This post is part of the LRC’s 25 year anniversary project. We are asking our readers for the most influential Canadian books published in the last quarter century. For more information, click here.
The Colony of Unrequited Dreams is the most important novel to come out of Newfoundland. Wayne Johnson had the audacity to breathe life into Joey Smallwood, a politician of short stature and slight frame who nonetheless became a giant on the political landscape of the province. The novel not only fleshes out Joey’s journey from a youngster to becoming a Father of Confederation but it also hooks him to a woman reporter of extraordinary personal influence. The acerbic Sheilagh Fielding is a childhood friend, a hard-drinking, hard-boiled writer whose Condensed History of Newfoundland finds its way into Joey’s own narrative of his life. Some have said the novel really belongs to Fielding, she who holds a mirror up to Joey’s ambitious dreams. The central drama of the novel is, of course, Joey’s vision of bringing Newfoundland into the Canadian family. Obviously, he succeeded, but not without leaving a wake of controversy, bitterness, and regrets that many Newfoundlanders harbor even today. Johnston had the freedom to create a Joey about whom little had been written, at least before he occupied political office, and so it is that the novel gives Joey a history more faithful to imagination than fact. It is this license that infuriated some well-known readers who argued, however lamely, that fiction ought not mess with facts, and that giving Joey a life of half-truths was a violation of something sacred. Literature is literature, history is history, and never the twain shall blend, they argued. Many more readers continue to applaud Colony for its uncanny brilliance, capturing the essential spirit of a man who made such an enormous far-reaching difference.
Noreen Golfman is Provost and Vice-President (Academic) at Memorial University of Newfoundland