Horwood, Harold (Andrew) 1923-
HORWOOD, Harold (Andrew) 1923-
Born November 2, 1923, in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada; son of Andrew (a businessman) and Vina (Maidment) Horwood; married Cornelia Lindesmith, July 1, 1973; children: Andrew, Leah. Education: Attended Prince of Wales College and took special courses at Memorial University College (now Memorial University of Newfoundland). Politics: New Democratic (social-democrat). Hobbies and other interests: Music, mathematics, boating, ornithology, gardening.
Home—P.O. Box 489, Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia B0S 1A0, Canada.
Founder, with brother Charles Horwood, of Protocol (literary journal), 1946; organizer for Newfoundland Federation of Labour, 1946, and for Canadian Congress of Labour, 1948; member of Newfoundland House of Assembly (provincial parliament) for District of Labrador, 1949-51; New Democratic candidate for riding of Trinity-Conception, 1952; Evening Telegram, St. John's, Newfoundland, 1952-58, began as reporter, became columnist and editorial page editor; freelance writer, 1958—; Examiner, St. John's, managing editor, 1960-61; Evening Telegram, associate editor, 1968-70. Teacher of creative writing at Memorial University of Newfoundland, 1969; writer-in-residence at University of Western Ontario, 1976-77, and University of Waterloo, 1980-82. Has assisted organized labor in planning, organizing, and writing briefs.
Writers' Union of Canada (founding member; chairman, 1981), Association of Canadian Television and Radio Artists.
Order of Canada, 1980, "for contributions to Canadian literature"; Best First Novel citation, Beta Sigma Phi; Evelyn Richardson Memorial Literary Award, 1988, for Dancing on the Shore.
(Recorder) Mary Baker Eddy, Her Communications from beyond the Grave to Harold Horwood through the Mediumship of Ursula Roberts, new revised edition, M. Parrish, 1964.
Tomorrow Will Be Sunday (novel), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1966.
Foxes of Beachy Cove (nonfiction), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1967.
Newfoundland, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1969.
White Eskimo: A Novel of Labrador, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1972.
(Editor) Voices Underground (poetry), New Press, 1972.
(With Cassie Brown) Death on the Ice, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1972.
(Contributor) David Helwig and Joan Harcourt, editors, New Canadian Stories '73, Oberon (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), 1973.
Beyond the Road: Portraits and Visions of Newfoundlanders, photographs by Stephen Taylor, Van Nostrand, 1976.
Bartlett: The Great Canadian Explorer, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1977, revised edition, 1980.
The Colonial Dream, 1497-1760, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1978.
Only the Gods Speak (short stories), Breakwater (St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada), 1979.
(Editor) Tales of the Labrador Indians, Harry Cuff Publications, 1981.
A History of Canada, Bison Books, 1983.
(With Edward Butts) Pirates and Outlaws of Canada, 1610-1932, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1984, Lynx Images (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2003.
Corner Brook: A Social History of a Paper Town, Breakwater (St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada), 1986.
A History of the Newfoundland Ranger Force, Breakwater (St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada), 1986.
Historic Newfoundland, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1986.
Remembering Summer (novel), Pottersfield Press (Lawrencetown Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada), 1987.
Dancing on the Shore (nonfiction), McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1987.
(With Edward Butts) Bandits and Privateers: Canada in the Age of Gunpowder, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1987.
Joey, Stoddart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1989.
Evening Light, Pottersfield Press (Lawrencetown Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada), 1997.
A Walk in the Dreamtime: Growing Up in Old St. John's, Killick Press (St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada), 1997.
Among the Lions: A Lamb in the Literary Jungle, Killick Press (St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada), 2000.
Cycle of the Sun, Gaspereau Press (Kentville, Nova Scotia, Canada), 2003.
Also contributor to New Canadian Stories '74, Voices Down East, and other anthologies. Founding editor, New Quarterly (Waterloo, Ontario).
"Harold Horwood's writing at its best reflects the life and history of Newfoundland which he obviously knows well and loves deeply," wrote W. H. New in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. Born and raised in the province, Horwood has given readers an insight into the region through his novels, stories, essays, and biographical works, although he is perhaps best known for his fiction. Considered by many to be a founder of the Newfoundland renaissance of the 1960s, Horwood was also a political journalist and social activist during the turbulent years of Newfoundland's reentrance into the Dominion of Canada. His work as a politician began years before, when he was elected the first member of the legislature to represent Labrador in the Newfoundland House of Assembly.
Among his novels is the highly praised Tomorrow Will Be Sunday, which was "the first novel about Newfoundland village life to be written by somebody who knows it at first hand," observed Walter O'Hearn in the New York Times Book Review. Set in the outport of Caplin Blight, the book provides "a thorough account of village ways and superstitions," according to O'Hearn. The world of Caplin Blight, explained New, "is dominated by the church and its primitive Christianity emphasizing the dangers of the flesh. By having Pastor Tishrite 'deflower' young Sister Bertha Penchley and his successor Brother John McKim seduce Eli Pallisher into a homosexual relationship, Horwood emphasizes the corruption of the establishment. The novel's three central characters … are all young and intelligent rebels against the unreasoning restrictions of the community." Writing in the Saturday Review, Thorpe Menn found that Tomorrow Will Be Sunday "shows considerable power," and New concluded that "most readers would agree with Horwood's comment that 'I think I managed to capture the essential nature of Newfoundland outports.'"
Horwood's memoirs also captured the culture and history of Newfoundland. A Walk in the Dreamtime: Growing Up in Old St. John's and Among the Lions: A Lamb in the Literary Jungle offer not only the story of Horwood's life, but in a larger sense the story of the province in which he spent his life. A Walk in the Dreamtime tells of life in St. John's from the 1920s through World War II and into the 1960s. Among the Lions picks up where the first leaves off, telling of Horwood's involvement in the founding of the Writer's Union of Canada and focusing on the literary movements in Newfoundland.
Though now officially retired from the writing life, Horwood does continue to write from his home in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia.
Harold Horwood contributed the following autobiographical essay to CA:
The big, white bungalow overlooking the distant harbour of St. John's, Newfoundland, was designed for Barbados, with shady verandas and spreading eaves, but my grandfather, Captain John Horwood, liked the look of it, so he reproduced it on a windy hill where you could look out and see icebergs drifting by, instead of palm trees.
Here I had the great good luck to spend the first eight years of my life in an extended family that included, besides my brother and parents, grandparents, aunts, great-aunts, and visiting uncles and cousins literally by the dozen.
Captain John, who had sailed to fifteen foreign countries, was the unquestioned head of this clan, but there were strong-willed women, his wife, Leah, his sister, Great-aunt Anne, and my own mother, Vina (who was always unhappy that she wasn't a man), to keep him within bounds. Captain John spent his retirement writing about the sea, progressing about the city's sidewalks meeting other VIPs for talk about politics, often with me trotting beside him, for though he was abrupt and impatient with adults, he was unfailingly gentle and patient with children, and I was undoubtedly his favourite grandchild—the eldest son of an eldest son of an eldest son, on whom the future of the world sat lightly.
When Captain John finally left that house in a teak box with silver handles, he still hadn't finished it. The sons and grandsons for whom he had planned its seven bedrooms had departed; the job was finally completed by my brother, Charles, after his marriage. My father, Andrew, at the age of ninety moved back there to spend the last months of his life and to die in the same room where his parents had died a generation before. Today my brother's grandchildren scamper through its corridors, and wonder at the name "Kalmia" in gold leaf above its door.
I have flashes of memory going back to infancy—my brother brought from the hospital in a blanket when I was a year-and-a-half old; my mother training me to use a pot, teaching me to hate the very sound of her voice; whipping my legs with a switch as I stood in a corner in disgrace for some misdeed; wheeling me around in a wicker stroller that I always believed was going to tip over and kill me; scolding me for dressing in front of my grandmother beside the kitchen stove in winter. If there was any way to warp a child's attitudes toward the human body, Vina was well equipped to do it.
Vina was tone-deaf, but all the Horwoods believed they were musical—they played instruments in bands, sang in choirs, and sang around the piano at home. Even Captain John could sing. He also knew some old rhymes, including what may have been the original of the famous King William nursery rhyme:
King William was King George's son,
And many a gallant race he run.
He loved the rich, he loved the poor,
Had many a maid on a bar-room floor.
The sons he got in St. John's town
Are mariners bold of great renown.
