Writing with/against/as Extraction in So-Called Canada: Poets on Poetics — It Fills My Heart to Burst: Writing Crow Gulch as an Act of Care and Community

My father’s family come from Crow Gulch, a now-abandoned community legally ushered off its land by the city of Corner Brook during the late seventies and early eighties. Until fairly recently, Crow Gulch was an area people didn’t want to be from: the physical and psychic place within Corner Brook where parents threatened they’d leave you if you misbehaved. With no running water, postal codes, or electricity (power did eventually come, but only to half of the community), and many community members being Mi’kmaq, it was an easy target for a small-minded Newfoundland industrial town. Newfoundland authors Percy Janes and Tom Finn exemplify this in their frankly cruel depictions of Crow Gulch. In the face of their carelessness, I want to talk about the power of care and how that care eventually led to Crow Gulch. Specifically, I’m interested in writing care back into the social history and perceptions of the community. Most importantly, I’m gratified to see how that care has rippled outward, touched people in my community, and moved them to reciprocate care for the community of Crow Gulch.


Percy Janes writes disparagingly about the community in his 1970 novel House of Hate and 1981 short story collection Newfoundlanders, while Tom Finn does so in his 2010 short story collection Westsiders. Janes, Finn, and I all grew up in Corner Brook, and, as mentioned above, my father’s family comes from Crow Gulch. I know intimately both the Corner Brook and the Crow Gulch they write about. I’m heartbroken and angry when I read their defamatory depictions of my father’s, grandmother’s, and great-grandmother’s community as nothing more than a foil to Corner Brook’s perceived civility. The carelessness displayed by Finn and Janes creates and distributes misperception and harm towards a community already suffering the stigma of class and race. To better understand my initial reaction, and the subsequent need to respond with care, Janes’ and Finn’s work needs to be examined directly.


In one of the near-dozen insults to Crow Gulch in House of Hate, Janes refers to the community as “the dumping ground for bums, bootleggers, and other less-mentionable outcasts” (33). Meanwhile, his short story “Springfoot” names it the “hangout of whores, bootleggers and other outcasts” (Newfoundlanders 11). The story’s main character, Moses Spurrell, who makes his home in Crow Gulch, is described by the story’s narrator as “less ambitious and less respectable” and that, “with his skin as dark as stained leather and his gaunt features, it was also said that he might have a drop or two of Indian or Jaq’o’tar blood in his veins” (11). Janes carelessly and harmfully presents the Mi’kmaq of Crow Gulch as social refuse, associating them with laziness and criminality. My dismay with the representation of Crow Gulch in Janes’ work is compounded by the cultural prominence and critical reception of his writing; House of Hate is a seminal Newfoundland novel, complete with an introduction from then-CanLit dignitary Margaret Laurence, originally published by McClelland & Stewart in 1970 with a subsequent reprint by Breakwater Books in 1992. These national and then provincial literary broadcasts spoke loudly, in print, that the place and people of Crow Gulch were less-than, were an inferior foil to Corner Brook.


Finn’s version of Crow Gulch further illustrates the once-held social attitude towards both the community and Mi’kmaq people within Corner Brook. Westsiders was published in 2010, with a subsequent new edition published since, marking over forty years of Crow Gulch serving as inferior foil to Corner Brook within Newfoundland literature. This quote from Finn’s story “Quigley’s Luck” is a continuation of the same cruelty seen from Janes:


We were cruel as children, and I remember we used to pee into that spring pool and laugh about what the jackytars down the hill would be drinking in their tea for supper. A jackytar, if any of you aren’t familiar with the term, was the lowest caste of person in Newfoundland at the time . . . We used to be kept in line with threats of having the jackytars being put after us, or being sent down to live in Crow Gulch and no matter how badly off you might be, there was always the consolation of thinking: At least I’m not a jackytar, thank God, and have to live in Crow Gulch! (134)


While Finn’s book was not published with a major publisher, it is available from the Newfoundland and Labrador public library and is for sale at local retailers specializing in Newfoundland and Labrador books. Again, I was angry, tempted to write reactively about Janes and Finn, but knew my energy was better used by writing with care for the community of Crow Gulch to end the four decades of public misinformation.


Since the publication of Crow Gulch, fellow Mi’kmaq artists Emily Critch and Marcus Gosse have created artworks about their familial ties to the community of Crow Gulch. Just last summer, Gosse and Mi’kmaq artist Jordan Bennett worked with the City of Corner Brook to create a public mural celebrating Crow Gulch. A few weeks later, Corner Brook high school teacher Nancy Jacobsen stopped me in the street and told me she was bringing her high school English class to the mural to better inform their knowledge of local history. Most recently, I collaborated on an audio/video project with Mi’kmaq former Crow Gulch resident Margie Benoit-Wheeler, weaving her recollections of growing up in Crow Gulch with my poems. Most important, though, are the messages where people tell me of a relative who, decades later, finally talks about being from Crow Gulch. Or the simple expressions of gratitude for helping them finally feel seen outside of a stigmatic light in their own hometown.


I don’t tell you these things to take credit for them, as no one writes a book or makes art without some sort of community. I tell you because these instances allow Crow Gulch to re-emerge in the larger Corner Brook community as a site of acknowledgement, love, and healing—a far cry from prior careless and harmful literary depictions. Even though it wasn’t always clear to me during the near decade it took to research and write Crow Gulch, care has been the drive behind the work. This care has resonated within the larger Corner Brook community and is being returned to the place and the people of Crow Gulch. This fills my heart to burst. Wela’lin.


Works Cited

Finn, Tom. Westsiders. Petra Books, 2010.

Janes, Percy. House of Hate. McClelland & Stewart, 1970.
—. Newfoundlanders. Harry Cuff, 1981.

Walbourne-Gough, Douglas. Crow Gulch. Goose Lane, 2019.


Douglas Walbourne-Gough is a poet and mixed/adopted member of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation from Corner Brook, Newfoundland. His first collection, Crow Gulch, was published with Goose Lane Editions in 2019, has been nominated for several awards, and won the 2021 E.J. Pratt Poetry Award. His second collection, Island, is currently being considered for publication. Douglas’ current research interests centre around the Newfoundland Mi’kmaq experience in the wake of the Qalipu enrolment process. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing (UBC Okanagan) and is a PhD candidate in English and Creative Writing (UNB Fredericton).


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