THE POINT OF WOODY POINT

For a Canadian author, being invited to attend the Writers at Woody Point event in August is the equivalent of winning the Nobel Prize. It has been running for 10 years now, and has attracted a galaxy of literary stars “from away,” like Michael Ondaatje, Richard Ford, Alexander McCall Smith, Linda Spalding, Elizabeth Hay and Will Ferguson, bolstered by major talents from Newfoundland such as Lisa Moore, Wayne Johnson, Michael Crummey, Michael Winter and many more.

It all started when Stephen Brunt, the well-known Toronto-based sportswriter, had the idea that outsiders would love to discover Woody Point, his idyllic summer home. The tiny community of about 700 lies half-way up the long west coast of Newfoundland, surrounded by Gros Morne National Park — a little like an east-coast Banff, without the fudge shops. The sort of sweeping views of fiords and mountains that you get in those clever ads from the Newfoundland Tourism folks lie all around the little town, and the open waters of the Gulf are just around the corner, as Jane and I found when we borrowed kayaks from our friends Peter and Robert early one morning.

Gros Morne, of course, is a World Heritage site. Its high, orange Tablelands (amazingly, derived from the ocean floor thrust upward) were what proved the revolutionary Continental Drift theories of Toronto’s Tuzo Wilson and Newfoundland’s own “Hank” Williams.

Two minor notes: Tuzo Wilson and I were once guests at a small dinner party given by Brenda and Robertson Davies; like most great scientists he had wide-ranging interests. Second, in the course of my five days at Woody Point I went on a guided hike at The Tablelands. Part of the attraction was a reading by the poet Don MacKay, a keen geologist, and also an outdoor performance by the energetic fiddler Kelly Russell; he amazed me by revealing that Hank Williams was a fine fiddler too.

A key moment in the history of the writers’ festival was when Stephen Brunt’s local crew (including his wife of undetermined ethnic heritage, Jeanie MacFarlane) persuaded the marvellous Shelagh Rogers to get involved. Now she is the voice of the Festival, introducing all of the main events at the grand old Heritage Theatre. She even conducts live, on-stage interviews for her CBC show, The Next Chapter. Her talk with Greg Malone, author of Don’t Tell The Newfoundlanders will make astonishing listening for anyone who, like me, believed that Newfoundland joined Canada gratefully, after an honest vote.

The writers’ events run morning, noon and night. My own show began at 11 at night, followed by some more music, by Pamela Morgan and Sandy Johnston. (Later, Shelagh announced Pamela as “Pamela Anderson,” which led to many jokes.) Often the first readings were at 9:30 in the morning, and the nature walks and other events through the day kept us hopping, and sometimes missing readings that clashed with our chosen event. Saturday morning started with a Church Hall fund-raising breakfast for the local firemen, and the Saturday and Sunday evenings ended with a big dance at the local Legion.

We were staying within earshot of all this, at a central B and B named “Aunt Jane’s”. How could we resist? Will Ferguson was there, too, and others came and went.

A key part of understanding the lure of Woody Point is realising that you are part of the community. People who elsewhere might be strangers come up to you on the street and chat. Fishermen and carpenters (I’ll try not to be too Biblical) reveal that they were at your show, and enjoyed it, but have a question about Brian Mulroney.  Going for dinner produces comments and questions from the staff, and paying your bill involves a long conversation. Village life! That’s what I grew up with in Scotland. I loved every minute of it. And the organizers like Gary Noel made everything easy for us.

At the start of my show I told the audience that my book contains the line “I never met a Newfoundlander I didn’t like.” I hoped that none of them would take that as a challenge, and none did. So the record is still unblemished.

The usual unbelievable coincidences occurred. After my show a woman from the Cypress Hills district in Saskatchewan came up to tell me that when she was growing up she knew my cowboy author, R.D. Symons. She was even able to tell me what happened to his son, Gerry, ranching on another frontier in Colombia.

And when we had dinner with the multi-talented Des Walsh and his lady, Ruth, he told me that he had known Harold Horwood well, even attending the rebel school called Animal Farm that Harold established, in the teeth of fierce St. John’s police pressure. He could even do a fine imitation (like all schoolboys) of his teacher, Harold, throwing back his long-haired head.

A final Newfoundland story. At the Legion bar I met a fine man who had enjoyed my show. When he told me his name was Young, I got excited, telling him about my father’s mother in Scotland, Jessie Young. He cut short my speculation about our being related by telling me that family research had showed that his family were pirates … and had stolen the law-abiding name of Young!

I never met a Newfoundlander I didn’t like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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18 comments on “THE POINT OF WOODY POINT

  1. MikeMadigan says:

    “For a Canadian author, being invited to attend the Writers at Woody Point event in August is the equivalent of winning the Nobel Prize.” How true! When my trio, The Sharecroppers was invited to perform last summer at the Writers at Woody Point, it was like you said…..a Noble prize indeed. I never asked how much, I didn’t really care. I just wanted to share our Newfoundland home grown music about one room schools, hangashores, Dr Grenfell and my grandfather’s fiddle. To be a part of this town and its wonderful folks, both locals and visitors, was a joy! To hear stories, poems…. and truthfully….to meet authors I never heard of…was great! Now my wife and I have a house here in Woody Point. Okay we actually bought it three years ago but it seems like just yesterday. Thank you Douglas Gibson…my wife just said to me your article is the finest she’s read about this place and festival. I agree. I’m sure we’ll see you again. Our town will welcome you not just because of what you’ve written, but because you are….well…simply welcome! T’is the Newfoundland way, me son! Cheers~ Mike (mike_madigan@yahoo.com)

    • Douglas Gibson says:

      Mike, me son,
      You sure know how to brighten a dull Toronto day. I’m delighted that you and your wife liked my piece in praise of Woody Point. I grew up in a small Scottish village (population 700, when all the dairy farmers were in town) so I felt right at home .You’ll see me and Jane again!
      Doug Gibson

  2. Ena Stoyles. says:

    Very well written,Douglas and Mike..i enjoyed both …thank you, for two bright articles on such a grey foggy day.!!

  3. Judith Carpenter says:

    Just wonderful to read your experience of Woody Point, my mother in law was born there and for my husband and I it is pure heaven. Go happy you think it is a wonderful place as well. Next summer we hope to be there for the festival, can hardly wait. It is our version of heaven

    • Douglas Gibson says:

      I’m sure you’ll enjoy the festival in Woody Point next year, in your version of heaven.
      Best wishes,
      Doug Gibson

  4. benson logan says:

    I was there for the writers. Lawrence Hill and Miranda Hill also have a house in Woody Point and spent the summer. The music was Sandy Morris not Johnston. It was great to have lunch or breakfast and chat with authors and musicians alike. The books come alive with each reading. There were lots of free readings for people who did not have tickets or just happened to come into town then. Nice friendly place Woody Point

    • Douglas Gibson says:

      Sorry, Benson, I did get Sandy’s name wrong. Apologies all round. I agree completely with you that Woody Point is a “nice friendly place”.
      Doug Gibson

  5. R says:

    I believe it is Wayne JohnsTon

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    • Douglas Gibson says:

      Many thanks for your encouraging words about my blog. You’ll be glad to know that it’s up and running again, now that I’ve finished my new book
      Doug

  8. It’s hard to find experienced people about this topic, but you sound like you know what you’re talking about!
    Thanks

    • Douglas Gibson says:

      Ah, the trick is to sound like I know what I’m talking about.
      I try, anyway, and I try to keep it to subjects where I have some experience…but the mistakes creep in.
      Best wishes,
      Doug

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