They wear the cap, they wear the star,
So here's a toast to Billy the Tar.
Grandmother Leah and Great-aunt Anne would have been scandalized by such rhymes—"on a bar-room floor indeed!"—and though Captain John generally cared little whom he scandalized, he saved his rhymes for such times as when the women had gone to church. He never did explain what the rhyme was about. It must have come down from his own grandfather's time when Prince William, afterwards King William IV, was in Newfoundland fathering illegitimate children who later became naval officers.
Horwoods lived in Carbonear from the middle of the eighteenth century, the first of them probably moving there from the Virginia colony, where a Horwood had been governor back in the time of Sir Walter Raleigh. They were all fishermen and ship-builders from Devonshire, but were an established Carbonear clan by 1740. From Carbonear my great-grandfather Captain Hugh Horwood sailed to the icefields, seal hunting. When his ship was sunk by colliding ice floes, he and his crew walked ashore, and then around the coast for a hundred miles to Carbonear.
Here my great-grandmother Levinia Burke died in childbirth when her daughter Leah was ten years old. Here another great-grandmother, Mary Powell, owned what was perhaps the first sewing machine in Carbonear, and sewed suits for all-comers at one cent for each yard of seam.
Here my grandfather built his own schooner, the Lord Kitchener, in his backyard, with Leah as his only helper. He then sailed it to the Labrador fishery, but soon sold it and began sailing in the foreign trade. His wife's father, John Burke, taught him navigation, solid geometry, and spherical trigonometry. He was a captain in the international trade before the age of thirty.
Leah, who had lost two brothers at sea, insisted that her sons would not become sailors. When Andrew was old enough to work, she got him a job in a merchant's house at Carbonear. A year or two later he moved to St. John's to work for another merchant, and the rest of the family soon followed him. There Captain John got a job as a customs officer, and built his house on the edge of the little city, where the wild country, filled with lakes and woods, stretched off to the north and west. Among those lakes and woods my brother and I wandered with our aunt Lillian throughout all the years before we went to school.
We went boating among the islands of Mundy Pond, a mere quarter of a mile away, and saw much older boys swimming there as nude as young Greeks (nothing of the kind would be permitted to us—those were Irish kids, from a different social order). We brought home armloads of white water lilies that filled the house with perfume.
In those days the family ran a small dairy farm (five cows) as a sort of hobby or "sideline." Lillian ran the operation, while the rest of us helped with milking, taking the cows back and forth to pasture, and so on. Captain John also raised geese, including half-wild Canada geese that successfully drove all children from the field where they grazed.
Captain John was, of course, the great archetype of my childhood, and the principal model for Joshua Markady in my first novel, written twenty years after his death. His sister, my great-aunt Anne, served as model for another character in that novel; her death also became fiction, for she died very slowly and very peacefully while I sat on the edge of her bed and held her hand and her breathing slowed to a final halt.
Because Captain John loved children, he could teach them all sorts of things. My brother and I could read the clock and the compass, recite the names of the capes on a map of Newfoundland, and the number of sea miles in a degree of latitude long before we went to school. As a young man, Captain John had made two trips on sealing ships, then flatly refused ever to go again. Killing baby seals while they looked up at you with tears flowing from their eyes, crying for mercy was, he said, "beneath the level of human decency." He was saying this in the 1920s, forty years before humanitarians around the world took up the same cry.
Twenty years after his death I began a campaign to end the atrocity of the seal hunt. My first anti-sealing article, "Tragedy on the Whelping Ice," appeared in Canadian Audubon in the spring of 1960. I later wrote articles that were reprinted and translated around the world, calling for an end to the seal hunt. By 1965 there was an international clamour to stop the massacre. People with great gifts for visibility and publicity had joined what was at first a one-man campaign. It took more than a quarter of a century from the date of my first article until the sealing industry in Canada folded up. I am truly proud that this campaign was initiated in Newfoundland by a native Newfoundlander, not, as most people suppose, by Canadian mainlanders such as Brian Davies with their gifts for media manipulation. The fate of the seal hunt is a striking example of one man's moral influence reaching down through two generations and across the world to change the world's conscience.
As children, my brother and I spent time in Carbonear, where many of our extended family still lived, and on the St. John's waterfront, where our father was a department manager for a merchant, with free access to the small coastal ships that tied up at the docks, restlessly moving like horses at a hitching post, smelling of the sea and of far places, coming to us from Moreton's Harbour and Sagona and Isle aux Morts, filling us with the desire to wander, to stand on the bows of a ship as it rose and fell in the sea, hissing with foam. From as far back as I can remember I knew that someday I would sail, perhaps own my own ship. Later, when we began handling first boats and then ships, we seemed to know how to do it without being taught. Just visiting them in childhood, wandering through cabin and fo'c'sle and galley, somehow taught us all we needed to know. The sea was in our blood like the soil in the blood of a peasant.
I was eight years old when we went on our first real voyage—all the way to Canada on the SS Nova Scotia, and back on the SS Fort St. George, which operated between Liverpool, St. John's, Halifax, and Boston. It was not only our first time travelling on a real ship, but also our first time living on a real farm—one owned by our maternal grandparents at Gagetown, New Brunswick. There we milked cows, picked apples, tried to learn to swim in the "crick" which was part of the great St. John River, and helped to harvest hay on the "interval"—a long island in midstream.
I was spared school until the age of seven, when I started in grade one the same day my brother started in kindergarten. I could already read a bit, and Great-aunt Anne had taught me to write script by the same methods that had been passed down through generations of outport Newfoundlanders who never saw the inside of a school.
School was not just a rite of passage like circumcision among the Arabs or dream-fasting among Amerindians; it was a shock, not because of the teachers, some of whom were decent enough, but because of the children, who were barbarians, and had been raised that way. Those kids had been taught from birth that life was a jungle, and there was no supervision in playroom or playground. Outside the classroom the savages were left entirely to their own devices. I was plunged into this mob world at the age of eight in grade two, the year I also encountered a teacher who beat the children with strap and ruler every day.
Actually the threat was worse than the reality—the strapping was rarely severe—but there was always the threat of being sent to the principal, the dreadful Miss Fanny Badcock, for a real whipping, from which you'd come back with your eyes red and your hands swollen. For such ultimate crimes as playing hookey, even Fanny Badcock was insufficient. The burly male principal from the senior school would then be called in, bringing his strap with him, and the culprit would be hauled off to the office to be reduced to a blob of whimpering contrition.
Humane teachers somehow survived in the midst of this terrorism. In grade four we had a woman with a science degree who invited us back on Saturday mornings to do experiments with sprouting seeds and developing tadpoles. She never whipped anyone or sent anyone to Miss Badcock. But what she taught on Saturdays was not regarded as education—rather as extracurricular fun, like Boy Scouts.
Our lives hadn't changed much from the nineteenth century. We owned a car, a radio, a primitive washing machine, but looking back to the 1920s and '30s the thing that strikes me most forcefully is how little change there had been. My great-uncle caught and cured fish for a living, using gear that had been improved only a little since the Devon men had come to Newfoundland in the eighteenth century. Kids walked back and forth to school, often half an hour each way; most men walked to work; almost everyone walked to church, summoned by a chorus of bells that rang out over the city on Sunday mornings.
The odd miracle came fluttering by. We saw Charles Lindbergh fly over the city on his way to Paris, and I dreamed that I might one day fly a Gypsy Moth like the first small mail planes that flew off a lake in the city. The thought that I would one day fly nonstop to Vancouver, Moscow, Trinidad, and Baffin Land never once crossed my mind.
By grade six I was placing first in class, taking music lessons, winning the occasional sprint at track, but refusing to work at anything. I learned to read music, but rejected the swatting at the keyboard that might have made me a performer. I did badly in team sports, but made friends readily. A little later, some of those friendships would ripen into emotional affairs of great power and glory.
When I was "going on nine" the extended family split up. Mother, Father, and two kids moved off to the shell of a new bungalow on Oxen Pond Road—"in the woods" as Great-aunt Anne scornfully called it. It was a move to a wholly new world of myth, a plunge into raw nature, almost wilderness, woods and streams and lakes and ponds, a hill that looked a little like a mountain, a river that rose in the back country and ran off through distant lakes and steadies and over roaring waterfalls to the faraway sea. Here my brother and I became cowboys and pirates and naked Indians, learned to run barefoot, to build bow-houses, to climb trees, eventually to swim across full-sized lakes.
Here we returned to primitivism, to a shallow well with a hand pump, a privy instead of a toilet, a galvanized washing tub instead of a bath. I don't know when Andrew and Vina took baths—I suppose after we kids were asleep. Neither parent ever undressed in our presence, or touched us when we were naked.
A couple of years later, Andrew had installed an electric pumping system and a septic tank, and our sister, Ruth, was born. An accident? Perhaps. They were practising "rhythm." Seven years after Ruth's birth, they slipped up again, Vina became pregnant and miscarried.
Hot water, a bathroom with a stove that would heat the air to ninety degrees Fahrenheit, and a six-foot tub provided sybaritic luxury. For some reason, Vina never realized the sinfulness of such bathing, or the fact that it usually included masturbation, which I had discovered about then. In other respects she was still Spartan, sometimes whipped us with a piece of cord, and even persuaded Andrew to keep a two-foot leather strap for discipline. I can't remember that he ever used it, and in any case it soon disappeared because I cut it into small pieces and threw it in the garbage. Perhaps because his own father had never whipped him, Andrew was quite unsuccessful at child abuse, but he was equally unable to love a child, or win a child's love. Love—giving and receiving—first came to me from outside the family.
My brother and I were still milking a cow each, morning and evening, and now began to share in the "milk money" as profits from the dairy were called. Out of those profits my brother and I bought a light horse, and since Andrew was now manager of a fuel company, it was easy to get work for the horse, making small deliveries of coal to customers who bought by the quarter ton or less. Out of the proceeds came the horse's feed and the driver's wage, and the surplus made the two of us inordinately rich in the midst of the Great Depression.
I bought my first bicycle, cowboy hat, accordion, fancy clothes, and my first pair of skis out of the horse's earnings. I never learned to ride or drive a horse properly, but on the bicycle I became a rider of the purple sage, almost a creature with wings. Except for the short time I was in politics and journalism and fancied myself a man of affairs, I have ridden a bicycle ever since. My son Andrew and I go for ten-mile rides on our mountain bikes even now. I was one of the first St. John's boys on skis, followed by a chorus of barking dogs who had never seen such a novelty.
On a corner a quarter of a mile from our house was Linegar's Store, a dingy little place with a wooden counter where a wonderful old Irish woman sold peppermint knobs, Hershey bells, and drugs. Here, when we were old enough to be tempted, we bought our first Irish Porter, sold in eight-ounce bottles, just right for apprentice drinkers. Here too we bought our first cigarettes one at a time from an open pack of Flags. Cash was so scarce that even grown men often bought cigarettes singly.
Smoking was not only sinful, but also bad for your health, and this was well known even in the thirties. Cigarettes were "coffin nails." People didn't get lung cancer, but they got "smoker's cough" and died of it anyway. Andrew told me, as soon as I was old enough to know where babies come from, that the babies of smokers were born underweight and sickly. Despite such knowledge, everyone got hooked, me included. We didn't really believe that smoking was all that deadly until the hard statistical evidence confirmed all the horror stories during the 1950s. Old Mrs. Linegar was a darling, the most innocent of drug peddlers. The age of innocence was still with us.
What sex education we got was sketchy, fallacious, and harmful. Vina warned us against the wickedness of girls and the dangers of syphilis, but didn't even know the meaning of the word "fuck" when her younger son brought it home from school. She asked Andrew, who was flabbergasted.
"You actually don't know? It's … well … it's like fornicate."
"Oh …" Long pause. "I won't let him say it again."
"Of course not."
Andrew wasn't as bad as Vina. He saw nothing wrong when we swam or played in the nude, and said so, though Vina thought it shocking and indecent. But if it actually came to talking about sex, he was as tonguetied as she. When I complained that the rooster was attacking the hens he tried to explain:
"That's how the chickens get into the eggs. If he didn't do that there wouldn't be any germ of life in the egg."
All very well, but what I saw the rooster do was jump on the hen and grab her comb in his beak, often drawing blood. So this was the sex act. I knew what bulls did to cows because I saw it happening, but I was well along in adulthood before I realized that birds copulated like mammals with organs near their tails. I had always assumed that sex in birds was a matter of beaks and combs.
Despite Captain John's writing, and the few history books that he treasured, you could hardly call us a literary family. Our first taste of imaginative writing came from the daily press—Thornton W. Burgess's "Bedtime Stories." Later there was "Little Bennie," also in the daily press, and the smorgasbord of delights offered by the Family Herald and Weekly Star, to which we turned for its page of children's stories and easy-to-solve puzzles. Aunt Lillian worked its embroidery patterns. Andrew read its lines of music, whistling the tunes from its page of "Old Favourites." A weekly magazine issued on newsprint, it appealed to almost every rural and small-town family in British North America, and influenced a whole generation of Canadians and Newfoundlanders. Everyone from Harold Innes to Harold Horwood grew up on it.
There was also The Pocket University, a thirty-six-volume anthology of fiction, poetry, plays, essays, and biography sold to Andrew by some door-to-door salesman. Andrew scarcely touched it himself, but his two young sons read it to tatters. Here I encountered Thackeray's Book of Snobs, Kipling's Man Who Would Be King, and the full range of American popular writers from Ben Franklin to Bret Harte. Prejudiced by this early reading, I have never gotten rid of my preference for American over English writers.
Later Andrew supplied us with an eight-volume illustrated dictionary and a twelve-volume encyclopedia that we devoured from cover to cover. And with those came, free, a Complete Works of Shakespeare, on onionskin paper in double columns—forbiddingly hard to read, yet it was here, not in school, that I encountered Lady Macbeth, grand and villainous, the incredibly silly Othello, and the senile Lear; here, too, my first taste of pornography, Venus and Adonis and The Passionate Pilgrim; and the dark splendours of the sonnets.
No one in our family had ever read the classics. It was virtually an accident, like a stroke of providence, that I encountered at home some of the greatest things in the English language. By the age of fourteen I was lost forever to the abandoned life of the poet, and was purchasing, with money earned by milking cows, such things as the poetical works of Milton, and Gibbon's Decline and Fall.
A little later I had the good luck to encounter one teacher who did something useful for me. Bill Blackwood, an English scholar from Edinburgh University, loved the language. He taught me not to split infinitives, demonstrated the utter vulgarity of a dangling participle, the absurdity of a floating adverb, and the contemptible illogic of such phrases as "under the circumstances." I still squirm when TV announcers use "hopefully" in place of "we hope that," or, even worsely, tell us that some superstar once worked surprisingly in a strip joint.
In our late teens, my brother and I began reading literature that was almost contemporary—plays by Shaw and Ibsen, novels by D. H. Lawrence, Steinbeck, Joyce, the essays of Aldous Huxley, modern French writers in translation. Before long I was discovering such rarities as Sacheverell Sitwell's wonderful, rambling meditations on European art, and the prose works of Dylan Thomas. My brother and I even read Henry Miller before anything he had written was in print in North America.
In high school we had a science lab, quite well equipped, and a real library, with travel books and books on science, including one that discussed models of the atom by Rutherford, Niels Bohr, Erwin Schrodinger, and others. I still marvel that a Newfoundland high school in the 1930s possessed a book discussing the Copenhagen interpretation of the quantum theory. But there it was. I haunted that library after class, even contrived to be left behind, sometimes, after all the teachers had left and the school was supposed to be empty at five in the afternoon.
Captain John died in the autumn of 1938. The last summer of his life he made a trip to the fishing rooms of Labrador. The women of the household all called him an old fool and suggested he was senile, but he did it anyway, then came home and died quietly in bed of kidney failure. Somehow, he had communicated his strength and self-confidence to me. Long before he died I had chosen writing as my life work and had begun to endure from my family the same disbelief, belittlement, and incomprehension that he had endured. The only member of the family who believed writing could be anything but a spare-time hobby was my younger brother. Long before I actually encountered it, I was prepared for the discouragements of publishers and editors and the ignorance and stupidity of critics. After being right when my father and mother and all my uncles and aunts and cousins were dead wrong, it wasn't difficult to believe that I was right when some publisher's hack or semiliterate reviewer failed to understand what I had written.
