Treasured memories of resettlement
A well-known photograph hangs on a wall in my office. Malcolm Rogers’ house is moored to the shore awaiting high tide, during the course of its relocation from Silver Fox Island to Dover, Bonavista Bay. A boy is flanked on either side by a girl. They are back-on to the cameraman, Mr. B. Brooks, who captured the scene in August of 1961. They are watching then premier Joey Smallwood’s resettlement scheme in action.
According to a note attached to the reverse of the picture, “In the 1950s and early 60s, many remote Newfoundland outport communities were forced to move to more accessible locations under a government program called Resettlement.
“Hundreds of Newfoundlanders, who had built their homes alongside their grandfathers and fathers, refused to abandon them and rebuild. So, by barge, boat, blood and sweat, they moved. Across bays and around capes family homes were floated to their new foundations and new beginnings.”
My children, knowing my keen interest in the history of Resettlement, gave me this classic framed photograph as a Christmas gift in 2002. I often cast a glance at it, espe-
There have been whispers trickling into the mainstream news about the possibility of what might turn out to be a major ecological threat. But how seriously can they be taken, these hints of what might eventually turn out to be future trouble, when they come from a couple of men in a small boat, bobbing on the Atlantic Ocean?
These men were out shooting birds near a remote island off the northeast coast of a bigger island off the east coast of North America. The birds the men shot were rumoured to have traces of oil on their feathers.
In the newsrooms of media centres in the tall buildings of urban Canada’s downtown cores, a lot of little stories pass daily through the hands of journalists charged with the task of selecting the big blockbuster scoop of the day.
It is possible to understand how a mistake could be made by a low level journalist as he passes over a tiny report about some men who were obliged to wash the birds they’d shot before eating them.
“What’s the big problem,” thought our reporter. “If they are too lazy to wash the birds, why not toss them overboard and go buy some chicken at the supermarket. Probably better for you anyway.”
Weeks later, more men in a different boat claimed to have had the same experience. According to the cially since reading Marilyn Billard’s book, “Grand Bruit: A Treasured Memory.”
The Burgeo-born Marilyn Billard ( nee Rose) explains that Grand Bruit, which is located east of Channel-Port aux Basques, “was a part of me before I was born. My mother came from that beautiful community with the jellybean-coloured house, green green grass, and a most beautiful waterfall cascading down over the big boulders and running out into the sea.”
At 16, Marilyn made her first trip to Grand Bruit, where she met, and eventually married, Bruce Billard. They had two children, both of whom loved Grand Bruit to the fullest.
Marilyn writes movingly and lovingly about aspects of life in Grand Bruit, including the school, medical clinic, church, and local service story reaching the newsroom, the birds they shot were in the same condition, streaked with oil. This time, though, the location where the allegedly oiled birds were shot was more precise, a place named “Blow Hard Rock.”
“Blow Hard Rock. That’s pretty funny,” thought the reporter. “You can’t make this kind of stuff up. The rock was probably named after the guys in t h e boat , a couple of blowhards hoping to get on television grumbling about a trickle of oil on a couple of tough old birds.”
Crumpling the printout of the story into a ball the reporter tossed it into a garbage can being carried out of the newsroom by the cleaning staff. He pushed the down button and waited for the elevator doors to open.
In the middle of the night, the reporter awakes with a start, soaked in sweat, tangled in the sheets and blankets of his bed.
“What’s the matter dear? A bad dream?” his wife murmurs.
“The worst,” sighs the reporter. “I committee.
The final chapter details the rumours that the community was going to lose their ferries.
“These rumours,” Marilyn writes, “went on for a long time until it became a reality.”
At one point, John Efford, then minister of services and transportation, visited the community and discussed the ferry system.
“The people were excited about having a ferry every day,” Marilyn dreamt that the sea was full of oil. It had leaked from a vessel carrying newsprint to Europe that sank off the northeast coast of Newfoundland 30 years ago with 464 tonnes of oil on board. For a few weeks now says, “not knowing deep down that that was the beginning of the end of Grand Bruit.”
Efford’s proposal called for the communities of Grand Bruit and La Poile to agree on a ferry schedule.
“Right then and there,” Marilyn adds, “we knew it was going to be a battle of words. We wanted what we wanted, and La Poile wanted what they wanted, which made sense. All the government did was upset both communities.”
Grand Bruit continued to experience depopulation related to changing economic and demographic conditions in rural Newfoundland, in particular the collapse of the Newfoundland cod fisheries in the early 1990s. By 2010, the last permanent residents had relocated.
“Leaving Grand Bruit was devastating for us,” Marilyn writes in an understatement.
Today, writing from her home in Burgeo, she believes that, as early as the mid-90s, the government had a “hidden agenda.” She explains: “I truly believe they had in their minds then that after a while, people (would) move, and a community that cost so much for medical and ferry service, plus a few other facts, I’ve been getting little stories on the wire about birds with oil on their feathers, but I didn’t take it seriously. A few guys out in small boats complaining about the smell of oil on the water. Didn’t seem anything to make (would) be no more.”
Marilyn wrote her book as a personal quest for personal peace of mind.
“I could not sleep after the community closed down,” she writes in an email to this columnist. “If I did, I dreamt about my family, my life there. It was like I had no home to go to. It was very sad for me for Grand Bruit to close down, but I understand fully why it had to. After putting it on paper, I had peace in my heart and mind.”
She wants her readers to learn “how an outport community people live and are there for one another and how much we loved living in Grand Bruit. When it was at its fullest, it was awesome to bring up a family there. Everyone was close and worked very well together.”
Grand Bruit may now be silent, but Marilyn’s book, which includes more than 25 photos, is a living memorial to a community beloved.
“Grand Bruit: A Treasured Memory” is published by Trafford Publishing a fuss about. Not a big enough story and I was looking for something sensational. Apparently the ship has been down there all this time and now she’s broken up. What’s the ship’s name? The Enola something … I can’t remember. I threw away the printout. The Enola … The Enola Gay. That’s it. Oh my God, there was oil everywhere. The birds were all dead and the shoreline was black as far as the eye could see. It was terrible.”
“It’s not just a dream dear,” his wife whispered, taking his arm. “It’s going to happen. You’ve got all the information right except for the name of the ship.
“The ship is the Manolis L. The Enola Gay is the American plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Japan that killed all those people and ended the Second World War.”
The reporter got out of bed and walked to the window. He pulled open the curtains and stared into the night. After a moment or two of silence, his wife could scarcely hear his voice.
“Manolis L. Enola Gay. Doesn’t matter. If somebody doesn’t get the oil out of that ship, it’s going to be our Hiroshima.”