Dear Canada: A step back in time


Read a letter from the author

Janet McNaughton

As a child, Janet read constantly. She clearly remembers the moment in grade two when she realized she could disappear into a book whenever she liked. “I read so much, my parents once took my library card away to try to get me to pay attention in class,” she recalls. It didn’t work. Eventually though, she did begin to focus on her schoolwork, but she never stopped reading. “The time I spend just before bedtime with a novel is still one of the highlights of any day,” says Janet.

Getting back on track with her studies eventually led Janet to earn a PhD in folklore. She loves research and her keen eye for historical detail is evident in her many books, including Dragon Seer, Dragon Seer's Gift, The Secret Under My Skin, Catch Me Once, Catch Me Twice, Make or Break Spring and To Dance at the Palais Royale. Her books have won the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction, the Ann Connor Brimer Award, the IODE Violet Downey Award and the Mr. Christie's Book Award

Recently, Janet has also discovered a love for teaching. In the summer, she often teaches a graduate course in writing and creativity for the Masters in Literacy Education program at the Department of Education of Mount Saint Vincent University. During the school year, she has partnered with a musician or a visual artist to work with students from grades one to twelve. Their activities include projects such as taking kids on a “one-way trip to Mars” and teaching students to write poetry to be paired with prints made in the art classes. When not writing or teaching, Janet practices yoga. In the summertime, she likes to grow vegetables at her summer cottage and forage for wild berries and mushrooms.

Janet was born in Toronto, but has lived most of her life in St. John’s, Newfoundland. She and her husband have a grown daughter, Elizabeth, and a parrot, Merlin, who is now almost 14!  You can visit Janet (and Merlin, who has her own web page) at  

Dear Canada books by Janet McNaughton:

  • Flames and Ashes


When I started to write about Triffie’s experience with the fire of 1892, I’d lived in St. John’s for more than thirty years. As my research unfolded, I realized that empty spaces I’d never really noticed before had once held thriving businesses. A parking lot at Duckworth and Prescott Streets was once a busy sail loft. The nearby City Hall Skating Rink is now all but forgotten and a parking lot sits in that site too. But I like to think about the many costume balls, parties and happy memories the building inspired in the six short years of its existence.

The place where the very pretty Church of England Synod Hall (Triffie’s school) once stood now has a street running through the middle, with a small island that contains a war memorial. When I walk past wooden houses on Wood Street, I see the Ordnance Yard with the soda water bottling plant, and Ordnance House, set back from the street — big enough to be two houses, with dozens of fireplaces inside.

To me, these days, it’s as if an old plate-glass photo negative of the city before the fire appears in my imagination when I look at St. John’s. I can see the modern city I’ve always known, but now I also see many of the buildings that disappeared overnight in July of 1892. I wasn’t expecting this book to change the way I look at my home city, but it certainly did. I’m glad to have a better understanding of St. John’s and its history now.