The year I was seventeen we moved "out of the woods" back to a new house that Andrew planned and built in St. John's. My brother and I worked full-time building it. It was spacious, with five bedrooms, two bathrooms, dining room, sitting room, and library. The library started out as a fair-sized room that would have housed a couple of thousand books, desks, typewriters, and so on, but was soon reduced to a cubbyhole because Vina decided she needed a "sewing room." So most of the library was partitioned off, leaving a small built-in desk with drawers, a couple of bookshelves above, and some other shelves on the wall. In this cubbyhole my father worked at radio broadcasts, and I wrote the first sketchy draught of the book that, forty years later, would become my third novel, Remembering Summer. It is a simple fact that I never at any point abandoned that book, but went back to it again and again over half a lifetime, adding, deleting, rewriting, rearranging. It became the only true Canadian "novel of the sixties" with much of what seemed to be the peculiar ethos of the sixties in it, but even when it was finally published in 1987 it contained long passages that I had written just at the close of the Second World War.
My first romantic relationships, in my middle and late teens, were with boys of my own age, or somewhat younger. I sometimes walked home with a girl, and talked with her on levels of surprising intimacy, but the deep emotional relationships were with boys. My first sexual affairs were with women somewhat older than myself—but these came later, and, later again, with women of my own age. It all seems common enough, I suppose, but it was not common at the time: it was an emotional adventure of apocalyptic intensity, a series of love affairs involving the whole spirit, bringing both great happiness and great suffering. Perhaps because of the puritan background, a sexually segregated school, a mother who preached the evils of the female sex, I did not develop mature relationships early; my whole development toward maturity had to be a revolt against everything that I had been taught.
The people most important to me in early adulthood were Janet and Irving Fogwill. Insofar as I had a master and teacher who shaped the direction of my life, it was Irving. He was twenty-two years my senior, but not a father figure—rather the senior sorcerer. He and his wife, Janet, were the only people in Newfoundland at that time in touch with fully contemporary literature. Irving introduced me to the work of Djuna Barnes (who influenced me profoundly) and the work of Henry Miller (who perhaps influenced me even more) at a time when virtually nobody in Newfoundland or Canada had heard of either of them. Barnes we secured in print; Miller's Tropic of Cancer we could get only in mimeograph. But soon we were buying by mail order from the Gotham Book Mart, and subscribing to such journals as The Briarcliff Quarterly, where we encountered the poetry of Saint-John Perse, and—at about the same time—the weird and wonderful anti-books of Kenneth Patchen. Fogwill was a poet and short-story writer. In his whole lifetime he produced only two small books, but he was the direct ancestor of the Newfoundland renaissance, which became, in the 1970s, such a major event in the Canadian renaissance of the same period. In addition to avant garde literature, Fogwill read such novels as City of Night, The World of O, Last Exit to Brooklyn, and The Man with the Golden Arm as they were published. I never read any of those books. On the other hand, I read the full, extended text of The Golden Bough, and all the translated works of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. I even went to the length of reading some of his essays in French, a language I could only "spell out" with difficulty. I read some of the literature of Buddhism, Taoism and Vedanta. I was very early departing from the tastes of my teacher. Lastly, I read everything written by Faulkner, and to back it up everything written by Conrad, who became my connection to the past of the English novel. Except for Melville, and a few isolated works by Hawthorne, Henry James, and Samuel Butler, I never read the novels of the nineteenth century. In recent years I've looked at them and judged them unreadable.
The other great friend of my youth was a man named Charlie Halfyard, an intellectual who read philosophy and theology, and was so frail as to be virtually an invalid with a leaky heart valve. Through Halfyard I encountered the English philosophers, the Greek dramatists, and even undertook (briefly) to read Greek, but I never went far with this—the last thing I wanted to be was a scholar. Halfyard died suddenly a few days before the destruction of Hiroshima.
Meanwhile, again through Fogwill's influence, I had become a union organizer. I first organized and led a union of unskilled labourers at St. John's (the General Workers' Union) which achieved great success, later unions of truck drivers, painters, fish-plant workers, and others. Between the years 1945 and 1948 1 was the enfant terrible of the Newfoundland labour movement, and was employed successively by the Newfoundland Federation of Labour and the Canadian Congress of Labour as an organizer. I helped to lead a number of successful strikes, and, through the labour movement, got involved in politics.
In 1945 I was campaign manager for the St. John's District Labour Party, but by the end of 1946 I was one of the founders of the Newfoundland Confederate Association—the organization led by Joey Smallwood that brought Newfoundland into federal union with Canada. Newfoundland at that time was an independent British Dominion with its constitution in a temporary state of suspension, and its government in the hands of an appointed commission. Union with Canada had been tried twice before and soundly defeated, and seemed a very unlikely future. But Smallwood was a political genius, and that made all the difference.
When he came to town looking for votes in 1946 I was at the peak of my career as a labour leader—chairman of the biggest local union in St. John's, and also of the crafts' council that controlled the whole building industry, then getting into its postwar boom. He struck me at once as a winner, and we joined forces. Four members of my executive board, and six other labour leaders came with me.
It took us two years, and many political twists and turns, to con Newfoundland into confederation with Canada. We had to fight a campaign in which the real issues were obscured by a split between people of English and Irish descent, between Catholics and Protestants, between the back country and the city, and so on. We had absolutely no money to run such a campaign, and no way of raising it in Newfoundland, where all the wealthy people were against us, but we had a couple of excellent contacts inside the Liberal Party of Canada, and they, in turn, put us in touch with their own best patrons. And that was how the Canadian liquor corporations came to finance a political campaign in Newfoundland. They coughed up some quarter of a million dollars—a lot of money in the 1940s—and permitted us to put on a razzle-dazzle campaign that just barely turned the trick. We won by seven thousand votes, and Newfoundland became the tenth province of Canada.
I then went to Labrador and won a seat in the Newfoundland legislature, but I had neither the wish to continue with politics nor the ability to remain loyal to Smallwood. After a little more than two years I went back to private life while he went on to become the most successful political leader Newfoundland had ever produced. I got out of politics what I went looking for—experience. I never did write the political novel that I briefly considered, but forty years later I wrote a highly successful biography of Smallwood.
My travels in Labrador were of even greater value to me than my experience in politics. I travelled the subarctic coast by boat in summer, by mail plane and dog team in winter. I met Indians and Inuit as well as fishermen and trappers. The Indians taught me to use a canoe, the Inuit to hunt seals and caribou. I even learned to sail my own ship, the forty-five-foot ocean-going auxiliary sloop Fort Amadjuak, formerly owned by the Hudson Bay Company. Above all, though, I learned something of the lives of people who existed on what they could wring directly from a barren coastline and an unfriendly sea, with a cash income of less than five hundred dollars a year per family. Here were true third-world people in North America. My first two novels came directly out of that experience, one of them set in Newfoundland, and one in Labrador.
My principal service to the people of Labrador was the organization of a new division in the civil service—the Division of Northern Labrador Services. It became responsible for the people of the north in many fields: a supply of trade goods at reasonable prices, assistance to fisheries, public housing, education, health, and welfare. Over the course of a quarter of a century the division gradually transformed the living conditions in northern Labrador from that of the Stone Age to that of twentieth-century Canada. Having successfully launched the division, I walked away from politics and applied for a job as a reporter on Newfoundland's largest daily newspaper. The next step in my education as a writer was to be the experience of meeting publishing deadlines five days a week.
I began by reporting the legislature, and since I was still friendly with Premier Smallwood, he suggested I do a daily column of political chit-chat. That was how "Political Notebook" got its start, but within a year or so it had developed into the most devastating column of political criticism ever published in Newfoundland. Not just criticism, I went in for investigative reporting, too, and learned the ins and outs of every scheme by which the government kept its party coffers full and its rascals in power. Smallwood not only quit speaking to me, he threatened publicly to have me thrown into jail. He and his ministers sued the Telegram for libel on several occasions. At one point all thirteen members of the government sued us collectively. But we stuck to our allegations and brazened it out and fought our court battles and won—not once in six years of being the government's principal opposition did the Telegram have to back down. In our last and greatest battle over the liquor trade and organized prostitution we were found not guilty and awarded costs by the Supreme Court.
It was great stuff for circulation. The Telegram quickly eclipsed all other papers in the province, tripled its size, doubled and redoubled its sales, bought a new press, began computer typesetting. And then, suddenly, I was tired of the whole thing. I was now editor of the editorial page, and I could see the unpleasant gleam of the gold watch forty years down the road.
