Never speak of this again: A book re­view in con­text

In Those Days in Vic­to­ria County

The Victoria Standard - - Culture / Heritage - JIM ST. CLAIR

CON­TEXT

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.

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