Last ferry to Big Noise

Liam Dougherty
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

“I lived here for 28 years and really loved living here,” said Cynthia Billard, the last woman in Grand Bruit. “But the time has come.”

Sitting at the top of the falls on the colourfully called “Liar’s Bench” — a place for old men and exaggerated tales — I  look out over Grand Bruit’s idyllic cove while listening to the reminiscences of Joe Billard, and Cynthia and her husband Clyde, the village’s last three residents.

Divided in two by the falls for which it is named, the “Big Noise” comes from the 15-metre plunge of freshwater into salt — a jarring contrast to the quaintness of the village.

There are colourful clapboard houses ringing the cove in a haphazard semi-circle, an immaculate white church spire scraping the sky at the top of the falls, and a horseshoe shaped footpath running from one concrete pier up over the falls and down to the other pier. A sign  greets visitors at the pier in this car-free outport, proclaiming Grand Bruit as the winner of Newfoundland’s Tidy Towns contest. It alludes to what is blindingly obvious at first glance: Grand Bruit is beautiful.

Just by chance

I had gotten on the last ferry out to Grand Bruit (pronounced “Gran Britt” by the locals) purely by chance on July 7.

My July road trip had led me to Port aux Basques where I’d been informed by the friendly people at the tourist information desk that if I wanted, I’d have one last opportunity to get out to the picturesque little town before it died.

Getting off the ferry, I expected a livelier scene, maybe a place to buy a postcard, have a beer and chat with the locals.

Instead I met a place struggling to breathe inhabited by three remaining residents busy with the task of shutting down their lives. They were uninterested in the pity and morbid curiosity of tourists.

I had been under the impression — based on other instances of resettlement in other parts of the country — that Grand Bruit’s demise was caused by cruel, heartless bureaucrats immune to the charms of yesteryear, and hell-bent onto pushing modernity on the populace.

That wasn’t the case. The Newfoundland government, after Joey Smallwood’s traumatic forced resettlements of the 1950s and 1960s, operates on a strict, no forced resettlement policy. It was the people of Grand Bruit who decided to end it.

Once the community went from 27 full-time residents to around 18 in 2007 —”What’s 27 people?” Cynthia Billard says. “A small apartment building.” — Grand Bruit decided to end itself. The town held a vote, and with only one lone soul unable to imagine life anywhere else, they began the process of peacefully erasing their town from the map. They asked the government to help them shut it down and end the life of a community that had been suffering for years.

"But when you come down to it, when you lose your kids, you lose your community.” Cynthia Billard

It was euthanized.

Households were given roughly $90,000 to move with.

I asked Joe and Clyde Billard, as we looked out over the empty harbour, where they would go with their government money.

Joe, seemingly confident that life would move along just fine, said he’d head over to Burgeo, a community of a couple of thousand people, three hours east by boat along the coast.

I shifted the question over to Clyde. He said he didn’t know where he’d go.

“Will you stay in Newfoundland?” I asked.

He looked down before responding with a terse, “I don’t know.”

I sat there for a few more minutes, suddenly feeling like a guy standing on the edge of the highway taking pictures of a car wreck.

I shouldn’t be here, I thought. The man doesn’t want to talk, he just wants to wrap up his things and let his town die in peace.

Next generation gone

As the sun set, I waited for the ferry on the wharf with Joe, Cynthia and Clyde in what must have once been a comforting, thrice-weekly ritual.

“You always hear people complaining about teenagers causing trouble and doing bad things,” said Cynthia.

“But when you come down to it, when you lose your kids, you lose your community.”

There’s nothing in Grand Bruit for the next generation.

After teens finished high school in nearby Port aux Basques, it made no sense to move back to a jobless community.

Cynthia’s and Clyde’s daughter was raised in Grand Bruit, and now works at a Subway outlet in Port aux Basques.

Waves goodbye

The ferry pulled up a half an hour late to the dock. For the last time, Joe stood on the pier and accepted the thick coil of rope and wrapped it around a steel pylon, securing the boat.

There was no cargo and no passengers other than me.

Continued on next page ...

