Saying goodbye to Port aux Basques
Economics was big factor in Bishop family’s decision to return to Alberta
When the Bishop family relocated to Newfoundland six years ago their intention was to stay for good.
Now they’re packing up to return to Slave Lake, Alberta.
Jillian Bishop is originally from Port aux Basques and her husband, Brian, grew up in Whitbourne.
Moving closer to family was a large part of the decision to return home but it wasn’t the only reason. The after-effects of the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire also played a role.
“We were there for five years, including when the fire devastated one-third of the town,” recalls Jillian. “The year after the fire, we went from 13 doctors down to four. Then two resigned, leaving two doctors for a population of 7,000 in the town and around 10,000 when considering surrounding communities.”
Bishop says the town now relies on nurse practitioners, says Jillian.
The couple packed up their young daughter, Larissa, and moved to Port aux Basques.
Brian found full time as a Public Works Superintendent with the town, but Jillian, who is a teacher, had a harder time finding steady employment.
“At one point this year I was working 50 hours a week between two part-time jobs and subbing and still couldn’t make ends meet,” she says.
The job situation for Jillian also affected their lifestyle.
They family hasn’t had a vacation outside of the province since moving back. They were saving for a trip to Prince Edward Island when son Shane was born.
Jillian says the move back to Alberta mean she can travel more again.
“When the opportunity came for me to go work there (Alberta) for a few months to test the waters, so to speak, I had to take that opportunity,” said Jillian.
This past Easter she left Brian and the children to take the job in Alberta.
“Within a month of being there I had a one-year probationary contract with my former school board.”
However, being away from her young children and husband was difficult.
Although many families in the region have a parent who works out of province for large stretches, Jillian didn’t see it as feasible for her family for the long-term.
“For us, living apart for three months was far too long, and for those who have one person, usually the husband / father continuously working away, I commend them. I know people who have had multiple generations away working while their significant others live as pseudo-single parents in Newfoundland, and that’s very hard on a family.”
Once Jillian’s job offer came along, the couple made the hard decision to leave.
“We didn’t move home with the intention of going back out there. We wanted to raise our kids around family,” said Jillian. “But six years in and we’re even further in the hole than when we first got here. That’s no way to plan for the future. I’ve been on EI claims yearly since 2012.”
Cost of living
Jillian says the province’s economy has taken a toll not only on their family, but on others.
That’s the way it’s always been, she said.
“It’s pretty much every displaced Newfoundlander’s dream to live and work in Newfoundland, but the reality is the boom years that came with Danny Williams were at a cost, which we’ve seen with Muskrat Falls,” said Jillian. “The increases in electricity costs have been an even bigger reason not to stay here.”
While housing and property taxes may be higher in Alberta, Jillian said everything else is pretty much less expensive.
“Groceries, in particular, are far less. Utilities are less expensive. Paying lower income taxes in Alberta is also a perk. Not having HST attached to home and auto insurance is also a benefit.”
But there are other reasons to return to Alberta besides the financial.
Like a lot of Newfoundlanders, Brian is an outdoor enthusiast who loves hunting and fishing. He can still enjoy that in Alberta.
“He can hunt, fish, camp and ride his quad to his heart’s content,” said Jillian, who noted that Slave Lake is a vacation destination for many. “He has always said, ‘In five minutes I can have a grouse, duck, fish or rabbit in my hands’ while living there.”
And returning to his old job will allow Brian to schedule more fun time.
“He’s excited to get back to a more carefree lifestyle, where (here) he was on call 24/7 for six years straight.”
The children will have a few different recreation opportunities in Alberta too.
“There are so many things for young families to do there, including a splash pad, two ice surfaces, a curling rink, a swimming pool, a multi-rec centre with walking track, fitness activities and an indoor playground – not to mention the attractions in nearby Edmonton,” she said.
“We can drive in four directions and end up in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories or the US in about the same time it takes to drive to St. John’s. We went to the Rockies three times in five years out there. It’s a beautiful province and Slave Lake itself is a wonderfully close-knit community.”
There are cultural differences the Bishops have considered as well.
“Being immersed in our culture is also something we’ll miss. However, Slave Lake is largely a transient town, and our friends there are from British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Mexico,” said Jillian. “I’m looking forward to my children being raised in a more diverse setting.”
Mostly she’s looking forward to just getting back to work.
“I feel a true sense of purpose outside the home, and it has been my calling to be a teacher,” said Jillian, who started teaching 11 years ago.
Desire to stay
Culture and recreation aside, in the end the decision boiled down to one of employment.
“We would most definitely stay if we were both working.”
Jillian says there’s plenty of things the family will have to sacrifice to return to Alberta, including being so close to friends and relatives.
“The ocean, the quiet, the safety and the relatively moderate temperatures year-round,” are just a couple of the examples she offers.
“. . . six years in and we’re even further in the hole than when we first got here. That’s no way to plan for the future. I’ve been on EI claims yearly since 2012.” – Jillian Bishop
Alberta has its drawbacks. “We’re moving back to the land of minus 40 degrees, and there’s no preparing yourself for that.”
For the Bishops, home will always mean Newfoundland.
“We’re grateful for the opportunities we’ve had while living here,” said Jillian. “Port aux Basques will always be home for me, and Whitbourne for Brian, but Slave Lake is our second home. We are looking forward to returning to live there, even if we do have to go back to plugging in our vehicle.”
For those looking to relocate to Newfoundland and Labrador, Jillian offers this bit of advice.
“Do your homework. Contact people in your line of work in the area, read the local news and consider all the possible outcomes.”
Jillian Bishop says the decision to move away was a difficult one.
Jillian and Brian Bishop with son Shane and daughter Larissa.