Nfld. & Labrador·Moving On

'William's Harbour is my home': Resettling an island off Labrador's south coast

This is the first story in a series about the resettlement of William's Harbour, an island off the coast of southern Labrador.

Power will be cut in William's Harbour on Nov. 10, as 15 residents take the ferry out

Sam Penney, 89, is helped off the ferry. Like most William's Harbour residents, he is 'getting up in age.' (Katie Breen/CBC)

The William's Harbour ferry is full of everything from furniture to furnaces.

It'll take the boat between two and three hours to travel from the island to the south coast of mainland Labrador.

Graham Russell, 80, looks out over the cargo from the boat's deck.

"It's hard," he says.

"We had to leave. We're all getting up in age."

Graham Russell, 80, is moving to Port Hope Simpson. (Katie Breen/CBC)

The Marine Eagle has been on the run for years.

In that time, the former coast guard boat rarely hit its 12-person capacity.

Its final trips, however, are blocked with belongings residents deem necessary for life in a new place.

Russell had his ATV hoisted aboard.

An ATV destined for Port Hope Simpson is hoisted onto the MV Marine Eagle. (Katie Breen/CBC)

"That's all I knows how to drive," he says. "I never, ever drove nothing else, only a bike."

He "never bothered" to learn how to drive a car. He didn't have to.

'It's going to be different'

According to the 2016 census, 15 people live in William's Harbour.

There's a few hundred in Port Hope Simpson, where Graham Russell and most of his neighbours are moving.

William's Harbour has 15 residents, according to the 2016 census. (Katie Breen/CBC)

"It's going to be different," says Russell's cousin and another soon-to-be Port Hope Simpson resident, Howard Russell.

He's been able to finance the construction of his new home so far, but he's frustrated the province has yet to give residents their compensation when the power cutoff date is Nov. 10, less than a month away.

"You say, for instance, people had no money, what would they do?" asks Howard Russell.

"If they're going to resettle people and they got nar cent of money to buy a home, what would happen to them?"

Howard Russell says he's put $100,000 of his own money into building a new home. He's upset that the government hasn't given families their payouts yet. (Katie Breen/CBC)

Each household is entitled to between $250,000 and $270,000.

The provincial government is spending about $4 million in buyouts and decommissioning costs.

Over 20 years, it predicts the resettlement will save taxpayers about $7.9 million.

Aging residents need access to health care

That money would have provided services such as the ferry and medical flights to William's Harbour residents.

Services were limited with such a small population.

The ferry ran twice a week and there were no medical staff stationed in the community.

The MV Marine Eagle is loaded down with belongings. (Katie Breen/CBC)

Sometimes when the weather was bad, hospital flights couldn't land and people would run out of their medications.

In the end, that's why most voted to leave.

The population is aging and needed more accessible care.

The view of William's Harbour from the hill that the church sits on. (Katie Breen/CBC)

The delay in receiving their buyout is further complicating their feelings about resettlement.

They need the money to move but their hearts don't want to leave.

"It got to be done, see," says Howard Russell.

"Like I say, [Port Hope Simpson] will never be home to me … William's Harbour is my home."

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.