Never speak of this again: A book review in context
In Those Days in Victoria County
Emigration of young people from Cape Breton to other parts of Canada and the United States is a topic of discussion in any conference in economic growth in the island. Indeed, emigration to other places in North America and to other parts of the world has been a part of Cape Breton history for nearly two hundred years.
The departure of nearly a thousand people, adults and children, for Australia and New Zealand, occasioned by the leadership of the Rev. Norman Macleod, was a significant factor in the decline in the economy for several years. A number of residents of St. Ann’s, Baddeck and Middle River exited in the decade following the Macleod emigration group in order to settle in Ontario.
Then, a major blight that destroyed the potato harvest for several years discouraged many people from remaining in Cape Breton.
From the 1860s to the time of World
War Two, hundreds of young people left rural farms and small towns in order to find employment in “the Boston States”. Jobs were available in the shipyards and the shoe factories and in the homes of residents who wished for maids and housekeepers and care-givers for children and the elderly.
In more recent years, Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario have welcomed many young people who sought well-paid employment.
THE EXPERIENCES OF YOUNG WOMEN IN “THE BOSTON STATES"
Family legends and histories are replete with accounts of young women from all parts of Cape Breton who found employment in the area around Boston where the growth of factories provided many opportunities as did training in hospitals for nurses and nursing assistants.
In the sharing of stories about the experiences of grand aunts and cousins of our grandparents, many people today can relate stories about young women who became pregnant without acquiring husbands while working in New England.
Some of these girls who found themselves in difficult situations returned home to Cape Breton where their babies were left to be brought up by relatives. Others, however, had to relinquish their children to orphanages. As well, some struggled to raise their offspring while continuing to work or relying for a time on social service support. But many of the accounts of young women in such circumstances are quite sad as society viewed unmarried mothers as women of low morality.
“NEVER SPEAK OF THIS AGAIN”
This novel introduces the reader to the experiences of Nellie, a young woman from Cape Breton, at the time of World War One, who is misled by a fellow Cape Bretoner residing in her boarding house. He is already married and has children back in Cape Breton. So, he leaves Nellie to solve her problems by herself.
In a conversation with a cousin of the father of her child, she is told to remain in Boston and to “never speak of this (meaning her pregnancy) again.”
Brenda Maclennan-dunphy’s work is very well researched into the various aspects of life in Boston as experienced by a young, unmarried mother who decides to raise her daughter. As well, she introduces us into the life of a young man who assists her, but who is on his way to fight in France. His later life, before by chance he meets Nellie again, is in the gold fields of the West. The author has clear, specific information about that area from her wide reading and use of archives.
The reader is given insight into Nellie’s inner thoughts through the use of some Gaelic phrases, for which a glossary is provided at the end of the story. It is the contrast of those thoughts with her actual spoken words that provides clear insight into the turmoil of a Cape Breton woman “in trouble” in “the Boston States”.
It is exciting to see our history transferred from legend and family stories into a vivid and well-written novel by a Cape Breton writer.