3 photographs taken with the Agfa Box and a poem by Al Pittman Newfoundland 2012
In 1948, the citizens of the Dominion of Newfoundland voted in a referendum to join Canada. The island of Newfoundland, whose mainstay was the fishery, offered more than 5000 miles of shoreline slashed with bays and inlets dotted with some 1300 fishing communities. Soon after Confederation, the governments of Canada and the newly-formed province, in an effort to bring the island into the modern world, introduced “resettlement” programmes, forcefully uprooting people from isolated outports to larger “growth centres” where they would benefit from improved social and economic opportunities.
The controversial programme led to the displacement of some 30,000 people. Between 1954 and 1975, more than 300 communities, with histories and substantial infrastructures stretching back centuries, died a rapid death. People had no choice but to move, leaving behind their homes, their legacies, their bond with the earth and the capacity to survive in their own place on their own strength. While there is no doubt that the programme provided access to better educational and other public facilities, in many cases, promised employment did not appear for resettled fishermen displaced from their traditional fishing grounds. Families experienced dislocation and alienation, causing psychic and social havoc as their rich local cultures disintegrated. It is generally believed that this part of resettlement was a total failure.
Today, resettlement still resonates in the cultural imaginary of Newfoundland. Original settlers and their descendants regularly return to abandoned communities all around the coast. They hold reunions, visit graveyards, honour ancestors and mark the passing of their way of life. Indeed many people come to wander through these lost havens and harbours that were once little universes unto themselves. Nestled into their geography in the implacable grandeur of the Newfoundland and Labrador landscape, these empty communities bear witness to the endurance and courage, tenacity and fragility of the people who settled and lived out their lives there. Subtle marks of human endeavour, remnants of vegetable gardens, lilac bushes, sunken fences, house foundations, remains of wharves, docks, schools, church steeples, echoes of a once bustling livelihood, stand now in sharp contrast to the foreboding, brooding power of nature.
Walking down the grassy pathways where people once walked, looking out the bay at their vistas, you cannot help but experience a sense of loss, of lonely memory, what writer Michael Crummey terms “a curious homesickness of a lost time very much with us.”
Rosalind Gill is a Newfoundland writer, translator and retired academic. Toronto 2012
Crummey, Michael. “Candles in the Dark,” in Katharine Lochnan, ed. Black Ice. David Blackwood Prints of Newfoundland. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2011. 111-120.