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South East Bight no longer in need, embraces spirit of giving

It's mid-morning in mid-December and there's an unmistakable feeling of excitement in the air as the RCMP patrol vessel Murray slowly pulls alongside the wharf in South East Bight.

Isolated Burin Peninsula community has weathered the fishery downturn

Children in South East Bight, an isolated community of less than 90 residents on Newfoundland's Burin Peninsula, gather in front of a 'Welcome Santa' sign on Dec. 15. (CBC)

It's mid-morning in mid-December and there's an unmistakable feeling of excitement in the air as the RCMP patrol vessel Murray slowly pulls alongside the wharf in South East Bight, N.L.

Many of the less than 90 residents of this isolated community on the Burin Peninsula are standing on the wharf, bubbling with anticipation and joy.
Santa hugs a young resident of South East Bight during a recent visit to the isolated community on the Burin Peninsula. (CBC)

It's not often that a police visit would generate such a reaction, but this one is different.

In addition to the police on board, there's a plump man in a red suit, sporting a huge white beard. He's standing on the starboard side, waving to a small group of children assembled in front of a sign that reads "Welcome Santa."

It's the continuation of a yearly tradition that has gone on in this Newfoundland fishing community for some four decades, though the purpose of the yearly visits has changed in recent times.

"Hello, Santa," cries one child.

"He could have worn his shorts this year," comments an adult, adding that last year, Saint Nick was bounding over snowbanks.

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After a short greeting on the wharf and an exchange of hugs, a motorcade of all-terrain vehicles takes Santa and the other guests to the school, where the 11 students and two teachers sing songs, mummers dance a jig and a community feast is held.

There are smiles and plenty of photos as the children accept their loot bags.

Students at the school in South East Bight perform Christmas songs during a special event in the community earlier this month. (CBC)

But the real giving on this day is for others.

Residents have collected coats and gifts for needy children, and the local fire department also held a drive to collect items for the food bank.

It's all loaded aboard the patrol vessel a few hours later and shipped off — all of it heading to people in need living in other communities. 

Unlike a generation ago, when the fishery was failing, times were tough and parents struggled to provide for their large families, the residents of South East Bight are no longer in need of charity.

Weathering a crisis

They have weathered the fisheries crisis that slammed rural Newfoundland and some parts of Labrador two decades ago, and nearly every able-bodied adult in the community is gainfully employed in the fishery.

These days, the children have everything they need, and more, said school principal Elena Whyte.

"The kids want for very little," she said.

This is their opportunity to give back, and they do so in grand fashion.

Years ago, the RCMP would come with much-needed gifts for the children, said RCMP Sgt. Dale Foote, one of the Mounties taking part in the visit.

"Today we bring in gifts, but they give so much back to us," said Foote.

Like Santa, a visit to the community by a Mountie is also a yearly tradition, added Whyte.

"There are no crimes here," she said.

Santa travels from the wharf to the school in a special sleigh towed by an all-terrain vehicle during a recent visit to South East Bight. (CBC)

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