The Dreamers


141 pages
ISBN 0-919001-32-7





Reviewed by Gerald Noonan

Gerald Noonan was Associate Professor of English at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, and co-editor of A Public and Private Voice.


This volume of Thomas Raddall’s previously uncollected short stories has more distinction as a whole than it has in any of its parts. The range of subject matter, the detail, and a timely fineness of phrase attest to the breadth of interest, the discipline, and the skills that made Raddall (born in 1903, a three-time winner of the Governor General’s Award) one of the first Canadian writers to make a living in Canada writing of Canada.

The ten stories here include tales of wireless operators on Sable Island, young lumber company clerks paying off unruly lumberjacks fighting mad with delays and bootleg liquor, and a Micmac Indian who finds traces of gold on the farm of a trusted white man. Here, too, are a spinster schoolteacher who takes to ballet on the disused stage of a smalltown moviehouse, an old school timber cruiser (estimator) matched against two forestry students fresh out of college, and a dignified elderly businessman who pretends, in the smoking compartment of the rural commuter’s train, to a corporate status far above his true position as an invoice checker.

The particular treatment of these subjects reflects the outlook of the magazines that published them: Saturday Evening Post at a time when itdid not insist upon United States settings, Blackwoods with its British penchant for adventure in the wilds, and Maclean’s which instigated one of Raddall’s first sales by asking in a 1928 editorial for fiction both Canadian and whimsical.

The story of the timber cruiser is the most integrated in that the ending grows out of the characterization developed. By contrast, in the schoolteacher story, “Swan Song,” the movie theatre manager is oblivious in mid-story to the art of ballet, while at the end he is revealed to be a devotee of dance.

Raddall nicely describes the reaction of the few smalltown moviegoers to the spinster’s collision with a newly-placed stage-corner fern: laughter “like the thin splash of a little sea on a pebbly beach.” And in another strong story, “The Miracle,” about the search for a lost boy in winter woods, the ground under the trees is bare “except in the hollows, where the shrunken remains of snowdrifts lay gray and soiled, like discarded bread crusts, amongst the brown dead leaves.”

The strength of the writing and the authentic rendering of the Nova Scotia landscape give credence to Raddall’s assertion in his memoir (In My Time, McClelland and Stewart, 1976 ) that he never limited himself to being a sea novelist or a historical romanticist, but considered himself a writer who dramatized the simple truth of the people and area he knew best.


Raddall, Thomas H., “The Dreamers,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 14, 2024,