Doctor's Cove, La Manche

Exploring Newfoundland’s 300+ Abandoned Settlements

I am constantly in awe over how much more of my province I need to see, even after living here for 24 years. I’ve lived on the west coast, the south-central region, and on the Avalon Peninsula…and I still find myself researching new things to do. From the northern peninsula to the Trans-Labrador Highway (tentatively planned for summer 2011), it’s astounding how much this unpopulated province has to offer.

My latest obsession? Exploring the abandoned towns that were victims of the Resettlement act in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. The last few nights I’ve been up until 2 a.m. scouring the Internet for information. The Milltown-Head of Bay d’Espoir Museum has some great info (I’ve lifted some of their photos, hope they don’t mind), and so does Memorial University.

Old shot of Pushthrough.

Here’s the story: Premier J.R. Smallwood who led Newfoundland to Canadian Confederation proclaimed that nearly 200 settlements in the province had “no great future” and should be resettled. He wanted all residents to have access to government services, electricity, health care, education, and more. The plan was to move these folks to more “urban” centres where work was readily available, thus diversifying the economy and so on.

About 307 communities were abandoned between 1947 and 1975, relocating 28,000 people. The real result? There was a lack of jobs in the receiving areas, and many people felt they had been forced to leave their homes by pressure from the government and their communities. You’ll often see photos when researching “Resettlement” of people towing their saltbox houses through the water by boat. The majority were not happy with moving. This is an incredibly significant part of Newfoundland history, still reflected in our current culture and “collective psyche.”

Another epic shot of Pushthrough. Sometimes you can\’t beat film photography.

A lot of these communities were located close to where I’m from, in south-central. Dozens of places like Round Harbour, Pass Island, and Muddy Hole have all been carefully documented. Even now, some families head back for reunions, camping out to revive old community spirit. I remember as a kid, my friend’s father took us out exploring in their boat, pausing to pick mussels on a stranded beach and trading ghost stories about people who washed up along the shores covered in expensive jewels. Through a certain pass, we could see headstones left abandoned on a hill.

I cannot imagine the emotion which would have accompanied the act of uprooting from your lifelong home to relocate somewhere strange. As travelers, you might think this is unusual, but for Newfoundlanders, “home” has a definition which transcends all typical archetypes. I mean, I’m still so in love with here that Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism commercials make me weepy. And you can bet that in a community of 200 people, everyone was a part of everyone else’s life. Like a big family.

Stellar old photography of Stone Valley.

I also seem to have weird fascination with decaying and falling-down houses. It’s my high school inner-goth just screaming to get out, I think. My goal is to one day hire someone to sail me around to some settlements where old buildings still stand, camping out under stars, so I can photograph and tell a story. So yeah, who wants to fund my endeavours?

[Feature photo of suspension bridge at La Manche, another abandoned community on the Avalon.]

  • March 30 2011

    I adore old abandoned buildings and decrepid houses and such. Would love to explore those part of Newfoundland. I love taking the ‘heritage’ roads in PEI and seeing abndoned decaying barns. I wish I had more vacation time to just randomly explore Newfoundland, really :( the whole trans-labrador highway thing sounds epic. i’m going to be wasting away with jealousy back here in town when you go :P

    • April 05 2011

      Wanna go so badly, TOO MUCH PLANS

  • March 30 2011
    Peter Atkinson

    Interesting article. Resettlement was one of the themes in The Shipping News, (book and movie a few years back). Try posting your idea and request for funding on Kickstarter.com. You might try for some provincial funding as this fits with historical/cultural projects.

    • April 05 2011

      I had never heard of Kickstarter.com, thanks for the tip! There’s a lot of people interested it seems, it might be possible to get funding after all.

  • March 30 2011

    I totally agree… the whole rise and fall/decline thing is endlessly interesting… there’s so much history in places like that. And architectural decline seems to be a metaphor for so many things… I think everyone relates to it.
    Did I just drop a ‘metaphor’ bomb up there? Great. I’m THAT guy. *gag* How to fix this? How to fix this? Ummm… BEER FEST RULES!
    :)

    • April 05 2011

      You did, you did! I love metaphors. Sigh. But yeah I love the history, and there’s so much of it here…

  • March 30 2011

    I do hope you continue your research on this subject, Candice. It’s fascinating to think about how being uprooted from one’s home has long-lasting psychological scars on generations to come. It reminds me of how the US government forced Native Americans onto reservations where they didn’t have an adequate food or water supply; even today, except for those tribes with casinos, job opportunities are very limited and there is a lot of despair. It runs against the very grains of a democracy to limit people’s freedom of choice like this, yet so many times in history we’ve seen democratic governments pull this stuff.