 

Organizations: Cramalot Inn, Party Shack, Concordia University

Geographic location: Grand Bruit, Newfoundland, Port aux Basques La Poile I Great Lakes Montreal

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • jack brideau
    June 21, 2012 - 22:55

    I visited with my family a few years back.Looking for some info on a woman named Nancy Edwards,a summer resident.Would like to contact her.Would like an email address .Thanks Ps fond memories of cram alot

  • Jodie Billard
    October 12, 2010 - 22:31

    I just found this article on Grand Bruit,and I must say it was very well written.Grand Bruit has had many many visitors over the years,from far away places,further than many of us will ever see,and all of them were amazed at the beauty of the little town,the friendliness of the people who always welcomed you with opened arms and warm smiles.I know this because I grew up in my beautiful little town of Grand Bruit.And for those of you that are tourist,it is sad when you hear about the resettlement,and for those of us that have left behind beautiful memmories,it is devastating. I know for myself I could not visit my home town this summer,the first in the many years I have been gone, and it was very sad for me to be in NFLD and knowing I couldn't go,but I cherise all the memmories of growing up there,the closeness of family being around,thanksgiving dinners,and lively Christmas holidays,when mummering was a wonderful thing all of us got to do,and the all year around visiting and Friday nights at Mon's shop playing games.There are so many wonderful memmories wrapped up in that little town I could go on for hours,but those of us that are from there,all have memmories of our beautiful quiet little piece of heaven,that now needs to be left to rest in peace,undisturbed by anyone,letting nature take its course,and for those that will rest peacefully there forever,you are forever in our hearts as wonderful memmories of Grand Bruit.

  • Barry Gardner
    August 21, 2010 - 05:18

    Although I'm about as upalong (Hobart, Australia) as it's possible to be, I have spent some little time among you and developed a great affection for Newfoundland and its culture and traditions. I was very moved by this article. Thank you.

    • Ray Vautier
      September 01, 2010 - 19:33

      where the hell does Marsha get her take on things.to even think rural Nfld is a drain on taxpayers is ludicrous.Obviously she hasn't been too far.I am from a outport in NL.,9 Miles from Grand Bruit and knows every resident that lived there.A big majority of these people worked away on the mainland all there lives.I do the same ,working in northern Ontario.And this is the place to go if you think Nfld outports are a drain on taxpayers money........wake up Marsha and smell the roses my dear..because you don't have a clue about rural Nfld or anywhere else for that matter.And Liam,like i said I am from Lapoile where shacks are called stages and pylons are called shores,fish carcasses are called offal and we are enjoying every minute of it.As long as there's work out west and in Ontario we will stay there ....oh and pay our share of taxes too Marsha. Ray Vautier

    • Ray Vautier
      September 01, 2010 - 19:35

      where the hell does Marsha get her take on things.to even think rural Nfld is a drain on taxpayers is ludicrous.Obviously she hasn't been too far.I am from a outport in NL.,9 Miles from Grand Bruit and knows every resident that lived there.A big majority of these people worked away on the mainland all there lives.I do the same ,working in northern Ontario.And this is the place to go if you think Nfld outports are a drain on taxpayers money........wake up Marsha and smell the roses my dear..because you don't have a clue about rural Nfld or anywhere else for that matter.And Liam,like i said I am from Lapoile where shacks are called stages and pylons are called shores,fish carcasses are called offal and we are enjoying every minute of it.As long as there's work out west and in Ontario we will stay there ....oh and pay our share of taxes too Marsha. Ray Vautier

  • Julie
    August 15, 2010 - 23:04

    Wow Marsha, you are too kind. While we're at it, why not put a McDonald's on every corner and have everyone live in a metropolis where you can't even look a stranger in the eye, let alone ask him for help? These outport communities were created by hard-working Newfoundland fisherman who saw their resources abused and depleted. You're right - shame on them for not wanting to pick up and start over immediately. Shame on all of us for even considering their feelings regarding relocation. You sit there eager to dish out your judgements. Have you ever visited an outport community? Spoken with its people? Experienced the rich culture, language, and pure kindness of their people? Obviously, the people of Grand Bruit agree that from an economic standpoint, relocation is the best option. However, there are more important things in life than money my dear Marsha, and this is a great loss to the preservation of outport traditions and Newfoundland culture. If you have no sense of compassion for these elements, I suggest you keep your comments to yourself. Furthermore, Newfoundland is now a HAVE province, while more populous provinces (Quebec and Ontario) continually look to Ottawa for handouts. While Newfoundland taxpayers (including RURAL taxpayers) are sending money to Toronto and Montreal to support their 'larger-centre' populations, perhaps they could spare a few dollars to ensure the preservation of the very culture that makes us distinct from the masses? Because let's face it, when outsiders speak the praises of Newfoundlanders and our province, they're speaking of the very aspects of Newfoundland that you find in little places like Grand Bruit, the very aspects that you would have us erase without a second thought. Perhaps once Newfoundland has become just another stop - without charm, without traditions, without the rich dialect found only in rural areas, you'll see the real impact of what has been lost. When Newfoundlanders have lost their compassion for their fellow man, and the province is filled with Marshas...perhaps then we'll recognize the true value of outport communities.

