The Book Drunkard Literary Festival

About Blue Heron Books

In November 1989, a life-long dream became a reality when Barb Pratt opened Blue Heron Books at 8 Church Street in Uxbridge. The neophyte bookseller faced a steep learning curve. She volunteered at a nearby bookstore, attended a course on bookselling and relied on her own experience in the world of books as a copy editor, researcher, and production editor to inform her decisions. She outfitted the shop to her exacting specifications with hand-built shelves, generously donated children’s furniture, a couple of inviting armchairs, and a hand-painted sign featuring a brand-new logo. For the two-day opening celebration, the bookstore housed a hand-curated selection of books mined from a three-foot-tall stack of catalogues sourced from approximately 40 different publishers; books Barb herself wanted to read. Success came quickly — there would be no time for reading! The opening event left the shelves mostly bare; the book buying process began again in earnest. That first Christmas brought its own unique series of events, advertising, extended hours and the addition of hot apple cider. The grumpiest employee was Sinbad, the bookstore cat, whose hatred of dogs was legendary. Sinbad was a fixture in the store through the fire that filled the store with smoke through to the store’s move to 8 Brock St. W.

In 2000, Marilyn Maher kept her self-proclaimed ‘book thing’ alive when she purchased Blue Heron Books. Her 23-year experience as a teacher-librarian expanded the store’s business to include Durham and York Region schools. Maher initiated the Blue Heron Book Club that welcomed people new to town to talk books with likeminded individuals. Many of Uxbridge’s myriad book clubs are off-shoots of this early club. Marilyn also undertook to move the store up the street to its current location at 62 Brock St W. The bookstore’s many friends arrived in droves to help with the move – a feat accomplished in about two hours. The front page of the paper for that week featured a ‘fireman’s brigade’ of boxes moving up the street, hand-to-hand.

Shelley Macbeth next took up the mantle as commander-in-chief and twice won the CBA Libris Award for Independent Bookseller of the Year for Canada. Shelley grew the event business, instituted The Blue Heron Studio (a creative space for learning, playing and a multitude of unique experiences) and furthered the store’s reach beyond Durham Region. Under her tutelage, the store has survived the digital book revolution, behemoth on-line retailers, bricks and mortar competition, and a devastating personal accident. In the process, the store has earned its place on the literary map as a go-to destination for visiting authors.

In its 30-year storied history, Blue Heron Books has and continues to play host to a veritable who’s who of the world’s literary community. From impromptu store visits by Alice Munro and Stuart McLean to in-store events with Will Ferguson, Lawrence Hill, James Rollins, Linwood Barclay, Terry Fallis and Guy Gavriel Kay to name a few, we are surprised and delighted to rub shoulders and gain insight from a star-studded cast of literati.

Blue Heron Books’ reputation for bringing respected and talented authors to town continues to expand as evidenced by the 2019 visits by Graeme Simsion from Australia (The Rosie Project) and Fredrik Backman from Sweden (A Man Called Ove). Each September, international authors grace the Uxbridge Music Hall stage at the annual Celebration of the Arts Books and Authors event. The store’s biannual ‘Series of Fortunate Literary Events’ draws crowds from far and wide, and often sells out. Some memorable visits from the past include: Timothy Findley, Rohinton Mistry, Jane Urquhart, Michael Ondaatje, Arundhati Roy, Kate Morton, Philippa Gregory, Rachel Joyce, Sarah Waters, Patrick deWitt, Peter Carey, Kim Thuy, Sarah Winman, Erin Davis, Emma Donaghue, Karin Slaughter, Alafair Burke, Maggie O’Farrell, Carol Off, Yann Martel, Douglas Coupland, Mary Walsh, Linden MacIntyre, Dav Pilkey, Miriam Toews, George Elliot Clarke, Don Harron, Charlotte Gray, Joseph Boyden, Jane Johnson, Laura Lippman, Donna Morrissey, Susanna Kearsley, chefs Michael Smith, Lynn Crawford and Laura Calder and our very own Ted Barris.

What’s next? It only makes sense to bring it all together; to celebrate books, authors and the love of reading with a literary festival – The Book Drunkard Festival – paying homage to the township’s most famous resident, Lucy Maud Montgomery. Maud once quipped, “I am simply a book drunkard.” The festival will roll out once again in September 2024 and set the stage for another interesting chapter in Blue Heron Books’ history.

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