Timmins is a community built on harrowing tales. There are many stories of men and women who overcame everything under the sun to build a life for themselves in the wild and unforgiving North.
But for a local educator, it was one story that inspired him. It is a story that has stayed with him and moved him to share it with the world.
That story is Popchuck’s Ghost.
“Let me tell you a little bit of the history of the book,” said author and educator Paul Toffanello. “Back in the mid ’80s when I was teaching at Schumacher Public, I had a bunch of boys who were pretty reluctant readers and I had to find some way to engage them.
“And it just so happened that the Joe Cameron from Camp Bickell asked me to be the director at Camp Bickell and I found out there was a ghost called Arnold Popchuck.
“I just took all of the little stories that the kids at the camp had about him and put it all together into a story that I hand wrote.
“I used this story in class and in that first handwritten draft. I put all of their names in it so it gave them some purchase to read it.”
Now, decades later, Popchuck’s Ghost is going to print and has already been released in e-book format.
“This is a story about three kids, two boys and a girl, who find themselves at a summer camp and discover mining tunnels underneath,” said Toffanello. “They find out that these tunnels are in fact occupied by a ghost and they come to understand the circumstances of how he became a ghost.”
The book outlines the journey the children make to help the ghost understand the mystery and why he is still here.
“That is Book 1,” said Toffanello. “It is a series, the Popchuck Chronicles.”
The journey has been a long one for Toffanello, but he is proud of the work that he has put in to get where he is today.
“I sent it out a few times over the years and got rejections, as you do as a writer,” he said. “I ended up meeting a Frank J. Edwards, who took me under his wing, and we’ve begun working together and that is why we’ve arrived here now.
“I’ve got Book 1 and Book 2 written and Book 3 is about halfway done,” said Toffanello. “I have done a lot of other writing, from television scripts and stuff like that.
“I’m working on a couple of other books at the moment as well.”
One of the other projects,is currently under the working title Mists of the Mattagami. It further explores the exploits of the two male protagonists found in Popchuck’s Ghost and Toffanello hopes to build on their story.
“I’d like to do a few more following these characters, whether as a group or individually,” he said. “I’d love to flavour them with the unique nature of the North, give kids something to relate to, write about places they know and experiences they’ve had.”
Inspiring young people to read is a huge part of Toffanello’s life and being an educator has a lot to do with that.
“As a teacher, a principal and a former director of education, I bring a lot of educational pieces to it,” he said. “I want a book like this in schools. I want to work to bring it into schools. I want to work with teachers and inspire kids to read.”
Sinking himself into the book is a key part of that quest.
“Novels and writing are all about pieces of yourself,” he said.
“I’ve always loved supernatural and spooky stuff. I love fun, scary stories and in particular I love to write for kids and when I do, I try to maintain a high interest and control the vocabulary to make it universally accessible.”
Anyone wishing to learn more about Toffanello’s book can visit the website www.popchuck.ca.
By Kyle Gennings, The Daily Press (Timmins),