Mowat at Ninety

May 12: The Canadian writer and activist Farley Mowat turns ninety today. Mowat's dozens of books cover a range of settings, issues, and adventures, but he returns most often to the theme of cultural and environmental degradation. People of the Deer (1952), Mowat's first book, is a study of the all-but-extinct Inuit people, the Ihalmiut, based on the author's mid-century travels in the west Hudson Bay region. Mowat returned to the area and the topic in The Desperate People (1959), and then again in Walking on the Land (2000); in his prologue to the last book, Mowat makes no apologies for reiterating his story of the Ihalmiut, the "people from beyond":

My principal reason for doing so is the same as that of writers who continue to tell the story of the Holocaust: to help ensure that man's inhumane acts are not expunged from memory, thereby easing the way for repetitions of such horrors.

Mowat has also written often about Newfoundland, a place which seems to suit his quirky, independent personality. His recent memoir Bay of Spirits (2006) is "A Love Story" in a double sense, being a chronicle of his affection for the island and for his wife, whom he met there in 1957, while exploring the isolated, "outport" communities on the province's southern shore. Being "from away," Mowat could not share the local dialect, but he strongly identified with the worldview:

By the Lard livin' Jasus, dem mainland fellows is gone foolish as a cut cat! Dey got to tinker wit' every goddam t'ing dere is. And everyt'ing dey tinker wit' goes wrong. And dat, me darlin' man, dat's what dey calls progress! Oh yiss, me son, dey believes dey's de smartest t'ings God put on dis old eart', dem politicians and dem scientists and all dem big-moneyed fellers. But I tells ye, bye, de codfish and de caribou be ten times smarter. Dey got de sense to leave well enough be. …Cars, bye, and television. Sewry pipes and hout-board engines. Dem fellows don't know no end to what dey wants no more. …Dey wants it all. Mark my words, sorr, and dey gets what dey wants dey's goin' to choke dereselves to deat' on dere own vomit, and likely de whole world wit' dem.

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at

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