I came across my decades-old copy of Death on the Ice by Newfoundland writer Cassie Brown a few weekends ago while organizing some of our bookshelves. The pages are yellowed, the cover is slightly faded, and the spine is lined and cracked.
The book tells the tragic story of the death of 78 Newfoundland sealers who were left on the ice for more than two days in a savage blizzard in 1914. It is gripping and heartbreaking and infuriating. And like so many stories from my home province, it leaves you with a profound sense of the power of both land and sea. Of what people in those days endured to provide for their families. And of the cost of greed and misguided decisions.
Death on the Ice is a book that makes you feel and makes you think. When I flipped through the pages and paused over some of the notes in the margins, I experienced again how I felt the day I sat with a small group of St. John’s high school students who had been selected to attend a Young Writer’s Conference and meet author Cassie Brown.
Because Cassie died in 1986, I can’t find her on Facebook and tell her she was the Newfoundland writer who proved to me when I was just 15 years old that what I wanted to do didn’t have to be just a dream.
But I can keep her book on my shelf, and now on my Kobo and iPad as well… and carry it with me wherever I go. As a reminder. And as inspiration.
And if you’re interested in learning a little more about the story, I’d suggest a quick visit to Memorial University’s Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives website.