Nfld. & Labrador·Moving On

'Keeping the name on the map': The future of William's Harbour, after resettlement

Most residents say they'll be back to visit, but some are planning to make a real go of it.

At least 1 couple is planning to continue living there, even when the lights go out

Pamela Penney can see all of William's Harbour through her kitchen window. (Katie Breen/CBC)

You can see all of William's Harbour, a remote island in southern Labrador, from Pamela Penney's kitchen window.

"It's going to be different looking across once the power goes and not seeing any lights," she said.

While most of the 15 people who called this town home are relocating, with government assistance, Penney and her husband chose not to take the resettlement package.

Michael Penney didn't take a resettlement package so that he could keep the deed to his house. (Katie Breen/CBC)

"I read the fine print and I didn't like what it had to say," said Michael Penney.

"They said that after five years they could come and bull[doze] your house down and if they found any minerals around they could come and take your house and you wouldn't have it back."

The Newfoundland and Labrador government offered roughly $250,000 to families as compensation, a one-time expense to offset the cost of providing future services to the isolated town.

If the Penneys had accepted the buyout, they wouldn't have been allowed to keep their home in the family.

The Penney house is across the harbour from most of the people in William's Harbour, giving them a view of most of the community. (Katie Breen/CBC)

It was built by Michael Penney's father and grandfather nearly 70 years ago.

"My daughter loves it here and [my grandson] loves it out here so, I mean, when he's older now I'll teach him how to chop wood again ... I'll teach him how to fish and stuff like that," Penney said.

'It's not going to be the same out there'

Cliff Russell did take the package. He said he voted for resettlement of William's Harbour to help his aging parents access better healthcare — but he plans to continue working out of his hometown in the inshore fishery next year.

Cliff Russell stands with girlfriend and fishing partner, Mal Harrigan. (Katie Breen/CBC)

There won't be any power after Nov. 10 or any running water.  Russell and others who took the buyout will also have to apply for a provincial government permit to use their homes in the summer. 

 But he isn't deterred.

"It's not going to be the same out there, but there will be a few of us out there, probably, making a living — keeping the name on the map," he said.

Freshly shucked scallops sit aboard Cliff Russell's boat. (Katie Breen/CBC)

"When you fish from home, you have your own little spots, your own little areas.

"If you start somewhere new I guess you'd figure it out … but I'm sure I can continue to come back here for a bit anyway."

A changing scene

From her kitchen window, Pamela Penney can see Russell sailing in towards the dock.

Cliff Russell takes his boat out scallop dragging. (Katie Breen/CBC)

"He's coming back from scallop dragging," she said, looking out at the bay.

"He doesn't stop. He's on the go every day."

But he's in now for the season — that's one less boat to keep an eye on.

The last to leave

The Penneys are going to watch the lights go out in Williams Harbour. 

They won't stay the full winter, but they'll stay for weeks at a time.

Michael Penney chops and stacks wood in preparation for winter. (Katie Breen/CBC)

The others will be back for visits, but they're not winterizing their homes.

"Everybody is shifting things out and we're shifting things in," Pamela Penney said.

The couple is chopping wood to feed the wood stove, bottling jam, and bringing in materials to renovate their house for when the electricity is turned off.

Penney has come to terms with that part — losing lights and water — it's the changing view she can't seem to shake.

"It's just watching the people leave one by one — people living here all their lives."

"A nice few of them says they'll be back so I'm hopeful."