Nfld. & Labrador

A look at life in Ship Cove, population 3

Ship Cove was once a fishing town of 60 to 70 residents. Now, there are fewer than a handful left.

The town's sole residents are a man, his son and his son’s wife

Stanley Tobin, left, with his brother Finbar and his dog Rusty. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

If you take the highway out of Placentia during a trip around the bay, you'll probably drive through Ship Cove and not even realize it.

It doesn't look like a town. To the untrained eye, it's a barn, three houses and a dilapidated shack buried in brush. And Ship Cove isn't officially registered as a town either  but it does exist. It's just easy to miss because over the decades its population has shrunk to just three.

"People died off and there wasn't very much here to keep young people here," said Stanley Tobin.

On most days, the beautiful sandy beach in Ship Cove along with those three homes is appreciated by Tobin alone. The only people living with him in this town are his son and his son's wife.

It wasn't always like this.

A photo of Ship Cove during its heyday. (Tina Cleary)

"This was a fishing community of sorts. It wasn't a big fishing community, would have had no boats here," he said.

"After the early '60s, people started to move out."

People come and go

Tobin understands why Ship Cove shrank so dramatically.

The costs of keeping a small town like his going is high, he said, when you consider road maintenance, snow clearing, electricity, phone service, school buses and emergency services.

"I don't know if it's a good thing that people become more centralized but there's no way that we could afford the province couldn't afford to keep those smaller communities alive," he said. 

"And it's the sign of the times, I guess."

Centralization is part of what drew people from Ship Cove over the years, from what Tobin estimates was a peak population of 60 to 70 people. But he can't blame the town's former residents for leaving to find work elsewhere.

This roughly 100-year-old house in Ship Cove has no running water, and Tobin says he lived there in the early days of his marriage. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

"You know, a lot of the people that I grew up with moved on, and they probably had life easier," he said.

"You got to be generating a bit of income in order to not just walk away from it."

Committed to the community

But even if Tobin understands why others left Ship Cove, he says he never will.

"I stay here by choice. And enjoy every moment of it," he said. 

"But at times it came with a price, you know. It's a good way of staying in poverty."

Ship Cove isn't technically a town; it's not incorporated, though Tobin has considered doing so.

Tobin calls his beachside garden the 'salad bar.' (Noah Laybolt/CBC)

"I toyed around with the idea of having it incorporated, and I went out to all the inhabitants here there were a few more people here then. They were all in favour for it let's go for it, let's get it incorporated," he said. 

"But I think the government probably saw it as, this fella's looking for a money grab or something. You know, and he wants to get a grant. Which is not what I wanted at all; it's more of a novelty thing, you know."

Incorporated or not, in Ship Cove Tobin does have a garden by the beach where he grows leafy greens. He drives down in his truck, usually with his dog, and eats from what he calls his "salad bar."

"Bok choy. It's the recipe for living forever. There's a few people that hope that's not gonna happen," he says as he picks the vegetables from the ground.

Tobin tends to his garden by the beach. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

Tobin's grandfather's house is near that beach. He says it's more than 100 years old, and he lived there in the early days of his marriage.

The house had two wood stoves in it, but no running water, and offered shelter not everything you might want, he said, but what they needed, much like Ship Cove itself.

"It's too stubborn to fall down."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Noah Laybolt is a freelance journalist in St. John's.

With files from Adam Walsh and The St. John's Morning Show