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Author Peter C. Newman to speak at Cobourg library this Sunday

By Luke Hendry

Peter C. Newman will discuss his new book at Cobourg Public Library this Sunday

Peter C. Newman will discuss his new book at Cobourg Public Library this Sunday

No stranger to Canada's past, author Peter C. Newman has emerged from his latest trip through time with a new book about the United Empire Loyalists.

Entitled Hostages to Fortune: The United Empire Loyalists and the Making of Canada, it went on sale in early November.

"It's the great Canadian story," said the 87-year-old Belleville author and journalist. "It would be a hell of a movie: how Canada was born."

Newman will be speaking about the book at the Cobourg Public Library this Sunday at 2 p.m.

Loyal to Britain, the Loyalists fled the British colonies in what's now the United States in the 1770s. They settled in what's now Canada, including in the Quinte region.

Newman saw in the Loyalist story a chance to fill two voids: one in written history and the other in his own work.

Sitting in his home office, he gestured to his books, arrayed vertically in a neat line stretching the full width of an antique table. Among them are Titans, The Secret Mulroney Tapes, and Bronfman Dynasty.

"Basically all of these books are attacks," he said, his tone matter-of-fact.

"I wanted to do a nice book - not that I'm a nice guy," Newman said with a laugh.

"I wanted to do something really constructive."

He said "90 per cent" of previous books on the Loyalists are family histories: not without value, but limited in their scope. He wanted to write something broader.

"It's amazing how little literature there is of this kind.

"To get some kind of background that was historical and could be trusted was very difficult," Newman said.

The Loyalists both received and sought little attention, he said. They had left amid the American Revolution yet stood apart from Britain.

"They got no recognition. Zero. They got put down by everybody."

While researching, Newman found several academics who could help in his "detective" work and also relied upon descendants of the Loyalists. Some sources were at first reluctant to talk.

"It was tough."

In his interviews, he said, some descendants would confirm details and elaborate on certain subjects only if Newman first raised those topics.

"These were not state secrets. It's not a book that reveals big secrets "¦ but small secrets.

"It's just the kind of people they are. These are people who worship their privacy.

"They don't want to appear boastful - and yet they did something really incredible.

"Without these people there would be no Canada."

Despite that, he continued, "They got very little of what they were promised."

The Quinte region itself is only a small part of Newman's narrative. He mentions Belleville just twice, while Prince Edward County gets a few pages. The Mohawks - themselves Loyalists - appear more frequently.

But the Loyalist influence here was strong enough to get him to leave Toronto.

"That's why I moved here - and by God, it worked!" he said. "I fully intend to stay here now, because I love it."

Newman said he can't keep writing books "forever" but he's started working on his next - an autobiographical one he's calling Lifelines: Confessions of a Passionate Outsider, due in "two or three years."