongoing success story. Alexander Calhoun was the founding librarian who gave Calgarians access to the great works of world literature. His successor, Bill Castell, was the builder who put branch libraries into every neighbourhood. Les Fowlie was the lobbyist who convinced the Alberta government to give more money to public libraries. John Dutton was the growth manager who gave the burgeoning suburbs their first full-service regional libraries. Gerry Meek was the leader who spearheaded the development of a new central library and boldly launched the Calgary Public Library into a second century of public service.
Brennan combines these with the stories of such beloved former librarians as Louise Riley and Georgina Thomson to paint a vivid portrait of an ever-evolving community resource that will continue to provide valuable service for the centuries to come. Once dubbed “the friendliest door in town,” the Calgary Public Library remains a welcoming haven for people of all ethnic, linguistic, political, religious and socio-economic stripes.
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My life in a nutshell. It begins in middle-class Dublin, includes stints as a travelling musician and broadcaster in Canada, and culminates in my career as an award-winning journalist and bestselling author.
For a taste of what you can read about in the book, please click HERE
Watch the trailer here:
“Brian Brennan’s arrival in Canada in 1966 was met with a pleasant, brief chat by an immigration officer who closed with, “Welcome to Canada, sir. Make us better. Leaving Dublinshows how an immigrant with limited financial means, but with imagination, charm and a passion for learning, managed to find a way to devote much of his life to telling Canadian stories that simply need to be told. He heeded that immigration officer’s assignment. He made us better.” – Bob Blakey for bookclubbuddy.com
“I certainly never would have expected to be engaged by the travails of an Irish lad learning to play the piano in the early 1950s, or the start of the same youth’s career as a clerk in the Irish civil service, or even scuttlebutt from the Canadian music scene in the 1970s. But the pagesflew by! And, by god, they will for you too if you just face the inevitable and buy a copy.”– David Climenhaga for rabble.ca
“Brian Brennan’s memories of his childhood in Dublin, before heading off to seek a new life for himself in Canada, are amusing, charming, and filled with loving warmth. This is the Dublin and the Ireland that I remember, too, not at all like the place of misery depicted in Angela’s Ashes. A most enjoyable read!” —Dermot Desmond, Irish businessman and financier, Chairman of International Investment and Underwriting
“Brennan modestly says this is ‘the story of an ordinary immigrant from Ireland’, though I must disagree. It is a tale of a remarkable life in Ireland and Canada told with flair and extraordinary skill. Brennan takes the reader on a journey that is both poignant and humorous and spans six decades. You’ll not be disappointed if you go along for the ride. Don’t take my word for it. Read the book.” —Patrick Taylor, New York Times and Globe and Mail best-selling novelist
Here’s one of the stories Brennan tells in the book:
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The first book-length biography of Ernest Manning, the longest-serving premier of Alberta, who directed the transformation of the province from Depression-era poverty to modern, oil-based affluence.
Drawing extensively from a series of oral-history interviews Manning did for the University of Alberta archives after he left provincial politics; from an unpublished memoir written by his wife Muriel; from interviews with family members, former colleagues and others; and from the various books and articles written about the rise and fall of the Social Credit in Alberta, Brennan tells how Manning:
- Left the farm as a teenager after hearing William Aberhart preaching the Bible on the radio and moved to Calgary with the intention of becoming a minister of the gospel.
- Became Aberhart’s full-time assistant, helping run the Prophetic Bible Institute and participating in his radio broadcasts.
- Helped Aberhart organize study groups around the province to make Albertans aware of the social-credit monetary reform theories of an English economist named Major Clifford Douglas
- Coordinated the initiative to turn Social Credit from an educational into a political movement when the ruling United Farmers of Alberta refused to adopt its economic policies.
- Stage-managed the successful 1935 provincial election campaign that saw Social Credit swept to power with fifty-six of sixty-three seats and, at age twenty-six, became the youngest cabinet minister in the British Empire.
