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The Newfoundland Diaspora

Mapping the Literature of Out-Migration

By Jennifer Bowering Delisle
Subjects Literary Criticism, Canadian Literature, Political Science, Globalization, Cultural Studies
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Paperback : 9781554588947, 220 pages, March 2013
Ebook (EPUB) : 9781554588961, 220 pages, June 2013


Excerpt from the Introduction of The Newfoundland Diaspora: Mapping the Literature of Out-Migration by Jennifer Delisle

While many Canadian provinces, particularly other Atlantic provinces, have experienced out-migration for similar reasons, 1 Newfoundland's population loss stands out for its sheer numbers, at times reaching a net rate of more than 6 percent of Newfoundlanders aged five and older (Statistics Canada). Moreover, this statistic does not include the significant amount of seasonal migration that brings Newfoundland labourers back and forth several times a year. As of 2003, Newfoundland's expatriate community was estimated at a total of 220, 000 (Royal Commission i)—a staggering number considering that the province's population in that year was just 512, 500. This long period of population loss may finally be slowing; in 2008 and 2009 the province experienced a brief population increase for the first time in fifteen years (Statistics Canada). Yet census data since then again show an annual population loss to out-migration. The province's unemployment rate remains the highest in the country, at 13 percent as of June 2012 (Statistics Canada).

Out-migration has not been limited to former fishers or young blue-collar labourers. Professionals and artists have also left. Others have left in search of better education. Aging parents have followed their children to their new hometowns in Toronto or Fort McMurray in a “second wave” of out-migration (Royal Commission 39). While not every Newfoundlander's reasons for leaving are the same, together they have formed a culture of out-migration, in which leaving is often expected or considered inevitable, and in which returning is a powerful but often unfulfilled dream. Together, these migrants constitute a Newfoundland diaspora.

This book examines how this diaspora has impacted Newfoundland literature, both as the subject of much of the work and as a condition from which many writers write. In Newfoundland, critics have explicitly connected the development of a distinct literature to the massive change resulting from Confederation, the government resettlement program of the 1940s and '50s, and the collapse of the fishery (Gwyn; Rompkey,”Colonial”). This book argues that much of Newfoundland's current literary production is also a result of, or a response to, diaspora. The idea of a “Newfoundland diaspora” does not just refer to the post-cod-moratorium outflux, then, but to a larger social phenomenon that has shaped Newfoundland literature and culture. Malcolm Macleod's review of Helen M. Buss / Margaret Clarke's Memoirs from Away suggests the way in which the Newfoundland diaspora can be considered in terms of a broad literary history: “`Memoirs from away' is the title of this one book, but it is a fitting label for a whole category of writing about Newfoundland. While Newfoundlanders have been massively re-locating themselves in North America for 120 years, literary elements in the diaspora have often penned accounts of displacement, adjustment and nostalgia for a distant, past homeland” (98). This migrant literary tradition can be traced back to the early twentieth century and the poetry of E. J. Pratt and the stories and essays of the Montreal-based magazine The Atlantic Guardian. Contemporary narratives of out-migration also frequently locate themselves within a long historical diasporic trajectory, so that Wayne Johnston's memoir of family and displacement, Baltimore's Mansion, for example, looks back at the retreat of one of the colony's first settlers, Lord Baltimore, as the beginning of a social pattern. In this book, then, rather than moving chronologically through the texts, I take a comparative approach, examining how diaspora influences writers of diverse eras and genres, and how diasporic subjectivity intersects with the theoretical flashpoints of affect, authenticity, nationalism, and ethnicity.

Table of contents

Table of Contents for
The Newfoundland Diaspora: Mapping the Literature of Out-Migration, by Jennifer Delisle


Introduction: Mapping the Literature of Out-Migration

Part One: Defining the Newfoundland Diaspora

1 Newfoundland and the Concept of Diaspora

Part Two: Affective Responses

2 Donna Morrissey and the Search for Prairie Gold

3 “The ‘Going Home Again’ Complaint”: Carl Leggo and Nostalgia for Newfoundland

Part Three: Is the Newfoundlander “Authentic” in the Diaspora?

