Nfld. & Labrador

St. Mary's Bay steps into 21st century with plans for cell service, says local business owner

They've been longing for cell service a long time, and now the communities of St. Mary's Bay are a big step closer.

Representatives of 4 local communities form non-profit to help fund infrastructure

People flock to St. Mary's Bay every summer to see whales — but local businessman Colin Corcoran says they often don't know what to do next, since they can't search destinations and restaurants online. (Rita Raymond)

They've been longing for cell service a long time, and now the communities of St. Mary's Bay are a big step closer.

In a cost-splitting venture, four communities will share the $1 million price tag for the much-needed infrastructure with the provincial government and Bell Canada.

As it presently stands, cell service is hard to come by around the region.

"Unless you're leaning off a cliff or on your tippy toes in certain parts of town, it's pretty well non-existent," said Colin Corcoran, owner of the Celtic Knot restaurant in St. Mary's. "But hopefully not for long."

Region pulls together to share costs

Corcoran is also a founder of SMB Connect, a non-profit group established to lobby for the economic interests of the region, including wireless coverage.

SMB Connect features four board members, one from each town comprising the St. Mary's Bay region — St. Mary's, Gaskiers-Point La Haye, Riverhead and St. Vincent's-St. Stephen's-Peter's River.

"We structured SMB Connect out of necessity because this issue kept coming up," Corcoran said of the cellular problem.

The group created a business plan for how the infrastructure would benefit the region and how it could be paid for. They then went into their communities and sold the idea to the local town councils.

The venture will cost $1 million total, with Bell Canada funding 62 per cent, the province funding 25 per cent, and the four communities handling the remaining 13 per cent.

Corcoran said that boils down to each town paying between $400 and $500 a month to afford the infrastructure.

Trepassey resident Sharon Topping captured this photo from the beach in St. Vincent's, which she calls 'the family portrait.' (Sharon Topping)

With small populations in the area, it's not a miniscule amount of money, but Corcoran said it was a necessary cost for the future.

St. Mary's Bay is a popular destination — for tourists and whales alike —  in the summer, but Corcoran said people often travel down for the day without a plan on where to go. Once they get there, they struggle to search destinations on their phones or call around to local businesses.

"We strongly believe at the end of the day that the only way we're going to be able to advance is if we had the infrastructure to be able to take part in this modern world."

Corcoran said there's lots of work left to be done, but he hopes the region will have cell service by next year.

"We're hopeful that 2020 is the year that St. Mary's Bay enters this generation," he told On the Go host Ted Blades. "I'll send you a picture of the whales from the beach."

With files from On the Go