Time to move on

Re­main­ing res­i­dents say good­bye to Wil­liam’s Har­bour

The Aurora (Labrador City) - - EDITORIAL - BY KYLE GREENHAM

WIL­LIAM’S HAR­BOUR, NL - It will be a par­tic­u­larly poignant mo­ment when George Rus­sell hits the hy­dro plant switch one last time.

It will not only end the power sup­ply to Wil­liam’s Har­bour, but usher an end to the place he has called home for more than four decades.

George has worked at the plant since its dawn­ing days in 1979. But when he ar­rives to work that Fri­day, he will be the man who dark­ens the out­port’s street­lights and sends the fi­nal volt of elec­tric­ity through the re­main­ing homes.

“When we turned on the power, my God that was great – ev­ery­body loved it,” George said. “Now this is go­ing to be a dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion; it’s not go­ing to be so happy of a mo­ment.

“I’ll know this is go­ing off, and it ain’t com­ing back on no more.”

Since late Au­gust, the com­mu­nity of Wil­liam’s Har­bour has been work­ing to re­set­tle its 26 res­i­dents. The area’s iso­lated lo­ca­tion and ag­ing pop­u­la­tion has made is­sues like trans­porta­tion, health care and other re­sources in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to ac­cess. Just last win­ter, only a dozen of its res­i­dents re­mained in the area.

When resettlement was brought back to the ta­ble at the end of the sum­mer, the town voted unan­i­mously to move on.

“It wasn’t never forced by gov­ern­ment, it was a vol­un­tary de­ci­sion by the peo­ple,” said George. “When the new bud­get came out, seems like ev­ery­body got on board and felt this was the time.”

Since he was 11 years old, Clay­ton Curl has lived his life as a fish­er­man. He says the first time he came to Wil­liam’s Har­bour, he knew some­day he’d make it his home. Curl spent the past 30 years liv­ing and fish­ing his boat out of the town.

But like much of the prov­ince, the mora­to­rium dev­as­tated the area and the younger folk moved on for school and em­ploy­ment. With the clo­sure of the fish plant in 1992, and the clo­sure of the school in 2000, Curl says it be­came clear resettlement was the in­evitable fu­ture for Wil­liam’s Har­bour.

“Once the school closed, I knew then it was only a mat­ter of time,” he said.

One big fam­ily

In the fi­nal days lead­ing up to the power shut off, only seven peo­ple re­main. Be­sides Trevor Larkham, who is tend­ing to his chick­ens and roost­ers be­fore he sends them off to Port Hope Simp­son, the Rus­sells re­side as the last fam­ily in the area.

While they were born in Rexon Cove, the Rus­sell broth­ers in­vested most of their lives in Wil­liam’s Har­bour.

George and his wife Louise were mar­ried at the Angli­can Church above the hill­side stairs. George was also the last mayor, and re­mained the go-to con­tact for the town af­ter­ward.

Free­man and his wife Ros­alind Rus­sell ran the only busi­ness in town, a store next to their home that car­ries ev­ery­thing from gro­ceries, tools, ski-doo parts and other ne­ces­si­ties. Like George and Louise, Free­man and Ros­alind are now mov­ing on to Char­lot­te­town.

Howard Rus­sell and his son Bill are gath­er­ing their last things to bring across the ferry to a home in Port Hope Simp­son.

Bertha Rus­sell set off to her new home in Port Hope Simp­son a week ago.

“That’s the sad­dest part about it,” said Bill. “It’s one big fam­ily and they’re go­ing to be sep­a­rated.”

Howard was never fond of hav­ing to re­set­tle. As his new house in Port Hope Simp­son is be­ing built, Howard is al­ready hard at work en­sur­ing he can keep his Wil­liam’s Har­bour prop­erty as a sum­mer home.

“Had no choice but to go. What good would it be for me to stay here with no lights on and no pay­out,” said Howard, who turned 70 on Nov. 7. “But I’ll be back in the sum­mer and in the fall for berry pick­ing - I just got to get back.”

Known for its plen­ti­ful salmon, ber­ries, and wild game like ducks, foxes and rab­bits, Wil­liam’s Har­bour was an ideal res­i­dence for those who take joy in liv­ing off the land.

The town’s nat­u­ral spring wa­ter has of­ten been de­scribed as the best on the Labrador coast, and it will be dearly missed by all.

But with an ag­ing pop­u­la­tion, the dif­fi­cult task of get­ting to a hos­pi­tal dur­ing times of sick­ness or emer­gency was stren­u­ous. Dur­ing the win­ter the only way out of Wil­liam’s Har­bour is via plane. With harsh winds and snow­storms com­mon, weather is of­ten not suit­able for a plane to risk com­ing out.

Howard him­self had a close call roughly 10 years ago, when he awoke in the mid­dle of the night with an aching pain in his chest. He soon re­al­ized he was hav­ing a heart at­tack, but the winds were too harsh for the plane to come down to rush him to hos­pi­tal.

“The wind was blow­ing that hard, I was sure the plane was never go­ing to come,” said Howard. “I called home and said, ‘Come over if you want to see me die, ‘cause with that state of it I’m not get­ting out of here.’”

Af­ter seven hours the wind died down enough for the plane to fly down and rush Howard to the hos­pi­tal. For those long hours, Howard sat and waited at his kitchen ta­ble in ag­o­niz­ing pain - un­cer­tain if the plane would ever ar­rive. Howard says the wait was that long he man­aged to smoke an en­tire pack of cig­a­rettes.

