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Williamson, Eileen M.

Scarborough (Ont.). Medallion Books, c1980. 140pp, paper, $7.45, Distributed by Out-port, P.O. Box 592, Station K, Toronto, Ont., M4P 2H1.

Grades 9 and up
Reviewed by Floyd Spracklin

Volume 14 Number 2
1986 March

It appears that Newfoundland has a new "feller from up-along" to replace Farley Mowat of A Whale for a Killing fame. Outport: A Newfoundland Journal by Eileen Williamson is an earthy account of this woman's seven-year sojourn in the Newfoundland outport community of Springdale, located on the northeast coast of the island. Prior to settling in Newfoundland, Williamson, the wife of a mining engineer, had travelled widely. She arrives in 1962 and must withstand the most inhuman conditions in a bleak, wind-swept, cold, and seemingly uninhabited part of the world, with, of all uncivilized things, "unpaved, dusty, choking roads."

Her introductory chapter gives such a negative view of her new home that it would turn off the bravest of explorers. Later in the book, as Williamson grows more and more lonely for civilized company and fears no one from the Mainland will visit, her husband. John, remarks, "You've probably painted too vivid a picture of life in a Newfoundland outport to tempt them to make the trip." As a result, the author resorts to establishing a bi-weekly newspaper that mushrooms into a circulation of seven thousand. By her own admission, Williamson was inexperienced in "all" aspects of journalism.

The book abounds in attacks on the lifestyle and mentality of the residents, as measured against Williamson's "cultured" up-bringing. At one point she says, "At one end of town was a cemetery and town-dump a realistic combination when analysed." Of the seal hunt Williamson writes, "The way the seals are caught seemed to be the most inhuman sort of butchery." A visit to the small French island colony of St. Pierre-Miquelon, off Newfoundland's south coast, encourages the author to continue believing that there is still such a thing as civilization.

This book might very well be an account of any city-bred cultured individual's visit to any small frontier or isolated village anywhere, and hence one of the book's few redeeming factors. For Williamson, her departure from Springdale comes none too soon. Even though this journal, as any journal is and should be, is for the greater part one-sided, it does end on an emotional and provocative note. Her stay was long enough for her to see change and to fear for the loss of the Newfoundlander's identity. Through her newspaper, she says, "I really got to know their way of life, their stories, their courage, and their sense of humour."

Floyd Spracklin, G.C. Rowe J.H.S., Corner Brook, Nfld.
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