Seven Reviews of Indian River



by Kimberly Lochhead for EMC Entertainment


June 19, 2009

Through his English teaching carer at many local high school Dunphy was constantly told by his students to write a novel.

It was not until a family trip to Prince Edward Island in 2004, the childhood place of his parents, that he discovered the depth of a lighthouse tale his mother spoke of, which led him to unlock a family secret and learn more about his relatives.

Five years later, he completed Indian River.

“I wrote my way to an understanding of my mother and grandfather,” the Nepean resident said. “ I knew them as adults but I had to imagine them as children. I learned so much through writing and went backwards in order to write them as adolescents.”

Soon, Mr. Dunphy had created a collection of 15 short stories, weaving his imagination with the reality of his family history to produce a literary work that has both fiction and non-fiction elements.

Once I did that, I discovered there was a terrible family crisis my mother was always secretive about,” he explained. “There are a few living relatives that know about it, which led me to the second story in the collection. My grandparents had separated during the teens of the 1900s and it was something not everyone understood because socially it was not discussed.”

He added that he learned his grandmother was ahead of her time as a woman and, like most of the women in his family, was strong spirited. Mr. Dunphy also learned more about his family’s Irish and Scottish roots from their immigration to PEI.

“The book reveals women’s issues because I’ve always known the women in my family struggled but were optimistic,” the author noted.

“ I discovered that in Canada’s past, women played a much greater role than we give them credit for. Pioneer women were powerful, ran the household, kept the men’s morale high, contributed to the economy, and made it all work.”

When his niece refreshed his memory of the lighthouse story, Mr. Dunphy said he felt it needed to be recorded and, being retired, thought he could write it as a children’s book.

“I realized I couldn’t do it because children’s writing needs to be clear and simple,” said Mr. Dunphy. “I would wake up at 4 a.m. to start a new story, it felt like a calling. Once I got used to it and recognized how I operate as a writer, it ceased to be annoying.”

By choosing to write a series of short stories, Mr. Dunphy said he hopes to capture the attention of most readers as they can fit in a short story before bed and into their busy schedules. The format also helps to maintain interest as all the stories are connected through his family’s past.

“I always asked my students what the purpose or intention of the author was in writing a novel,” he said.

“I think my purpose was to discover. It really changed for me because sometimes you write just to find out and it doesn’t mean that it is accurate, but it is interesting.”

For more information or to purchase the book, visit his website at


A Review of Indian River

Ottawa high school English teacher (retired) John Dunphy has written a book of short stories which are connected by characters. He has created a nice, homey, friendly atmosphere in which even hard-to-get-along-with people are respected because they are part of the family..

My favorite story is the first one, “Bella’s Flame.” Here we are given a character sketch of John’s mother, Bella, who has some responsibilities for a lighthouse, although she is only twelve years old at the time. Through growing suspense, heightened by a storm and very difficult lifting jobs, she manages to keep the lamp lit. Then it goes out. Read the story to find out what happens next.

Many of the stories deal with family relationships and Canadian history, mixed together. For example, an ancestor moves to Prince Edward Island in 1787, and is offered a free house if he buys the land. Questions begin to arise, such as, “ Why did the owner leave? Did he not like farming? Was he not a good farmer? Was the land bad? and so on. To all questions the answer is only, “ He was French.” Gradually questions arise in the mind of the reader, and the suspense increases. The answer is the expulsion of the Acadians, which explains everything, but leaves a feeling of horror with the reader. This was handled very well by Dunphy.

The story “ Three Sisters” is well-told and interesting. The journey by foot in those early days reminds one of Robertson Davies’ tales.

The final piece, called “ Island Impact,” is not a short story. It is a philosophical, non-fiction interpretation of how living on an island changes people. While it is interesting,  I do not think it belongs here.

Overall, most stories are interesting and absorb the reader. Dunphy does a good job of combining Canadian history with tales of his ancestors. Give us more stories, John.