I had discovered by now that I couldn't combine journalism—full-time, staff journalism—with other writing. I wrote a few paragraphs from time to time, and these grew to a few pages of what would eventually be my first novel, but it was obvious that I would never finish it unless I quit everything else and worked at it full-time. Then Farley Mowat arrived on his first visit to St. John's, and told me I was wasting my time working for a provincial daily. Late in the summer of 1958 I drove to Stephenville Airport and met Mowat for a camping and drinking tour of Newfoundland. The day the tour ended I handed in my resignation. Mowat and I have been the closest of friends ever since. We write books in each other's houses, read each other's first draughts, criticise and edit each other's manuscripts. He tried to teach me to manipulate the media, and I tried to teach him to sail a boat; neither of us was too successful.
I sold my cruiser, my skiff, and my outboard motors, took my tent and canoe and headed into the backwoods. I returned with a beard, a few pages of notes, and the conviction that I had to get out of the city to as quiet and primitive a place as I could find. I began searching for what turned out to be Beachy Cove.
While working at the Evening Telegram I met three other people who were crucial to my life and my career: Les Tuck, Marguerite Reid, and Tom Buck. Tuck was a field biologist, working for the Canadian government, who enlisted me in a newspaper campaign to stop the deliberate dumping of waste oil at sea. It surprised us how quickly we secured Canadian laws against this practice. After I left the Telegram I worked briefly as Tuck's field assistant, helped to edit his monographs The Murres and The Snipes, took up bird-watching, and, under his influence, began compiling the notes that would eventually grow into The Foxes of Beachy Cove and Dancing on the Shore. Besides being a field biologist, Tuck was an enthusiastic wildlife photographer. One of my jobs was to carry a loaded. 303 rifle to insure that he wouldn't be killed by a rutting stag caribou under whose nose he was working, or by a grumpy black bear with whom he was sharing a blueberry patch.
Tom Buck and his wife, Helda, gave me generous, long-term support in my career, provided me with a second home in Toronto, a house always open to me for weeks or even months at a time in the publishing capital of Canada. It is hard for me to imagine how I would have managed to get through the difficult stage of publishing my first four or five books without them.
Marguerite was my long-term mistress. When I first met her in 1956 she was a free lance journalist and a stunningly glamorous woman. We enjoyed a relationship that lasted for about ten years, and it was she who said to me one day, "There's a little place for sale in Beachy Cove. If you like I'll take you there and we can look at it. It might suit you."
When I bought the little house at Beachy Cove I was nearly thirty-eight years old and at the decisive point where I had decided to stop drifting and begin living my own life. For after leaving the Telegram I continued to drift, doing a little freelance journalism, doing some portrait photography, founding and running a weekly paper, the Examiner. Abandoning the city was a truly symbolic act—a leaving behind of all that. I didn't go to the country as an experiment. I went once and for all, in a lifelong commitment that has lasted (as I write this) for more than thirty years. Beachy Cove, in those days, was true wilderness, beyond the reach of the power lines, surrounded by woods and sea, approached by a one-lane dirt road. Marguerite and I lived there with oil lamps, well water, and a house heated by firewood which I cut myself from the forest. Wild foxes regularly visited our yard; on occasion a lynx or a moose came wandering by; all within fifteen miles of the city.
While writing my first two books, Tomorrow Will Be Sunday and The Foxes of Beachy Cove, I managed to support myself by the thin pickings of Canadian freelance journalism, writing the occasional article for Maclean's magazine or Weekend, doing TV scripts for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Numerous Canadian writers had tried this route and failed. It was almost impossible to make a living from that kind of writing. I succeeded because, like Thoreau a hundred years before, I reduced my wants to the barest minimum. I had no rent to pay, no utility bills, and a willingness to live at a level somewhat below that of my neighbours who were on welfare. My first year at Beachy Cove my income dropped below two thousand dollars. It was one of the happiest years of my life. It was several years before I got up to four thousand dollars. During that time I managed to keep my car, my one and only luxury. By the time it had to be replaced I was able to give it away to a friend in need and buy a good used one from a dealer.
Those years were euphoric. We had a garden full of half-wild flowers and an acre of vegetables, an old bed I'd brought from the city, a few old chairs, stacks of books, and a little battery-operated record player grinding out Vivaldi and Scarlatti and Prokofiev and Dave Brubeck. Clothes mattered hardly at all: lumberjack's shirts and pants, logans for winter, bare feet most of the year. Almost at my front door there was a river with a wonderful pool for swimming. There were crops of wild berries on the hills, fish in the sea. I divided my time about equally between living like a pioneer and working at the typewriter.
Visitors from the city were sometimes a problem. They seemed to think I was on perpetual holiday. They would arrive at any hour of the day or night, bringing their bottles of booze with them. Margaret Laurence, facing a similar situation in her cabin in rural Ontario, laid down the law that there were to be no visitors except on weekends. Somehow, I managed without such a rule. Sometimes I could "get inside" my novel for almost a day at a time; at other times I could hardly touch it for days at a stretch. But by 1964 it had gone through three draughts and had grown to 100,000 words.
At the same time I made improvements to the house—added a huge stone chimney and stone fireplace, built an attached greenhouse facing south, insulated the walls and roof. On sunny days in winter the greenhouse provided more heat than the house could use, and we opened windows and doors. Flowers bloomed there all year, and I worked there in winter wearing only a pair of shorts. By 1964, in fact, I had what must have been one of the first "passive solar houses" in Canada; the term wasn't current for at least another ten years.
Unlike the back-to-the-landers who came fifteen years later, I had no support from the government or any other agency: no incentive grants, no unemployment insurance, no university backup, no welfare cheques. Like the Irish settlers who had gone to Beachy Cove a century earlier, I was on my own, enjoying the happiest years of my life while I reached the age of forty with still no sign of success in my chosen career.
By 1967 Marguerite was suffering serious drug-related problems, on a cycle of uppers and downers, using two separate sets of prescriptions from two doctors, filled at separate drugstores. Late that summer she walked out on me. Shortly afterwards she was in a psychiatric ward getting insulin shock. When they released her she was forty pounds overweight, and sliding into the final twilight of her life. Eventually she committed suicide with an overdose of drugs.
Travels with Farley were always an adventure. I visited him at Palgrave, Ontario, before he and his first wife, Frances, had become estranged. I had trouble finding the place, getting past his "Radiation Hazard" signs and the nude department-store dummy that graced his gateway. Farley and his boys were as naked as the dummy. "You mustn't mind him," Frances told me. "It's just his way. I've given up trying to civilize him." But they weren't really compatible. A year or two later they were living apart.
Another time he was with me he went cavorting along the cliff tops on a wild stretch of Newfoundland coastline wearing nothing but a pair of waders. A crew of Irish-Newfoundland fishermen who passed by in a trap boat later reported that they had seen a spirit.
We prowled along the south coast of Newfoundland in his tiny schooner, The Happy Adventure, which he later celebrated in his book The Boat Who Wouldn't Float. I drove him and the woman who became his second wife, Claire Wheeler, to Mexico City, where Farley got a divorce from Frances. We then spent several weeks at Manzanillo on the Pacific coast of Mexico, and on the way north Farley and Claire were married in Texas.
Farley wrote the final version of his juvenile novel The Black Joke in my house at Beachy Cove, and Claire did the illustrations there. That same winter I joined them at their new home in Burgeo, on the remote southwest coast of Newfoundland, and wrote the final (fifth) version of Tomorrow Will Be Sunday there, while Farley worked on the first draught of Never Cry Wolf and did the research for Westviking.
At Farley's suggestion I submitted my first novel to McClelland and Stewart of Toronto (who have published all his books). They accepted it and paid a small advance, but I was quite unable to agree with Jack McClelland's ideas about revisions, so I refunded the advance and took the book to Doubleday, who published it in New York and Toronto in 1966. The book received elaborately good reviews in both countries, and won the Beta Sigma Phi first-novel award, which helped to bridge the financial gap to my next book. Tomorrow Will Be Sunday became a bestseller in Canada, and especially in Newfoundland, where it received a fantastic amount of publicity in the daily and weekly press and on radio and TV. Its success made it possible for me to continue as a freelance writer. If it had failed I would almost certainly have been forced back to full-time journalism.
Tomorrow Will Be Sunday took me about four years and five rewrites. The Foxes of Beachy Cove, my second book, was completed in three months—one month to write it, one month to revise it, and one month to draw the illustrations. It was published by Doubleday in 1967, and by Peter Davies in 1968. It had universally great reviews, but disappointing sales; "nature" books just didn't have the audience, especially in Canada in the 1960s, but nine years after first publication it became a national best-seller in Canada in paperback.
While my first book was on press, CBC-TV offered me the opportunity of a lifetime, the chance to become not a mere writer, but a TV personality, with a daily interview show, and a thirteen-week half-hour series. The money was so much more than I could hope to earn as a real writer, that I couldn't even afford to give myself time to think it over. Before I could yield to temptation I said, "Sorry, I just won't have the time for it," and that was that.
I was by now thoroughly at home in front of the cameras. Living temporarily in Toronto with the Bucks allowed me to promote my books in the only way that seemed effective in the late sixties and early seventies: nonstop appearances on radio and television. In one week-long publicity binge I was on thirteen TV talk shows in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, and Peterborough, with radio interviews in the three major cities as well. I was then promoting my third book, Newfoundland, published in Toronto by Macmillan (St. Martin's Press in the USA) in 1969, and still in print, still the major travel book on Newfoundland, twenty-two years later.
At that time I was suffering the usual agony of the second novel. Remembering Summer was still languishing in my filing cabinet. I took it out from time to time and did a bit of reworking on it. But I didn't want to publish a wild experimental novel immediately after a straight novel and a straight success like Tomorrow Will Be Sunday. My second novel, I felt, needed to be in the tradition of Conrad or Lawrence, a novel that had a chance to sell to the reading public, not something that would appeal only to the readers of Patchen and the subscribers to New Directions.
Tomorrow Will Be Sunday was a story of personal salvation, cast in the mode of the autobiographical novel, though in fact it contained scarcely a trace of autobiography in the strict sense. The novel I was now trying to write, "One Door into Darkness," was to be a novel of damnation, of personal failure to be true to inner convictions, and it was to include the theme of capital punishment, at that time a very lively topic of public debate in Canada. But at no point did the book begin to move of itself. At no point did the characters begin to take charge of it, as had happened in the earlier novel. And then it appeared that the whole question of capital punishment in Canada might become passé by legislation. A novel about the death penalty and the moral dilemmas surrounding it, a novel in which a hanging would have to take place at some point, would be a curious anachronism if it appeared shortly after the death penalty had been abolished.
So I used the first draught of my second novel to light the fire in my kitchen stove. A sacrifice? I suppose. But I couldn't afford to be sentimental. My writing had to succeed. Though I made false starts on other stories, I never went far with them. "One Door into Darkness" was the only large piece of adult writing that I ever destroyed.
My third book, Newfoundland, was commissioned by Macmillan, and was written in thirty days, making use of materials from my files, much of it newspaper and magazine features that I had written a few years earlier for the Evening Telegram, Maclean's, Weekend, and other journals. I wrote a chapter a day, and revised immediately, so that the book never needed a second draught.
Someone at Reader's Digest read it, and asked me to do a travel piece on the province. When they discovered that I could turn out an article that required very little editing, they kept asking me to do others. I did the article on Ontario as well as Newfoundland, one on the Cape Breton Highlands, a whole series of dramatic sea rescue stories. They sent me to the Canadian arctic, and to the north coast of British Columbia twice. Besides magazine pieces, I did sections for their books: two on Newfoundland's national parks, one on the St. John River, one on the Upper Churchill. In all, I must have done between thirty and forty assignments over a period of fifteen years, and picked up from this source something like fifty thousand dollars well spread over the period. I was able to do this without any kind of compromise. I never pretended to endorse the politics or social views of the Reader's Digest. The work was easy, consuming only a tiny fraction of the time I spent writing my books or growing my gardens or exploring the back country. And it paid the expenses of most of my travel to places I would have wanted to go anyway. As Evelyn Waugh had said a generation earlier, the real reason for writing books is to get yourself into the lucrative magazine market. I wrote pieces on commission for various other magazines in Canada and the United States. Some of them were translated and published in Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Portugal, Argentina, and Japan. Yet I never spent more than a few days on any magazine piece, or took that kind of writing seriously. But it was an important factor in keeping me solvent—far easier than teaching, which seems to be the resort of so many writers who cannot pay their bills from book royalties alone.
With "One Door into Darkness" out of the way, I returned, part-time, to Remembering Summer. I picked it up and worked at it and put it down again throughout the first twenty years of my writing career, never being satisfied with it. It went through more draughts and rewrites than I can remember, but my faith in the book was never shaken in the least. It remained my favourite project throughout a period when I wrote and published fifteen other books. In part, Remembering Summer is one more tribute to life at Beachy Cove, where I spent seventeen years—the longest I have ever lived in one place. Mainly, it deals with life there at the end of the sixties when "humanity was going off like a bomb," as I expressed it, and Beachy Cove had become one of the Meccas for disaffiliated youth from all parts of North America.
Children of all ages—including those at the edge of adulthood—always flocked around me. This, together with my ingrained radicalism and tolerance for the unconventional, made me a guru of the sixties. In a sense I was already a hippie before the first hippie was hatched, already in love with music, birds, flowers, and even butterflies, already bearded and barefooted, already loving people by the score, instead of only the woman who shared my bed.
I saw my first acid trip at Christmas near the end of the sixties, and had visits from a handful of students the rest of that winter. Then one sunny evening in June I returned from the city to find fifteen teenagers in my sitting room playing the Fugs and the Doors on my record player. Most of them I had never seen before. Soon there were tents in my backyard, and a tarpaulin that had once been a cover for a transport truck now converted into a kind of community centre. The floors, as well as the beds, davenports, and chairs, were filled with crashers. Day and night I was surrounded by people from half a dozen Canadian provinces, and occasionally by some from as far as Georgia and Alaska, all of them on pilgrimage to Beachy Cove, directed there by the underground telegraph.
The kids, of course, were followed by the police doing drug searches, looking for runaways, adding to the pandemonium. And in the midst of it all, between the smoke clouds of the hash pipes and the visions of mescaline and LSD, I started work on my next novel.
White Eskimo, the Labrador novel, and one of my most successful books, gave me no trouble at all. I started in the middle and wrote it backwards and forwards, and after I'd done the whole thing I did one complete rewrite; that was all.
While this was going on I was acting as friend and protector to bearded giants and maxi-skirted young women, some of them drug freaks, some of them poets, some of them quite capable of stealing cars or looting deserted houses. I put up bail when they needed it, and once or twice parents phoned me in states of murderous fury because I'd bailed out kids whom they wanted to see punished by imprisonment without trial. Explaining that bail was everyone's civil right drove them to states of even greater fury. The spirit—the essence of it all—is recorded in Remembering Summer, the one true Canadian novel of the sixties, written from the inside by an insider.
At the same time I helped to organize, and then to defend against the attacks of the public and the police, the only free high school that Newfoundland has ever known—Animal Farm, in St. John's. Other "alternative" schools tended to serve little kids. This one was for people who had been thrown out of high school, or had dropped out, or just couldn't hack it. It was a wild and wonderful school, where wonderful things happened, and immature kids turned into mature people, and some of them got a certain amount of academic education, too. At least twenty of our students finished high school and qualified for university. One of them today is an established poet and dramatist; at least one is a university professor; a few still lead the free and impoverished lives of the sixties; most have retreated to featureless places in society. I'm not aware that any have become yuppies.
Perhaps surprisingly, Animal Farm received a lot of support from people in the Department of Education, from some of the professors at the university in St. John's, and from a number of teachers who were unhappily trapped in the public school system. All of our teachers were volunteers; some of them devoted a great deal of time to a project that could never bring them any personal gain, and was quite likely to win them public hatred and contempt.
At the end of 1970 the manuscript of White Eskimo went off to my editor, Doug Gibson, at Doubleday, and I was able to turn my attention to Death on the Ice, a manuscript by Cassie Brown of St. John's that Doug had put into my hands. The research on this story of Newfoundland's greatest sealing disaster was impeccable, but the writing was impossible. I not only rewrote the book, I reshaped and recast it, and Cassie and I published it as coauthors.
White Eskimo appeared in September 1972, and was a national best-seller in Canada for seventeen weeks. A month later Death on the Ice appeared, and also became a best-seller. Total sales of both books, in hardcover and paperback, quickly ran into the hundreds of thousands of copies. Twenty years after publication, Death on the Ice is still selling around three thousand copies a year.
That autumn I also published a small anthology of poetry by four young Newfoundlanders, Voices Underground. It was published in Toronto by New Press, and went to a second printing. One of the four—Des Walsh—has since become a full-time writer with an established reputation.
