First-time author and memoirist Adrian Payne has compiled stories taken from his life growing up and working in and around Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula in places like Cow Head, Parson’s Pond, and Hawke’s Bay. Born in 1940, he left school at an early age (which he regrets doing) to hunt, cut wood, and fish to make a meagre living in the 1950’s and 60’s. Aside from four years spent in Toronto, he has resided in Cow Bay where he lives to this day.
One of his earliest recollections is that of being with his grandparents Michael and Annie Keough:
Grandpop provided for his family very well. He hunted caribou and rabbits and raised sheep and cows, which provided milk and butter. He fished lobster and cod. He and Granny grew their own vegetables and picked berries to make jams. Granny spun the wool from the sheep on her spinning wheel and turned it into yarn. From this yarn she knitted socks, mitts, sweaters, and sometimes long underwear for Grandpop. He would wear this mainly when he hunted across the mountain in the winter.
Because I was so young, I guess I wasn’t much help, but I can recall helping him remove the bark from the logs. Just being with my grandfather was enough to make me happy. Both of my grandparents, Michael and Annie Keough, were very kind and gentle people. I adored them! I don’t ever remember them saying a cross word to any of us grandkids.
In the Preface, he dedicates the book to his grandchildren, wanting to leave them with a sense of what life was like for him and their grandmother in those days without indoor plumbing, telephones, television and even electricity in some cases. Radio was all they had. To earn a few dollars, he would cut wood for the paper companies, living in filthy work camps (there is a particularly gross story regarding lice) and eat chiefly bologna and beans. He tries to make a go of it in Toronto hoping to give his wife and family a better life than his parents had, but the discrimination against Newfoundlanders and the dizzying size of the city to a young man who grew in a place with no paved roads prove untenable so they move back to Newfoundland. There, he takes up lobstering and nearly loses his life at least a couple of times by almost drowning.
One chapter of riveting interest was “Adrift on the Ice” a story that took place in 1895 involving his wife’s great-grandfather and several others whose boat got trapped in the ice and drifted a hundred miles before they could leave it and make it to land. To get back home via the land involved weeks of travel and the dependence on complete strangers to house and feed them on their journey home where they were certain that their families had given them up for lost.
Mr Payne recounts his stories in an unembellished, yet vivid manner. I found it all very interesting, his living in lumber camps, travelling over the Long Range Mountains on dog sledges, lobster fishing (often alone) and even some sealing. Of special poignancy is the chapter devoted to his beloved horse Dick. No dry eyes by the end of that story! Mr Payne and Flanker Press have done the present and future generations well by writing and publishing Life on the Great Northern Peninsula. A solid four stars and one hopes that Mr Payne has another book of memoirs to come.
Life on the Great Northern Peninsula by Adrian Payne
James M. Fisher is the owner and editor-in-chief of The Miramichi Reader. The Miramichi Reader (TMR) —Canada’s best-regarded source for the finest in new literary releases— highlights noteworthy books and authors across Canada from coast to coast to coast (est. 2015). James works and resides in Miramichi, New Brunswick with his wife Diane and their tabby cat Eddie.