What do you think of when you think of Newfoundland?
Because of the musical Come From Away, a current smash on Broadway after a wildly successful run in Canada, you may heard something about the people of a tiny town who welcomed and cared for 7,000 stranded passengers for a week following the September 11th attacks, when 38 planes were ordered to land unexpectedly.
If you are from the U.S., you may have in mind some vague images of a hospitable and wholesome people inhabiting a remote island full of rocks and sea and colourful wooden houses. You may think Newfoundland is part of Canada’s maritime provinces. You would be wrong.
If you are Canadian, you may know that Newfoundland and Labrador is one province, the most recent to join Canada, but you may not know that Newfoundlanders are driven nuts when mainlanders mistakenly assume they are part of the maritime provinces. You probably know that Newfoundland is known for its great local music.
Chances are you do not know much about Newfoundland’s stormy history and the defining role of a charismatic and ambitious figure, Joey Smallwood. From a large and poverty-stricken family, Smallwood was a socialist turned union buster, and then a scrappy journalist turned politician. Almost single-handedly, he determined the fate of this a massive British Dominion on the Eastern seaboard as it faced a crossroads at the end of WWII. After throwing off British colonial rule, Newfoundland became an independent dominion in the early 20th century. But when the economy collapsed in the Great Depression of the 1930s, the people voluntarily relinquished their independence to become a British colony again. Prosperity and self-confidence returned during WWII. Would Newfoundland join the U.S. as its forty-ninth state? Maintain ties with the British via a British-led commission of government? Should it join Canada?
Smallwood remains controversial to this day. This August, at the Winterset in Summer Literary Festival in Newfoundland’s Eastport Peninsula, we will dig into Smallwood’s unconventional life and legacy though two masterworks – Richard Gwyn’s definitive biography, Smallwood: The Unlikely Revolutionary, 1968, and Wayne Johnston’s expansive novel of historical fiction, Colony of Unrequited Dreams, 1989. Was Smallwood a saint or sinner? A despot or a national hero? Richard Gwyn will be there to help us decide.
Newfoundland seems to be hitting the theatres these days. Colony of Unrequited Dreams has been cast as a crackling narrative with a sultry jazz scored and a cast of forty characters. Check out the trailer here.
Photo credits for six central photos (left to right, top to bottom): Fisherman in New Perlican, Avalon © Barrett & MacKay Photo; Ochre Pit Cove © Barrett & MacKay Photo; Sharing a Cup of Tea in Bay De Verde, Avalon © Barrett & MacKay Photo; Cleaning Cod Splitting Table; Sculling wooden dory, Barbour Living Heritage Village, Newtown, Newfoundland and Labrador; Barbour Living Heritage Village, Newtown, Newfoundland and Labrador © Barrett & MacKay Photo. All photos used with permission of Newfoundland & Labrador Tourism.