Ed Smith
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The chickens are returning to the henhouse to roost. The cows are coming in from the pasture.

The earthworms ... Naw, that doesn't fit. But the chickens and the cows do. People are coming back in ever-increasing numbers from the rich black earth, of Alberta especially. In these parts we see small but encouraging signs that the great migration out West is reversing itself at last.

The reason? Workers are finding that they're spending as much time away from their families living in those far away places as they would be if their families were back home in Newfoundland. They're out in the camps for weeks at a time while family is in an apartment or house many times more expensive than living at home in good old Newfoundland.

So, the families are moving back to where they want to be, for the most part anyway, surrounded by kith and kin, and breathing good salt sea air. The worker gets his way paid back to the province by the company periodically and gets to spend good time with the kids and his significant other.

Apart from that, he's bringing the good money he's making home with him to spend in the local stores. Most important of all, he gets to spend a scattered evening trouting around his favourite pond in over the hill. Or, he may get to go out in boat and try for a fish or cook up a pot of mussels on the beach.

Hard to beat that lifestyle, and they're still getting the big money!

One of my sons-in-law has done it. Actually, he quit his big job out West and found another equally good job in a mine only an hour away from home. He sees his family for seven days, every seven days.

He even brings me a meal of trout when he's home. Hard to beat that, too.

Our fathers and grandfathers would have thought they were in heaven. When one thinks back to the lifestyles many of them and their families had for much of the year, it's hard to imagine how they survived it at all.

Fishermen would leave in their little schooners as soon as the ice went out of the bay and disappeared from around the coast. They'd be away, usually without any communication with the folks back home, until fall.

Starting in September, people would start looking from their windows out to sea, hoping to see a sail or a familiar silhouette on the horizon. Sometimes, when the ship got near enough, they'd see a flag flying half-mast to show that one of the crew hadn't made it through the summer. Perhaps he'd fallen overboard, or succumbed to an infection after cutting himself with a fishing knife.

As the schooner rounded the point into the familiar harbour of home and loved ones, a flag might be flying half-mast from someone's house or the church on the hill. Or the face of someone near and dear might be missing from the crowd rushing out on the wharf to welcome them home.

By the time they had dried and shipped their fish to the local merchant, they usually had just enough in return to pay for last year's supplies. They lived in debt all their lives without ever seeing more than a few dollars in cash to order something for the kids from the catalog for Christmas.

That was their return for months of dangerous and backbreaking labour, living in the impossibly tight quarters of a schooner.

Then there were those intrepid men who took an axe in their hands, slung a bucksaw over their shoulders and walked two or three days to get to the lumber camps. There they lived in primitive conditions for months at a time toiling through heat, flies and winter snows.

When they got their paycheque there was often little more than enough to pay for the clothes on their backs or replace the tools in their hands.

Meanwhile, back home, the women fed and clothed the children, kept the fires going, planted and harvested the vegetables, looked after the hens and cow and perhaps a pig or two. She often did all that while she was pregnant.

When the men came home, she helped with washing out the fish and spreading it on the flake, and taking it up in a hurry when rain threatened.

Our grandparents of only two of three generations ago would have marvelled at the opportunity to work for big money while getting to spend so much time with the family. But what people they were! Born into hardship and poverty, many of them, and trapped in a cycle that saw little chance of ever setting them free. Somehow they survived.

Our sons and daughters are coming home again, even if only periodically, but they're leaving their children here permanently, and contributing to the economy of the province. I think the provincial government should be paying them bonuses as well. That would be money better spent than increasing the salaries of many - not all, but many - members of the House of Assembly.

This mini-migration back to rural Newfoundland and Labrador is our answer to the prosperity of the Avalon Peninsula. From Clarenville East the Rock is booming. Everyone seems to be hiring people for something, real estate prices are out of sight and big business is building office towers to accommodate their workers.

Now we out here,


out here, can see something better, too. More children in our schools, more people in our towns and more dollars in our pockets. On top of that, rural Newfoundland is becoming the place of choice to which people from away want to retire.

Remember premiers Peckford and Wells, and not to mention our own Danny, all promising at one time or another to bring our children home?

It seems now that at least some of them are coming.

Ed Smith lives in Springdale. His e-mail address is edsmith@nf.sympatico.ca

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Alberta, Clarenville East Springdale

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