Stories and Storytellers

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A guest post by Michael Crummey. Photo by Michelle Valberg.

When I travel on the mainland, I’m often asked to explain the remarkable national and international success of Newfoundland writers, musicians, and entertainers. It does seem to require some explanation. For a province representing less that 2% of the population of Canada, the wealth of talent seems bizarrely out of proportion. Wayne Johnston, Great Big Sea, CodCo and This Hour has 22 Minutes, Lisa Moore, Michael and Kathleeen Winter, Hey Rosetta!, Rick Mercer, Bernice Morgan, Ron Hynes, Republic of Doyle, Amelia Curran … the list seems endless. Maybe there’s something in the water. Or it might be a part of our cultural DNA.

I grew up around storytellers, although I never though of it that way as a youngster. It was just people talking or singing or telling a joke or some old foolishness. My father, in particular, had a repertoire of stories he would dip into on nights he’d had a drink or two. They were just incidents from his own life, but they were diverting, often hilarious, and occasionally terrifying. Much of what I know about telling a story I learned from listening to him talk.

It’s only as an adult I started to see the Newfoundlander’s gift of the gab as a cultural trait, something unique to the place and its circumstances. Storytelling was how people in isolated communities entertained one another, how local history was kept alive, how the long winter nights were passed. It was a survival strategy as much as anything and it has become a defining characteristic of the people here over the course of generations. You still hear it in local kitchens and pubs, at the corner store, on the wharves. And if I had to guess, I’d say that tradition is also part of what makes the contemporary novels and films and songs of Newfoundland so compelling and entertaining.

Sit down a spell. Have a listen.

Michael Crummey is a celebrated Canadian author. He is travelling aboard Adventure Canada’s Out of the Northwest Passage 2016 expedition.

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