Time to move on

Re­main­ing res­i­dents say good­bye to William’s Har­bour

The Western Star - - PERSPECTIVES - 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 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, ski­doo 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.

“It wasn’t never forced by gov­ern­ment, it was a vol­un­tary de­ci­sion by the peo­ple … When the new bud­get came out, seems like ev­ery­body got on board and felt this was the time.” Ge­orge Rus­sell

KYLE GREEN­HAM / THE NORTH­ERN PEN

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.

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 home so he can re­turn to William’s Har­bour ev­ery sum­mer.

KYLE GREEN­HAM / THE NORTH­ERN PEN

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

KYLE GREEN­HAM / THE NORTH­ERN PEN

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.

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 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.

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