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The Canadians took over Newfoundland in 1949, but they didn't manage to finally do away with the place until about 1992 with the closure of the cod fishery. You know these culture-death things don't happen overnight - maybe 1992 was just the last nail in the coffin lid, something like that. Fitting that it was driven by John Crosbie (who is in my honour list by the way), then Federal Fisheries Minister.
I spent a few years in a deserted town in British Columbia, Ocean Falls, and of course everything of any value was continuously being stolen, removed - I did lots of it myself. A friend of mine there used to watch the scavengers and just say "Crows!" and laugh. It's a perfectly natural process after all; when the carcase is dead bring on the crows!
It happens culturally as well. People are 'interested' in pictures of african pygmys and brasilian aborigines naked in the jungle. Things we know are somehow of the past. You can invent whole mythologies and even ideologies based on some nonsense about the 'noble savage'.
In literature, there are stories like Don Quixote. You have to have seen one-too-many prints and kitchy little statuettes of Quixote on the walls and credenza-tops of the bourgeoisie (like I have, and you have to be slow to get the point, like I am) before you realize that the story, a parody in the beginning, has been, let's say, transmogrified to suit sensibilities. None of them have read it anyway.
So now the Canadians want to read about the thing they have destroyed, long on sentiment and the rest don't matter; and up pops a legion of willing workers - party-line hacks of greater or lesser skill. Just two that I want to mention. I am not going to excoriate them as they deserve, not enough time for that.
The Shipping News by E, Annie Proulx. She comes along one day, likes the place, sees an opportunity, actually stays for some time doing 'research' I suppose. She is an American - I have nothing against Americans, my father was one, I have praised them elsewhere in this blog. She writes a good story, a redemptive story, about believable people. The problem is that those people and those places never existed in Newfoundland. She should have pitched her story in Zaire, or in the Falkland Islands. Fictions are not required, after all, to be 'true', but they have a certain kind of truth in them which is sometimes hard to get a grip on when you are being carried along on the story. Now there are numbers of people who walk around thinking there was ever a place called Killick Claw. No such place, ok, it's just a story - but no such a kind of name?
I am not trying to make cogent arguments here by the way, just getting this off my chest. I would not waste any time on it if I had not come upon another example, this time by a Newfoundlander, and one (I am told) who grew up 'around the bay'.
It is Sylvanus Now by Donna Morrissey. I couldn't read it, couldn't finish it, could hardly get past the beginning; like trying to eat sand, dry sand, sawdust, 'beta chips' as they politely call the stuff they put in cages for lab rats to nest in.
There never was a man standing in a dory fishing with a jigger in each hand. For a joke maybe but certainly not when there was any fish on the go. Maybe there was a story that someone had, a kind of Newfoundland Paul Bunyan; I never heard that story, doesn't mean it isn't out there. Maybe some child somewhere sometime thought it would be fun to try two jiggers, found them in his father's stage and pretended. Maybe some wry fisherman was making a joke at someone's expense, "Yes bye, wants two jiggers that fella, one fer each 'and."
So happens that both of these examples were written by women. I don't think there is anything in that. If there is feminism involved it might be around them getting this stuff published and the like, editorial machinations, who knows. Who cares anyway? I don't really. What's it to me if children reading this guff take it up and believe it is somehow part of their history, was part of their culture. Made for tourists, and damn! what a good idea! we'll call our bed-and-breakfast 'Killick Claw', they'll love it!
A friend of mine says that the nursery story, The Snow Queen, is connected in here; that people do so get shards of peculiar ice in their eyes that turn their hearts cold - like the trolls eye-scratching in Peer Gynt. Could be.
In the meantime there remain many Newfoundlanders of strong and remarkable character - most who were already formed before they shut the fishery. This resource the Canadians are rapidly strip mining, can't last another generation is my guess. Then there will be nothing but a bit of a linguistic twang and an anthem, by a man named Cavendish Boyle, a British civil servant and Governor here for a few years:
When sun-rays crown thy pine-clad hills,
And summer spreads her hand,
When silvern voices tune thy rills,
We love thee, smiling land,
We love thee, we love thee,
We love thee, smiling land.
When spreads thy cloak of shimm'ring white,
At winter's stern command,
Thro' shortened day and star-lit night,
We love thee, frozen land,
We love thee, we love thee,
We love thee, frozen land.
When blinding storm gusts fret thy shore,
And wild waves lash thy strand,
Thro' sprindrift swirl and tempest roar,
We love thee, wind-swept land,
We love thee, we love thee
We love thee, wind-swept land.
As loved our fathers, so we love,
Where once they stood we stand,
Their prayer we raise to heaven above,
God guard thee, Newfoundland,
God guard thee, God guard thee,
God guard thee, Newfoundland.
About raising a prayer that generation will likely know nothing since prayers are ultimately made my those who need them, who have no other resource, men on the sea for example. As Leonard Cohen wrote:
And when He knew for certain
Only drowning men could see Him
He said "All men shall be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them".
Freedom like this has a price.
If Quebec had just gone ahead and separated back in the 70s, Newfoundland might have followed - too late now.
I don't know anything anyway. I'm not a Newfie; I came here from Canada.
Tags: Newfoundland, Newfie, Canada, Literature, Cod, Shipping News.