Town in limbo
Little Bay Islands faces more waiting for resettlement resolution, despite recent steps forward
Residents of Little Bay Islands are one step closer to knowing the fate of their community.
After months of back and forth over who qualifies as a resident and can therefore vote on the resettlement question, those who appealed the decision on their status have been getting their answers.
“The community is still digesting it,” Coun. Chris Weir told The Central Voice Oct. 24. Despite his position on council since 2014, he was not deemed a full-time resident of the community in the original assessment, released in February. He learned the decision had been overturned around the same time as others in the community got their own results, Oct. 15.
Despite this step forward, however, Weir says the process is still taking too long.
“I still think it’s a debacle, I really don’t know what the government has done here,” he said. “It’s an issue that should have been resolved many, many months ago, put closure to the fact. It hasn’t been done. It seems like they’re dragging their heels on it, and I’m not sure why they’re dragging their heels on it.”
Past v. present
The saga of the potential resettlement of Little Bay Islands has made headlines for years.
Media the likes of The Globe and Mail, The National Post and The New York Times have made the trek to the island in Notre Dame Bay – a mere 30-minute ferry ride from Pilley’s Island. The Central Voice made its own pilgrimage in early September.
“What’s happening in Newfoundland is really no different than anywhere else,” said Ray Flynn, a summer resident of the island who has lived in many provinces over the course of his life. “In Newfoundland, it was the fishing. This was a major fishing centre, but after the war, everything changed and it’s been going downhill ever since.”
Little Bay Islands has about 120 homes, though some stand empty. There used to be more scattered throughout the island’s coves, but as time wore on and fishing was no longer sustainable as a purely familyrun operation, people moved into the town, clustered around a protected harbour.
The 2016 census recorded 61 residents, though last year less than 40 stayed over the winter. There are only a handful of residents under the age of 60.
The government is offering $250,000 for a single person, and up to $270,000 for a family, to relocate. As a result of a policy change in 2016, this would not see the government take possession of people’s homes, but rather is meant to help people start somewhere else.
Flynn is originally from Harbour Main but married two women from Little Bay Islands and now spends his summers there with his second wife, Doris Tucker, in her brother’s former house. They too had appeals filed for their residency status. He also has little faith in the government coming to a speedy decision when it comes to resettlement.
“People like Doris and I, it don’t matter a lot to us because we come in the summer, we go down south in the winter, and we got a home in St. John’s,” he said. “The sad part is there are a number of elderly people who don’t have a vehicle of their own, and health care is a major problem. Just to go to Springdale on the ferry, if you have to get a taxi it’s $70, just to go to the drugstore.”
In the Oct. 2015 vote that fell half-a-percentage shy of the 90 per cent required for resettlement, Flynn cast a ballot in favour of the measure. Not for himself, he said, but for his friends and neighbours.
“If they ever did another vote, I’m not sure which way I’d go,” he said.
Though they do have a house in St. John’s, in Paradise to be precise, Tucker knows where she calls home.
“That’s not paradise,” she said. “Little Bay Island is paradise.”
Little Bay Islands was settled in 1825 and was once a bustling community of more than 500 people.
Doris Tucker serves tea and treats to visitors to Little Bay Islands who stop by her house.