I am foreborn of spud runts who fled the famines of Ireland in the 1830s, not a man or woman among them more than five foot two, leaving behind a life of beggarment and setting sail for what since Malory were called the Happy Isles . . .'
So begins Baltimore's Mansion, Wayne Johnston's story of his grandfather Charlie, his father Arthur and of the small community of Ferryland on Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula, founded as a Catholic community by Lord Baltimore in the 1620s. Charlie, a fisherman and blacksmith, is an ardent Newfoundland nationalist. His son Arthur, forced from boyhood to fish the freezing seas with his father, vows never to earn his living from Newfoundland's dangerous waters, and leaves the island in the heady months leading to the fateful 1948 referendum held to decide Newfoundland's future. While Arthur is away Charlie dies and Newfoundland cedes its independence to Canada, plunging Arthur into a lifelong battle with the personal demons that haunted the end of their relationship.
In 1981, aged 23, Wayne Johnston himself leaves Newfoundland and old patterns threaten to repeat themselves. At times harrowing, at others both moving and funny, Baltimore's Mansions speaks to us all about the hardships, blessings and power of family relationships, of leaving home and returning.