I come from a long line of fishers and grew up hearing their stories. Twenty-five years ago this past July, the cod moratorium put some 30,000 island fishermen out of work. My book, Saltwater Cowboys: What Happened to Newfoundlanders When the Cod Fishery Closed, is a nonfiction narrative encompassing memoir and history about the life and death of the commercial cod fishery in Newfoundland. It’s a collection of stories of the people and communities across the island and how life has changed leading up to and since that time. As the largest industrial layoff in Canadian history, the economic devastation was immediate, deep and lasting. That moratorium, which was thought to last two years, is still in effect. An entire industry, once an economic driver of the province, now employs less than three per cent of the workforce. Add to that, the social and environmental implications, which have yet to be fully realized.
Saltwater Cowboys, will be the first book to tell the whole story from an insider perspective. I’ve felt the loss of a way of life of generations before me – a life that ended in Little Bay East, on the southeastern shores of Newfoundland, with my father and uncles, but traces back to the late 1700s. As I become a mother, I want to be able to relay my history to my daughter. I want to tell her the stories of the saltwater cowboys – people like my grandfather, or Pop, as we called him.
This book will also tell the story of people like me, in my generation, who’s day-to-day lives are seemingly far removed from the fishery – and yet, we cling to what was (even the idea of it). We keep glass buoys as souvenirs. We paint or take photographs of our forgotten communities. We craft model dories. We write and share stories. And some of us even try to carve a path for a comeback.
My book will appeal to anyone who wants to know more about Newfoundland’s people, their history and hopes for the future. It will capture the adventure of a time when the cod fishery was booming and home to saltwater cowboys. But it will also capture what became of the rest of us. I’m the person to write this book because I’ve been there and I care deeply about telling this story in a way that goes beyond any other account. I think people need to hear it because it’s our collective history and, if we don’t consider what happened, we are doomed to repeat it. Our children deserve better than that and I think we do too.