Remembering Budge Wilson

Budge Wilson (1927-2021), beloved author of more than 30 books and recipient of the Order of Nova Scotia and the Order of Canada, passed away on March 19, 2021.

Budge was small in stature, but she will continue to occupy a huge part of our hearts. Below are memories and thoughts of her gathered from members of the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia.

We’ve all heard stories about writers who, after having enjoyed success, developed insufferable egos. The same could never be said of Budge, whose kindness and compassion were hallmarks of every interaction I was fortunate to have with her. Early in my own writing career, I was asked to serve on the WFNS Board of Directors, and I vividly recall feelings of inadequacy as I sat surrounded by authors who had accomplished so much more than I. Those feelings were only exacerbated when I learned that one of our board meetings would be a potluck held at Budge and Alan’s home in Northwest Cove, and I arrived with more trepidation than potato salad. After all, this was Budge Wilson, author of The Leaving, Fractures, Oliver’s Wars, and other stories whose poignant observations of children’s lives had moved me profoundly. But I needn’t have worried. Budge could not have been more gracious as she welcomed me into her home and, throughout the day, made me feel as valued as every other author there. I will never forget the gift of her interest in my fledgling literary efforts and her encouragement to remain a member of the creative community she loved so much. All of us are better for having known her.

—Don Aker

I only had the honour of meeting Budge Wilson once. She was a guest-lecturer in a course I was taking as a mature student at MSVU. I recall her as treating us as peers while sharing her expertise in a “down-to-earth” way that we appreciated. She made us feel we were all talented and encouraged us to simply write. May her legacy live on and inspire writers of all ages to excel at whatever craft they have chosen.

—Anonymous

Losing Budge is a sad blow to all of us. It’s hard to imagine our community without her—she’s been such a huge inspiration and has offered so much encouragement to so many over the decades!

From the earliest days of my writing, I felt inspired by her work and supported by her uplifting kindness and generous spirit, and in recent years, always enjoyed and appreciated her wise reminders about the joys of storytelling. I’m so grateful for her presence and our conversations caught on the fly at WFNS parties, Word on the Street and other such events. These won’t be the same without her.

My deepest condolences to Budge’s family and closest friends, and to all the rest who knew and loved her. Our world has lost a true treasure.

—Carol Bruneau

Budge Wilson in conversation with Lesley Choyce

It was with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Budge Wilson. Budge was a great friend, mentor and ally through many years. She inspired many writers and was always ready to offer encouraging words for those of us attempting to tell our stories and be heard. I will always remember her gentle demeanor as well as her candid nature and no-nonsense wisdom. She often reminded us that we were all moving too fast and should slow down and truly live our lives.

I’d like to share the interview I did with Budge when she was 80. It takes place at her home in Northwest Cove, Nova Scotia, and as always, Budge shines through with her spirit and wit as she speaks about her work and her life.

We’re gonna really miss you, Budge. Thanks for the memories.

—Lesley Choyce

After all these years, I often fondly remember a wonderful afternoon chatting with the vibrant, talented and charming Budge Wilson at Northwest Cove back in October, 1995.

Budge was an inspiration to anyone with any writing aspirations. A legacy left, but a loss to a generation of young writers.

—John Cunningham

John Cunningham’s account of a visit with Budge Wilson

When Budge received the Order of Canada, I remember her standing on the stage and taking a deep breath and — saying this was something she always wanted to do — she ran around in a circle doing fist pumps.

—Gwen Davies

Budge Wilson receiving an honorary degree from Mount Saint Vincent University (Photo provided by Susan Kerslake)

It was my honour and great pleasure to nominate Budge Wilson for her honorary degree at Mount Saint Vincent University in 2012. What a gala weekend that was! But what made my heart sing was the handwritten note Budge sent after I gave her a copy of the citation. She seemed genuinely surprised at the depth of critical and personal appreciation in which she was held. What a dear soul she was. This is part of what I said about her then, and it is still true:

“Reading Budge Wilson is like discovering an extended family you didn’t know you had: a family with some unusual, and some pretty ordinary, characters, some who are kindred spirits, and some of whom the less said, the better. Hanging out with them, you learn that people have histories, and rich interior lives, and reasons (often) for the strange ways they behave, and that a number have fears and challenges reassuringly like your own.”

—Susan Drain

The title of Budge’s novel Before Green Gables gives away the ending. Most readers who pick up the book will know that eventually the heroine will step off the train in Bright River and into her future as Anne of Green Gables. Yet when I read Before Green Gables for the first time, I discovered that the story is full of suspense. I remember staying up late and waking up early to read, desperate to find out what would happen next. Somehow, in creating her own version of L.M. Montgomery’s heroine, Budge both stayed true to Anne’s spirit and invented her very own page-turner, a rare and magical accomplishment. She was a brilliant writer.

I’m sending love and sympathy to all Budge’s family and friends.

—Sarah Emsley

Budge Wilson signing copies of After Swissair at Chapters in 2016 (Photo by Sarah Emsley)

Budge was such a kind, gifted, loving person. When I visited her at her cottage on the Aspotogan, we spent time in her studio, which faced the St. Margarets Bay, and talked about family and writing and inspiration and living by the ocean. What a beautiful place that studio was and what a gorgeous afternoon we had. I have a few letters from Budge with generous words about poems I wrote. I am sure many writers received her enthusiastic letters. Oh Budge, thank you for your kindness and your loving spirit. I will miss you.

—Carole Glasser Langille

I’ve been re-reading Budge’s books, this week—bits here and there or whole stories remembered as I read them. Hearing her voice in every word. And, this morning, I could hear her voice just that much clearer as she wrote about our Nova Scotia weather and its effect on us. I decided this is what I wanted to share, grateful that Budge’s voice will always be here for each of us.

The fact is that we can’t cope with too much fine weather in Nova Scotia. We’re chicken-hearted about the heat, and are beaten down by it, ploughed right under. And a brisk sunny day—a perfect day—undoes us. People with indoor jobs are irritable, tense; spirit and body are in active resistance to any activity inside a building. Those who are free to go outside—housewives, the unemployed, mothers trailing children, people on vacation—spill out of their houses onto the water, the beaches, the parks, or their own backyards. On such a day, not all those smiling people strolling along our Main Streets are tourists. Most of them are native Nova Scotians agape at a miracle. People call in sick, sleep through the alarm, quit jobs. If there are six or seven of these days in a row, the whole economy is at peril: editors miss deadlines; back orders are ignored; laundry accumulates; cupboards are bare. The sighting of a fog bank or the first rainy day is almost a relief.
(From “Lysandra’s Poem” in The Leaving)

—Sylvia Gunnery

My condolences to the loved ones of Budge Wilson, who was an inspiration to many Nova Scotia writers. Budge exemplified grace as well as talent. She took bold brave steps as though they were natural. I hope that she is remembered as both a talent and a lovely human being.

—Elaine McCluskey

For close to twenty years, Budge Wilson charmed and delighted students in my literacy education and writing courses. She was forthright when she talked to teachers about writers and writing, and her practical and no-nonsense advice was often eye-popping and salty. Although Budge’s award-winning books appealed to children and adults across Canada and the world, she had a unique influence on the hearts of teachers and children. Her books were always among the first teachers went to for great storytelling and to inspire their own students. Budge’s unerring instinct for what excites and troubles the minds of young people, along with her compassion and talent for listening, resulted in books that maintained their appeal from one generation to the next. I loved to see the looks on the faces of emerging writers when Budge told stories of her journey from fitness instructor to photographer to published writer at 56. Everyone loved Budge, and rightly so. She was a pistol.

