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Joan Sullivan: A traveller recounts his years in McCallum

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Bay of Hope: Five Years in Newfoundland
By David Ward
ecwpress
$21.95  264 pages

This is David Ward’s recounting of five years in NL’s south coast outport of McCallum, population 78. It’s highly descriptive of life there, the iconography of the place, and biographies of several of his inhabitants.

It’s equally revealing of the author himself, his background and passions and goals. He’s quite frank about his motives and handicaps, and marvellously curious about everything from freshly published books to unexplored highways. His sojourn in McCallum is part of his wide travels, including quitting a job and backpacking through Australia for a year in his early 20s.

Ward is now in his 50s and opens by detailing what life events brought him to McCallum, the twists and kinks in his biographical journey that led to this very real and challenging geographical trek. At that point, he’d been through two long-term relationships, and both his parents have died:

 “Caring for Mom was an ordeal. She checked herself out of palliative care, losing her placement in the process, so she could attempt to attend one party … it took until her final thirty-six hours on earth before she would provide me with that information [that she didn’t and a funeral and had elected for her body left to science]. Mom wouldn’t discuss any aspect of her death. ‘Believe me,’ she insisted, ‘when my time comes, I will go gracefully, but I’m nowhere near needing to discuss death yet.’ She said this two days before she died.”

This upset Ward, an all too common emotional state for him and his family. It wasn’t helped by his sister’s death, just as she was newly married, in a car crash. His father drank and raged, and his mother was disconnected and self-involved.

Ward carried this legacy into his own adult relationships, which, not surprisingly, failed to flourish. “I loved my anger. It made me feel safe and in control. I remember ripping a door off its hinges.” But it was actually the cusp of his second long relationship that brought him to McCallum, as his partner Carol’s mother had been born there.

And McCallum is an adventure, a dare, a chance to get off the “hamster wheel” of careerism and consumerism. “Do you realize you can buy an oceanfront house in Newfoundland for $10,000?” It’s not, perhaps, the ideal place to be a single man. But it is a place where people value and help each other, whether with the ever-present offer of homemade bread and jam, or the communal effort to relocate a church by floating it across a bay.

Though there is vexation here, too. One of Ward’s sources on life on N.L’.s south coast is Claire Mowat, who lived with her husband Farley in Burgeo in the late 1960s; they both wrote about this; Farley Mowat, most infamously, in “A Whale For the Killing.” Feelings since have been somewhat conflicted. Ward feels Burgeo should give up on this grudge. “Few have read his work, and none admit to having a problem with him personally, yet they all say they know someone who does.” Farley Mowat, Ward insists, should be respected for his environmentalism and communicative flair.

Ward also likes the name McCallum because it’s called after a governor, Sir Henry Edward, who didn’t get along with politicians, a class Ward despises. But the political figure McCallum most clashed with was Sir Robert Bond, a pretty decent Newfoundlander (I admit I’m biased here).

The book is divided into three sections, flowing chronologically, with a mix of reflection, autobiography, interviews, and observations. There are some puzzling shifts into an unnamed third person perspective, and there are lots of interviews with intriguing figures (George Faulkner, Joel Thomas Hynes) that Ward relays in thick verbal chunks. And he repeatedly, but not always convincingly, places McCallum and its economic woes along a continuum of a rural/urban divide, one in which ignorant politicians hate — his word and emphasis — rural communities.

Ward is a strong, conversational voice on that subject; still, as the title indicates, he’s on the side of “Hope”. And, incidentally, the cover design is lovely, with its pooling of silver in a monochrome landscape.

What’s Written in the Ladies:
Photographs & Scribblings
Edited by Bridget Canning
Self-published
$21.95. 56 pages

A few years ago, Bridget Canning started photographing the “found art” of bathroom graffiti. The reaction when she showed examples of it often surprised her; it seemed these words and images transgressed the idea that women must be nurturing, and not step outside lines. Vandalism of even this minor sort was very un-ladylike.

Undaunted, she has assembled a collection here, and the full-colour photos feature works skilled and crude, poignant, profane, all accompanied by stories by Canning, Kelley Power, Jennifer McVeigh, Sarah Bennett, Penny Hansen, Terry Doyle, Heidi Wicks, and poetry from Matthew Hollett.

All proceeds go to the Safe Harbour Outreach Project, through the St John’s Women’s Centre.

Joan Sullivan is editor of Newfoundland Quarterly magazine. She reviews both fiction and non-fiction for The Telegram.

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