Linden MacIntyre, Part 1: The story “grew in my mind and in my heart”

September 2021

For decades Linden MacIntyre was a major figure in Canadian radio and television journalism, including at The Fifth Estate where the many significant stories he covered included the Airbus affairs, the murder of four RCMP officers in Mayerthorphe, Alberta, and the case of Stephen Truscott. He won 15.Geminis and one Emmy.

In 1999 he published his first novel, The Long Stretch; his 2009 novel, The Bishop’s Man, was awarded the Scotiabank Giller Prize. He retired from journalism in 2014 and his publications since include the nonfiction The Wake: The Deadly Legacy of a Newfoundland Tsunami (2019).

The Winter Wives is his 8th book – caution, the following conversation includes spoilers.

I’m interested in why St Lawrence has such a hold on you. You only lived there a little while, but you’ve written a book about the place and it seems to come up a lot in your interviews.

First of all I was born there, and secondly it was the first place my parents lived as a married couple; my sister was born there; my godmother is from there. When I was a kid my parents often talked about St Lawrence. The first place a couple lives as a married couple, it’s usually a happy memory. I was always conscious of being born there. When I was a little fellow I was snooping and I found a little blue card with ‘Immigration’ written across it, stamped on it was ‘Landed Immigrant’, and my name was one it. I asked my mother what that meant and she said, well Newfoundland wasn’t part of Canada at that time so you were technically born in a foreign country. That was kind of exotic.

My godmother stayed in touch with me while I was growing up, even when I was in university she would write to me, she never missed a birthday. She was special, and the place was special from everything I heard about it.

As an adult I visited there in the 1980s when I was a television reporter. We were on the Burin Peninsula covering some dispute in the fishery. And I decided I was going over to St Lawrence to see where I’d started my journey in this life. I got there, I visited my godmother, I visited the museum, and I suppose most significantly of all I visited the cemetery. My godmother mentioned that her brother was my godfather, and I’d never met him because he died quite young from the miner’s disease, as did his two brothers. My own father had died when he was 50, and when I went to the cemetery I realized that he and my godfather, and they had been quite close obviously, they died within months of each other. I became quite fascinated with this miner’s disease, and the origins of the mining down there, after the tsunami, when the fishery went flat, poverty was rampant. it was too good a story to resist.

A national publisher heard about my connection to this place and he reached out, it was a story that had never been told in a complete way. You know the rest of that. It grew in my mind and in my heart. It was a story I could tell from a personal point of view. I’m not an academic, I don’t call myself a Newfoundlander even though I’ve got the birth certificate, there’s more to that than birth, but I consider myself a Cape Bretoner and Newfoundlanders and Cape Bretoners have a lot in common with one another. I think it was a successful book and I’m proud of it.Though I consider a book to be the property of who buys it and reads it.

Turning to your new book,  as a journalist have you ever covered or uncovered anybody like Allan Chase?

I was 50 years as a journalist, and you can imagine you meet all kinds of people. I had a friend who was on the shady side of the law back when marijuana and hash were treated like serious criminal substances, which they aren’t now. He was a pioneer; he unfortunately died. If he had survived and gone into a legal trade I think he would have been a quite successful businessman. But in those days he was unconventional and he just did it at high risk and with some modest success, he had a livelihood with it. Through him I got to know something about it, and through him I got to know or hear about even more serious people in that business, shady people who move money around a lot, who launder money through big real estate projects, and who deal with mysterious foreigners a lot in terms of getting the money legitimized, and I also came to understand the connection of casinos where you have huge amounts of cash flowing through the business and it’s just a natural place where bad money comes in and clean money goes out. I wasn’t a dope-smoker but I never really passed judgement on those who were or those who supplied it. Journalism has contributed to an understanding of what goes on and non-judgemental familiarity [with the topic]. Once upon a time bootleggers were considered to be pretty terrible and they’re now romantic, legendary figures in popular imagination. I suspect those low-level dealers will have the same thing happen. Interestingly enough there’s large companies producing and selling marijuana now who are run by former politicians and police officers who prosecuted and chased down and demonized people like my friend and like Allan in the story.

The story is told from Byron’s perspective, and it’s not likely that he and Allan would become friends but they do. And we know that Byron has two names, his was christened Angus but Peggy Winter dubs him Bryan, after the Romantic poet, because he has a limp. And we learn that Allan has two names. It made for a sense of duality and unsettled the narrative in a nice way. How much of that is in your mind when you start writing?

I can’t say that I had a blueprint. I knew that Allan was a mystery man and that Allan wasn’t his real name. I wasn’t sure how all of that unfolded, it unspooled in my mind as I was writing the story. The story kind of took a turn in the road and I saw the landscape sprawled out in front of me right to the end. ‘Duality’ is an interesting word because there’s the old cliché opposites attract. I think Byron was fascinated by the physical abilities of Allan and the sophistication of Allan as a big city guy who was comfortable in all kinds of situations and a bit of a star whereas Byron was a country boy whose development was limited because he was kept at home until he was in high school. I think from Allan’s point of view Byron was a sharp, principled, unafraid guy who had met all kinds of physical challenges that Allan had never had to think about, who was on a trajectory to become a successful professional in of all things the legal profession. And these things kinds of impressed Allan. We find out Allan didn’t exactly have an easy ride through life; it impressed him that a guy with all kinds of things working against him that Byron had working against him would plow through them and rise above them and make something of himself. Allan respected Byron. And Byron would take that respect, I don’t think he felt a whole lot of respect from anybody else in his early life, so the respect that he was getting from Allan, and plus the curiousity and the affection that he was getting from Peggy, had a profound effect on him emotionally. And made him really connect with those two people in particular, in a way that would last for his entire life.

Part 2 of this interview will be posted next week.

The Winter Wives ($34.95) is published by Penguin Randomhouse.

(photo credit: Tom Zsolt)