A look into Crow Gulch by Douglas Walbourne-Gough
by Emma Rhodes (Goose Lane's winter intern)
I have never read a collection of poetry that is as rooted in place as Crow Gulch. The book describes the wrong-side-of-the-tracks town of Crow Gulch that later gets swallowed up by Corner Brook, in Newfoundland. The entire collection is interspersed with short interviews and information on how the town comes to disappear over time. Early in the book, there is a short poem titled “Oral History: Q and A (I)”, where readers learn the popular perception of what once was Crow Gulch — people don’t know the history, but they do know that they “wouldn’t want to go there.”
As the book continues, there are short pieces of information that explain the gradual dissolution of the town. Significantly, that the city of Corner Brook “assesses Crow Gulch houses at a nominal value of $300 each” and “Clearance in the Crow Gulch area and in the seaward parts of Pier Road can best be done by burning the structures in situ.” Walbourne-Gough then defines a population that has been forcibly made to disappear. What the author does is more than this, though. He also depicts the very real and emotional class and racial conflicts that informed the people of the town and its neighbouring communities. By depicting these existing conflicts, Walbourne-Gough shows how they contributed to Crow Gulch’s popular perception and later destruction.
The author does an amazing job of comparing the harsh physical landscape of Newfoundland to the harsh realities of racial and class conflicts. Two of my favourite poems in the collection are “Breaking Ground” and “Unsure.” “Breaking Ground” describes the Newfoundland landscape and how its very harshness is what makes those living there so attached to it. If you do not adapt to the landscape you will die, so people “become stocky/ like black bears, cling to this rock as stubbornly/ as it tries starving [them] out” (“Breaking Ground”). This attachment to land is what makes the displacement and disappearance of Crow Gulch so heartbreaking; the land was cruel, but it was also home.
“Unsure” describes two young boys from different sides of the track. Both are violent towards one another and both are afraid of one another. This poem explains the boys' differences and their sameness: one boy is from Crow Gulch, and he remembers being beaten by other boys and being told “didjya/ really think you was good enough/ for them fancy shoes,” but as he throws rocks at another “higher class” boy, he is “unsure if he feels hatred or brotherhood.”
Crow Gulch describes a people who had a connection to their home, just like anyone else, and who were consistently treated as lesser until their home was destroyed and they were displaced and forgotten completely. The book functions as a way to define these abandoned people once again — to give them a place in writing. I was incredibly impressed with the poems, and I think it is a very important book by a very important poet. Crow Gulch has a very significant role in giving people who’ve lost their place a place once again.
"A dazzling first collection of poetry, Crow Gulch marks the arrival of a bold new voice on the ever-vibrant Atlantic Canadian literary scene. Once a small settlement just outside Corner Brook, Newfoundland and Labrador, Crow Gulch was a shack town built by migrant workers on an old slate quarry in the 1920's, and inhabited by several families — many of whom were of indigenous ancestry — until it was unceremoniously evacuated and razed in the 1970's. A gifted story teller, Douglas Walbourne-Gough brings this forgotten community, once home to his grandparents and great-grandparents, back to life with his haunting, harrowing poems." — The Maritime Edit