Reviewer: R.D. MacFarlane


[THE BUZZ reviews new books for autumn in Charlottetown, PEI, September 2009]

Indian River by John Dunphy

Indian River, PEI, is the source of inspiration for this collection of fifteen fictional and non-fictional stories. Starting with a lighthouse adventure of twelve-year old Bella Maclellan, the series of stories explore the lives of two families who settled in Indian River in the 18th and early 19th century. Three stories examine the living conditions in Ireland and Scotland that led to emigration and settlement in Indian River. Events of mystery, adventure, sadness and triumph lead the reader from pioneer P.E.I. society to New Brunswick and New England in the 1920’s and 50’s, even to Japan in the 1990’s.

Author John Dunphy started to write a children’s storybook of the summer lighthouse story in the collection, “Bella’s Flame,” but it became clear early that children’s literature requires a simplicity and clarity that comes from full knowledge of the subject. He gave up that project temporarily to research events from family history in order to extrapolate what key family figures would have been like in looks and personality when they were 12, 20, 40 years of age. Family photos, geneologists in the family, archive research, the internet, and personal memories and stories filled in enough details to make stories realistic. Dunphy’s handling of historical events to explain emigration is effective and other research gives strength to many of the stories that appeal to readers of non-fiction. But the most powerful stories arise from informed imagination. These stories of a real family experiencing real crises moves the characters into the universal arena so that the reader becomes emotionally connected with a range of people, places, and situations that matter. Many of the characters, like Bella and Daniel, mature before the readers’ eyes leaving them to reflect on how life passes for us all.

Realism blends with humour to offer readers an entertaining read. “Indian River Wedding” offers mystery, intrigue, and humour in its story of rites of passage. “Father’s Goose”, a Christmas story, is again a mix of mystery, humour, and family tradition. But non-fiction stories such as “Brooding Instinct”, “The Relatives” and “The Homestead” are packed with unforgetable humorous incidents and worthwhile thoughtful observations. Not all stories are so light. “The Dispersal” explores a family secret which had a profound effect on family members for the rest of their lives. Cleverly delivered, this story is at once old and new. By the end of the collection, a sense of triumph wins the day.

Common threads in the stories, such as island experience, family life, cultural heritage, tradition and Christian values weave through the events and situations to offer a charming book for all seasons of the year. If you have not had a chance to go to Japan, “Knowing You” will give you an idea of how Japanese families respond to guests. Readers are invited to check out the website for photos and notes that enhance the book. A portion of the sales of Indian River goes toward support for the Indian River Festival.

Dunphy will be looking for an illustrator to produce the children’s version of “Bella’s Flame” and is already engaged in a book about his experiences in Nunavut.


The River as Witness

Two questions drive our search for identity. First we ask, “Who am I?”, and it necessarily follows that we then ask, “Where did I come from?” In Indian River, John Dunphy addresses these life questions through short stories and reflections that centre around a seminal place, Indian River on Prince Edward Island. Moving back and forth through time and place, from Scotland and Ireland, then on to Canada, from the eighteenth century to present day, Dunphy delves into his ancestry, recreating the voices of his past—the saints and scallywags and all those in between.

In “Bella’s Flame”, young Bella comes of age, forging her courage and ingenuity while tending the family’s lighthouse during a violent storm. Bella (who will eventually become Dunphy’s mother) is but one of many lively and intriguing characters who people the stories in this collection. “Three Sisters” is set in 1824 and Thomas Dunphy makes a decision at the age of fourteen to immigrate on his own to Prince Edward Island, seeking his fortune in a land so unlike his native Ireland.

Throughout the book flows the image, presence and call of Indian River, witness to physical and psychological hardship, love and loss, failed marriage and realized dream. Dunphy recognizes the importance of place, laying claim to what author Kathleen Norris would call one’s “spiritual geography”, mapping his heritage with understanding and without judgement. In exploring the “who” and “where” of his life, Dunphy inspires readers, if not to write their own spiritual geography, then at least to ponder it. The people and stories of Indian River remind us that we are shaped by our history, which is a product of our geography. Ultimately, Indian River calls us to look to our past with gratitude and to our future with hope.

