Author Dwight Anderson. – Submited photo Jaymie White, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Dwight Anderson, originally from Port aux Basques, is currently living in Sarnia, Ontario, but his thoughts often drift back home to Newfoundland, and he has turned his love for his home province into something that can be shared.

Anderson’s book, ‘Southwestern Newfoundland: A Historical Perspective’, has been completed and he is in the process of obtaining printing quotes to get the book ready for distribution, opting out of the traditional publishing route.

“It’s not going to be published at all. I looked at that, but it’s such a small market. It’s based on a population of 20,000 people, in southwestern Newfoundland, so the most I would expect to move would probably be 2,000 copies or so,” said Anderson. “That’s just me guessing.” 

The title for the book was something he thought long and hard about.

“I didn’t want to name it simply ‘History of Southwestern Newfoundland’. I thought that to be presumptuous of me to say that. There are several aspiring amateur genealogists and historians in the area. Naming the book, ‘Southwestern Newfoundland: A Historical Perspective’ means that it is from my perspective,” said Anderson.

This book, which is a nonprofit project, is not Anderson’s first large scale writing project.

“I was working with the Coast Guard and I had to take medical retirement, which gave me a lot of time on my hands, and I was always into genealogy and history. So I sat down, I spent a couple of years writing a book about World War I soldiers from southwestern Newfoundland,” said Anderson.

“That didn’t go over so well because anybody that was interested had already passed. That era was pretty well gone. There was a few historians and scholars and teachers and history enthusiasts that really enjoyed it, but other than that, all it was a learning lesson.”

Anderson began putting this book together in October of 2022, so it took less than a year for it all to come together.

“I had a lot of time on my hands, especially in the wintertime,” said Anderson. “I’ve got a real bad neck and back, so I don’t get around that much, so I basically stick in front of the computer most of the time.”

With a penchant for researching family trees, looking into the history of the Southwest coast was a natural progression.

“I was always doing family trees. I’ve done probably a couple of hundred family trees over the last 20 years, if not more, and what I always found remarkable about southwestern Newfoundland, especially given the population now – we’re talking 20,000 people – I live in a small city of 70,000 and if I took a little section of Sarnia and wrote about it, it wouldn’t be no more than three, four pages long, but this section of Newfoundland, I could write for days and days. The book could be 800 pages long, so I had to draw the line on that. I was interested in genealogy, and I spent a lot of time looking at the archives, at MUN newspaper archives, so I knew the information was there and I’m not sure exactly how I came about it, but I started out one day, and it started out I talked about hockey back in the old days when the stadium first opened in Port aux Basques, and I think it just went from there.  I decided to do it. I just wasn’t sure where it was going when I started.”

The book took on a life of its own and Anderson has been very pleased with the feedback he has been receiving thus far.

“I got a great response. I did a few test markets and the orders, the bookings, that are coming in are overwhelming. I didn’t expect that at all. Now I’m just dealing with the printer. There’s a few quotes I’m waiting on,” said Anderson.

“I want to try to keep the price of the book as low as I can because, if it’s too expensive, nobody’s going to want it. I do have options of selling a cheaper book, but I don’t want to do that, like a cheaper binding and stuff. I could do it black and white and save a ton of money, but after the 1960’s everything was in colour, so I didn’t want to turn it all black and white. It would make for a dull looking book. If the numbers continue like that, I might even be able to offer that option.”

Anderson’s goal is to get the first printing done, so the book can speak for itself.

“I did three or four phases of marketing and pretty well did the first phase, then the next phase was to let the books word of mouth do some talking,” said Anderson.

“There’s a lot of people reading online, a huge amount of people. The younger people, most of my requests for books are from people 40-ish and up, whereas most of what the younger people are reading is online.”

There will be something for everyone to enjoy promises Anderson.

“It’s got a lot to do with tragedy at sea because that in itself is a beast. Given the population of that area and the number of deaths that there have been over the years, it’s just unbelievable,” said Anderson.

“I’ve got a marine background. I used to be in the Navy and then offshore, worked on the rigs and then I spent the rest of my career working with the Coast Guard, so I was interested in the shipping part of it and the schooners and all this stuff, and then once I started looking at the old newspaper archives, then I thought, well, I’ll try a chronology of things that have happened around the southwest coast and see how that goes. I must have looked at – I don’t know – 10,000 old newspapers.”

The research necessary was another beast to conquer.

“I started out with the newspapers from St. John’s and just went from there. I also used a bunch of other archives like Ancestry. As I got closer to present time, I felt it wasn’t so much history, but there was still a lot of interesting stories there that should have been told, and I realized that there’s a lot of heroes back home that a lot of people don’t know about, and I wanted to get their names out there. If I knew then what I knew now, I would have interviewed and filmed every senior possible because, once a person passes, all their information and experiences pass with them.”

Anderson can’t wait to get printed copies out to people.

“It feels great. The reviews is what made it all worthwhile,” said Anderson. “I did a couple of editions first and sent them out to limited people, and that was the encouragement I needed, those reviews, to continue on.”

By Jaymie White, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter