Editor’s note: This is the first article in “Soundings,” a series of articles jointly published by The Otter ~ la loutre and the Acadiensis Blog that considers new approaches to history and the environment in Atlantic Canada. The entire series is available here on the Otter and here on Acadiensis.
By Tina Loo and Sally Hermansen
The fog comes in quickly around Tilting, Newfoundland. So it was only the crunch of gravel that announced the arrival of a stately beige Buick of 1980s proportions. Its elderly driver rolled down his window.
“Do you belong to this place?” he asked, smiling.
“Sorry?” we replied, giving him his answer.
“Do you belong to this place? Are you from here?”
It turned out the Buick driver did belong. Though he had moved with his family to Grand Falls under the government’s resettlement program and lived there still, it wasn’t where he belonged. Tilting was.
Some forty years after leaving Fogo Island he and his wife were taking a driving trip to show their friends – who waved from the back seat – the place he was born. His was a sentimental journey, one that also recalled the wrench and resentment of leaving Tilting for what the government promised would be a better life.
A new generation of Newfoundlanders is experiencing many of the same emotions now. With the economy faltering because of a decline in offshore oil revenues, the province has embarked on yet another version of resettlement, incentivizing communities to relocate.
As with Smallwood’s Centralization Program (1954-1965) and the federal-provincial Fisheries Household Resettlement Program (1966-1975), the current Community Relocation Policy insists that the government “will only consider relocation requests that are community-initiated and community driven.”
But then as now, communities consisted of people with different interests. And then as now, the distress started long before people left, in the course of deciding whether to take the “shifting money.”
The pain of relocating is often explained with reference to Newfoundlanders’ deep connection to place. When local journalist James McLeod decided to leave the province at the end of last year, he knew most people wouldn’t be joining him: they were “as rooted as the tuckamores on the East Coast Trail.”
And I can’t blame them. Newfoundland and Labrador is magic, and in its best moments, it’s beautiful, whimsical, primal and profound. The sense of nationalist identity beats in the hearts of so many people here, and leaving it would be a little bit of treason.
But there is and was more to Newfoundlanders’ attachment than aesthetics or ideology – as powerful as they are. From the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, people’s “sense of place” was grounded in material considerations. Gender, age, technology, and sunk costs structured their sentiments and shaped decisions about whether and where to resettle. Continue reading