Interview with Ray Argyle, author Joey Smallwood

Interview with Ray Argyle, author Joey Smallwood thumbnail

Interview with Ray Argyle, author Joey Smallwood

Posted on January 21 by Ray Argyle
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Today on the blog is an interview with Ray Argyle, author of Joey Smallwood. Ray tells us about this book, and why he felt the need to write it. Ray also has a new book scheduled with Dundurn called The Paris Game - a biography about Charles de Gaulle

Caitlyn: Tell us about your book.

Ray: When Dundurn editor Mike Caroll was looking for another title in the Quest biography series, I had no hesitation in offering up Joey Smallwood, one of the most fascinating political characters in Canadian history.

It’s been more than forty years since the first biography of this first premier of Newfoundland and Labrador and the “Last Father of Confederation” was published. Today, we have a much better understanding of the man and his legacy.

Caitlyn: How did you come up with the idea and title?

Ray: I had written about Smallwood in an earlier book on Canadian politics and I was anxious to develop more fully the theme I’d broached then: that of Smallwood as the schemer and dreamer of the Canadian political firmament. Hence the title of this new work: Joey Smallwood: Schemer and Dreamer.

Caitlyn: Tell us a little about the overarching theme of your work.

Ray: Smallwood exemplified both the strengths and weaknesses of a powerful political leader: absolute belief in the rightness of his mission, the conviction that he alone could fulfill it, and the illusion that he would earn the undying gratitude of his countrymen for his efforts.

My aim with this book is to provide a modern perspective on the life of Joseph R. Smallwood, and to coax out the human side of the man. The poverty-stricken, economically backward Newfoundland that he brought into Confederation in 1949 was a vastly different place than the dynamic, energy-rich, confident province that it is today. I wanted to explore to what extent the island’s strengths today can be traced to his efforts. I found evidence that the innovative policies of Joey Smallwood’s governments between 1949 and 1972 have played a major role in advancing Newfoundland’s economy and social condition. This is true, I believe, despite the failure of many of his costly attempts at industrial development, and the “benign corruption” he practiced in accepting favors from would-be developers.

On the human side, I was able to unearth a treasure trove of unpublished documents in the archives of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies at Memorial University in St. John’s. Letters from the 1920s written to Joey by admiring females and his letters to the love of his life, Lillian Zahn of New York City, reveal a romantic young man quite guileless in affairs of the heart. Had Lillian’s Jewish parents permitted her liaison with Joey to continue, it is quite possible he would never have returned to Newfoundland.

Caitlyn: How did you research your work?

Ray: Research is often the fun part of writing a book. In Smallwood, I drew on a long acquaintance with Newfoundland, interviews with Smallwood family members and leading political figures who worked with Joey, and historical documents in various archives.

Ray Argyle

Posted by Kendra on October 30, 2014

Ray Argyle

Ray Argyle is a journalist, the author of several books of biography and political history, and the recipient of a Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal for contributions to Canadian life. During his long association with France, he has spent many years tracking the political careers of Charles de Gaulle and his successors. He lives in Kingston, Ontario.