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For other authors named Cassie Brown, see the disambiguation page.

5 Works 225 Members 7 Reviews

Works by Cassie Brown


Common Knowledge

Legal name
Brown, Cassie Eileen
Other names
Brown, Cassie Eileen
Date of death
Rose Blanche, Newfoundland, Canada
Places of residence
St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada
Labrador City, Newfoundland, Canada
scriptwriter (freelance writer of scripts and educational broadcasts for CBC)
publisher (Newfoundland Women)
real estate agent
short-story writer
Newfoundland Drama Society
Daily News of St. John's
Awards and honors
Awards, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador Arts and Letters competition (1954 ∙ 1955 ∙ [1956, 1957])
Honorary Life Member, Newfoundland Drama Society
Short biography
Cassie Eileen Brown (1919 – 1986) was a journalist, author, publisher and editor born in Rose Blanche, Newfoundland, Canada, and moved to St. John's with her family in the 1930s. Brown is most distinguished for her books Death on the Ice which was featured in Reader's Digest and A Winter's Tale: The Wreck of the Florizel.

Brown won awards in the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador Arts and Letters competition for 1954, 1955, 1956 and 1957. She began writing as a teenager and later worked as a freelance writer of scripts and educational broadcasts for CBC. She was a reporter for The Daily News of St. John's from 1959 to 1966 and publisher of the magazine Newfoundland Women from 1961 to 1964.

Brown was elected to the executive of the Newfoundland Drama Society and made an honorary life member. She was also President of Karwood Limited, a real estate development company from Mt. Pearl.



Cassie Brown's book about the actual events that occurred on the North Atlantic ice of the 1914 Newfoundland sealing disaster is very clear and so well written, that I feel I got to know these sealers. Although it is a true story of what actually happened to the sealers from the ship Newfoundland when they spent two days on the ice in the North Atlantic in a terrible blizzard in 1914, it reads like a novel. Ms. Brown uses the colloquial language of Newfoundland and Labrador and she introduces us to all the unfortunate sealers as she moves through the disaster chronologically. It is a very difficult book to read, but totally enthralling. This book belongs on my most memorable books list for sure. It is an incredible story about the harsh life that these sealers led at the turn of the 20 century. It is also an expose of the greed and lack of empathy for human life that big companies like the sealing companies practised in those days. Times were hard for these hard-working sealers. Their job was to go out on the breaking ice and kill as many baby Harp seals as they could for the entire sealing season. They lived off of hard tack and copious amounts of tea. The conditions were appalling on the sealing vessels. Bungling and mistakes caused this disaster to happen and 85 sealers died on the ice. The 55 or so survivors were horribly maimed and many had lost feet and/or hands to the killing cold. Even in those appalling conditions, we see some real heroes come to the forefront. Without those men, fifty-five sealers would not have made it back. I urge every Canadian to read this book and lift a "mug-up" to these brave, courageous men, forefathers of our wonderful fellow Canadians in Newfoundland and Labrador.… (more)
Romonko | 3 other reviews | Sep 18, 2019 |
Content warning: hunting of animals

Occupational health and safety was essentially non-existent in 1914, particularly among the crews of sealing vessels working out of Newfoundland (which at that time was still an independent dominion, not part of Canada). Sealers were not given warm clothes or survival equipment, their vessels were not all equipped with wireless, and their low pay compelled them to work longer than they should so that they would gain just a bit more for their families. In Death on the Ice, Cassie Brown tells how these circumstances led to the deaths of 70 men and the brutal injuries to many others when a party of sealers was left stranded on the ice for two days and two nights while a terrible blizzard raged.

This book almost reads like a novel, with vivid details and dialogue that is liberally imbued with the Newfoundland accent. That said, it was a bit hard to get into at the beginning, because as a 21st-century reader I was more than a little appalled by the seal hunt in the first place. This is the seal hunt where the defenceless baby seals are killed for their pelts and not much else, so it is upsetting to read those details and feel bad for the men who are doing this job. It creates some complicated emotions.

The book contains a photo section with black-and-white photos, and some of these are shocking. There are photos from the hunt itself (distressing if you like animals) and of the frozen, dead sealers stacked like cordwood on the decks of their ship once they had been retrieved (distressing if you like humans).

This is one of those non-fiction books that doesn’t have an index, which is annoying, and I don’t think it had a bibliography either. It is more of a popular non-fiction kind of book, read for the story.
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rabbitprincess | 3 other reviews | Jun 15, 2019 |
If you like disaster stories, this book is for you. If you like to get chills, this book is really for you.

