CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 16 . . . . April 15, 2005
About the greatest peril illustrated in Winter of Peril is that endured by all children in that they are not allowed to choose their parents! Sophie Loveridge got landed with a couple of really superb specimens. Papa is a vacillating wimp who, never having had to work for a living or wonder where his next meal was coming from, decides that his family must emulate the exploits of Robinson Crusoe by journeying with his brother's fishing boat when it sails to Newfoundland to catch cod and by staying there all by themselves for the winter. Mama believes that: (a) the decision is his to make, and (b) if you stand up straight you will be fine and so will everything else. Sophie is not consulted. Luckily for all of them, Uncle Thaddeus, although unable to persuade his brother of the folly of the enterprise, is sufficiently practical that he ensures that the family does have others staying over with them, and that the captain of the fishing vessel will do all he can to prepare them for the winter. It isn't enough, but Sophie has obviously inherited some of her uncle's gumption, and she quickly learns from the sailors, the servants, and the other settlers just what needs to be done to survive a Canadian winter. She also is instrumental in rousing her mother from her dream world of what is, and (more importantly) what is not, done by women "in society." This isn't enormously helpful though it does stop a pattern of wife beating on the part of one of the Irish peasant couples who are staying with them, and at least it starts Mama doing something. Painting watercolours while your 12-year-old daughter tends the fires and does the cooking is akin to fiddling while Rome burns, but it is better than Papa's retreat into depression and total uselessness once he realizes that his epic poem based on their great adventure is a failure.
But they do survive, and Sophie has written an engaging account of the process, sprinkled with LOTS of capital letters for emphasis. We get a very clear pictures of her metamorphosis from a pampered child who knows nothing either of the mechanics of living or the facts of life to a self-reliant young woman. The facts of life are still a mystery to her, even after a winter in which one of the Irish women has a baby and the other a miscarriage, but she's very good at making fires! This being Newfoundland, the Beothuks make a couple of cameo appearances, the first just after the departure of the fishing vessel at the end of the summer. They come and go very peaceably, with the only real contact being Sophie's giving a Beothuk girl her own beloved doll. The other encounter is during the following summer when the fishermen from a second vessel see the canoes, give chase, and murder the whole lot of them. If that is typical of the contacts between the two races, and I see no reason to doubt it, it is not surprising that the Indians were rapidly wiped off the face of the island. They had nowhere safe to go.
Given the quantities of lumber required by the fishing boats for their jetties, fish-drying flakes, and shelters, all of which were pretty much rebuilt each spring when the boats returned, it is also not surprising that the forests, only marginally viable in the thin soil, were wiped out along with the Beothuks. And now the cod is also disappearing. People have been a very destructive presence in and around Newfoundland.
The Dear Canada series of books in diary format is very successful and with good reason. I've read many of them and, as Sophie might say, I like them A LOT. This is another good one, interesting, informative, and fun.
Mary Thomas lives and works in two Winnipeg, MB, elementary school libraries and has thankfully visited Newfoundland only in high summer.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.