Nfld. & Labrador

Order of Canada a 'surprise' for N.L. author Helen Fogwill Porter

St. John's author and activist Helen Fogwill Porter says being appointed to the Order of Canada was a surprise that she had to keep secret for several weeks.
Helen Fogwill Porter is being recognized for her writing, and her political activism. (CBC)

St. John's author and activist Helen Fogwill Porter says being named to the Order of Canada was a 'surprise' that she had to keep secret for several weeks.

Porter was among 69 appointees named Wednesday by the Governor General, David Johnston.

"I found out a couple of months ago, and I had to keep very quiet," she told CBC Radio's On the Go Thursday, adding that she did tell her four children.

"I felt kind of surprised, and sort of stunned for a minute, you know," she said. "But maybe not as much so as I would have been if it was, say, 20 years ago."

I've always been interested in writing about the family. Family has been very important to me.-  Helen Fogwill Porter

Porter began writing in the 1960s, and she published her first novel, January, February, June or July in 1988. 

The novel took on the then-taboo subject of abortion.

It went on to win the Young Adult Canadian Book Award from the Canadian Library Association. 

"It was a book I really wanted to write, and I knew it would be controversial. Even some of my friends weren't sure how they felt about it," she said.

"I've always been interested in writing about the family. Family has been very important to me."

Porter, 85, who now lives in Meadow Creek retirement home in Paradise, has also written extensively about growing up on the southside of St. John's.

Her 1980 memoir Below the Bridge describes the community and the characters who lived there.

Porter chronicled growing up on the southside of St. John's in her memoir Below the Bridge. (CBC)

She was honoured by the city of St. John's in 2015, by having a footbridge across the Waterford River named after her.

Porter was a founding member of the provincial Writers' Guild, and one of the founders of the Status of Women Council.

She is also a longtime member of the New Democratic Party, and ran for the NDP in four elections.

Porter said her parents were strong influences on both her personal and professional career.

She described her father as "a labour pioneer," who worked with the Newfoundland railway and was very active in the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks.

Porter will be given her Order of Canada in a ceremony in St. John's to be scheduled in 2016.

"I'm very proud of being a Canadian," said Porter, who added she supported Confederation even though she was too young to vote in 1949.

Several of her friends in the Newfoundland and Labrador writing community — Joan Clark, Bernice Morgan and Anne Hart — along with the late Paul O'Neill, have their own Orders of Canada.

"I think we're establishing a little club or something," she laughed. "We're going to have a little party now."
 

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