Moving On

'Our livelihood is taken from us': Couple feels left out of William's Harbour resettlement

The Russells have fished out of William’s Harbour for 28 years — from a house that’s been in their family for generations — but they aren’t getting compensation for their home or a say in the community’s resettlement.

The Russells 'shift in' for the summer, but have to live year-round to qualify for moving money

Maryhannah Russell isn't sure what she and her husband will do for work next summer. (Submitted)

The Russells have fished out of William's Harbour for 28 years — from a house that's been in their family for generations — but they aren't getting compensation for their home or a say in the community's resettlement.

"[We] never had enough time in," said Maryhannah Russell.

The Russells' dock is the only one that extends straight out into the bay. (Katie Breen/CBC)

The Newfoundland and Labrador government is providing up to $270,000 per household for residents of the village — located on an island off Labrador's south coast — to move out.

But in order to receive payment for their properties or even vote on the resettlement option, residents had to live in the community year-round.

The Russells are seasonal.

Shifting in

They move into William's Harbour every summer to fish and leave for nearby Port Hope Simpson — a much larger and less isolated community — in the fall.

Locally, that's known as shifting in and it's what the family has always done.

Ed Russell is the third generation in his family to fish off William's Harbour. (Submitted)

"My grandfather … as soon as the ice broke up, he'd move out to William's Harbour and get ready for fishing," said Ed Russell.

That was our lifestyle.- Ed Russell

But that lifestyle is changing.

Power to the community will be cut off Nov. 10.

And without power, the couple said they won't be able to refrigerate their catch. A generator would be too expensive to keep running, they said.

"Our livelihood is taken from us," said Maryhannah Russell.

Uncertain future

"We spoke to a lawyer," her husband added.

"First they give us hope but more or less, it's going to cost a lot of money, and for an inshore fisherman it's a big fight that you might never win."

The Russells make their living by fishing in the summers. (Katie Breen/CBC)

They're not sure what they'll do for an income now. They might try to fish out of another community or they may move to Labrador City, where their children live.

They qualify for a commercial compensation package but haven't been told what that means for them financially.

"They'll probably give us something for our stage," Ed Russell said.

"But we won't get nothing for our house."

Family heirlooms already moved

If the Russells want to return to their house in William's Harbour next year, they'll need a permit.

The Russells' boat, the Sea Rover. (Submitted)

They're sure they will want to spend time there, but feel the days of making a living in the waters off William's Harbour are over.

When they shifted back this fall, likely for the last time, the couple took family heirlooms — an old Bible, marriage certificates, photographs, hunting rifles.

The Russell family Bible was brought out from William's Harbour. It has wedding invitations, photos and cards pressed in its pages. (Katie Breen/CBC)

"But there's no way of taking everything," Ed Russell said.

"Just pick a few things and walk away."

Stay tuned all this week for more coverage of the resettlement of William's Harbour and its impacts, on CBC Television's Here & Now, on CBC Radio One and here on 

About the Author

Katie Breen


Katie Breen works for CBC in St. John's.