Resettlement for the port of Newfoundland Gaultois divides the city

Matthew Derek holds the memories of his hometown of Gaultois, Newfoundland close to his heart.

Around Christmas time, the community will come alive with decorations, lights bouncing off the water.

“It was amazing,” he told in a phone interview on Thursday.

When Derek attended college, he moved to St. John’s and eventually found employment in the automotive and travel industries. His parents still live in the remote town he describes as a traditional Newfoundland village.

“Now, when I get home, it’s just the empty, dark areas of town, and that really breaks my heart,” he said.

Gaultois is located on Long Island, one of Newfoundland’s rural islands off the south coast. Ferries, helicopters or private boats are the only ways to reach the community.

Gaultois is at a pivotal moment in its history: some residents have signaled to the provincial government about the Community Resettlement program.

The controversial program asks residents to vote on whether they will relocate if the government compensates them. Previously, the program needed more than 90% of residents to vote in favor of relocation.

Derek recalls in the 2010s that a vote for relocation happened, but not enough residents wanted to leave. This year, the government lowered the threshold to 75%.

A preliminary vote this month found that more than 75% of eligible respondents wanted to relocate. An official vote has yet to take place.

Derek recalls growing up in a welcoming and friendly community, but with the threat of displacement looming, he says the town is now divided.

“It’s a shame,” he said. “Since the initial vote of interest… the general mood, (it was like) a gray cloud hovering over our heads.”

According to Statistics Canada’s 2021 Census, 100 people are living in the former fishing village.

Jane Pitfield, owner of the Gaultois Inn, told CTV’s Your Morning that she is frustrated that there is no solution to save the town.

“I think the government is completely uninnovative,” she said on Thursday. “I think it’s a drastic measure.”

Hydropower will be cut off if resettlement is achieved and ferry rides will cease. Pitfield believes there could be business opportunities if the province invests in the community.

Pitfield splits her time between Gaultois and Pontiac, Que., where she is currently the Regional Governor of Pontiac County.

Pitfield said of Gaultois: “This particular gate is unique, historic and perhaps one of the most beautiful. “It’s a mountainous island in the center of the fjords.”

She says the island is worth the visit.

“Yes (tourists) are looking for unique places where they can socialize with Newfoundlanders and that is not in St. John’s,” she said. “Closing completely just because they (province) don’t want to pay for ferry service anymore, I think is wrong.”

Pitfield said she is organizing feelers in Quebec, for an opportunity to grow the Gaultois economy and attract young families.

Derek believes promoting tourism can help build communities again.

“If anything, it would be nice if the government invested more in smaller towns, especially in poor communities,” he said. “Tourism will not (alone) save our small towns, but where we can capture the most business potential.”

Pitfield said relocation is an emotional topic, with some residents deciding to stay on the island no matter what the government does, with plans to live off-grid with solar power and their own boats to stay on. move.

“There’s a song that says you can take the boy out of the port, but never take him out of the port,” Pitfield said.

With files from the Canadian Press

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