It was a pleasure and a privilege to be Budge’s friend. I’ve been lucky over the years to spend time with her and Alan at their home, talk writing in her writing shed, on the Fundy Shore, in Hubbards and in retreat settings. I’ve had the honour of reading with her, talking at length with her about the Swiss Air tragedy and its impact on her and the community and reading early drafts of her vivid and moving writing. When Budge received an honorary doctorate at Mount Saint Vincent, she had the photographer in stitches as we attempted to ensure her slippery regalia would stay put during the ceremony. Budge’s wit lit up every room she was in.

In Salt Lines, a collection Carsten Knox and I co-edited, Budge wrote about what inspired her writing. First, was the appeal of a particular character.

“At other times, I concentrate on what I call a ‘life force,’ some strong emotion or happening: jealousy, anger, love, betrayal, despair, or maybe just a desperate longing. With enough focus on this, a character tends to come forward who can carry the theme and then attract other characters and events into the story. I usually let this happen without planning for it. I allow it; and it comes.”

This likely wasn’t her intention, but in those words, Budge eloquently described herself: she was a life force. Her generosity, perceptiveness and her often-stunning powers of observation attracted us all and brought us together around stories. Budge Wilson was a treasure who united readers, teachers, friends and admirers in ways that will continue to happen well into the future.

So long, dear friend.

—Lorri Neilsen Glenn

Budge Wilson was my first writing mentor. The mentorship was only a lunch-hour long, and I was only nine years old, but the impact she made on me has lasted 30 years.

I was lucky enough to have lunch with Budge after winning a creative writing contest, and her warmth and encouragement has stayed with me ever since. That brief lunch became a much-needed touchstone for my young writer-self. Along with a couple of other formative experience, that brief time with Budge gave me the confidence and drive I needed to keep writing throughout my childhood, building the skills I’d eventually use as a professional writer.

I love my work, and it’s very possible that if I hadn’t met Budge Wilson, I wouldn’t be doing it. I’ll be forever grateful to her for that, and for all the words she gifted us with.

My deepest condolences to all who loved her.

—Sarah Sawler

Budge was such a star. I will always be grateful for the afternoon she spent with me in her beautiful writing studio on the South Shore, sharing her thoughts about life as a writer. Fractures, her book of short stories—and in particular “The Metaphor”—will stay with me forever.

—Jessica Scott Kerrin

I have many memories of Budge that have to do with writing and her engagement through the years with mentoring other writers of all ages. But this one sticks out.

Many years ago my friend, Kathy Anderson (from Woozles), and I were chauffeuring Budge to a Writers in the Schools session after a weekend writers’ retreat in the middle of NS. The host teacher and students were very excited! There was a Budge cake! The teacher had laboured long and hard over his introduction of the esteemed writer, Budge Wilson. All wonderful… except his introduction entailed a very poetic and prolonged comparison of Budge to a little, unassuming ‘brown’ package that, when opened, would reveal literary wonders. She was gracious, but horrified, as the metaphor went on and on, the teacher not knowing how to dig himself out of it. It made for many laughs on the trip back to Northwest Cove, feeding the driver egg salad sandwiches from the back seat.

—Norene Smiley

To my friend and mentor, Budge Wilson,

Over the years our paths have crossed many times. Gatherings always leave us with great memories to retell or reminisce. There is one moment in time I cherish the most because it speaks of your true character.

My school had booked you for an author visit. Everyone was excited. My class filed into the art room as you sat waiting. Students scrambled to get a front row seat. I spied a child who had trouble keeping still even on his best day. I suggested it might be less distracting if he move. You, dear Budge, would not hear of it! He is not a bother, you said. His ears are listening and his brain is working just fine.

I’ll always remember this example of your compassion and understanding. Perhaps it’s the reason your books are so popular with people of all ages.

Until our paths cross…

—Geraldine Tuck

Read more about Budge Wilson in John DeMont’s “The huge impact of beloved, late-blooming writer Budge Wilson.”

Budge Wilson with the haul from her 90th birthday (Photo provided by Susan Kerslake)
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