A Writer’s Journey – A Memoir
In The Time of My Life, Ray Argyle makes a series of trips around Canada in a search to rediscover his roots and take the measure of a changing country. Handicapped only by a wonky knee that “makes it hard to chase streetcars or fend off pit bulls,” Argyle leads his daughters Sharon, Brenda, and Roanne on explorations into a life lived on the edge. The result is a memoir that is funny, poignant, and reflective, spanning Canada’s nation-building years of the twentieth century to the present. He writes of the literature, personalities, and political events he’s encountered and speculates on a future where unrestrained manipulation of public opinion will deepen the chasm between a fearful rich and an anguished poor.
The travels begin with Ray and his youngest daughter Roanne in Winnipeg, the city of his birth. They go on to the northwestern Ontario village of Rainy River where his father Percy, who has just sold off his Saskatchewan homestead, meets the lissome Kate Connor, a twentyish English emigrant like himself. The First World War is raging and Percy joins the Canadian Expeditionary Force and is posted to France. Kate, determined not to lose her man, books passage on an ocean liner and follows him to Britain while German submarines prowl Atlantic sea-lanes. Percy survives two great Canadian battles, Vimy Ridge and Passchendeale, and with Kate fathers four sons, Ray the last to arrive.
Ray’s life spins into turmoil when Kate dies at 48, he is rejected by a shrewish stepmother, and pawned off on distant relatives. Homeless and out of school at 14, he leads a Tom Sawyerish life but never forgets his ambition to write. How he does this unfolds as he and Sharon travel in British Columbia, returning to the small town of Creston where Ray spent his early boyhood, a place “stoutly British in its outlook with no blacks or Jews and few Catholics.”
With Brenda, Ray relives his formative days in journalism, where he breaks into “the newspaper racket” at the age of twenty as editor of a chain of 34 Alberta country weeklies. His marriage to Marie Holowack two days shy of his twenty-first birthday is the first wedding he’s ever attended. Four years later he’s in Vancouver running the Western Canada operations of British United Press, a global news agency, and has a ringside seat to such dramatic events as the sub-Four Minute Mile of Roger Bannister and John Landy; the world’s first Trans-Polar commercial aviation flight; political upheavals; and the scandals of a corruption-ridden Vancouver Police Department.
All that is prelude to Ray’s arrival in Toronto, the bastion of Canadian business and communications. Ten years at the Toronto Telegram lead to a stint at Canada’s largest advertising agency and the founding of his own public relations company. He remembers engagements for high-level clients that took him to Washington, London, and Paris. In the wake of 9/11 he sells his agency, haunted by the trauma of the Twin Towers that leaves him thinking he has been doing useless work. It is time to re-invent his life.
Ray fulfills the ambition he’s had since the age of seven to become an author. He writes nine books in fifteen years which proves, “You’re never too young to have a dream or too old to fulfill it.” Now living in Kingston, his daughters are with him as he checks out his old haunts in Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. They come to realize that while you can’t live your life over again, with guts and grit you can turn obstacles into stepping-stones toward goals met and hopes fulfilled.