Trea­sured mem­o­ries of re­set­tle­ment

The Compass - - OPINION - Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Com­pass ev­ery week. He can be reached at bur­tonj@nfld.net Peter Pick­ers­gill is an artist and writer in Sal­vage, Bon­av­ista Bay. He can be reached by email at the fol­low­ing: pick­ers­gill@mac.

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.”

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