Nfld. & Labrador

Farley Mowat remembered by Burgeo resident

Wayne Billard was only a boy when Farley Mowat lived in Burgeo, but he recalled fond memories of the author after learning of his passing.
Farley Mowat, who passed away at the age of 92 on Wednesday, spent eight years in the southwest coast Newfoundland town of Burgeo in the 1960s. (CBC Still Photo Collection/Fred Phipps)

Wayne Billard was only a boy when Farley Mowat lived in Burgeo, but he recalled fond memories of the author after learning of his passing.

The controversial and provocative author and environmentalist died Wednesday at his home in Port Hope, Ont., at the age of 92.

In the 1960s, Mowat and his wife Claire moved to the town on the southwest coast of the island for eight years.

Billard said no one in the town knew much about Mowat when he first arrived in Burgeo.

"It wasn't long after that ... that  we soon got to find out who Farley was. And he had a lot of friends there," he said.

Billard said Mowat lived close to his home.

"Farley was probably about a two-minute walk from where I lived, and every afternoon, after school, that would be the hangout place, at Farley's house," Billard said.

"Farley was always a storyteller of course, very interesting stories. He would tell you ghost stories and scare the living hell out of you."

Billard said they would often take their dogs for a walk to the park.

"Farley had a [dog], the one he wrote his book about — The Dog Who Wouldn't Be ​— Albert. And I had a black Lab, pretty much the same as Farley's there, and we used to take them for a walk every afternoon after school," he said.

Billard said they would talk about all sorts of topics during their walks, and they would end up back at Mowat's house for cookies and milk.

"It was nice to listen to his stories," he said.

Whale story

Billard said Mowat wrote some books while he was there, including A Whale for the Killing. It chronicled the time that an 80-ton whale became trapped in a nearby saltwater lagoon, and how some people in Burgeo reacted to it.

Billard said Mowat's words didn't go over so well with residents.

"The whale did come here, it was shot here, it died here. So, being a book writer like Farley was, he needed everything he wanted to go into this book — he had all ears, sort of thing," Billard said.

"It was quite interesting."

Billard said people in Burgeo weren't impressed when the book came out.

"They didn't think too much of it, because it was sort of shooting down the town, of course, right? But you've got to stop and think, it did happen here, so you can't run from it," he said.

"I remember going to the pond. I remember lots of times down there with Farley when we were feeding the whale."

Billard said the book created mixed emotions in the town, but as the years went by, the hard feelings healed.

"[Mowat] knew that people were going to be upset about it — he understood that," he said.

"But that's part of being a writer, of course, is getting as much information as you can, and pack it into a powerful book, which he did."

Keeping in touch

Billard noted that it wasn't long after that book was written that Mowat moved to Ontario, and continued writing from there. But he said they kept in touch.

"I always talked to Farley. I'd give him a shout every couple of months, and I went to visit him about seven years ago, with a friend of mine, and we had a good conversation about Burgeo and the past and everything else," he said.

"And he loved to talk about those things."

Some residents think that Mowat's book put Burgeo on the map in a bad way, but Billard doesn't entirely agree.

"Some of the information in the book, they didn't think it was appropriate. Maybe some of it wasn't, but at the same time, he did put us in the highlights, no two ways about that," he said.

"There's often now even people [who] come to town and look me up to find out where Farley once lived, and to talk about Farley."