Re­set­tle­ment: Some say they will never leave

The Globe and Mail (Ottawa/Quebec Edition) - - GLOBE FOCUS -

said Pop­u­la­tion Project di­rec­tor Keith Storey. “In gen­eral, I think we will see more re­quests to govern­ment to re­set­tle com­mu­ni­ties over the next 20 years for sure.”

De­spite its faded glory, the essence of com­mu­nity still ex­ists on Lit­tle Bay Islands. Neigh­bours drop off steam­ing loaves of por­ridge bread and share bags of freshly gut­ted cod. In sum­mer, a smat­ter­ing of grand­chil­dren and great grand­chil­dren liven up the scene. A few tourists still come by to hike and view the ice­bergs. And sum­mer res­i­dents – af­fec­tion­ately called “stouts” (an­other word for deer flies) – re­turn to sail their boats and pick par­tridge and cloud berries. There are craft cir­cles, potlucks and flotil­las in mem­ory of lost friends here on this edge of the Earth.

Some say they’ll re­turn re­gard­less of re­lo­ca­tion, like Doris Tucker, who was born on the is­land in 1939, and later lived and worked in Mon­treal as a nurse. She now lives part of the year in St. John’s.

“Emo­tion­ally, I never left,” she says over tea and cook­ies at the kitchen ta­ble of her pur­ple-and­white-striped clap­board home. “I’m just very com­fort­able here. I love get­ting up in the morn­ing and see­ing the sun­rise.”

Ms. Tucker owns Her­itage House, a turn-of-the-cen­tury home, which she’s packed to the gills with Lit­tle Bay Islands mem­o­ra­bilia: a stuffed seal, por­traits of for­mer premier Joey Small­wood and Je­sus Christ on op­pos­ing walls, a blue-and-white quilt with em­broi­dered names of the is­land’s found­ing fam­i­lies, an enamel wood-stove oven – pretty much any­thing any­one has ever tried to do away with on the is­land is pre­served here.

Ms. Tucker, whose nick­name is Mayor Tucker, is one of the few against re­set­tle­ment: “Why would you want to de­stroy out­port New­found­land? New­found­land is out­ports – that’s how we came to be,” she said. “It’s crazy to think ev­ery­body can live in Cor­ner Brook, St. John’s, Grand Falls.”

Across the har­bour, as the sun dips be­hind the hill fac­ing his house, Win­cel Ox­ford gin­gerly de­scends the out­door steps of his home with scraps from his fish din­ner. Al and Peanut are wait­ing on the stage; their beaks agape. He throws the food at the two gulls and stares out at the har­bour.

His “pets” help make the long, harsh win­ters bear­able, he says, when his niece, who he con­sid­ers a sur­ro­gate daugh­ter, is a world away in Toronto and the only sounds are their cries for food and the ice creak­ing with the mov­ing tide.

Mr. Ox­ford started fish­ing at age 16 with his fa­ther and has lived here all of his 84 years. He saw the first chain­saw, snow­mo­bile, all-ter­rain ve­hi­cle and pickup truck come onto the is­land. He still chops all his own wood and goes out in his boat to jig for cod. Every nook and cranny of the coast­line is fa­mil­iar to him and he finds his sweet spots for cod by how the bow of his alu­minum fish­ing boat lines up with the land.

He too is fa­tal­is­tic about re­lo­cat­ing, though he had tears in his eyes as he checked the box for re­set­tle­ment at the orig­i­nal vote. That X marked the cross­roads all of out­port New­found­land and Labrador’s ag­ing pop­u­la­tion will face in the com­ing years: Live on in a dy­ing com­mu­nity un­til the nat­u­ral end, or take the money and let the com­mu­nity die.

“It’s hard to walk away from your home and not get any­thing. You spend your life­time try­ing to get some­thing and then have to walk away from it. You can’t sell it. To me, it’ll be sad to leave here, but I will go along with it,” Mr. Ox­ford said.

For those whose en­tire lives can be mapped on this speck of land in Notre Dame Bay, that’ll be it. The shared mem­o­ries, traded recipes, known fish­ing spots and not-so-se­cret skele­tons in the closet – ev­ery­thing that brings a com­mu­nity to life – will dis­perse when the lights go out. Mr. Ox­ford will set out his last bowl of soup for the gulls. Ms. Tucker will open the door to her eclec­tic col­lec­tion a fi­nal time. And Cressie Roberts will see the last pe­ony bloom on her birth­day.

It’s hard to walk away from your home and not get any­thing. You can’t sell it. To me, it’ll be sad to leave here, but I will go along with it.”

Win­cel Ox­ford

Lit­tle Bay Islands res­i­dent

PHO­TOS BY DARREN CALABRESE FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL

When re­set­tle­ment hap­pens, the govern­ment with­draws all its ser­vices such as garbage col­lec­tion, health care, ed­u­ca­tion and elec­tric­ity.

There are only 38 res­i­dents liv­ing in 20 homes on the is­land to­day. In its hey­day, it was a bustling com­mu­nity of 600.

The essence of com­mu­nity still ex­ists on the is­land. Neigh­bours drop off steam­ing loaves of por­ridge bread, share bags of freshly gut­ted cod and get to­gether at potlucks.

As the pro­vin­cial govern­ment grap­ples with ris­ing debt, it is of­fer­ing res­i­dents of some com­mu­ni­ties up to $270,000 per house­hold to re­lo­cate.

Some res­i­dents split their time be­tween Lit­tle Bay Islands and other places in Canada, fer­ry­ing their be­long­ings back and forth be­tween their two homes.

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