  • canuck
    August 05, 2010 - 02:11

    It's sad what has happened. Moving it self, from a different home to another home is difficult by it self, moving from a place you've lived in after 20 + years and moving by force not with one's own decision is even harder. Only thing to do is pick up the pieces and continue on. I defitintly afree with Geroge E's words. He nailed it right on the money. And by the way it's towns like these that, where the personalities of Prime Ministers, Doctors and Teachers come from. Not back washed dirty cities.

  • George E.
    July 29, 2010 - 20:42

    There's lots of good sound argument why small isolated towns, like Grand Bruit, should cease to exist from a purely economic standpoint. Their reason for being, the fishery, no longer exixsts. However, that being said, I don't think there is any other type of community on this earth that produces people of finer character, people with a tenacity to make it on their own, people who can and will 'find a way or make it' when an inventive solution to a problem is called for. Their resourcefulness, to survive and make do under what may seem like impossible conditions, knows no bounds. I am always saddened when I think of the poor souls who struggled to the end and who will now lie unheralded for eternity on a desolate, fog-bound coast. Their interred remains oblivious to the lonesome calls of soaring, successive generations of seagulls as they scavenge the shores for paltry scraps. For the next few years there will exist two or three of the oldest generations from Grand Bruit whose lives will be enriched by the memories and the stories of life in that South Coast gem of a community, picturesque beyond description. I just hope that some individuals will feel motivated strongly enough by a passion for our past history to capture and secure their stories. All will be lost, piece by piece, as time will surely take its toll to wipe the slate clean. We need that history, those stories of and from our past. Let's get them now and preserve them for posterity.

  • Politically Incorrect
    July 29, 2010 - 07:58

    Nice sentiment, Marsha. It's this kind of loving and caring attitude that really marks many Newfoundlanders apart. We see a community in need or just someone struggling and we boldly leap into action by climbing onto our high horses and loudly proclaim that they are not worth our time or resources. I would say this is the same attitude I experienced living in Toronto towards Newfoundland during the cod moratorium and while NL was a have-not province... oh, except that it wasn't. But thanks for taking the time to share your compassion with these people who are going through a very difficult time. These words are what they really needed to hear.

  • Marsha
    July 28, 2010 - 13:55

    Great news. One less community draining resources from the government. I'm not sure why people would complain about the 'injustice' of forced settlement. How about the injustice of those who live in larger centers having to pay extra taxes for those who choose to live in the middle of nowhere. We should be charging people for utilities and the like based on the cost of providing them. That would cause mass resettlement very quickly and let the government lower taxes on people in this province. There's no reason that so many should pay so much extra for the benefit of so few.

  • saxon
    July 27, 2010 - 12:52

    Phenominal article, eloquently written. Sad to see the days of Grand bruit behind us. I have always been fascinated with the life and dynamics of isolated communities. A Whale for the Killing by Farley Mowat touches on these communities,

  • ART BILLARD
    July 27, 2010 - 10:06

    if someone offered me 90,000 bucks i would think i won the lottery. best wishes art billard london ontario.

  • Elena Blanco
    July 24, 2010 - 16:53

    What a tragic tale. I had no idea small towns sometimes have to arrange for their own destruction. I figured it was always an injustice forced upon them, but not everything is so black and white, I guess. This is a great article. The topic was handled with sensitivity. And I bet there isn't a lot of writing on Grand Bruit, so it's nice to see the town preserved at least in a first-hand-account description. It was easy to picture this beautiful town even without the gallery.

  • Sarah MacD.
    July 24, 2010 - 14:11

    Good job, Liam! I love the colour and personality you've shown!