The "Newfoundland Disaster" is one of the great tragic stories of that island's history, and is known in folklore, song, and artwork. In outline, it's a simple tale: Newfoundlanders every year went out onto the Atlantic ice to kill seals (mostly harp seal pups, but sometimes adult harps or hooded seals), turning the fat into oils for lighting and other uses as well as eating some of the meat and selling the skins. By 1914, the ships involved were large steamers which typically took four "watches" of sealers, each watch consisting of several dozen men who would kill the seals and either take them back to the ship or pile them in a "pan" for the ship to pick up. Because the seal pups were on ice floes, and men could go across the ice where ships could not, ships and men sometimes separated. In 1914, the sealers of the steamer Newfoundland, which was stuck ("jammed") in the ice, were ordered by their captain Westbury Kean go to the Stephano, commanded by his father Abram, so that they could get closer to the seals. Abram Kean picked them up, gave them a quick cup of tea -- and shoved them back on the ice and went away, even as a big, cold storm blew up. The men had no choice but to try to make their way home -- and failed; they could not find the Newfoundland because of the storm and because Abram Kean had carried them astray and sent them in the wrong direction. And while the Stephano had wireless, the Newfoundland did not, so the ships could not communicate. Wes Kean and Abram Kean both thought the sealers were safe with the other. Instead, they were dying on the ice. It took two days for anyone to realize that the men were lost; by then, the majority were dead and many of the survivors were permanently maimed.

This book tells the tale with harrowing pathos -- describing, for instance, a father who died with his arms enfolding his sons as they all tried to stay warm. There are tales of the families afraid and desolated, and of the errors of many people involved. Truly, if you want a tale of horrors, it's here.

If you want an accurate account, I'm less confident. Cassie Brown did a lot of research, but she doesn't show it to us -- there are no footnotes, and there is no index. This is a serious lack, because with about two hundred people to keep track of, you'll often find yourself wondering if you should remember anything about this person. For example, Master Watch Sidney Jones at one stage shows up as a parasite trying to take advantage of others' work, and Master Watch Jacob Bungay seems completely mindless. Were they really? Men didn't get to be Master Watch (that is, commander of a watch) for nothing. What had they been like earlier? No way to check without re-reading the book!

And there are loose ends. For instance, Brown implies that the barometer on the Newfoundland was defective, so that Wes Kean could not have known the storm was coming -- and blames him for trusting it. But was it defective? If it was ever tested, she doesn't say so. And it's not Wes Kean's fault if it was -- sealers only worked on their ships a few weeks a year; the rest of the time, the ships were doing other things. So if the Newfoundland had a bad barometer, it was the owners' fault, not Wes's -- and besides, we don't know if it was defective.

And what really did happen to the survivors? What about, for instance, Master Watch Tom Dawson, who had done what he could to go against Abram Kean's orders and tried to save the men? Without him, the disaster might have been worse -- but he had led the return to the ship, breaking trail across the ice, and it exhausted him so much that he barely survived. I know from other sources that he lost both his feet. Yet Brown does not tell us this tale -- or what happened to him afterward. The whole tale ends too soon.

Brown's goal seems to be to pin the whole blame on Abram Kean. There is no question but that his action in shoving the men back on the ice was the immediate cause of the disaster. But does this put Kean at fault? It was the companies who had stripped the wireless from Newfoundland -- and it was the companies who hired Abram Kean, precisely because he was hard-driving, single-minded, and utterly lacking in respects for men other than his family. Wes Kean's men weren't even employees of the same company (Wes Kean, being young, got the dregs of the sealing fleet; Abram Kean got the Stephano, the biggest, newest, fanciest, safest vessel available). It wasn't Abram Kean's job to care. And the "Old Man" of the sealing fleet got to be the "Old Man" because he did his job very well.

There are many other instances in this book where there seems to be some data missing, and unfair assumptions made. Don't get me wrong; it's the best book available on a truly tragic event that deserves to be remembered. But I'm not sure I entirely trust it.
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1 vote
waltzmn | 3 other reviews | Feb 18, 2018 |
Although the writing here may be a bit dated and perhaps not as inspired as one might hope for, the portrait these short essay paints of life on the North Atlantic is riveting. Ms. Brown, who died in 1986 was a journalist, author, publisher and editor born in Rose Blanche, Newfoundland, Canada, in 1919, and moved to St. John's with her family in the 1930s. She is best known for her books "Death on the Ice" and "The Wreck of the Florizel." (Although I haven't read those books, I'm now most curious to do so.)

Life on "The Rock", as Newfoundland is known, is hard, and the people tough. In this collection Brown focuses on the various tragedies at sea and on the ice during the seal hunts and the second World War, as well as one particularly poignant account of a terrible storm taking the lives of two lighthouse keepers. For someone like myself, who was raised far from the sea, the power of the sea as well as the courage of those who make their living upon it is both heart-breaking and astounding. Brown writes in the matter-of-fact way of newspaper writers in the early 20th c. There is little romance, nothing of the 'creative non-fiction' approach readers are now accustomed to, and there is power in the unadorned method, juxtaposed again these terrible events.

The most personal essays come early in the book when Brown writes about her strict, children-should-be-seen-and-not-heard upbringing in Rose Blanche, and the three times the sea nearly claimed her as a child.

All in all a wonderful introduction to life on "The Rock" during the period and the bravery of those who go down to the sea in ships.
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Laurenbdavis | Jul 8, 2012 |



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