Nfld. & Labrador

Looking at an uncertain future in Little Bay Islands

A declining population, few young people and a changing way of life has all led to a much different reality for Little Bay Islands than a few decades ago, writes CBC's Julia Cook.
While some boats still do visit the harbour in Little Bay Islands, it's much quieter than it used to be. (Julia Cook/CBC)

At first glance, the town of Little Bay Islands seems idyllic. The buildings dot the harbour's shore as if they were swept in with the tide.

Looking closer, you can see that the houses are weather-worn. General stores are shuttered and boardwalks have missing planks. The crab plant stands empty. It's covered in seagulls.

Jerry Weir is the town clerk of Little Bay Islands. He was born here and came back in 1981 to teach in the local school. He says the population has been decreasing over the years, but when the crab plant shut down several years ago, there was a huge drop.

"Young people graduated from school and they had no work here. Then they went on to do university, trades schools, colleges, whatever they went to," he said.

"So, as much as you'd like to see your young people branching out and doing bigger and better things for themselves, as they go, so does the death of your community."

Jerry Weir is the town clerk of Little Bay Islands. He's been here most of his life. (Julia Cook/CBC)

Now, there are no stores or gas stations on the islands and townspeople have to travel on the ferry to Pilley's Island and then to Springdale for supplies. This is why most of the permanent residents are eager for relocation.

The province's relocation program offers remote towns the chance to relocate if the cost to move the permanent residents is the same or less than the cost to keep the town running for the next 20 years.

Ninety per cent of residents in Little Bay Islands showed interest in relocation when the province upped the payout to households to up to $270,000.

A house stands empty in Little Bay Islands. It's a hard sellers market in a town that may relocate in a couple of years. (Julia Cook/CBC)

Two-and-a-half years later, the townspeople are still waiting for the province to finish doing the math.

"The townspeople have become very frustrated because council has no real answers to give them because, in fact, we can't find anyone who'll give us answers," Weir said. "More than we're working on process, it takes time ... and yet that month can turn into several months."

Weir said it's not a matter of wanting to leave the town as soon as possible, but needing to.

"It's that, it's just that, with the situation on [Little Bay Islands] right now with no services so few people, the populations so low, that there's nothing here any more."

A Community divided

The town of Little Bay Islands is made up of two islands. Across the wooden bridge on the smaller of the two, the Levors have their summer home. Gloria Levor was born here. She and her husband, Maurice, bought the home in 1989.

When Gloria heard about relocation, she was upset.

"I cried my heart out and I'm still doing the same. Because I love this Island and I had good intentions of bringing a lot of tourists in here, which I already did, and keeping this island running."

Maurice and Gloria Levor stand next to their summer home that looks out over the harbour in Little Bay Islands. (Julia Cook/CBC)

Non-permanent residents, like the Levors, don't get to vote about relocation and don't get compensated if the move does take. That means, if relocation takes place, non-permanent residents will have no access to services, such as electricity, sewage and the ferry.

The Friends of Little Bay Islands was started by non-permanent residents, in order to petition the government for some say in the process. Some of the members want to be considered full-time residents. Others, just want some compensation.

"Part-time people are not asking for a vote,"  Maurice Levor said. "They're not asking for $250,000. They're just asking to recoup their investment or be able to invest in things that will bring back the services they are used to."

The school in Little Bay Islands. There are only two students enrolled this year: One in Grade 10 and the other in Grade 12. (Julia Cook/CBC)

Caroline Strong, a member of the Friends of Little Bay Islands, feels the government is discriminating against non-permanent residents like her.

"We pay full taxes and, you know, the unfairness of the way things are happening, you know, where we're just ignored," she said.

"Not even acknowledged by the government. We're not against the relocation, but we don't want to be left out, you know, in the dark."

Some of the members of the Friends of Little Bay Islands discuss why they want to stay in the town. (Julia Cook/CBC)

The topic of relocation has caused a rift in the community, between permanent and non-permanent residents. Some townspeople feel the "cabin owners" are holding up the relocation process because they keep petitioning the government to be considered full-time residents or for some compensation.

Juanita Hull says non-permanent residents should have no say about relocation.

"There's just the full-time residents that was there on [Little Bay Islands] and I think that this has gone a little too far now. We've been about four-and-a-half years and we haven't got no answer back yet," she said.

The town of Little Bay Islands stands quiet. (Julia Cook/CBC)

The Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs department is in charge of the relocation program. It says it is working on the cost benefit analysis and it should be done within the next two weeks.

If the analysis shows there's at least a cost-neutral position for government, there will be a community vote to relocate. The department knows the community is concerned about the timeline, but because of the potential outcome of the relocation process, it wants to exercise due diligence.

For now, the town will have to wait a little bit longer before it knows if it'll relocate or not.

About the Author

Julia Cook

Journalist

Julia Cook reports from CBC's bureau in Gander, primarily for the Central Morning Show.

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