Newfoundland residents vote to leave their small seaside town

Gaultois, the Netherlands –

The residents of a former fishing village along Newfoundland’s remote southern coast are considering packing up and leaving everything behind, forever.

Residents of Gaultois, NL, have indicated to the province that they would like to be resettled through the province’s community relocation program, a controversial government-run practice with roots in the 1950s.

But whether it happens through the show or not, Gaultois Inn manager Susan Hunt says the town will probably be empty in a few decades anyway.

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

Many in the town are older and getting sick, and will need to move to larger facilities to be closer to medical care, he added.

Gaultois is one of five communities along Newfoundland’s southern coast inaccessible by road; to get there, visitors must take a ferry or helicopter. Its population has fallen from what Hunt estimates was about 700 people in the early 1980s to fewer than 100 people.

The city has voted on resettlement before, but the percentage of voters in favor was less than 90 percent, the previous provincial threshold for triggering relocation efforts. In October, the province lowered that threshold to 75 percent, and residents again contacted government officials to submit a relocation request.

It is a complicated process, involving several steps. So far, a preliminary vote suggested that more than 75 percent of the 78 respondents wanted to move, the province’s Department of Municipal and Provincial Affairs said in an email Tuesday.

Hunt said the government is determining residents’ residency, adding that people have been asked to fill out a form asking how long they’ve lived in Gaultois and if they own their own home and for how long. Residents could be paid up to $270,000 to leave their homes.

Resettlement is an emotional issue in Newfoundland and Labrador. Authors such as Michael Crummey and visual artists such as David Blackwood have done striking and poignant work on the practice, which has sometimes involved families floating their wooden houses across the ocean to a new community closer to government services.

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

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

The provincial government began resettling 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 boats that sailed out of the community and wanted her family to be near her when she returned from her travels, she said. There were several fish plants operating in the city when she arrived, and most of the people worked there or on the boats.

“The place was booming then,” he said.

The last fish plant in the city closed for good 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: Many people from all over the province and the country who are curious about the city come to stay, he said.

Hunt was unwilling to talk about how she felt about resettlement.

“I’ll go with the flow,” he said. “I’m not going to say I’m against it or I’m for it, I’m just going to agree with everyone else.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 6, 2022.

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