Say­ing good­bye to Port aux Basques

Eco­nom­ics was big fac­tor in Bishop fam­ily’s de­ci­sion to re­turn to Al­berta

The Gulf News (Port aux Basques) - - Front Page - BY ROS­ALYN ROY

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.

Fam­ily im­pact

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.

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