I lived in Ontario for three summers and two winters—the summers at Mowat's cabin in Brighton on Lake Ontario, and the winters at Schomberg, north of Toronto. Each year I made lengthy visits to St. John's and Beachy Cove. In the autumn of 1972 I returned to Newfoundland, and the following summer began living with a neighbour of mine, Cornelia (Corky) Lindesmith, recently divorced from Bill Cohen, an American biochemist working in St. John's. I had known Corky slightly from the time of her arrival in Newfoundland in 1968. After our marriage I sold my house, moved a quarter of a mile downhill to her much larger and newer house overlooking Conception Bay, and bought her husband's equity in the property. Along with Corky came three grown daughters and a daughter and son who were still kids. I tried at first to use our bedroom as a workroom, but soon found it impossible and built a working cabin in the woods near the house. Our son, Andrew, was born May 20, 1974.
Like me, Corky had been a magnet for the "heads" of the sixties, and the older of her children were of an age to associate with them. My nephew John was living with one of her daughters (and still is, after twenty years; they have three children). Many of our tastes were identical. We both liked serious reading, classical music, camping, travel, swimming, boats, and flowers. We both liked children, cats, and dogs, and were interested in scientific discoveries. She was enthusiastic about sex, hated housework, and had none of the old-fashioned feminine fixations on dress or personal adornment.
When Andrew was five weeks old we took him on a canoe trip down the St. John River in New Brunswick. Partway through the trip I began suffering from renal colic; six weeks later, after many such attacks, I passed a kidney stone, the only serious illness of my adult life.
In my new work cabin I wrote Beyond the Road, a story of Newfoundland outports in transition. It was illustrated by a wonderful young American portrait photographer, Stephen Taylor, and published by Van Nostrand Reinhold. There I also did the final versions of my short-story collection, Only the Gods Speak, published by Breakwater Books, and one more rewrite of Remembering Summer, this time with the cabin itself in the opening sentence.
Before he was two years old I knew that Andrew was dyslexic. I coached him in special ways, with wooden word blocks that he could arrange into simple sentences. He worked hard at learning to read, spent three years in a special class for dyslexics, and another three years in a private school for dyslexics, and by the age of sixteen he was able to read novels by Hemingway and H. G. Wells, nonfiction books by his father and Konrad Lorenz, and anything else he wanted to read at a pace perhaps one-tenth as fast as a skillful reader. In my view, this was an enormous accomplishment, achieved by determination against very long odds. Emotionally, Andrew remained stable, self-possessed, and self-confident. He also acquired, largely through his mother's reading to him, a level of education far beyond his years, and was treated by his schoolfellows as a sort of walking encyclopedia.
In 1975 I had two national best-sellers in mass-market paperback, White Eskimo and The Foxes of Beachy Cove. Beyond the Road was on press. Bartlett, my biography of the great ice captain who took Peary to within one hundred and fifty miles of the North Pole, was under contract. Next year I was invited by the University of Victoria to spend a year as a visiting teacher of creative writing, but before I could accept I was offered a residency by the University of Western Ontario for slightly more money and decidedly better working conditions. I took it, rented a house in Grand Bend, some forty miles from the campus, and there my second child, Leah, was born on December 13, 1976, at home, without medical help or any kind of professional birth attendant. Leah was never attended by a doctor for any reason whatever until the age of twelve, when she broke an arm in a sliding accident. When Corky reached her fiftieth birthday she was still breast-feeding this child. Neither of our kids ever tasted baby food or formula or sucked from a bottle (or from a thumb, either). And they knew nothing about sibling rivalry. They were each other's best friend throughout their entire period of growth to maturity.
In addition to serious books in the seventies and eighties I wrote potboilers—a history book on colonial Canada for McClelland and Stewart, a short history of Canada for an American package publisher, Bison Books, two local histories published by Breakwater Books, and two books on pirates, privateers, bandits, and outlaws, coauthored by Ed Butts of Mississauga, Ontario, and published by Doubleday. In addition I wrote a little volume of folklore, Tales of the Labrador Indians, published by Harry Cuff of St. John's, and edited the writings of Gregory J. Power, a sensitive poet and skilled satirist who had begun his career as a colleague of mine in the Newfoundland Confederate Association. This book, The Power of the Pen, was also published by Cuff.
I had gotten involved in cultural politics in the early seventies, and was very active in the organization of the Writers' Union of Canada. I was vice-chairman of the union three times, and chairman in 1980-81. That year I was also invited to be writer-in-residence at the University of Waterloo, and while there founded the literary journal the New Quarterly (now in its eleventh year). I spent two years at Waterloo as writer-in-residence, and a third as a resource person in one of the university departments. In 1980 I received the Order of Canada for contributions to Canadian literature.
Meanwhile Corky and I sold our house at Beachy Cove to members of our own family, and moved with our two children to a new house which we built on the shore of Annapolis Basin in Nova Scotia—a place where we could practise our common passion for gardening with much greater success. The new house, a passive solar design which we created ourselves, sits on thirteen acres of parkland that we developed from a former hayfield. It includes a seafront beach, two ponds, and eight acres of forest planted from nursery stock. Part of the money used to build this place came from the sale of my research papers and manuscripts to the library of the University of Calgary.
In 1985 I was invited by the Union of Writers of the USSR to attend an international convention of writers in Leningrad, celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War. There I met writers from every continent except North America. Writers from Canada and the United States were conspicuously absent, perhaps because the Cold War was not quite over, though pretty well on its last legs. I went to the convention without any great hopes, but the Russians proved to be the finest hosts I have ever encountered—utterly generous and anxious to please. I had the services of a full-time interpreter, time to visit Moscow, and several other cities and towns, as well as Leningrad, tickets to opera, ballet, puppet theatres, and musical performances. I encountered a complete willingness and freedom to discuss any issue whatsoever, and a surprising amount of good will toward the West, including the United States. At the conference itself the government provided simultaneous translation in eight languages. I was interviewed for radio and television in Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria, as well as in the Soviet Union. I wandered around Moscow on my own, and a number of people, recognizing me by my dress as a North American, came up to me and spoke to me in English. Everyone seemed anxious to make use of this universal second language and particularly anxious to dispel the ill will of decades of cold-war propaganda.
The Bartlett biography was published by Doubleday in November, 1977, with disappointing results—at least for me. Sales the first year were limited to about four thousand, and this great explorer, who had done so much to open the Canadian arctic, remained virtually unknown in Canada. To the credit of the publishers, they refused to allow the book to die. The following year they brought out a new edition in quality paperback, with revisions, and finally in 1989 a third edition, also in quality paperback and larger format, with a more attractive cover.
During the 1980s at Annapolis Basin I wrote two books in addition to the popular histories published by Doubleday and Breakwater. Those were Dancing on the Shore and Joey. Dancing on the Shore might, perhaps, be called nature writing, like The Foxes of Beachy Cove. But it was about much more than nature unless you include the nature of man and the nature of the universe. More than anything, it was a book of evolutionary philosophy, a book of visions, a book of wisdom. It was beautifully published by Doug Gibson and McClelland and Stewart, and by Dutton in New York. The summer following its first appearance, I was invited to talk about it at Chautauqua, in New York, where I had an absolutely euphoric experience with the most receptive audience I have ever encountered, anywhere. Sales were modest—a total of seven or eight thousand in both countries—but the mail I received, and the personal visits from people who had read the book, were far more rewarding than any returns in royalties could possibly be. No book that I have written, with the possible exception of Remembering Summer, published by Pottersfield Press that same year, has given me such satisfaction. Once these books were both in print I could have retired, contented.
But, of course, one doesn't retire. My next book, a biography of Newfoundland's political genius, Joey Smallwood, appeared in 1989, based on my experiences with him of thirty and forty years before. After that? Well, I have two other books in process, right now, but they are the kind of books, like Dancing on the Shore, that accumulate, rather than rushing onto the page, so they may take several years to complete.
It has been a rewarding life, so far, one I wouldn't exchange for any other that I can imagine. I have met and become personal friends with all the most interesting people in Canada—all of them writers, none of them in any sense competitors, but all engaged in their unique ways in the common task of creating a national literature for one of the world's young nations.
Harold Horwood contributed the following update to CA in 2004:
When I completed my contribution to Contemporary Authors in 1990, I reported that I was then working on two unpublished books. These have since been published, along with three others, but now I think I can safely report that my bibliography of published books is complete. I am now eighty-one years old, and even a writer has a right to retire some time. Between 1997 and 1999, I wrote a fairly extensive memoir which was published in two volumes—and that's usually a sign of the end, isn't it?
