"A House Divided"

The Resettlement of Inner Placentia Bay 1950-1977

Outport Model by Kurt Mahle
 The outports of Newfoundland are small and often isolated because they were settled by people who came to fish and the rich fishing grounds were found in remote places, off rocky islands and headlands. Every family needed waterfront property for stages, wharves and flakes, so population was limited by the amount of available in the coves.

Communities had been abandoned in the past but never on the scale seen between 1950 and 1977. Thirty years ago, there were many more small outports than there are today. Those remaining are again threatened as the collapse of the traditional fishery undermines their economic foundations.

Every part of the province has a slightly different story to tell, but nowhere was more affected than Placentia Bay where, during The Resettlement, almost half the population relocated. The debate still continues between those who hold opposing views on the policy of resettlement. Some agree with the federal and provincial governments of the day that the outports were backward, not economically viable and much to expensive to service. Others believe that these small communities embodied a unique way of life, rich in culture, social interaction and independence of spirit, the traditional round of fishing, farming and wood-cutting enabling people to live happy, productive lives with few cash expenses.

To receive government assistance, at least 80% of an outport had to declare a willingness to relocate. People who had lived together peacefully became divided, neighbour against neighbour, often between different age groups and within families.

The government encouraged people to move by using a "Carrot & Stick" approach. It provided cash incentives and promises of jobs, hospitals and better schools in larger centres, while at the same time cutting back on vital services.

A panic of "moving fever" set in. During the sixties and seventies all the islands and most of the small mainland settlements were emptied. The people floated their homes to new locations wherever possible but sometimes distances were too great and, in every outport, buildings and property were left behind. In some cases, whatever would not fit in the boat was thrown in the harbour.

As most of the promised jobs did not materialize many people found themselves worse off after they moved. For years families returned and still return to their old homes to fish during the summer, but gradually wind, weather and vandalism have taken their toll on the abandoned buildings, many of which have fallen down. The gravestones, once part of flourishing settlements now gaze sadly through the long grass across the familiar water.

However, the outports of Placentia Bay have seen a revival. Families adapted to their new lives in time but did not forget their old homes. Summer houses have been built and farming revived. Lobster fishing is still important and tourism is allowing visitors to appreciate the glorious scenery, natural history, culture and hospitality of Placentia Bay. Many resettled people hold reunions in their abandoned outports for scattered family, friends, children and grandchildren. Old stories are told, old songs are sung and new ones created as the people celebrate their past and once again remember the way it used to be.

The Placentia Area Historical Society began developing this exhibit in 1991. Although the society sought professional help to identify sources, develop the story line and produce the design, most of the organization and research was done by local people. The focus throughout the exhibit is on the voice of the people, their thoughts, feelings and reactions which vary from those who were delighted to leave their isolation behind, to those who would like to return to their old homes and traditional way of life.

The society is very grateful to the people whose lives were so directly affected and who generously contributed to the exhibit by sharing their family photographs, reminiscences, songs, stories and sometimes painful memories of this era in Newfoundland history.
 Text from Placentia Area Historical Society's pamphlet "A House Divided"
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