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.
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.”
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.
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.]