Becci Hayes


Indian River


Baico Publishing Inc., Trade Paperback 164 Pages

While many Atlantic Canadians can relate to historical roots with the Scots or Irish, how many of us can hear their voices, experience their daily lives with rich description and feel so connected through narrative that we begin to see ourselves and reflect on our own family

story? In John Dunphy’s book, Indian River, we are given a detailed account of one genealogical line, human, honest, and triumphant that shows a rare glimpse into the pioneering spirit and the enduring love found within the true definition of family.

Dunphy’s ancestors emigrated from both Scotland and Ireland to settle in Prince Edward Island. In this collection of narrative fiction he describes how the MacLellan and Dunphy families started in PEI, then New Brunswick and further. The fictional histories richly described give a fresh and vibrant voice to well developed characters and glimpses into maritime life of a world long past. The family lineage is factual with many events coming from lived history but the imagined emotions felt and detailed dialogue allow the characters to come to life with warmth and honesty making a lively and captivating account of history brought to life. The reader can experience everything from the voyage of immigration to a new country, lighthouse-keeping, a rural Catholic parish, be witness to the Acadian expulsion, or to the busyness of a large bustling family around a dining table. The fiction and non-fiction narratives are held together by common threads of “island life, rural Maritime life, family life, hospitality, responding to others in need, cultural heritage, tradition, emotional intensity and Christian context.”

The touching and remarkable Bella, John Dunphy’s mother, stands out as a principle character empowered with strength, warmth and love. Bella held tightly to the importance of family even when her own went through a family crisis when her parents decided to part ways and disperse her brothers and sisters within eight homes across Prince Edward Island. But as the “human spirit will triumph and family can always find a way”, Bella opened up her heart and home to others in her lifelong compassionate service to others in need. Known for her good cooking, laughter and love, Bella proves an example of a life lived with determination and faith.

As discussed in the preface, the author hopes that by the end of the collection the reader will have met people worth knowing, gone to places worth seeing, felt the suffering and joy that make a family worth protecting and thought about issues that make life worth living. Indian River is a wonderful genealogical narrative and a fulfilling account of love and family.

Indian River is available at the Catholic Bookstore. For more information please contact the Catholic Bookstore in Saint John at 1-506-653-6828 or visit



By Theresa Hanley, Correspondent

SAINT JOHN — The 2006 census by Statistics Canada states that a total over 4.7 million Canadians, or 15% of the population, listed themselves as of Scottish origin. In the same census a total of 4.3 million Canadians or 14% of the country’s total population claim full or partial Irish descent.

The number of people interested the history of the Scotch and Irish in the Maritimes has been growing. The interest in genealogy and recent research and writing on the experiences of Scotch and Irish immigrants is shedding new light on the hardships and challenges these people faced. Evidence of this is the new comprehensive site launched by the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick.

In his new book, Indian River, launched on June 16th at the Saint John Public Library, Saint John native John Dunphy addresses the causes behind the immigration of the Scotch and Irish to Canada and what it was like when they arrived.

Indian River is a collection of 15 narrative stories of two Catholic families, the Maclellans from Scotland and the Dunphys from Ireland whose decision to immigrate to Indian River, PEI brought the families together. Eventually the stories shift to Saint John New Brunswick where the Dunphy family was involved in the community for several years. Mr. Dunphy’s father, Dan was a police constable with the Saint John Police and his mother Bella accomplished 50 years of leadership in the CWL.

Mr. Dunphy wanted to go beyond the stereotype of the immigrant fleeing from the famine and take the reader back in time to Ireland and Scotland to learn all the reasons of why people left. He noted: “I also learned about how my Scottish ancestors gained their land in Prince Edward Island only because the British had previously expelled Acadians from their homes.  From the Irish wing of the family, I learned about the hardships that existed for Irish Catholics long before the potato famine.  From events surrounding the Irish, Scots, and Acadians in Canada in the 18th and 19th centuries, I was shocked to realize that once these people left their homelands it was almost impossible to return.  All the sentimental songs make so much more sense when one realizes that our ease in travel today just was not a common possibility in the past.”