4 E. J. Pratt and the Gateway to Canada

5 “A Papier Mâché Rock”: Wayne Johnston and Rejecting Regionalism

Part Four: Imagining the Newfoundland Nation

6 “This Is Their Country Now”: David French, Confederation, and the Imagined Community

7 Writing the “Old Lost Land”: Johnston Part Two

Part Five: Postmodern Ethnicity and Memoirs from Away

8 Helen Buss / Margaret Clarke and the Negotiation of Identity

9 The “Holdin’ Ground”: David Macfarlane and the Second Generation

Conclusion: Writing in Diaspora Space


Works Cited



Out-migration, driven by high unemployment and a floundering economy, has been a defining aspect of Newfoundland society for well over a century, and it reached new heights with the cod moratorium in 1992. This Newfoundland “diaspora” has had a profound impact on the province’s literature.

Many writers and scholars have referred to Newfoundland out-migration as a diaspora, but few have examined the theoretical implications of applying this contested term to a predominantly inter-provincial movement of mainly white, economically motivated migrants.  The Newfoundland Diaspora argues that “diaspora” helpfully references the painful displacement of a group whose members continue to identify with each other and with the “homeland. ” It examines important literary works of the Newfoundland diaspora, including the poetry of E. J. Pratt, the drama of David French, the fiction of Donna Morrissey and Wayne Johnston, and the memoirs of David Macfarlane. These works are the sites of a broad inquiry into the theoretical flashpoints of affect, diasporic authenticity, nationalism, race, and ethnicity.

The literature of the Newfoundland diaspora both contributes to and responds to critical movements in Canadian literature and culture, querying the place of regional, national, and ethnic affiliations in a literature drawn along the borders of the nation-state. This diaspora plays a part in defining Canada even as it looks beyond the borders of Canada as a literary community.


“By positioning her consideration of Newfoundland literature as an examination of Canadian diaspora studies, Delisle anticipates concerns about her use of diaspora in ways that are cogent and . .. consistently important in their wide ranging implications for the larger field. ... The project’s ambitious range of key terms—she also explores nostalgia and regionalism—is admirable. ... Clearly written and mercifully light on footnotes, The Newfoundland Diaspora makes a valuable contribution to Canadian literary studies, and, in particular, to diaspora studies and the growing field of Atlantic Canadian literary studies. ”

- Robert Zacharias, Canadian Literature

“This book is definitely worth reading for the criticism of Wayne Johnston. As all literary critics have experienced, it is difficult to find a way to trace the inner workings of a complex text, to show what it does and how it does it. Delisle has achieved just that for Johnston’s Newfoundland-obsessed fiction, that has been so significant to our Newfoundland-obsessed culture. ”

- Terry Goldie, York University, English Studies in Canada

“Canada is what social critic Avtar Brah would call a ‘diaspora space’—a region filled with transnational groups—and Delisle’s book, with an excellent biography, is a brilliant precedent for studying other diasporic communities. Summing up: Highly recommended. ”

- B. Almon, University of Alberta, CHOICE

“Reading Delisle’s astute examination of select pieces of Newfoundland literature I felt more than once the desire to throttle some of the authors and characters she is analyzing—characters who resist giving up their Newfoundland driver’s license because it ‘was the last proof of who [they] were’ or argue a ‘Newfoundland soul’ can never be a ‘Canadian soul. ‘ Reading such claims I wanted to grasp these characters by the shoulders and scream into their faces, ‘Give it up, b’y! Did you want to live down the road from mom and dad your entire life?‘ My own individual (and, I realize, defensive) reaction to these very personal narratives helps identify how tangly a topic Delisle has chosen to tackle in the ‘Newfoundalnd diaspora. ‘ She does well to present a focused, important text that is at times passionate and intimate while at other times critical and distant. The Newfoundland Diaspora is a valuable text for those choosing to understand and challenge the applicability of postcolonial theory to Canadian literature. ... Delisle . .. makes the wise decision to not simply answer the question, ‘Is there a Newfoundland diaspora?’ Rather she . .. replies with a question of her own: ‘what opportunities for understanding [Newfoundland] are provided by the question?’ Delisle’s innovative approach produces some very strong readings of important if under-analyzed Newfoundland literature. ” — Paul Chafe, Ryerson University, Newfoundland Quarterly

“Jennifer Bowering Delisle’s The Newfoundland Diaspora prompts us to revise not just our conceptions of Newfoundland identity but also our understanding of the very idea of diaspora. This is a significant meditation on the shifting nature of regionalism and national identity in the age of globalization, an era of increasing migration, mobility, and deracination. At a time in which the continuous inhabitation of the same place is becoming less and less common, we need more complex and nuanced descriptions of the relationship between place, cultural identity, and collective identification, and that is what The Newfoundland Diaspora delivers. ” — Herb Wyile, author of Anne of Tim Hortons: Globalization and the Reshaping of Atlantic-Canadian Literature (WLU Press, 2011)