Proper Gander: A Memoir.


288 pages
ISBN 978-1-897317-21-1
DDC C818'.5409





Reviewed by R. Gordon Moyles

R. Gordon Moyles is professor emeritus of English at the University of
Alberta, co-author of Imperial Dreams and Colonial Realities: British
Views of Canada, 1880–1914, and author of The Salvation Army and the


In his bestselling biography, Human Beans (2007), Ron Pumphrey regaled us with stories of his early experiences growing up in and around Harbour Grace. It was a witty, folklorish, and sometimes nightmarish excursion into an unusual Newfoundland childhood.


In this second instalment, he continues, in his inimitable style, his life story from the beginning of puberty to the end of high school. This time, however, the scene shifts to Bell Island, where his father works as a mine policeman and where, during the Second World War, German submarines are a constant menace to the iron-ore carriers that dock alongside. It is this pervasive fear of explosions and the thrill of excitement that accompanies the fear and the propaganda seething through the community that constitute the main focus of the biography.


But there are, of course, love interests, high school anxieties, family tensions, and, most insistent, religious crises—as well as the daily domestic routines—that the young Pumphrey remembers vividly and perhaps embellishes. It is a thoroughly enjoyable biography. You will want to read it not because it’s about Ron Pumphrey, but because it’s about life—about life in Newfoundland, to be sure, which makes it all that more enjoyable—and about the universal joy and anguish of the teenage years, told with a clarity, wit, and humour that will make you rush to buy the third instalment when it inevitably appears.


Pumphrey, Ron., “Proper Gander: A Memoir.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 17, 2024,