Little Bay Islands votes unanimously to resettle

After years of failed votes, and community fractures, everyone in the isolated community has finally agreed to leave it forever.

Successful vote comes after years of failed attempts

All eligible residents of the isolated community voted to resettle. (Submitted by Mike Parsons)

The residents of Little Bay Islands have voted unanimously to resettle, coming together in a unified voice after years of previous failed attempts and deep fractures in the formerly close-knit community.

The successful vote took place earlier this week in the isolated Notre Dame Bay outport, with a population of 71, according to the last census.

But a sense of resignation, rather than relief, appears to weigh upon its residents.

"It's no arguments no more, like it was one time," said Dennis Budgell, who has long been in favour of leaving, and spearheaded a resettlement vote after the town's fish plant closed in 2011.

Another vote, in 2016, saw a defeat by the slimmest of margins: 89.4 per cent of residents voted to leave, just shy of the provincial government's requirement of 90 per cent.

Since then, Budgell said, the passage of time has simply taken its toll.

"All the people's getting very old, and there's not one thing left there in the world. No stores, no doctors, no nothing."

"You got to travel outward to do everything," Budgell told CBC Radio's Newfoundland Morning.

Rifts will 'never heal'

Travelling away from Little Bay Islands is no small feat — it's a 30-minute ferry ride to the closest connection to "mainland" Newfoundland — but necessary, without any services.

Its only school has sat empty for years, as its elderly population has become more vulnerable.

Mike Parsons, who grew up on Little Bay Islands and recently returned home to live, has watched his 75-year-old father struggle with the reality of aging in isolation, or resettling elsewhere.

"It breaks his heart to talk about this whole thing, but what do you do when you're in a situation where you're worried about your health?"

Mike and Georgina Parsons will be staying on in the community even if everyone else relocates. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC News)


Such concerns have come up over the years as the debate swirled over resettlement, and Parsons said the deep divisions have been destructive in a place where people live in close quarters, their houses side-by-side ringing a small harbour.

"It's destroyed what was once a community where everybody was family. And now you have instances where people won't talk to people and those types of things," he said.

"Some of these rifts will probably never heal."

Remaining, by choice

Parsons himself, however, isn't leaving.

Neither he nor his wife qualified to vote, as they haven't lived in the community for long enough to do so, and won't receive any resettlement compensation.

"We didn't vote, nor did we think we should vote. We've both been firm believers that it should be only the permanent residents that had the vote whether or not to resettle," he said.

The couple decided to retire in the community despite the looming shadow of resettlement, and came back knowing they may be toughing it out on their own at some point.

"Myself and my wife, this has been our dream for quite some time, and we wanted to live it. And that's exactly what we decided to do, and that's what we're going to do.

"As much as I would love for this island to continue in the future with community and ferry services and all that, if that's not to be, then we're going to make the best of it."

Parsons said he is prepared to handle the isolation of an empty Little Bay Islands. (Submitted by Michael Parsons)

Parsons is 52, his wife 43, and he says he knows full well what is required to go off the grid, including handling all the alone time.

"I grew up on this island, and when you live on these small islands, there's a sense of isolation anyway. It's not something brand new to me."

Next resettlement steps

Those pioneer skills may not be put to the test anytime soon. While the votes have been cast, the resettlement process is lengthy and must go through the provincial government.

"It's going to take a long time for us, it could take another three years or four. I hope not," said Budgell.

The Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment confirmed the unanimous vote, and told CBC in an email the next step involves the department seeking government approval for the relocation. 

There is no timeline yet on when that decision would be made, but a spokesperson noted a cost-benefit analysis shows the province will save $20-million in the next 20 years by resettling the community.

Budgell said they will await the province's approval, as formal resettlement brings along with it up to $270,000 per household to move — money that is absolutely essential for anyone to leave Little Bay Islands.

"They can't afford to go nowhere," he said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador​

With files from CBC Newfoundland Morning