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Found Far and Wide by Kevin Major

From Outport, to War, and Home Again

Not too long ago I read Death on the Ice by Cassie Brown, the story of The Great Newfoundland Sealing Disaster of 1914. Published in 1972 I remember Michael Crummey telling me it is read by every school child in Newfoundland. So, it is not at all unusual for the 1914 sealing disaster to be part of the story in many novels and books about Newfoundland’s history.

Kevin Major’s new novel Found Far and Wide tells the story of Sam Kennedy.  We meet Sam in the early 1900s, living with his father and sister in Harbour Main. His mother having died young, Sam helps his father fish for cod. But, seeking his independence and his own version of a better future, he is soon just old enough to join the seal hunt.

Taking the train with men from Bonavista, Trinity and Conception Bay, Sam travels across the country to St. John’s in the “hungry month of March” to seek a berth on a sealing vessel in the hopes of earning enough to put food on their kitchen tables until the cod fishery starts up again. Arriving at the train station on Water Street in St. John’s they are hopeful of a successful season.

There are no trains now in Newfoundland, and the province that was once it’s own country is not. I hadn’t realized how much Newfoundlanders see themselves as separate from Canadians until I had dinner with a woman who is one of a long line of Newfoundlanders. She used maple syrup in a recipe, saying she felt very Canadian doing so. I stupidly asked why she wouldn’t feel Canadian – and was politely informed that until recently she was not. Not the first or last time I’ll put my foot in my mouth in Newfoundland, I’m sure.

What Found Far and Wide will do for all of us Canadians is open a window into a world that is just past being within living memory for many Newfoundlanders. The Sealing disaster and the unnecessary death of so many men, was followed very soon by so many Newfoundlanders dying in the Dardanelles and the slaughter at Beaumont-Hamel, and there is no family in Newfoundland unaffected by all of these deaths.

Sam Kennedy after surviving the sealing disaster is off to war. After training in Scotland he is shipped out to the Dardanelles. A bloody war in an unknown land, so far from home. It is there that Sam meets Johnny – and learns about Johnny’s girl back home, a girl who works for the Grenville Mission, so much of a presence in the lives of many Newfoundlanders. The Grenville Mission brought not only medical care, but also the opportunity for income to many women who hooked rugs to be sold in the Mission’s shop in New York City. Johnny’s girl, Emma, will never far from Sam’s thoughts the rest of his life. And his time away at war will never leave him.

Home in Harbour Main is no longer home in the way it was before the war, so Sam heads to New York City to look for work. There are many men finding work on the skyscrapers, there are Italian immigrants, the native people of both Canada and the United States, and the Newfoundlanders. Sam is making god money but still dreaming of home. He sees that those who marry and have families in New York make their lives there, with children who will have no idea that Newfoundland is “home”.

We follow Sam’s life through the Great Depression, a time of desperate unemployment, starvation, cold and hungry children, with political corruption, war debt, and low fish prices leaving Newfoundland bankrupt, back in the hands of Great Britain.

Found Far and Wide is the story of one man – but it is also the story of a people and a time that now seems as remote as Newfoundland itself.

 

 

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