Resettlement: Some say they will never leave
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.”
Little Bay Islands resident
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.