Leaving Home: Growing Number of N.L. Outports Make Wrenching Choice to Resettle

JOHN’S, N.L. — His mother had dissolved into tears, and he and his brothers were crying. Raymond Blake recalls the day his family moved from Pushthrough, a tiny fishing settlement of 150 people, to comparatively modern Heritage. Through the 1950s and ’60s, communities have agreed to resettle, as part of a government push to centralize workers and services, to abandon cherished villages for larger places. 

Resettlement is an uncomfortable topic for some people in Newfoundland and Labrador. It involves mixed emotions and sad memories.

Still, sparsely populated outports today are emptying at a quickening pace. Seven communities with names like Great Harbour Deep and Snook’s Arm have relocated since 2002, including three since 2016. Another three—North Boat Harbour, La Poile, and Little Bay Islands—have asked the province to consider moving them.

The process is community driven—permanent residents must vote at least 90 percent to relocate. If approved, the province offers homeowners $250,000 to $270,000 depending on the size of the household to help them set up elsewhere.

Relocating those seven communities has saved government about $30 million so far, said Municipal Affairs Minister Andrew Parsons. And more are considering moving to be closer to health care as the province of just 528,000 people ages, he added.

Many residents hate to leave the places where they were born and raised but also want to be close to children and grandchildren who’ve long ago left.

“It’s tough. It’s an emotional process,” says Parsons.