A small former fishing village along the south coast of Newfoundland plans to relocate

Residents of a former fishing village along the remote south coast of Newfoundland are wondering if they should pack up and leave everything behind – for good.

Residents of Gaultois have signaled to the province that they would like to be resettled under the province’s community resettlement program – a controversial government practice that dates back to the 1950s.

But whether or not that happens as part of the program, Gaultois Inn manager Susan Hunt says the town will likely be empty in a few decades anyway.

“The community is getting older and there are no young people,” Hunt, 71, said in an interview Tuesday. “People are dying.”

Many in the village are older and falling ill, and they will have to move to larger centers to be closer to medical care, she said.

Gaultois is one of five communities along the south coast of Newfoundland inaccessible by road — to get there, visitors must take a ferry or helicopter. Its population has declined from what Hunt estimates to be around 700 people in the early 1980s to less than 100 people.

The city has already voted on resettlement, but the percentage of voters in favor was below 90% — the previous provincial threshold for triggering resettlement efforts. In October, the province lowered that threshold to 75%, and residents again contacted government officials to initiate a relocation request.

It is a complicated process, involving several steps. A preliminary vote so far has suggested more than 75% of 78 people polled want to move, the provincial Ministry of Municipal and Provincial Affairs said in an email on Tuesday.

Hunt said the government determines residents’ residency, adding that people were asked to fill out a form asking how long they had lived in Gaultois and whether they owned their own home and for how long. Residents could be paid up to $270,000 to vacate their homes.

emotional problem

Resettlement is an emotional issue in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Authors like Michael Crummey and visual artists like David Blackwood have done scathing and powerful work on the practice, which has sometimes involved families floating their wooden homes across the ocean to a new community closer to government services.

Hunt said no one in Gaultois likes to talk about the potential move.

“The subject never comes up,” she said, not even at the recent Canada Day celebration at the community center.

The provincial government began resettling the communities in the 1950s, shortly after the province’s Confederation with Canada. The practice accelerated after the 1992 moratorium on commercial cod fishing, which wiped out the jobs and livelihoods of more than 30,000 people.

Hunt said she moved to Gaultois in the 1960s when she was a teenager. Her father worked on fishing trawlers that left the community and he wanted his family to be close when he returned from his travels, she said. There were several fish factories in operation in the town when she arrived, and most people worked there or worked on the boats.

“The place was booming then,” she said.

The city’s last fish factory closed permanently in 2009. There are now four students left at the school, although a local woman had twins 18 months ago, Hunt said.

Still, the Gaultois Inn is doing quite well — lots of people from across the province and the country who are curious about the city come to stay there, she said.

Hunt didn’t want to say what she thought about the relocation.

“I’ll go with the flow,” she said. “I’m not going to say that I’m against or that I’m for; I’m just going to go along with everyone.”

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