Brennan also tells a couple of jokes going the rounds when Manning was in power:
“Brennan’s brilliance as a storyteller shines through, making Ernest C. Manning, premier of Alberta for 25 years and subsequently a member of Canadian Senate for 13, more than just words in a history book. Alberta’s prosperity is built on the hard work and personal commitment of men like Manning. The Good Steward reminds us of that debt.”–The Calgary Herald
“The Good Steward is a fascinating chronicle. . . The book deserves a place in every school library, as well as on the shelves of anyone interested in what, besides oil and gas, has made Alberta so different from the nine other provinces.”–Fast Forward Weekly
“Finally, a biography of Ernest Manning. Brian Brennan delivers a probing but respectful biography of one of Alberta’s most forceful and influential personalities that brings to light how Manning and his government’s policies transformed Alberta from a have-not province into an economic powerhouse. I’ve always admired Ernest Manning; my government adopted many of the policies he instituted as premier, and subsequent governments have built on those. Alberta’s oil and gas industry infrastructure, for example, began with Ernest Manning and still bears his imprint. Anyone wanting to understand how Alberta became what it is today should begin by reading Brennan’s biography of the Saskatchewan farmer’s son who became this province’s longest serving premier.”–The Honourable Peter Lougheed
Here Brennan talks to Terri Campbell, host of CBC Radio One’s Daybreak Alberta, about The Good Steward:
Read a wide-ranging interview about The Good Steward by clicking HERE.
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Mary O’Leary (Máire Bhuí Ní Laoire) was one of the most celebrated Irish-language folk poets of the nineteenth century. A popular balladeer in West Cork, she composed songs that were built to last – songs collected and preserved by folklorists that now occupy a significant place in the repertoires of contemporary traditional performers.
“An important contribution to the literature of Irish studies at a time when there is a worldwide resurgence of interest in Celtic poetry and song.”– IRISH EXAMINER
“It should be on the mandatory reading list of every Irish-language class, and in the hands of every lover of Irish culture and history.”–THE CELTIC CONNECTION
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James H. Gray was the first Canadian social historian to tackle such previously taboo subjects as the sex lives and boozing habits of the early settlers.
In this first-ever biography of Gray, Brian Brennan covers aspects of the Gray story including:
- His early, poverty-stricken years during the First World War in Winnipeg.
- His working career as an office boy, brokerage firm employee and budding entrepreneur and gambler who invested in racehorses, a candy business that went broke, and a miniature golf course.
- His 12-year career with the Winnipeg Free Press where he “could write like hell and was afraid of no one,” which ended abruptly when he became the “only reporter in history to be fired as a result of policy disagreement with his editor”.
- How he accepted a public relations job at Home Oil to promote a Canadian pipeline project and, when that project evaporated, redirected his energies into writing best-selling histories that produced sales of 400,000 and brought this high-school dropout three honorary doctorates, the Order of Canada, and the Pierre Berton Award for distinguished achievement in popularizing Canadian history.
Brennan draws on information gleaned from interviews with Gray family members and associates, from Gray’s books, his newspaper articles, research papers, correspondence and diaries. Brennan covers the Gray story with engaging wit and impressive authority.
This is an interview about How The West Was Written that Brennan did with CTV Calgary’s Jocelyn Laidlaw:
This is an interview he did with Shaw TV’s Helena DeVries:
“An engaging biography, rich in personal detail and insight. Gray would have liked this book.”–Bill Waiser, Canadian historian
“Brennan crafts a rich portrait of a man fiercely independent and unafraid to state his opinions. . . Gray’s life unfolds with vigour in this deftly written first biography.” –The Western Standard
“Without a doubt, this will remain the definitive biography of a major Canadian popular historian.” –Fast Forward weekly
“A very readable biography. . . It is a tribute to Brennan’s book that he makes us want to go back and read Gray himself.“–The Literary Review of Canada
“A light and funny book that tells the story of a maverick who first tackled subjects such as the drinking habits and sexcapades of the West’s earliest settlers.” –Calgary Herald
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Meet some of the daring men and women who found themselves attracted irresistibly to the magnificent Canadian Rocky Mountains over the last 250 years.
A passionate storyteller, Brennan begins with reference to legends drawn from the Stoney oral tradition, introduces us to an incredible cast of characters: pioneering missionaries Robert Rundle and George McDougall; nineteenth-century botanists David Douglas and John Macoun; famed painters Paul Kane and Henry James Warre; and Jimmy Simpson, the famous Banff guide and outfitter.
