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THE WINDS SOFTLY SIGH

R. F. Sparkes.

St. John's, Breakwater Books, c1981.
Atlantic Canada's Folklore and Folklife series #6.
197pp, paper, $9.95.
ISBN 0-919948-76-6.


Grades 10 and up.
Reviewed by G. J. Casey.

Volume 12 Number 3
1984 May


This sixth volume of Atlantic Canada's Folklore-Folklife series follows the theme established by two of the previous books: Helen Porter's Below the Bridge (1980), containing her memories of the Southside of St. John's, and Victor Butler's Little Nord Easter (1980), consisting of the reminiscences of a Placentia Bayman. Reg Sparkes similarly recalls "the days and the people of our childhood" in the pre-Confederation isolated village of Jackson's Arm on the eastern side of the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland. The author's purpose is "to record for my children and their contemporaries some pictures of a way of life which has passed never to be repeated, in surroundings which have changed, never to be restored."

In the introduction, eighteen chapters, and conclusion of his book, Sparkes reminisces about growing up in this Church of England outport, where his schoolmaster father was "as much missionary as teacher." (Unfortunately, the binding of the book is somewhat irregular in that chapter 18 appears between chapters 15 and 16!) Sparkes's memory serves him well, as evidenced by the details of and insights into the early twentieth-century lifestyles of his birthplace. The seasonal work cycle in the main occupations of gardening, logging, mill-work and fishing, and the roles and influences of the school and the church provide the focus for these recollections. Chapters 5 to 8 concentrate on his school years and the type of education received. Chapters 9 to 15, some of the most engaging in the book, indicate the importance of religion in the lives of the people. Village events and times, were usually associated with the church celebrations of Christmas, Easter and other feast days.

A number of folklore genres enliven the discussion. These range from courtship, marriage, death, and funeral beliefs and customs, to weatherlore, jokes, folk cures, and supernatural narratives chiefly of witches, fairies, devils, and ghosts. Details of the types of clothing, food, house construction, and the production of everyday items such as soap, mats, killicks, fences, and snowshoes give a real feeling of place. However, more information about the bearers of the tradition such as Uncle Joseph Raisin, Uncle Tom Wicks and Skippers Harry Hawkins, Joe Ford, and Nick Hunt would have given the folklore a truly living context.

Commentaries on some of the events considered, attempts to trace the origin of the beliefs and customs by presenting some of the earlier printed literature and explanations, as well as efforts to assess the validity of the beliefs and charms, considerably impede the flow of the light-hearted material and produce tedious reading. Again, the discussion of educational methods, and extensive details of the Royal Readers and arithmetic and algebra textbooks in use at the time, add a dullness to accounts that are in many instances vigorous, witty, and racy.


G. J. Casey, Memorial University, St. John's, NF.
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