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The Outport People    by Claire Mowat order for
Outport People
by Claire Mowat
Order:  USA  Can
Key Porter, 2005 (1983)
* * *   Reviewed by Theresa Ichino

Claire Mowat (yes, wife of Farley) writes with warmth and charm about their stay in an outport community of Newfoundland, from 1962 to 1967. Far from the conveniences and amenities we take for granted, in a village where everyone knew everyone else, and their business too, the Mowats enjoyed a way of life that has since disappeared. Rather than complaining about the isolation and lack of modern conveniences, the author remembers with affectionate respect the quality of the people and their way of life.

She has a knack for evoking the people and the atmosphere. Isolated, harsh environmental conditions, economically poor, yet Baleena has an almost other-worldly appeal. Mowat has used an interesting technique: Baleena is a fictional place; and she is careful to note that her characters, aside from public figures, are also fictional. However, there is a compelling ring of authenticity. Details about life in Baleena are convincing, and it is impossible to avoid speculating about the models for her characters.

There are no cars, indeed no road. There is no telephone, no television, no movie house. No dentist stays in Baleena, and it is hard to keep a doctor. Mail travels a long and chancy route from mainland Canada. Halifax, the nearest large city, is over 1400 kilometres away. How had the Mowats come to such an isolated place? They chose it, enchanted by the prospect of living so far from bustling Toronto. Baleena is distant not only geographically but also philosophically. People count on families and neighbours, not governments or organizations. While her husband works on his manuscripts, Claire participates in village life. Her verbal portraits of the people show their strength and humanity.

However, Baleena is no paradise. The people rely on one basic industry fishing. It is a monopoly controlled by owners who seem insensitive to the needs of their suppliers; and as Mowat writes in her preface, the ruthless exploitation of the sea leads to an inevitable end. The couple prepares to leave Baleena as life there is changing. The telephone has come to the community, as has strife. Local workers are no longer willing to tamely accept unfair working conditions.

The Outport People gives a glimpse into a historical period that no longer exists. One cannot regret the passing of the harsher aspects of that past. However, the growing tourist traffic to Newfoundland would indicate that the charms that captivated the Mowats still exist today.

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