Brennan also gives life to one-time Rocky Mountain residents such as:
- Byron Harmon, the first professional photographer to make his home in the Rockies;
- Carl Rungius, the first significant artist to live and paint in the Rockies;
- Chief Smallboy, who led his Cree band into the Rocky Mountain wilderness to find peace and harmony;
- Norman Sanson, the weatherman who climbed Sulphur Mountain one thousand times over a 35-year period to check meteorological data.
And of course, there are the tourists – the climbers, trail riders, hunters and movie stars – whose dollars made it possible for the residents to be residents.
And there’s more – much more.
Here Brennan is interviewed about the book by Global Calgary’s Gord Gillies. Look for the rare photo of Marilyn Monroe about two minutes into the interview:
Here Brennan talks to City TV’s Dave Kelly about the book. Again, look for the Marilyn Monroe bit near the beginning of the video:
Here Brennan talks to CTV Calgary’s Jocelyn Laidlaw about the book. Marilyn Monroe makes her cameo appearance toward the end:
“Good news, history buffs, biographer Brian Brennan has done it again.” – Ben Gadd, author Handbook of the Canadian Rockies
“If you buy just one book about the Rockies, this is the one.” – Chic Scott, author Pushing the Limits: the Story of Canadian Mountaineering
“As a longtime Rockies-oholic, I’m delighted with this book. For anyone with an interest in Canada’s favourite mountains, Brian Brennan has given us more to know and love.”–Alberta Views magazine
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Always entertaining and often surprising, Boondoggles, Bonanzas, and Other Alberta Stories celebrates the ups and downs, successes and scams, of Canada’s most vibrant and independent province.
He roams across the sweep of Alberta history, retelling a wide range of stories for a new generation. From front-page news items (the Frank Slide and Leduc oil discovery) to lesser-known events (the Lonely Bachelors of “Dinosaur Valley” and the Rainmaker of Medicine Hat), Brennan chronicles some of the fantastic boondoggles and bonanzas that have helped forge the Alberta story.
Here Brennan talks about Boondoggles to Dave Kelly of City TV:
Brennan talks here to Ian White of CTV Calgary:
“Brian Brennan has unearthed a number of fascinating stories from the province’s past – some well-known, others less so – and told them with his characteristic blend of information and style. – Glenbow Museum
“Straight from the most intriguing headlines of Alberta’s newspapers, Brian Brennan captures the events and people that are unique to Alberta’s past.” – Galt Museum
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From philanthropists to local characters, artists to oil-patch executives, Alberta Originals is filled with people who made a unique contribution to the social, economic, cultural, and political foundations of Alberta.
The huge success of Brian Brennan’s bestseller Building a Province left readers clamouring for more. Alberta Originals is Brennan’s response to the demand, featuring 60 more significant and influential Albertans.
Brennan provides a fresh look at these province builders, highlighting little-known details from the lives of The Famous Five, Bible Bill Aberhart, Frank McMahon, Catharine Robb Whyte, Ernest Manning, Bruno Engler, and many more.
Here Brennan talks about the book with Dave Kelly of Calgary’s City TV:
Here Brennan talks to CTV Calgary’s Ian White about the book:
Here Brennan talks to Ted Henley of Global Calgary:
Here Brennan talks to Shaw Calgary’s Dave Will:
“If there’s any justice this side of the Pearly Gates, it resides in the eye of a fair-minded biographer. Not only does Brian Brennan give overdue credit and redress neglect, but he makes sense of the province’s past by revisiting the lives of Alberta’s dear departed. – Edmonton Journal
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Building a province takes many hands and many years. It also takes vision and determination.
From ordinary Albertans to such well-known individuals as W.O. Mitchell, Bob Edwards, Wilf Carter, Grant Notley and Roloff Beny, Building a Province pays tribute to these Alberta visionaries and builders, and celebrates the strong foundation they built for future growth.
” … well researched, authoritative and entertaining …” – Alberta History
” … thoroughly readable … an impressive collection …” – Fast Forward weekly
” … a solid piece of history … and an insight into some of the people that have brought Alberta this far …” – Catholic New Times