It is 1965 in the small Ontario town of Attawan. Bannerman's mills, the largest employer in Attawan, Ontario, are taken over by Intertex, a textile conglomerate with an eye for cost cutting. After the first round of layoffs, a union organizer comes to Attawan, attracting suspicion from both management and workers, many of whom remember the disastrous results of an ill-planned strike in 1949. Alf, reluctant to jeopardize his standing as heir apparent to the foreman's job, is particularly skeptical of the drive to unionize. However, when Alf's desire to please the new management leads to unintended consequences, he begins to reconsider his position. Alf Walker then becomes a hidden well of silent shame over his actions. Alf's worries are aggravated by his wife, Margaret, who has never reconciled her middle-class English upbringing with her blue-collar reality.
Meanwhile, their eldest son Joe, a rising senior, falls in love with new student Anna.
Anna, whose father is a mill executive, is also a poet, but she's reluctant to commit to Joe, hinting at sorrows in her past. Joe's attempts at winning her heart are persistent, as he can't seem to get her off his mind. He also tries to ignore the fact that this beautiful newcomer is a girl far beyond him, with greater experience and broader horizons.
The Walkers' daughter Penny begins to grasp realities beyond the walls of her home as she watches the family through their struggles.
The youngest son Jamie learns of mysteries and nightmares both imagined and real as he must deal alone with the tensions of class conflict and the terrors of sexual abuse. Jamie befriends Billy Boileau, son of a poor half-Indian mother, prompting Jamie's mother, Margaret, to label the Boileaus "not our kind of people," and going so far as to ban...