The Outport People
Jami van Haaften is a librarian and author of An Index to Selected
Canadian Provincial Government Publications for Librarians, Teachers and
Although termed “a fictional memoir,” the reader suspects that characters and places are recognizable to those familiar with the region and people Claire Mowat writes about. Different to classify, because it is avowedly a work of fiction, it is obviously autobiographical in nature and also has merit for the sociological and anthropological insights it provides into life in an isolated corner of Newfoundland. The author lived in an outport community, accessible only by water, when she was newly married to Farley Mowat. The two sought out their island retreat as a suitable spot to write, and the experience provided Claire Mowat with the material for this book.
Her portrayal of community life starts from the viewpoint of an outsider who doesn’t fit in. By book’s end it is obvious that the Mowats have come to terms with the social mores of the outport people. They defended this way of life to other outsiders, and they moved away regretting the changes modern civilization was inflicting.
The book is at times a commentary on social stratification in an area whose economy depends on fishing. Union bashing was effected by simply threatening to close the local fish plant. Industry owners and managers and often other outsiders (such as the doctor, nurses, and RCMP officers) were characterized at times by their paternalistic attitude.
Because of the arrival of telephones, television, and improved roads, Newfoundland no longer has such isolated outports. This may mean a higher standard of living for many of the island’s people, but the reader closes the book with a sense of loss. This volume exists as a historical portrait that Newfoundlanders and other Canadians can enjoy.
Published in 1983 in hardcover (McClelland and Stewart) this book was on Maclean’s bestseller list for five months.