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The Newfoundland Diaspora Delisle, Jennifer


For over a century there has been a large ongoing migration from Newfoundland to other parts of Canada and the US. Between 1971 and 1998 alone, net out-migration amounted to 20% of the province’s population. This exodus has become a significant part of Newfoundland culture. While many literary critics, writers, and sociologists have referred to Newfoundland out-migration as a “diaspora,” few have examined the theoretical implications of applying this emotionally charged term to a predominantly white, economically motivated, inter-provincial movement. My dissertation addresses these issues, ultimately arguing that “diaspora” is an appropriate and helpful term to describe Newfoundland out-migration and its literature, because it connotes the painful displacement of a group that continues to identify with each other and with the homeland. I argue that considering Newfoundland a “diaspora” also provides a useful contribution to theoretical work on diaspora, because it reveals the ways in which labour movements and intra-national migrations can be meaningfully considered diasporic. It also rejects the Canadian tendency to conflate diaspora with racialized subjectivities, a tendency that problematically posits racialized Others as always from elsewhere, and that threatens to refigure experiences of racism as a problem of integration rather than of systemic, institutionalized racism. I examine several important literary works of the Newfoundland diaspora, including the poetry of E.J. Pratt and Carl Leggo, the drama of David French, the fiction of Donna Morrissey and Wayne Johnston, and the memoirs of Helen M. Buss/ Margaret Clarke and David Macfarlane. These works also become the sites of a broader inquiry into several theoretical flashpoints, including diasporic authenticity, nostalgia, nationalism, race and whiteness, and ethnicity. I show that diasporic Newfoundlanders’ identifications involve a complex, self-reflexive, postmodern negotiation between the sometimes contradictory conditions of white privilege, cultural marginalization, and national and regional appropriations. Through these negotiations they both construct imagined literary communities, and problematize Newfoundland’s place within Canadian culture and a globalized world.

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