Poet helps rewrite history of stigmatized neighbourhood

Crow Gulch was a disadvantaged neighborhood of the booming mill town of Corner Brook, and it's been further stigmatized in works of fiction. Now, a poet with roots in the area is hoping to change the way it's remembered.

Corner Brook poet wants to reshape people's ideas about Crow Gulch

The hillside village of Crow Gulch was settled in the 1920s, and residents remained there until the late 1970s or early 1980s. (Submitted)

A Newfoundland poet says a book contract for his poetry is not just good news for him personally. 

Douglas Walbourne-Gough says it's also a chance to make people think differently about an area of the province that he believes has not been accurately portrayed.

"I need the name Crow Gulch to be something that we can speak about in Corner Brook, and not spat out of the side of the mouth," said Walbourne-Gough, in an interview with the Corner Brook Morning Show.

Walbourne-Gough's book of poetry The Crow Gulch Poems was recently picked up for publication by Goose Lane Editions.

Bad reputation

Crow Gulch is an area of Corner Brook that was settled around the time the city's newsprint mill was being built in the 1920s.

Residents of Crow Gulch were mostly migrant workers, many of whom had Mi'kmaq ancestry, including Walbourne-Gough's father's family.

The village was nestled on a hillside overlooking the mill, with houses built in a haphazard way, and without indoor plumbing or electricity.

Although he didn't live in Crow Gulch himself, the poet says he heard stories from his father and other relatives about how different things were, and how disadvantaged the area was.

"It's part of Corner Brook's social history, but nobody really knows about it," said Walbourne-Gough.

Douglas Walbourne-Gough holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of British Columbia. His thesis work included a book of poetry based on the life experience of residents of Crow Gulch. (Submitted)

What people do know about Crow Gulch isn't good.

Crow Gulch gained a reputation for being a rough area of town and, by the late 1970s or early 1980s, residents were eventually resettled, sometimes forcibly.

Walbourne-Gough says Crow Gulch has been further stigmatized by works of fiction, including Percy Janes's  House of Hate and Tom Finn's Westsiders, two novels that he feels portray Crow Gulch residents in a negative light.

"I felt immediately angered — hurt. I mean, these are my family, and not just my family down there, many families down there."

Rewriting the story

Walbourne-Gough first started writing about Crow Gulch in his poetry nearly a decade ago. He had shelved the topic until he met B.C. poet Cecily Nicholson at a writing retreat a few years back and she asked to see the work.

By that time, Walbourne-Gough had started studies for a Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing at the University of British Columbia, and he decided to get back to writing about Crow Gulch.

"Within a few weeks, I had a dozen new poems, and a stronger belief in myself and in the work."

I felt immediately angered — hurt.- Douglas Walbourne-Gough

After defending his masters' thesis last year, Walbourne-Gough was approached by Goose Lane Editions that it might be interested in publishing his book of poetry.

Earlier this year, the publisher confirmed that Walbourne-Gough's manuscript has indeed been picked up.

"It feels amazing, because then somebody believes in something that you've been working on for so long," he said.

Walbourne-Gough is hoping that people will read his poetry and be open to a different perspective on a little-known, yet stigmatized neighborhood.

"I'd just really like to see it find its actual place and context in Corner Brook's social history. And, unfortunately, I'm not a historian, but I am using a lot of history to get to these things as a poetic exploration."

Walbourne-Gough expects The Crow Gulch Poems could be available for purchase by late 2019 or early 2020.

The Crow Gulch neighborhood of Corner Brook was disadvantaged and stigmatized for decades until the area was resettled in the late 1970s and early 1980s. (Courtesy of Corner Brook Museum & Archives )