    • April 05 2011

      Thanks, Gray! You’re right, it’s very similar, and I’m so glad to see people interested in this stuff. Plus it’s just kinda funny now that our world is overpopulated. There’s all this space here, who wouldn’t want to use it?

  • March 30 2011

    This sounds like a really unique idea, and I’d totally fund it for you. . . if I had the money. I’ve never heard of these resettlements in Newfoundland. Perhaps it’s because I’m from Alberta and most of our history classes tended to focus on the early European settlers, and the prairies. But still it makes me wonder what are some other historical event that I don’t know about.

    • April 05 2011

      Hehe, same on this end. Although we did learn a fair bit about Louis Riel and the Metis…

  • March 30 2011

    Although far from the home you love, you may find in this blogger ( http://www.themotorlesscity.com/ ) a common interest; a love of architectural photos, especially of decay and the mysteries of abandoned buildings.

    I am intrigued by what I gleaned from your entry, the links as well as the facts!

    You’re awesome, lady!

    • April 05 2011

      Thank you kindly, Rana! Glad I’m not alone in my freaky love for the decrepit.

  • March 30 2011

    There’s so much Newfoundland history that we were never exposed to in school. It’s only as an adult with lots of outside reading that I’ve begun to understand what went into make Newfoundland. I’d heard a small amount about the resettlement program but the whole human element has been missing. (Now there’s a book idea for you.)I have tremendous admiration for the resilience of the Newfoundland people. And any attempt on your part to document what happened to an international audience is a very good thing.

    • April 05 2011

      Thanks, Leigh! I appreciate it. You’re right, there really is a lot of human element missing. I think this topic has been written about fairly extensively, but it’s all so text-book. Maybe I can change it.

  • March 31 2011

    Hey, this is also a fascination of my own. I been thinking for years of writing a book on the old churches of Newfoundland. Especially in these old, abandoned, communities.

    • April 05 2011

      Love those old churches! I spent some time Googling those as well. Awesome stuff.

  • March 31 2011
    Jeremy Gill

    Hi
    Great site ,i am a new follower..if you use the trans Labrador highway from Labrador city to Quebec there is a abandoned town called “Gagnon”..id the middle of it …

    • April 05 2011

      Thanks, Jeremy! I haven’t heard of it, but I’ll look it up.

  • March 31 2011

    As you know, I have quite a bit of experience both exploring and photographing abandoned places. If you can secure some funding for the project (look into heritage societies/organizations!), I would be more than happy to trek up to Newfoundland to be your photographer.

    • April 05 2011

      Kelsey, if I ever do get funding, I’ll def keep you posted. Photography will be NEEDED!

  • April 02 2011

    I love reading about your love of your home. It is a wonder you haven’t been discovered and made the national spokesperson. I think it’s very touching that Newfoundland and Labrador tourism commercials make you weepy. I cannot relate to that at all, but it’s beautiful.

    • April 05 2011

      Hehe, I love that you think so, Sabina! Thank you! It sometimes freaks me out that I’ve already found my place. Or something like that. Generally though, I feel like tourism in Newfoundland can be pretty cold toward me. I don’t think they know how to handle my brashness. ;)

  • April 03 2011

    I’m always sucked right in on these posts because your love really show through your writing.

    • April 05 2011

      Thank you, Linlah! It makes me SO happy to hear that.

  • April 03 2011

    There is something amazing about the textures of old houses. The decay tells its own story and you can’t help but be enchanted by it.

    • April 05 2011

      Agreed, I just want to know the story. Can’t imagine having to leave the home my father built with his own two hands.

  • April 04 2011

    I completely agree with loving where you live! I love the Los Angeles area so much, I could never permanently relocate no matter how much I LOVE to travel. You need a home so you have some roots or else you’re just floating around out there. And me floating around out there is a scary image.

    P.S. I would totally love to see all those abandoned towns and I love old houses and ghost towns too! We have some great ones out west. Great post!

    • April 05 2011

      Thank ya kindly! Some people love the floating freely thing, but I don’t think I could hack it for longer than a few months or a year at a time. Home is such a part of my upbringing, there’s no way I could shake it. And I LOVE this place, I just happened to be born in the right province, know what I mean?!

  • June 01 2011
    Bob Mesher

    Out of curiosity, the former residents of Hebron and Okak received an apology and moneys from the government from having to resettle. Were there similar payments and apologies made to former residents of other abandoned communities in the province?

    Very interesting site!

    • June 03 2011

      Not a clue! I’m currently writing an article about it, I’ll let you know what I dig up.

