First Snow, Last Light by Wayne Johnston

by Edith Cody-Rice

When I first read Wayne Johnston’s Colony of Unrequited Dreams in 1999, I was sure I had come across the great Canadian novel, even though the story was located in Newfoundland before it joined Canada. It is a fictionalized account of the extraordinary life of Joey Smallwood, the premier of Newfoundland  who brought the British colony into confederation. Much of that story was based on fact, including that of a premier being chased by mobs through the streets of St. John’s. It was riveting.

Mr. Johnston has written 11 novels. The Colony of Unrequited Dreams was his 6th. He followed that up with The Custodian of Paradise, a story which contained the same characters as Colony and now he has published the final episode of that trilogy First Snow, Last Light.

In it, Ned Vatcher, a boy before Newfoundland joined Canada, comes home one day to find that both of his parents have disappeared. They never appear again, and young Ned, left penniless and bereft by the disappearance devotes his life to making money and trying to find his parents. He is forced to live with his somewhat disreputable, poverty stricken but very colourful relatives and he goes to college in the States and there sees how people gobble up the tabloids. He returns to Newfoundland to found one of his own and that becomes the basis of a vast empire. He adopts a son, the last child born in Newfoundland before it joins Canada, and continues the search for his parents through his life. The ending and resolution of their disappearance is spectacular and unexpected.

Sheilagh Fielding, the hard living journalist who appeared in Colony reappears here as a sustainer of Ned and with her own story. My late husband, journalist Val Sears, swore that he knew the real life person on whom Fielding was based, but it was a man. In any case, she is a compelling character is a great family story.

All this is so very Newfoundland and the story could not have been set anywhere else. If you have been to that very special province, you will recognize its character immediately in this novel. If there is a book to read before the end of 2017, this is it.