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‘This book brings my mother to life’

Concordia alumna Roxanne Kurpita Davies finds solace in writing about mother’s mysterious death
April 12, 2022
By Wendy Singer

Roxanne Kurpita Davies Roxanne Kurpita Davies, BA 76, in North Vancouver, Feb. 2022 | Credit: Michael G. Varga

Author Roxanne Kurpita Davies, BA 76, is intrigued by the way memories and history define our lives and who we become. While she has co-authored three books helping others tell their personal stories, Kurpita Davies’s latest, The Blue Riviera: A Daughter’s Investigation, is her most personal.

The book chronicles the author’s journey to discover her mother, who died tragically at the age of 32 under mysterious circumstances. Kurpita Davies was only eight at the time.

“Writing The Blue Riviera was an attempt to get to know a woman I didn’t know,” she says. “I now know her very well. This book brings my mother to life and puts her soul to rest.”

‘A life worthy of fiction’

On May 3, 1960, Sally Tomiuk Kurpita was killed in a tragic car accident at a railway crossing.

Her death was shrouded in mystery, posing questions as to whether it may have been murder, or even suicide. Years later, her daughter would find a clue in the last photograph taken of her mother. Tomiuk Kurpita was sitting at her desk at Montreal’s Dorchester Hotel, of which she was part owner, and there was an ashtray with a cigarette pointing away from her. She had not been alone. “This is a mystery I had to solve,” says Kurpita Davies.

Roxanne Kurpita Davies's mother, Sally Tomiuk Kurpita, in the office at Montreal's Hotel Dorchester, April 1960.

In The Blue Riviera, she searches for answers by tracing her mother’s footsteps in Montreal from the 1940s to the 1960s and follows a path through her Ukrainian heritage. She describes the glamour of her mother’s life and how she found herself through the occult and divination.

“Many people warned me that I would be treading on thin psychological ice by delving into my mother’s story. I replied, didn’t they think her life was worthy of fiction, the stuff of literature?”

A diverse career that started at Concordia

As a student enrolled at Concordia’s Faculty of Fine Arts in the 1970s, Kurpita Davies quickly realized she leaned more towards the written word. Switching faculties, she pursued a double major in English and history, and honed her research and writing skills.

“I loved reading the historical biographies assigned by my professors. I don’t think that I would have mastered my craft without my years at Concordia,” she says, noting they were among her happiest.

Some of her influential professors included Geoffrey Adams, who taught how to look at history through literature; Joanne Zuckerman, a Shakespearean scholar; English professor Larry Nowicki; and Canadian history professor Graeme Decarie.

Following graduation, Kurpita Davies worked in the transcripts office on the university’s Loyola Campus. “This was way back in the days of paper transcripts, when changes were made with white out and then retyped,” she recalls.

She and her husband Ted Davies, BSc 77, moved to Vancouver in 1990. A member of the Canadian Authors Association, Kurpita Davies wore many career hats, including as a newspaper reporter, art gallery manager, health researcher, adult education program manager and marketing consultant — before pursuing her passion for writing.

Inside View book cover Roxanne Kurpita Davies co-authored Inside View: The Eye Behind the Lens with Michael G. Varga.

Her collection of published work includes Orchards, Crossroads & Dreams, a family story transcribed from a diary; Olga: The O.K. Way to a Healthy, Happy Life, about decorated track-and-field athlete Olga Kotelko; and Inside View: The Eye Behind the Lens, which she co-authored with CBC Sports cameraman Michael G. Varga.

She has published three essays in The Globe and Mail and provides workshops on how to write personal stories. Her recent book delves into Ukraine — past, present and future — and is particularly relevant in today’s geopolitical situation.

Kurpita Davies has advice to students in whichever field they pursue: “Find your passion and do it well enough so that a stranger will pay you to do it.”

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