  • November 25 2011
    Carolyn

    Amazing! I am in love with the passion you have for your province, your home! I feel the same connection with my province. I would love it if you could get the funding somehow….approach tourism, your MP, your mayor, all your social networks who have contact with government. I am currently doing a college paper on resettlement. It totally breaks my heart to see what really happened! It was cruel! Oh, and yes, some resetlers did receive $3,000 to help with the financial burdens along with the $1,000 per household and $300 per member of the household. But NOTHING is worth having your home taken from you….
    anytime you wanna chat, feel free….

    • December 01 2011

      Hey Carolyn, thanks so much for your kind words! Following up with an email right now.

  • May 29 2012
    Marian Bashaw

    I also am a Newfoundlander (albeit a displaced one) and my only vacation wishes are to take trips exploring the island. I started a few years ago and am now addicted. The prospect of taking a couple of weeks to explore the abandoned towns is awesome! Can you direct me to where I can get a brochure, map or other type of information so I can start planning the trip?
    I’d greatly appreciate your help.
    Best regards, Marian

    • June 04 2012

      Hi Marian,

      I’ll send you an email!

      CW

  • September 09 2012
    Kolossal

    Obsessed with travel and a local Newfie myself, a townie infact. Ive recently got right into the whole abandoned town thing and really hope there are more locally accessible places to explore then just Redcliff, haha

  • December 20 2012
    Bill

    I’m looking to purchase some property in the old community of Pushthrough.Anyone who knows of any property for sale in the old place could they E-mail me at williambursey@esdnl.ca

  • January 13 2013

    I would love to photograph the abandoned towns as well as visit the parks and Historical sites. I would like to know which part of NFLD would be best to concentrate on first? I have a passion for old abandoned buildings/homesteads ! I believe it’s the stories they tell. You all have a lush and Beautiful Province and I would Love to come and explore !!

  • January 13 2013

    I would love to photograph the abandoned towns as well as visit the parks and Historical sites. I would like to know which part of NFLD would be best to concentrate on first? I have a passion for old abandoned buildings/homesteads ! I believe it’s the stories they tell. You all have a lush and Beautiful Province and I would Love to come and explore !!

  • September 03 2013
    Kenny

    Hi, just wondering if you have since found any abandoned towns in western newfoundland that are still fairly accessible to explore.

  • September 03 2013
    Kenny

    Hi, just wondering if you have since found any abandoned towns in western newfoundland that are still fairly accessible to explore.

  • September 03 2013
    Kenny

    Hi, just wondering if you have since found any abandoned towns in western newfoundland that are still fairly accessible to explore.

    • September 08 2013

      Hi Kenny,

      I have not, unfortunately! Most would be accessible by boat. I haven’t spent a lot of time on the west coast…but if you’re out east at all, there are tours to Ireland’s Eye in the Trinity area.

    • September 08 2013

      Hi Kenny,

      I have not, unfortunately! Most would be accessible by boat. I haven’t spent a lot of time on the west coast…but if you’re out east at all, there are tours to Ireland’s Eye in the Trinity area.

      • September 10 2013
        Kenny

        Thanks for the info Candice, I will look into the tour to Ireland’s Eye…safe travels!!!

      • September 10 2013
        Kenny

        Thanks for the info Candice, I will look into the tour to Ireland’s Eye…safe travels!!!

      • September 10 2013
        Kenny

        Thanks for the info Candice, I will look into the tour to Ireland’s Eye…safe travels!!!

  • January 07 2017
    Rob Englert

    Interesting website. I came here because I heard that due to fishing regs on cod there were many abandoned towns in Newfoundland. I was trying to find out some info on it. I never heard of these resettlements. It sounds like it was forced. I want to find out more about it. I don’t see why people didn’t fight for their homes. It seems like rebuilding the economy would have been a better option then moving all those people.

  • December 18 2018
    George Tod

    Great site! I think there’s not much if anything at all left in Pushthrough. I’ve been to Indian Burying Place, Petites, and Round Harbour. Also, been to Little and Great Paradise. BUT there are some places I really want to go to and a kayak would be nice, BUT I’d like to find one or several other people who’d like to co-kayak. I’d like to visit Williamsport, Henley Harbour, George’s Cove, Fischot Islands, and Grand Bruit. And there are other places. Those places still have human infrastructure. Petites was so nice, I’d like to go back. So, anyone up for a kayak adventure? BTW, I had two articles and photos in Oct and Nov of Downhome magazine, 2018.

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

FREE CANDIE FOR ALL!
SUBSCRIBE TO RECEIVE POSTS DIRECTLY TO YOUR INBOX