I was especially fortunate with the first volume, A Walk in the Dreamtime, published by Killick Press in 1997. It recorded the adventure of growing up in the colonial city of St. John's, Newfoundland, in the years between 1923 and 1966, when my first book was in print. To my great surprise, it became a regional bestseller. This shouldn't have surprised me, because it was the period when Newfoundland went through her great political convulsions—the loss of dominion status within the Commonwealth of Nations, the Second World War, the great organizing drive of the Newfoundland unions, and the entrance of the "old colony" into the Dominion of Canada, after the most intense political campaign in her history—a campaign in which I was right at the centre, as one of the two most trusted lieutenants of that political genius Joey Smallwood.
Not only that, but St. John's was a fascinating place to live in those days, a lively town with a harbour full of world-girdling ships, and close ties to Europe and the "Boston States" as we used to call them. There was not much of a tie to Canada—that came only later, after confederation was a fact, having been won by a very narrow margin in a referendum, in 1948.
The second volume, Among the Lions, also published by Killick (in 2000) was mainly concerned with organizing the Writers' Union of Canada and its early history. I was one of the organizers, and the union's first vice-president, then president in 1980-81, serving altogether four terms on the executive, and on numerous Committees. My term as president was sandwiched between two of the most famous women in Canada: June Callwood, my predecessor, and Margaret Atwood, my successor, with both of whom I shared one of the most turbulent periods in the union's history. It also brought me into close association with other outstanding writers, among them Margaret Laurence, Gwen MacEwen, and Alice Munro.
As past chairman of the Writers' Union, I was invited to visit the Soviet Union and to take part in a huge convention of international writers celebrating the anniversary of the end of the Great Patriotic War (as the Russians call it.) Standing at the gravesite of the near-million people who died defying the might of Germany in the Siege of the Nine Hundred Days was a very moving experience. So was standing before an audience from all five continents and pledging the influence of the writers of Canada in building a lasting peace. Mikhail Gorbachev was then in power; glasnost and perestroika were new words in the international language, and it looked as if the millennium might be beginning.
Meanwhile my children had grown up. My son Andrew was beginning to write both fiction and nonfiction—a tremendous achievement on his part after a childhood during which he had battled doggedly with dyslexia, and come out of it with a fine ear for the beauties of the English language. My daughter Leah won a school prize for poetry, but showed no inclination to pursue it any further. Instead, she married a Norwegian-Canadian, went to live in Norway, and had two sons—my first biological grandchildren, who are in Canada for a visit as I write this.
With Dancing on the Shore I had reached the peak of ray powers as a prose stylist, and I realized soon afterwards that I would never be able to write another major book like that, but I had one last go at it—the little sequel The Magic Ground. This essay of 165 pages has some flashes of the kind of writing I did in The Foxes of Beachy Cove and Dancing on the Shore, but in the main it set out to answer some of the unanswered questions raised the earlier books, making use of the new insights and theories that had been recently published by evolutionary theorists. I realized that this book would have only a limited appeal, and I took it to a small press in Halifax. Fortunately, they did a beautiful production job, so that I could take solace from the book's appearance and forgive its limited sale. I wasn't quite sure that this had to be the end of my plunge into natural history, and I had one more try. It was to be a summing up, with the title "Earth and High Heaven," but after collecting some bits and pieces in my files (the same method that had produced Dancing on the Shore) I decided to abandon the effort and confine myself to simpler things in my declining years.
Simpler, but not necessarily inferior. Simpler writing, such as that in the two volumes of memoirs, can produce excellent results if you don't try to force it to a level beyond its powers. And that is what happened with my one remaining work of fiction, Evening Light. I had decided at this point to write for my own pleasure, rather than for publication, and I began doing it a small piece at a time, like a collection of linked short stories, but that's not what it turned out to be. It is a life history, a story of an outport boy who allows himself to be channelled into the life of an academic, and at the same time the story of a Newfoundland outport, Brigus, that gradually forsakes such things as the fishery and the seal hunt and becomes a retirement community for city people. It gave me the opportunity to write about the small town of Brigus much as I had written about the city of St. John's, with affection and depth of feeling salted with a little dose of irony. I loved the writing, and it gave me no trouble.
Of course, like all fiction, it is about people, not just about a town; it is about birth and death and a lifelong love affair that is never threatened by the social storms of the twentieth century. It is about children and grandchildren, and a persistent love of the sea that continues through generations even when some of those born to it have forsaken their heritage. This little book was written without effort, and published without fanfare, and has left me wholly satisfied with the way it grew and shaped itself like a plant coming to flower and fruit. The books that give you the least trouble are sometimes the most satisfying.
That's the way it was, too, with my only published collection of poetry, Cycle of the Sun. This poem is set in Labrador—my second home, to which I have travelled time and again, living in its wasteland, hunting meat, trekking over its barrens, sailing in small ships through the maze of its inland passages. The poem accumulated over a period of fifty years. The first section, "Song of the Return of the Sun," which now is the concluding section of the cycle, was written in only slightly different form, and won first prize for poetry in the first of the Newfoundland literary competitions in 1950, when I was the representative for Labrador in the Newfoundland legislature. The four other sections were written in the intervening half century, and a version was published in the literary journal TickleAce in 1995. The whole sequence is intended to be chanted, rather than published, and publication came about after I had read it to an audience of some hundreds of people in 1998. The poet Harry Thurston was in the audience, and came to me asking to be allowed to submit the poem to his publisher, a letter press issuer of fine hand-made books, Gaspereau Press, of Kentville, Nova Scotia. Thurston went through the cycle as editor, and I did a final rewrite, producing in the process some of the finest passages in the cycle. And then Gaspereau's editor, Andrew Steeves, approached me, suggesting that the cycle might be issued in a limited edition of 100 or 150 copies, numbered and autographed, hand set, on Mohawk Superfine paper, and hand bound in boards in a style current in the sixteenth century, selling for $100 a copy.
The cycle begins with a "proem" in the form of a Shakespearean sonnet, but the four principal sections, beginning with the summer fire festival, are in twentieth-century style, mostly free-form imagism, though sometimes in iambic pentameters. The autumnal section is a song for the caribou hunt, chanted by the hunter, and addressed to the "Old Man of the Caribou"—one of the game lords that were as close as anything else to a religion among the pre-Christian Inuit. In the chant for the winter solstice, the pace of the poem slows down, as the pace of life does also, at that season, and the voice is the voice of the Torngak, the fearful spirit of the ice that rules the far north. The mood changes abruptly with the final section, "Return of the Sun," and the cycle ends in a great burst of rejoicing.
I attempted to be true, throughout, to the Inuit ethos, but there are frequent reminders that this is the twentieth century, underlain by technology from the south: the radio singing in the igloo, sled dogs "singing their last songs" as they are replaced by snowmobiles; sons of the shamans have become priests and teachers; the gifts of the Kablanonait: tobacco, tea and marijuana, moonshine, gasoline, and glue have served the people in their turn. Now they wonder what new revelations await them, as the satellites circle overhead, beaming the world of the south into the northland. But there is a strong feeling that this adaptable people is going to survive and even triumph in the years ahead.
As a final statement, Cycle of the Sun sets out my own ethos: a strong optimism that life will prevail against the forces of death, that humanity will carry its own destiny forward into a changing universe.
A number of my books, though perhaps not the best of them, remain in print in small paperback editions. The earlier ones are being mined by the television documentaries. I receive letters from people who say they saw me on TV last night, and if I pursue the matter I discover that they have been viewing a film made five years earlier in which I was asked to convey the substance of an arctic expedition or a sealing disaster that happened around the time I was born in the first quarter of the last century.
I haven't entirely given up writing. If I don't write for publication, I write for my own satisfaction, and to enrich my archival file at the University of Calgary. So I am still working on an essay titled "Talking about God" with no intention of ever having it published, and there is a small collection of "Letters from the Edge of Night" also to be housed in the archives, to give future researchers something to chew over.
Writing can be a pleasure, if you don't have to write for a living.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Cameron, Donald, Conversations with Canadian Novelists, Volume 1, Macmillan, 1973.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 60: Canadian Writers since 1960, Second Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1987.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), December 5, 1987.
New York Times Book Review, February 6, 1966.
Quill & Quire, January, 1985, June, 1987.
Saturday Review, January 29, 1966.
Writers' Federation of Nova Scotia,http://www.writers.ns.ca/ (October 13, 2004).