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Down Memory Lane: Outport people

Resettlement is an issue many people in rural Newfoundland and Labrador have confronted over the years.
Resettlement is an issue many people in rural Newfoundland and Labrador have confronted over the years. - Allan Stoodley Photography

During a 20-year span, from 1954 – 1975, the very controversial government resettlement programs resulted in some 300 outport communities being abandoned and nearly 30,000 people moved to so-called growth centres. 

"They’re outport people with outport ways

But there’s nowhere to use them and now it’s too late

They curse on the ones who uttered the phrase

Resettlement now while resettlement pays." - SIMANI 

The emotions and the challenges a lot of these people faced, as they tried to adjust to a new way of life, were daunting to put it mildly. Some people were quite willing to leave their small isolated communities, in order to start anew and thereby give their children more opportunities; while others - often the older folk - wanted to stay and hold on to what they were familiar with. 

Bay Of Hope – Five Years in Newfoundland” is a new book by David Ward.
Bay Of Hope – Five Years in Newfoundland” is a new book by David Ward.

 

As some of the people left, reality set in as governments withdrew or downgraded services. Soon, for the last of the remaining residents; they could be left without a regular visit from a clergyman or a doctor or even without a school or a teacher.

The end result for the families that were the last to leave was profound. Consider a young person, 10-12 years old, who hadn’t attended school the previous year or for two years; trying to adjust and adapt to a new town, a new school and new classmates.

Fast forward to 1992 and the cod moratorium which resulted in over 35,000 fishers and plant workers from over 400 coastal communities becoming unemployed. Many of these plant workers and fishers were the same people who had moved to the “growth centres” with their families, two to three decades before. Once again they were thrust into a life-changing event not of their own choosing.

Today, many of the remaining small isolated communities in this province are having to confront the “resettlement” issue once again. It is true that now the initiative to relocate has to come from the residents themselves and at least 90 per cent of them have to be in favour of the move, to take advantage of the government offered compensation package.

Still, if you see a downgrade in your ferry service or other essential programs, then it is only a matter of time before some people will want to leave. When that happens a no-win situation could occur, whereby those who want to move could be the majority but they can’t get the required ninety percent to make it happen. It’s a tough corner to be in; both for those who want to move as well as those who want to stay.

Some of the smaller isolated communities in this part of the province including Rencontre East, Gaultois, McCallum, Grey River, Francois and South East Bight survived the “centralization” programs of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. Now they are being faced with this new reality as today’s provincial government grapples with the huge cost of providing dependable ferry service to fewer and fewer people. The big question is; how much longer can the status quo continue?

Just two months ago, on April 17, a new book entitled “Bay Of Hope – Five Years in Newfoundland” by author David Ward hit the book-stores in this province. It focuses on the isolated community of McCallum, population just 78 people, situated near the mouth of Bay d’Espoir on the southwest coast.

It is obvious right from the opening paragraph that the author has deep feelings and respect for the people there as well as sincere empathy for them as they wrestle with the life-changing decision they have to make regarding “resettlement”.

The book is also a story of loneliness, love and adventure as it captures life in outport Newfoundland so poignantly as did Michael Crummey’s novel “Sweetland” a few years ago. To say that I enjoyed reading the book is an understatement; I highly recommend it:

“You can move a house easy and tow it away,

but the home doesn’t move it continues to stay,

and the dollars you make sure they’ll keep you

alive, but they can’t sooth the heart and they can’t

ease the mind.

“Don’t take a man from the life that he knows,

and tear up his roots and expect him to grow,

and for God’s sake don’t say how much greener’s

the grass, those uprooted people saw it wither too

fast.”

Allan Stoodley is a long-time resident of Grand Bank. He can be reached at amstoodley@hotmail.com and he welcomes comments on this or any article he has written. The song “Outport People” was written by Everard “Bud” Davidge and was recorded by SIMANI. It is used in this article with permission of the writer.

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