Nfld. & Labrador

An uneasy balance in Gros Morne National Park: A Land & Sea archival special

Some residents living on the edge of Gros Morne in western Newfoundland felt that the national park would encroach on their freedom.

Land & Sea: Gros Morne

Carol Pittman, an artist, came to Gros Morne to paint year round. (Land & Sea)

Opened in 1973, Gros Morne National Park has long been a draw for tourists.

However, in the park's earlier years many area residents were unhappy with how Parks Canada rules and regulations had interfered with a way of life they didn't want to give up. 

This special from the Land & Sea archives captures those tensions in the years when the park was established, but area residents had mixed emotions about how it was created. 

Artist Carol Pittman, who moved to Bonne Bay from Ottawa, liked to visit the nearly deserted park during the winter months to paint.

But her husband Gary, who grew up in the area, had a more frustrated perspective on the national park that stood just beyond his home.

Gary Pittman, who grew up in the Gros Morne area, said the park boundaries encroached on the local way of life. "There's no one in the community, I believe, who feels the park should have come so close to control the way of lives of people." (Land & Sea)

"Most people, they feel that wherever they go there's a warden on their track," said Gary Pittman, who said that residents now felt that they couldn't participate in traditional activities like snaring rabbits or cutting wood because of the park's prohibitions. 

'The worst thing that ever happened to us'

Frank Piercey and Alvin Sparks had had that experience — they slept in the woods overnight once while out to get wood, with a permit, and woke up to find wardens sitting by their camp, having assumed they were poaching.

"It's just a feeling that you just can't move, you know," Piercey said.

Watch this archival episode of Land & Sea

Boat builder Gordon Pittman could no longer get his wood from around his Rocky Harbour home because of the park, because while some areas were open to cutting for personal use no commercial cutting was permitted.

"It's foolishness, as far as I'm concerned," he said of the rules put in place by Parks Canada.

"I think it's about the worst thing ever happened to us around here, this park coming."

Striking a balance

For some the park's establishment meant leaving their longtime homes, and some communities were abandoned completely. Gros Morne superintendent Mac Esterbrooks said that moving was optional for everyone living in the park boundaries, and people were compensated and provided with new homes, but Gary Pittman said many felt they had no choice but to leave, especially if their family members did.

Frank Piercey and Alvin Sparks said it was hard to think well of park wardens who assumed they were breaking the rules. "How can we have a friendly attitude towards those guys? I mean, they're the ones that's taking our freedom, right?" (Land & Sea)

What the park had done was bring in tourists, nearly 250,000 that year, Esterbrooks said, which gave the area an economic boost.

New guidelines for the park were coming a few months later, and Esterbrooks said he hoped they would strike a balance between the preservation mandate and the desires of area residents.

"Hopefully there's room for everybody, and that's what we're trying to achieve.'

The residents of Sally's Cove refused to leave when Parks Canada established Gros Morne National Park, but others in nearby communities moved. (Land & Sea)

For more archival Land & Sea episodes, visit the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador YouTube page.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador