The bad smell of things muskrat

Bob Wakeham
Published on June 4, 2011

My late Uncle Bill Judge of Grand Falls, among the best and funniest storytellers I’ve ever known (and an incredibly fine man to boot), always gave me a good laugh with his recollection of driving his father, my grandfather, Joe Judge, right off his rocker whenever he brought muskrats home from the woods to be cooked up.  

“The rats,” as casually referred to by Bill (obviously unbothered by a word associated with bad-press rodents whose mere mention, let alone actual sightings, give most souls the cold shivers) were trapped by him and his buddy Jerome Power when they were young fellas hunting just about anything that moved in the central Newfoundland area. 

Bill and Jerome thought of “the rats” as the cat’s meow, so to speak, a grand feed to be fried up in the Judge family home on Monchy Road (Bill did admit to me that his constitution must have been much stronger when he was in his twenties, because later in life, he couldn’t conceive of munching  down a “rat” for lunch).

But Pop Judge never took to “the rats” being in the house, first nor last. 

And it was the smell that Bill said really drove Pop Judge around the bend.

Pop claimed the entire house stank for days after Bill had cooked up the esthetically challenged, long-tailed animals, and he could be heard muttering “God damn rats” as he vigorously scrubbed any countertop or pot or pan, anything in the kitchen, in fact, that had come in contact with them.                                   

Bill told me it was impossible to disagree with Pop about the aroma: the muskrats did, indeed, give off a powerful smell, one that remained bunked down in the nasal passages for an uncomfortably prolonged period of time.  

So, if you’ll allow for a quantum leap here, I couldn’t help but recall this past week the stench of Bill’s “rats” when reading and hearing about another muskrat that appears to be smelling up an awful lot of Newfoundland homes these days: the proposed Muskrat Falls power development. 

Newfoundland Liberals, at least the crowd  who attended the party’s annual convention last weekend (judging by media reports, it was not the rip-snorting, cheerleading extravaganza you’d usually expect at these exclusively partisan, swallow-the-Kool-Aid gatherings) have decided that criticism of the Muskrat Falls proposal will be one of the most significant planks in the platform they will display in next October’s provincial election. (Leave it to politicians to ruin the first real glimpse we’ve had of spring, reminding us that the leaves of autumn will be making their descent in no time at all, around the month Newfoundlanders will be deciding whether they want to take Kathy, Yvonne or Lorraine to the Confederation Building election ball.)

Other smells

Now I can’t claim, nor can most people in this province (as far as can be judged), to completely understand or have a clear, definitive view on the Muskrat Falls project (it’s about as tangled as cheap fishing line on a Zeller’s spinning reel). But it’s hard to deny the fact that Muskrat is starting to smell the way Uncle Bill’s “rats” did 60-odd years ago.

And right from the get-go, there was a stench associated with Muskrat, the announcement of the project coinciding with Danny Williams’ abrupt departure from government, a politician consumed with his legacy, a man who had virtually promised that a Lower Churchill deal would have to be consummated before he retired.

It all happened quickly and somewhat conveniently, abounding, though, in qualifiers galore, displaying more holes than you might find on a downtown street in St. John’s in the spring.  

Subsequently, there were gab sessions aplenty around woodstoves and water coolers in Newfoundland during which people wondered whether the deal with Nova Scotia was expedited, the question marks camouflaged (not all that successfully) by government, all part of an effort to allow Williams to leave the premier’s office with his head held high, the crown still in place. 

Williams passed the Muskrat torch to Kathy Dunderdale (the two present stars of the ongoing soap opera, “The Rift”), an assignment she has not handled with any apparent ease as she takes fire almost daily from Yvonne Jones and company. 

Now you’d expect the Liberals,

 in particular, to exploit the fact that many Newfoundlanders appear worried they might have to swallow a bitter Upper Churchill-like pill (although Jones’ questions in the legislature carried more weight than will that amateurish, foolish bit of cartooned animation unveiled at last week’s convention).

But others without an active political agenda — the former Tory finance minister John Collins comes to mind, as does a former member of the Hydro board of directors, Ed Hearn, (carrying some light political baggage) — have also wondered about the strategy surrounding Muskrat Falls.

It all has to make you wonder whether, in fact, it makes imminent sense to give the project an independent financial analysis of the type being suggested by the Opposition.  

In any case, the government has a hell of a selling job to do before now and next October to convince people in this province that this project will not turn into an expensive white elephant for Newfoundlanders and a gift horse for Maritimers.

There’s a whiff, a stink — like Uncle Bill’s “rats” — very much in the air.           

• • •

A  postscript: Those readers made ill by last weekend’s piece about Fabian Manning and Sammy the Moose will be overjoyed to know their sermons have left me truly chastened, and that I have spent the past seven days and nights at the Grotto here in Flatrock, seeking forgiveness from the gods of journalism.


Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at