Im­pact of Reg

Their brother Reg Rus­sell passed away in 2015. He had been feel­ing un­well, and just as a boat to take him to hos­pi­tal was leav­ing the Wil­liam’s Har­bour wharf he died of a sud­den heart at­tack. It left a shat­ter­ing mark on the fam­ily.

“When I wanted some­thing done, Reg was al­ways there for me,” said Howard. “When he died I wanted to leave; I al­most did.”

Louise says Reg’s pass­ing brought the is­sue of ac­cess to health care to the fore­front of the com­mu­nity. It played a ma­jor role in the de­ci­sion to re­set­tle.

“When Reg died, it left a big im­pact on George,” Louise said. “He fig­ured that was it then, it’s time to move on.”

Time re­straints Ini­tially, the res­i­dents of Wil­liam’s Har­bour were given a dead­line of Oct. 27 to find new homes and move out of the area be­fore the elec­tric­ity and run­ning wa­ter were cut off. It was a date no one in the town ap­proved of, and it was soon ex­tended to Nov. 10.

But with many head­ing to new homes that have hardly be­gun their con­struc­tion phase, the time re­straint has brought much frus­tra­tion. The fund­ing needed for the resettlement did not come through to the res­i­dents un­til less than two weeks be­fore the Novem­ber dead­line.

Ros­alind and Free­man felt par­tic­u­larly rushed hav­ing both a home and busi­ness to pack up. The cou­ple pur­chased land in Char­lot­te­town and have a small one-level home cur­rently be­ing built. How­ever, they are un­cer­tain if it will be ready as late as Christ­mas for them to move in.

“They never gave us enough time, a cou­ple months is noth­ing,” said Ros­alind. “They should’ve given us til next spring, or at least told us ear­lier in the sum­mer.

“It’s not easy, and on the coast there’s not too many homes to buy.”

For now they will move in with their daugh­ter in Char­lot­te­town, but her small apart­ment will keep them se­verely lim­ited on what they can take. With their store alone, they had three re­frig­er­a­tors to move. As well as large items like ski-doo parts, many of which may have to be left be­hind.

Ros­alind and Free­man ran their busi­ness for 30 years. But at 71 and 75 years old re­spec­tively, they do not have their sights on open­ing a new busi­ness any­time in the fu­ture.

“It seems sad to have a move away like this at this time in our lives. I don’t know if they re­al­ized how much work there was to it,” said Ros­alind. “We got no choice now but to take what we need and leave the rest of it.”

With her sons ar­riv­ing in town on their long liner boat, Ros­alind and her hus­band will spend these fi­nal days gath­er­ing what they can as they leave be­hind a home and their way of mak­ing a liv­ing.

The fu­ture of Wil­liam’s

Har­bour

De­spite the aban­doned ve­hi­cles and with­er­ing build­ings now so prom­i­nent, Wil­liam’s Har­bour is not des­tined to be just an­other ghost town. Fuelled largely by a love for the area, the town will re­main in use in the hot­ter months. Like Howard, Louise and George plan to re­turn each sum­mer, and have al­ready be­gun re­ar­rang­ing for a sum­mer home.

“We’ll be back in the sum­mer, that’s what keeps us go­ing,” said George.

Howard has plans to bar off his base­ment and bring in a wood fur­nace to make his Wil­liam’s Har­bour prop­erty more cabin like and suit­able for the off-the-grid life­style.

It will be a dif­fer­ent time for the com­mu­nity, with a greater de­pen­dence on gen­er­a­tors, wood fur­naces and gath­er­ing wa­ter from Wil­liam’s Har­bour’s nat­u­ral spring. Although, for fam­i­lies like the Rus­sells who grew up in the area, in many ways it will be like re­turn­ing to child­hood.

“We lived like that for years and years,” Howard rem­i­nisced. “We’ll miss the run­ning wa­ter and that only be­cause we let our­selves get use to it.”

Af­ter the power and run­ning wa­ter are shut off the airstrip will be torn apart and its phone ser­vice tower taken down. These es­sen­tials of the mod­ern world will be gone, but for those who cher­ish the self-suf­fi­cient and older ways of liv­ing, the resettlement by no means will be the end of Wil­liam’s Har­bour.

“I wish it could all be left for peo­ple who want to stay. But to tell the truth we were get­ting nowhere, we had no young peo­ple,” said Howard. “But I know I’ll be back here, and my grand­kids love to come out here. So they’ll be back, they al­ways come back.”

KYLE GREENHAM / THE NORTH­ERN PEN

Howard Rus­sell and his son Bill are en­joy­ing their last mo­ments at the fam­ily home. Howard has al­ready be­gun re­work­ing the home so he can re­turn to Wil­liam’s Har­bour ev­ery sum­mer.

KYLE GREENHAM / THE NORTH­ERN PEN

When George Rus­sell turns off the power at the hy­dro plant in Wil­liam’s Har­bour, it will be a sym­bolic farewell to the com­mu­nity he has called home for more than 40 years.

KYLE GREENHAM / THE NORTH­ERN PEN

Trevor Larkham watches over the hens and roost­ers he has kept fed in Wil­liam’s Har­bour for the past two years. He will soon be gath­er­ing the birds to take to a new home in Port Hope Simp­son, but like some oth­ers, his love of the town will keep him re­turn­ing to Wil­liam’s Har­bour each sum­mer.

KYLE GREENHAM / THE NORTH­ERN PEN

Free­man Rus­sell takes one of his last trips out at the wood, wheel­ing in an­other bar­rel to heat his Wil­liam’s Har­bour home.

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