Demolition brings end to trying era

Jeff Elliott
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Houses condemned after Daniel’s Harbour landslides finally being torn down

Mayor Ross Humber points to a string of houses as he drives up to a fenced-off portion of the old Route 430 highway.

“There’s a lot of this town that should never have been dead.”

In moments, old family homes in Daniel’s Harbour became piles of rubble with several swipes by the arm of an excavator. Demolition of homes located in a cordoned-off area began early on Sept. 26. — Photo by Jeff Elliott/The Northern Pen

Fluorescent pink Xs mark the fate of more than a dozen properties that trace the Daniel’s Harbour coastline.

Soon, the excavator starts its work and demolition begins early in the morning on Sept. 26.

One after the other, family homes are turned into piles of rubble.

The community of nearly 260 was plagued by a series of landslides in the past few years. In October 2006, a state of emergency was declared when the earth gave way, displacing four houses and one business as masses of soil descended into the Atlantic swell below.

In April 2007, 120,000 cubic metres of earth toppled into the sea by a landslide three times more powerful than the first which hit just months prior, causing a bungalow to careen over the chewed-away cliff, splashing into the Gulf of

St. Lawrence. Many nearby homeowners were forced to flee their houses, which were left on the embankment edge, thought to be too dangerous to occupy.

The 30-metre escarpment also devoured a portion of Route 430, which once cut through town, leaving most of the communities on the Northern Peninsula temporarily cut off from the rest of the province. Engineers eventually made a new route that completely bypassed the town.

The last landslide occurred in June 2008, but it didn’t endanger any homes.

A team of geotechnical engineers conducted a survey in 2009 based on the brittle soil and instability of the coastline, to determine the long-term safety of the community. According to scientists, the clay-based cliff had been eroded by excess water in the slope, causing the ground to become saturated. This made it easier for the soil to shift.

The provincial government condemned a number of properties so as not to risk lives.

Residents were given eight months to a year to find new homes in other locations, and received compensation from the province based on the replacement value of their properties.

All but one resident decided to move.

Gloria Pearce’s property was within the confines of the demolition lines, but she felt there was no cause for concern.

“(Government officials) came to my house and said, ‘You’ve got to move,’ and I told them the only thing I ‘got to do’ is die, and when the man upstairs is ready for that, he’ll let me know. Other than that, I don’t have to do anything,” she said.

“I was the stubborn one. … It didn’t make sense to me. If I was in danger, I’d be the first one to go, but I knew I wasn’t.”

Her home will remain intact, the 69-year-old said.

“It’s sad to see all of those houses go, because they’ve been here for so long,” she said. “(The demolition) is ruining our community. … it’s no longer the way it once was.”

The mayor said many of the condemned houses, aside from Pearce’s, were unnecessarily condemned.

“Nobody ever explained the protocol to us — it’s as if somebody dropped a pen on a map and drew a line,” Humber said, pointing to a cement marker that stood between Pearce’s house and the community school.

“The transmission line is what they used to determine it ... right straight down across.”

Eleven people from Daniel’s Harbour and the surrounding communities of Bellburns, River of Ponds, Hawke’s Bay and Port Saunders were contracted by Eric Patey to dismantle the properties.

The demolition is expected to take up to 20 days, to safely dismantle the houses, remove the basements and cap off the water and sewer lines that serviced the homes.

“In terms of mass, we’ve probably lost one-third of the livable land, and it’s something the town will never recover from,” said Humber, glancing at the marked properties one last time.

“We’ve all got a heavy heart, knowing that none of this will exist anymore.


The Northern Pen

Geographic location: Bellburns, River of Ponds, Port Saunders

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