Time to move on

Re­main­ing res­i­dents say good­bye to Wil­liam’s Har­bour

The Pilot - - Focus - BY KYLE GREENHAM

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 over 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 street lights 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 this 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, snow­mo­bile 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 on Sun­day.

“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 Ros­alind Rus­sell is pack­ing up what­ever she can from her store – the sole re­main­ing busi­ness of Wil­liam’s Har­bour. Due to time con­straints with the re­set­tle­ment, there are many things she will be forced to leave be­hind.

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.

But with an ag­ing pop­u­la­tion,

the dif­fi­cult task of get­ting to a hospi­tal dur­ing times of sick­ness or emer­gency was stren­u­ous. Dur­ing the win­ter the only way out of Wil­liam’s Har­bour is via plane. With harsh winds and snow­storms com­mon, weather is of­ten not suit­able for a plane to risk com­ing out.

Howard him­self had a close call roughly 10 years ago, when who awoke in the mid­dle of the night with an aching pain in his chest. He soon re­al­ized he was hav­ing a heart at­tack, but the winds were too harsh for the plane to come down to rush him to hospi­tal.

“The wind was blow­ing that hard, I was sure the plane was never go­ing to come,” said Howard. “I called home and said, ‘Come over if you want to see me die, ’cause with that state of it I’m not get­ting out of here.’”

After seven hours the wind died down enough for the plane to land and rush Howard to the hospi­tal. But for those long hours, Howard sat and waited at his kitchen ta­ble in ag­o­niz­ing pain – un­cer­tain if the plane would ever ar­rive. Howard says the wait was that long he man­aged to smoke an en­tire pack of cig­a­rettes.

Im­pact of Reg

Their brother Reg Rus­sell passed away in 2015. He had been feel­ing un­well, and just as a boat to take him to hospi­tal was leav­ing the Wil­liam’s Har­bour wharf he died of a sud­den heart at­tack. It left a shat­ter­ing mark on the fam­ily.

“When I wanted some­thing done, Reg was al­ways there for me,” said Howard. “When he died I wanted to leave; I al­most did.”

Louise says Reg’s pass­ing brought the is­sue of ac­cess to health care to the fore­front of the com­mu­nity. It played a ma­jor role in the de­ci­sion to re­set­tle.

“When Reg died, it left a big im­pact on Ge­orge,” Louise said. “He fig­ured that was it then, it’s time to move on.”

Time con­straints

Ini­tially, the res­i­dents of Wil­liam’s Har­bour were given a dead­line of Oct. 27 to find new homes and move out of the area be­fore the elec­tric­ity and run­ning wa­ter were cut off. It was a date no one in the town ap­proved, and it was soon ex­tended to Nov. 10.

But with many head­ing to new homes that have hardly be­gun their con­struc­tion phase, the time re­straint has brought much frus­tra­tion. The fund­ing needed for the re­set­tle­ment did not come through to the res­i­dents un­til less than two weeks be­fore the Novem­ber dead­line.

Ros­alind and Free­man felt par­tic­u­larly rushed hav­ing both a home and busi­ness to pack up. The cou­ple pur­chased land in Char­lot­te­town and have a small one-level home cur­rently be­ing built. How­ever, they are un­cer­tain if it will be ready as late as Christmas for them to move in.

“They never gave us enough time, a cou­ple months is noth­ing,” said Ros­alind. “They should’ve given us ’til next spring, or at least told us ear­lier in the sum­mer.

“It’s not easy, and on the coast, there’s not too many homes to buy.”

For now they will move in with their daugh­ter in Char­lot­te­town, but her small apart­ment will keep them se­verely lim­ited in what they can take with them. With their store alone, they had three re­frig­er­a­tors to move, as well as large items like snow­mo­bile parts, many of which may have to be left be­hind.

Ros­alind and Free­man ran their busi­ness for 30 years. But at 71 and 75-years-old, re­spec­tively, they do not have their sights on open­ing a new busi­ness any­time in the fu­ture.

“It seems sad to have a move away like this at this time in our lives. I don’t know if they re­al­ized how much work there was to it,” said Ros­alind. “We got no choice

“I wish it could all be left for peo­ple who want to stay. But to tell the truth we were get­ting nowhere, we had no young peo­ple. But I know I’ll be back here, and my grand­kids love to come out here. So, they’ll be back, they al­ways come back.”

PHO­TOS BY KYLE GREENHAM / THE NORTH­ERN PEN

Howard Rus­sell and his son Bill are en­joy­ing their last mo­ments at the fam­ily home. Howard has al­ready be­gun re­work­ing the house, so he can re­turn to Wil­liam’s Har­bour ev­ery sum­mer.

PHO­TOS BY KYLE GREENHAM / THE NORTH­ERN PEN

Trevor Larkham watches over the hens and roost­ers he has kept fed in Wil­liam’s Har­bour for the past two years. He gath­ered up the birds last week 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.

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 over 40 years.

Free­man Rus­sell takes one of his last trips out at the wood, wheel­ing in an­other bar­row-full to heat his Wil­liam’s Har­bour home.

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