Time to move on
Remaining residents say goodbye to William’s Harbour
It will be a particularly poignant moment when George Russell hits the hydro plant switch one last time.
It will not only end the power supply to William’s Harbour, but usher an end to the place he has called home for more than four decades.
George has worked at the plant since its dawning days in 1979. But when he arrives to work that Friday, he will be the man who darkens the outport’s streetlights and sends the final volt of electricity through the remaining homes.
“When we turned on the power, my God that was great – everybody loved it,” George said. “Now this is going to be a different situation; it’s not going to be so happy of a moment.
“I’ll know this is going off, and it ain’t coming back on no more.”
Since late August, the community of William’s Harbour has been working to resettle its 26 residents. The area’s isolated location and aging population has made issues like transportation, health care and other resources increasingly difficult to access. Just last winter, only a dozen of its residents remained in the area.
When resettlement was brought back to the table at the end of the summer, the town voted unanimously to move on.
“It wasn’t never forced by government, it was a voluntary decision by the people,” said George. “When the new budget came out, seems like everybody got on board and felt this was the time.”
Since he was 11 years old, Clayton Curl has lived his life as a fisherman. He says the first time he came to William’s Harbour, he knew someday he’d make it his home. Curl spent the past 30 years living and fishing his boat out of the town.
But like much of the province, the moratorium devastated the area and the younger folk moved on for school and employment. With the closure of the fish plant in 1992, and the closure of the school in 2000, Curl says it became clear resettlement was the inevitable future for William’s Harbour.
“Once the school closed, I knew then it was only a matter of time,” he said.
One big family
In the final days leading up to the power shut off, only seven people remain. Besides Trevor Larkham, who is tending to his chickens and roosters before he sends them off to Port Hope Simpson, the Russells reside as the last family in the area.
While they were born in Rexon Cove, the Russell brothers invested most of their lives in William’s Harbour.
George and his wife Louise were married at the Anglican Church above the hillside stairs. George was also the last mayor, and remained the go-to contact for the town afterward.
Freeman and his wife Rosalind Russell ran the only business in town, a store next to their home that carries everything from groceries, tools, ski-doo parts and other necessities. Like George and Louise, Freeman and Rosalind are now moving on to Charlottetown.
Howard Russell and his son Bill are gathering their last things to bring across the ferry to a home in Port Hope Simpson.
Bertha Russell set off to her new home in Port Hope Simpson a week ago.
“That’s the saddest part about it,” said Bill. “It’s one big family and they’re going to be separated.”
Howard was never fond of having to resettle. As his new house in Port Hope Simpson is being built, Howard is already hard at work ensuring he can keep his William’s Harbour property as a summer home.
“Had no choice but to go. What good would it be for me to stay here with no lights on and no payout,” said Howard, who turned 70 on Nov. 7. “But I’ll be back in the summer and in the fall for berry picking - I just got to get back.”
Known for its plentiful salmon, berries, and wild game like ducks, foxes and rabbits, William’s Harbour was an ideal residence for those who take joy in living off the land.
The town’s natural spring water has often been described as the best on the Labrador coast, and it will be dearly missed by all.
When George Russell turns off the power at the hydro plant in William’s Harbour, it will be a symbolic farewell to the community he has called home for more than 40 years.
Howard Russell and his son Bill are enjoying their last moments at the family home. Howard has already begun reworking the home so he can return to William’s Harbour every summer.
Freeman Russell takes one of his last trips out at the wood, wheeling in another barrel to heat his William’s Harbour home.
The old school of William’s Harbour. When it shut down in 2000, Louise Russell says her two grandchildren were the only students. Clayton Curl, a fisherman in the area, says when the school closed he knew resettlement was soon to be on its way.
Trevor Larkham watches over the hens and roosters he has kept fed in William’s Harbour for the past two years. He will soon be gathering the birds to take to a new home in Port Hope Simpson, but like some others, his love of the town will keep him returning to William’s Harbour each summer.