I’m wholly familiar with the breakdown of the mining industry in the Canadian Maritimes, as well as the calls country-wide for people to head to Alberta to work in both the mines and on the pipelines. Both of these provincial upheavals (particularly in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and on Newfoundland) had huge deleterious effects on the economies and families that had lived in those areas for generations. And, many of the ‘worker communities’ in Alberta were inundated with temporary residents that were biding their time from paycheque to paycheque, hoping to earn a living or provide support to those left behind.
Dayle Furlong uses the tale of two such families in a story based in actual events to present the trials, choices and lives after their migration westward. Jack and Pete are childhood friends, both growing up in Newfoundland. A rather difficult life – one is a miner or a fisherman there, with few to no options for other choices. But Pete has headed to Alberta, hoping to grab the brass ring. His tales of opportunity encourage Jack to take the chance, and he and his family head west to join the employment roles.
Living in a community that isn’t particularly welcoming, with the opportunities being a bit less than promised and battling your own emotional turmoil doesn’t make for a happy story. While Jack is dancing around the law and making quick money while taking chances, Pete is working to improve his family’s life, and trudges forward a shell of the man he was in Newfoundland.
Jack is the primary narrator for much of the story, and his repeated questions about the rightness of his choice, the difficulties he has fitting in, the worry for his wife and children and the slowly invasive envy, as Pete’s life seems to be moving forward in ways we all want: a home, extra money for treats, that happiness that comes with security.
What emerges is a blindingly accurate examination of human nature and the choices that one makes when pressure, depression, desire and envy all combine to change your approach and beliefs. While not a happy nor fast-paced read, we have a clear idea of Jack, a fairly decent idea of his wife Angela, and although Pete and Wanda are frequent stars in the book, they were a touch removed for me, more ideas than actual people. Furlong has great insight into the human psyche as displayed in this story, and doesn’t shy away from the often bleaker aspects of life. Descriptions are vivid and vibrant: bringing the remoteness of both Newfoundland and the northern Alberta encampment of Foxville to life.
Title: Saltwater Cowboys
Author: Dayle Furlong
Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Literary Fiction /Family Saga
Published by: Dundurn Press
Published on: 12 February 2015
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
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In the conservative 1980s, the collapse of the mining industry in Newfoundland caused devastating upheaval for thousands of Maritimers, who lost their independence, community, and homes as joblessness forced them to uproot and start anew. Jack and Angela McCarthy, after years of prosperity in the mining town where their families had lived for generations, find themselves among the "Saltwater Cowboys" — Newfoundland transplants to gold mines of Alberta.
Arriving in the town of Foxville, the McCarthys find themselves resented, bullied, and taken advantage of, along with their fellow Newfoundlanders. But when Jack's best friend, Peter, is swindled out of his savings and resorts to stealing from the mine, he sets a heist in motion that throws both families into chaos.
Inspired by actual events in a small mining town in 1988, this novel tells of the trauma of displacement and the enduring strength of family.
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.