His goal was to create stories of relationships, families and history describing “real names and real places”. The process rewarded him with a deep connection to his family roots. “What I found most interesting is that although I have always read Canadian History with interest, only when I explored one specific family did I care emotionally about Irish and Scottish resettlement in Canada.  From the Scottish wing of my family, I learned that the decision-making was the hardest part of the whole matter of leaving home to settle in another country.  The problems in Scotland existed in the faces of these people, but inertia, fear of the unknown, denial have to be overcome before the courage to leave can get people to relocate.”

His research brought him to a deeper appreciation of the strength of Canadian women: “Pioneer women showed how to work hard and survive; my mother and all the women of that time were strong.” He continued, “What interests me, though, is that pioneer women showed generations of women who followed just how to work hard and effectively.  This country was built on the shoulders of pioneer women, but twentieth-century women made the transformation from pioneer existence to modern society because of the example of earlier women.  Observation rather than research taught me much about the contribution of women to our modern Canadian society.”

Theresa Hanley is one of four correspondents with The New Freeman for the Diocese of Saint John. She can be reached at or through The New Freeman. §


Maritime-Flavoured Books Top Columnist’s List

Fred Hazel, People and Places, Saint John Telegraph Journal

Reading is something I’ve always enjoyed.  Encouraged by my parents, I could read before I started school.  Stories fascinated me, I loved to read them and eventually tell them. There’s nothing like a good book.

I’m an old-fashioned reader.  I realize they’re developing new digital reading devices, but the virtual world doesn’t engage me.  I like real books–or real newspapers–in my hands.

Last year I took my timne going through a number of interesting books–some current, some old–and got something worthwhile out of each of them.  It turned out that the four that topped my reading list for 2009 were three books with a Maritime flavour, along with a popular U.S. autobiography.

Lyndon Macintyre’s The Bishop’s Man was my number one choice–not just because it was the winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize–because it was a thoughtful, well-crafted novel on one of today’s difficult issues.  Linden Macintyre is a television journalist, but this particular venture into reality-based fiction is an impressive job.

It’s not a cheerful story although a timely one, because its underlying  theme is the problem of dealing with pedophile or sexually errant priests.  The Bishop’s Man of the title is Father Duncan MacAskill, whose job it is to reassign or otherwise deal with rogue priests in a Roman Catholic diocese of Nova Scotia.

He is portrayed as a decent man, gradually losing confidence in his assingment.  His superiors send him to a missionary post in South America and later to a parish role in rural Cape Breton.  It is here that he finds human contacts, and the story evolves into a sort of mystery whodunit about some of the priests whom he had reassigned.  It’s a disturbing tale told with lots of Nova Scotia atmosphere.

Two local-angle books caught my fancy. Saint John storyteller David Goss came up with what I believe is his best collection to date in West Side Stories.  He’s always been a faithful chronicler of local history–from columns in the Telegraph-Journal to a number of historical illustrated books.  But I think this is his most impressive effort yet, a compendium of warm stories about the old West Side communities of West Saint John, Fairville and Milford-Randolph.

Then I came across former Saint John resident John Dunphy’s reconstruction of his growing up years, Indian River.  This is a warmly recalled reminiscence of his family, centred around his remarkable mother, Bella Dunphy, and his family’s Prince Edward Island origins.  It’s a nicely written memoir with a touching personal warmth.

I also read U.S. politician Sarah Palin’s controversial autobiography Going Rogue.   This pai9jnhts a personal pictgure of the woman who hoped to become the vice-president of our neighbour to the south.  she projuects interesting ideas,k suggesting we’re going to hear more from this remarkable woman.

Others I liked included Silver Salts, by Mark Blagrave, a fictionalized account of the actual making of a Hollywood movie, Blue Water, in Saint John , starring actress Norma shearer; and Stephen King’s short-story collection Just After Sunset.

This year I’m looking forward to such current volumes as Alden Nowlan’s reissued The Wanton Troopers, David Adams Richard’s God Is, and John Grogan’s The Longest Trip Home.

Summer is in the wings now–a great time to catch up on your reading.

Fred Hazel is a retired editor-in-chief of this newspaper.  His column appears on Thursday.