Thursday, September 8, 2011


Where yu to, me bye?

I’m a great proponent of travel. Not only does it provide constant novelty and excitement, but it broadens one’s perspective and increases one’s understanding of others. You can’t stare out over a canola field in Alberta, yellow and empty as far as the eye can see, or brace yourself against the swirls of Toronto’s Kensington Market, without getting at least a glimpse into what life is like for people there. My current trip to Canada’s Maritimes has been full of insights and serendipity.

Prince Edward Island is perhaps Canada’s best known island, chosen by the Royals on their recent visit as their only Maritime destination. This is thanks to L.M. Montgomery and her tales about a little red-headed orphan named Anne. PEIslanders are proud of their distinctly different way of life – gently rolling terrain, picturesque villages clustered around sandy coves, white houses with green roofs and window boxes, and a speed limit that puts your average mainlander to sleep.

But Newfoundland is truly a place apart. Whereas PEIslanders are as gentle and agreeable as their island, Newfoundlanders are rugged, independent, feisty, and right proud of it. After five hundred years of isolation and hardship, durability and fight are bred into their bones. Even the little trees stick stubbornly up out of the clifftops, half their needles blown off by the wind but new tufts of fresh growth sprouting from their tops. Newfoundland is ragged bluffs, stony ground and jumbled villages clinging to the edges of tiny coves. Roads are narrow, bumpy and full of twists and hills as they try to follow the torturous outline of the coast. The speed limits are set at 80 to 100 km./ hour, a suicidal notion for your average mainlander which Newfoundlanders manage it with ease.

For centuries, Newfoundlanders lived by and off the sea. Each village had a unique origin and history, and travel between them was limited to boat. Goods, services and mail were delivered by boat too, subject to the vagaries of ice, storm and tide. Accents, words and customs emerged unique to each area. It’s impossible to
describe a Newfoundland accent without reference to the region. In the farthest outports of the east coast, a local could speak to me for five minutes without my recognizing a single word. In St. John’s, the sin capital of The Rock, hints of an accent remain only in the occasional flattened vowel or quirky preposition.

Getting the accent and words right will be a challenge for any writer but that’s another trait of Newfoundland. Nothing comes easy on this island and by god, why should it be easy for anyone else? But what a sense of triumph at the end of the road.

Barbara Fradkin is a child psychologist with a fascination for how we turn bad. In addition to her darkly haunting short stories in the Ladies Killing Circle anthologies, she writes the gritty, Ottawa-based Inspector Green novels which have
won back to back Arthur Ellis Awards for Best Novel from Crime Writers of Canada. The eighth in the series, Beautiful Lie the Dead, explores love in all its complications. And, her new Rapid Read from Orca, The Fall Guy, was launched in May.


  1. Where's ya at, Barbara?
    It does sound like you're having a grand time and the research will yield another splendid book.
    We'll be there in a little less than three weeks. Bringing our woolies and foul weather gear. Can't wait.

  2. Great trip and wonderful photos! What an adventure.

  3. I'm in Sinjawns, hoping for a glimpse of Jake Doyle. Spent today in their splendid archives, tracking down the dead. Relatives, that is.