River People by Wayne Curtis

Wayne Curtis

I am a river person. I grew up at the confluence of the St.Lawrence River and Lake Ontario at Kingston. Now, in Miramichi, I live on one of the greatest rivers on the east coast. It is this river that Wayne Curtis refers to often in his writings, River People being the latest collection of his recollections of a life lived on the tributaries of the Miramichi River in northeast New Brunswick. “Indeed, this river place was a big part of my dreams, my culture, and my livelihood,” he tells us. While Mr. Curtis and I are a generation apart, I readily identify with his stories of a simpler time, both on the river and away from it.

River People is Mr. Curtis’ twentieth published book and is composed of sixteen stories, some of them previously published in such varied places as The Fiddlehead literary journal and the Atlantic Salmon Journal. Both publications are apropos as they originate in New Brunswick, as does Mr. Curtis, having recently been awarded the Order of New Brunswick Award.

One of the first stories in River People is “Spring Waters” which is timely, for as I write this, the grand old river is flushing out winter’s ice, a sure sign of Spring here on the Miramichi (and it is also Easter Weekend):

When the long-awaited migrating birds have returned, the last decaying chunks of river ice have melted from along the shores, pine and spruce logs are being rolled into the river for driving, and the poplar trees are sprouting a mouse's ear of new leaf, my mother asks if I will go and catch a salmon, as we have no fish for the Good Friday supper. It is that time in the spring when the heat from the kitchen wood range is still appreciated and my mother is into housecleaning. Outside, the scent of cat urine is strong in the woodshed, and the barn's smell of cow manure, potent now in the dampness, can be detected from our front veranda where the fibreglass fishing rods hang on moose antlers.

The above passage is typical of Mr. Curtis’ mellifluous writing voice and his strict attention to detail. So much so that one can — even if not familiar with such things as barns and woodburning kitchen ranges — conjure up the smells, if not the sights.

“River Places” finds an elderly bachelor revisiting the river of his youth, only to reflect on all the changes:

As I sit alone at the Cavanaugh eddy with a line in the water - which justifies my being here - those youthful experiences, their distinct impressions, come back to me in pockets. It is a different river now with fewer fish and fewer people - most of my friends are now sleeping on the grassy hillside by the church. We have killed so much in our search to fulfill young dreams that were always beyond reach, no matter how successful we had become, and of course to follow the trends. And the fields that Papa had spent his lifetime tilling have grown into a big wood. The rambling old farmhouse and barns have been torn down, as has our little one-room school, the train station, post office, and my father's general store. The songbirds have also disappeared. Indeed, it has become a place for an old person to retreat from the viruses of modern times: old dreams and old events to be recycled, at the close of day, yes in the waning autumn years of one's fragile life.

Mr. Curtis can pull off such recollections without sounding maudlin. So much in our lives, as we age, disappear or are abandoned: our old school, the village train station, the corner store where penny candy was once eagerly purchased, and yes, family and friends, our teachers too.

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However, there are stories of younger days, such as “Undercurrents” in which the narrator and his first love wade into a river of trouble, the undercurrents of the river of time claiming one and leaving the other. Then, in “Lost” in which the narrator, now returned from war, goes out to shoot a deer (for the meat) and gets lost during a winter storm. While lost, his thoughts go back to the war and those he left behind and forward to his wife and son, who must be worrying about his absence. And the deer he set out to kill:

And the chase has now ended for me too, I can see that now. There would be no sport in hunting down an animal that I would not kill. I am not here for destruction. I am here for the mending.

So much to love about the writing of Wayne Curtis. As he recently told The Miramichi Leader newspaper: ….his books are often aimed at seniors, with stories on fishing, farming, and other aspects of life along the river. He said he releases a book every two years or so, and he’s currently finalizing another short story collection he hopes to publish in the coming years.

River People is a flawless follow-up to 2020’s Winter Road.


About the Author

Wayne Curtis was born in Keenan, New Brunswick, in 1943. He attended the local schoolhouse but dropped out at the age of fourteen to help his father on the farm. He has worked in the car factories of Ontario as well as in the furniture trade with stints at river guiding in New Brunswick. He has written sixteen books and countless essays. Wayne has won the CBC Drama Award and The Richards Award for short fiction. He holds an honorary doctorate (Letters) from St. Thomas University and has received the Order of New Brunswick.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Pottersfield Press (Feb. 2 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 260 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1989725759
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1989725757

Owner/Editor-in-Chief at -- Website

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.

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Anne Smith-Nochasak
Anne Smith-Nochasak
April 19, 2022 08:17

There is such beauty in the passages you selected. His writing evokes memories and images without, as you say, seeming maudlin.

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