A Forgotten Era: Newfoundland Author Highlights 1920s and 1930s St. John’s in Debut Novel

David Michael has published his latest novel, Love Will Out, a dramatized version of the love story between his parents in 1920s and 1930s St. John’s. (Submitted by David Michael)

A novelist from Newfoundland and Labrador puts culture and family at the forefront of his first book, set against the backdrop of St. John’s in the 1920s and 1930s.

David Michael’s Novel love will come out centers on a dramatized version of the love story between his Lebanese Maronite Christian father and his Polish Jewish mother.

« It’s unusual, » Michael said. “Maybe the only family like that in Newfoundland. There are a lot of Lebanese, a lot of Jews, but we are the only one where they got married.

« It tells their story, but it basically starts with my grandparents in the 19th and 20th centuries, when they came from Poland, fleeing the Russians. My Lebanese grandparents, the same kind of story. Both families are come to St. John’s. »

Since her parents met and eventually married in St. John’s, the town plays an important role throughout the story. According to Michael, however, the community depicted in the novel is very different from what the townspeople know today.

« Water Street was basically a lot of Jewish businesses, and New Gower Street was pretty much all Lebanese, » Michael said. « My parents had stores all along New Gower Street, family stores and grocery stores. They had [those] types of businesses there. Sadly, this was all demolished when City Hall was built, so none of it remains.

« It was like New York Gangs on a smaller scale,” Michael said. “There were so many different nationalities. I remember walking down Water Street and hearing all kinds of different languages. »

A stone building with a sign for St. John's City Hall in the foreground. The flags are in the foreground.
Relatives of Michael had businesses along New Gower Street which were demolished during the construction of St. John’s City Hall. (Paul Daly/CBC)

That’s not to say his upbringing was carefree, though.

« It was pretty tough, » Michael said. « It was tough, it was tough, but it also had its glamorous aspects, because there was money here. In the 1920s, St. John’s was a thriving community. It wasn’t until the Depression came and the cod fishery collapsed, so Newfoundland had a hard time. »

Although Michael does not claim to be a historian, he felt compelled to write about the often overlooked era of Newfoundland history, albeit in a dramatized way.

« From what people have told me, there’s not a lot written about it, » Michael said. « I wanted to write about it, but I didn’t want to write it as non-fiction. It’s better dramatized, turned into a novel. I thought I’d have more fun writing it, and I think the people would enjoy reading it more because it’s more interesting that way, for me anyway.

« What are they saying? ‘Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story,' » Michael said with a laugh.

Michael says the novel is the first in a four-part series, dramatizing various periods of his life and family history, including his adventures in Paris while earning his master’s degree.

« I’m going to keep writing until my brain gives out, » Michael said.

LISTEN | David Michael talks about his first novel

AM weekend14:27David Michael’s first novel, Love Will Out

David Michael’s first novel is inspired by his own parents’ accounts of the Lebanese and Jewish communities of St. John’s in the early 20th century.

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