Causeway: A Passage from Innocence
Janet Arnett is the former campus manager of adult education at Ontario’s Georgian College. She is the author of Antiques and Collectibles: Starting Small, The Grange at Knock, and 673 Ways to Save Money.
Linden MacIntyre is widely known as a broadcast journalist for CBC’s
Fifth Estate. In Causeway, he expands his versatility as a writer by
undertaking a delicate blend of boyhood memoir, social, community, and
family history, and personal philosophy of life.
The pivot for the work is the construction of the causeway between
mainland Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island over the Strait of Canso in
the early 1950s. MacIntyre saw his home, located at the point the
causeway would connect to Cape Breton, as a village that “looks like a
place with bad luck.” Change, it was assumed, could only be a good
thing. The causeway, it was assumed, would bring change in the form of
new roads, more jobs, an expanding population, new opportunities, and
Looking back, MacIntyre, who was about 10 years old when the massive
construction project started, realized that he was growing up in a time
and place where change became visible. Before the causeway, life in the
area was “like being in a history book”—a vanishing way of life
where many adults spoke Gaelic, lived without electricity or plumbing,
and some of the elders believed in “spells” and spirits.
To this portrait of a unique social life and customs, he overlays his
struggle to relate to his father, a hardrock miner who frequently had to
leave home for extended periods in order to earn a living. There’s
pride in his father’s skills, yet hope that the causeway will enable
dad to find work close to home, and fear for his father’s future,
given his lifetime of bad luck.
Stylistically, the pace is slow and rambling with generous amounts of
detail. Along with a sketch of the politics and headline news of the
period, there’s a sense of what it was like to be a newspaper delivery
boy in that time and place, vivid portraits of local characters, and a
sketch of the rural school experience.
MacIntyre’s concern is with human behaviours, the struggle to
understand identity and the important goals in life. He uses the
“peephole of memory” to look into “the muck of asking questions
that have no answers.” While the Canso Causeway was the catalyst for
MacIntyre’s examination of life and change, many readers will see in
it parallels to their own life explorations, and possibly identify their