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March 2003

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They Can't Go Home Again
Families leave a dying town in order to be together

Keith Pittman isn't sentimental. Like many fishermen from Great Harbour Deep, an isolated clutch of clapboard houses on Newfoundland's northeast coast, he is pragmatic about life's choices. But last spring in the referendum on whether to shut down the town, he made his decision based on emotional reasons, not economic ones. Pittman voted to leave, he says, because of his children.

Great Harbour Deep had long sent its teens away to less remote towns for high school. Coming back on breaks was difficult: either a three-hour ferry ride or, in winter, a plane that was often grounded by bad weather. But after graduation most returned home.

That changed with the collapse of the cod industry in the early 1990s, which scattered the town's fishing fleet and closed its processing plant. After that, when children left Great Harbour Deep for high school, it was for good.

With no cod to catch, Pittman and others were forced to fish for shrimp and crab out of St. Anthony, 90 miles (140 kilometers) up the coast, and were away for months at a time. When Pittman was home, his children rarely were. Two had left for high school. His youngest would soon depart.

Pittman says that's why his family, along with all but two of the town's 53 households, voted to leave in return for buyouts of up to $100,000 from the Newfoundland government. The province was then able to cut almost a million dollars in town services from its budget. Now Pittman lives nearer St. Anthony and is gone just weeks at a time. His youngest child is only minutes from school.

After the referendum, Pittman watched the ferry bring U-Hauls to carry the town's belongings away: "I guess we voted for it. We didn't really want to . . . but you don't want to get rid of your youngsters that fast."

—Karen E. Lange

Web Links

Great Harbour Deep
Read a short history of this once thriving community, established in the 17th century.

Newfoundland Department of Tourism
Discover destinations for adventure on the islands of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Free World Map

MacDonald, Michael. "Resettlement of isolated Newfoundland outport could be held up by one man," Canadian Press, March 7, 2002.

"Province approves cash plan to relocate residents of Newfoundland fishing village," Canadian Press, April 23, 2002.


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