This summer we focused our cruise of Newfoundland on Placentia Bay, a huge bay with numerous islands and multiple very snug anchorages, all of which sheltered bustling fishing communities at one time.
We visited eight isolated communities that were resettled in the 1960s, were used as fishing stations in the 1980s and 1990s—until the crash in the cod stocks and the resultant moratorium on cod fishing in 1992—and then carried on as summer homes for some of those who had lived there, even if only for a few years, before resettlement.
Sadly, six of these eight communities are now dying. The generation who were born there, who kept up their places for use as summer cabins, are getting older and no longer coming, and the next generation doesn’t have any interest in visiting—their lives are based elsewhere.
However, two communities we visited are happy exceptions to the above: Merasheen and Great Paradise have somehow managed to stay active as summer communities despite the aging of the original inhabitants and the loss of the cod fishery.
So what makes the difference? Why are these two places thriving and the others aren’t?
Bill—who was born there—thinks that the Merasheen reunions, held every five years, and the garden parties, held every other year, keep the connection to Merasheen alive across generations. Pat—also born at Merasheen—says that, interestingly, it’s not the kids but the grandkids of the original residents who have a rekindled interest in the place.
Bill’s wife, Barb, told us that he was the driving force behind the first reunion that took place in 1980—only 13 years after resettlement—which attracted 700 attendees. Though he is no longer involved in organizing the reunions, if it hadn’t been for his initiative, Merasheen might very well have been one more casualty of disinterest. As is so often the case, it took just one person with a vision to make a big difference.
This is something we saw in Norway, as well, where the small coastal communities that were surviving the trend towards urbanization were doing so because of the initiative of a small number of people, whether it was by building a salmon farming industry in Lovund or directing a men’s choir in Berlevåg.
Great Paradise, on the other hand, is thriving for a very specific reason, which is its close proximity to South East Bight, an active year-round outport (i.e. non-road-served community) just three miles up Paradise Sound. Sometimes it only takes one small thing to tip the scales enough to keep a place alive.