As near to Heaven by Sea: A History of Newfoundland and Labrador

By Collins, David N. | British Journal of Canadian Studies, September 2003 | Go to article overview

As near to Heaven by Sea: A History of Newfoundland and Labrador


Collins, David N., British Journal of Canadian Studies


Kevin Major, As Near to Heaven by Sea: A History of Newfoundland and Labrador (Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2001), 497pp. Paper. $24.95. ISBN 0- 1402-7864-8.

Anyone who has not heard about Kevin Major, the author of several prizewinning novels, can visit his website (www4.newcomm.net/kmajor). In writing a commissioned history of Newfoundland and Labrador from its geological origins to beyond the 2000 millennium, Kevin Major, a thorough Newfoundlander, the son of a logger, a onetime teacher in outport schools, makes no secret of his love for his native heath. As Near to Heaven breathes the wild grandeur, the elemental struggle for livelihood, the irony and pathos of his fog and salt-girt land. I am really pleased that a novelist rather than a 'lithe academic mind' (p. 16) has written this popular history. Fervent, patriotic and affectionate, covering a bewildering array of subjects, his account abounds with jokes and sardonic asides with a Liverpudlian or Irish flavour. A couple of examples will suffice to give the flavour: 'some would point to Newfoundland's strong tradition of choral music as support for St. Brendan and his crew' (p. 17); 'Patronizing drivel from the English upper crust? We've certainly had enough of that through the ages' (p. 298) and 'the gods were the sealing merchants, and the captains sent to implement their greed' (p. 302). Eloquent vignettes of life in varied eras and social milieux vie for attention with side sweeps at the merchants who subjected the fisherfolk to 'near feudal' conditions up to the 1960s, and at the sorry breed of politicians who mouthed platitudes about extending medical aid to the livyers or education to the baymen, but were more keen to squander tight resources on grandiose schemes. …

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