The infamous Newfoundland Fisheries Household Resettlement Program, in place from April 1, 1965 to April 30, 1975, relocated 4,168 households and 20,656 people from 460 communities in outport Newfoundland and Labrador, including 148 communities that were comprehensively gutted and shuttered.
George Withers, in his report Engineering Demographic Change, 2012, stated, “Political leaders and expert bureaucrats set out to rehabilitate rural Newfoundland by moving them into a more industrialized urban environment where they would develop ‘appropriate habits of mind’ that would enable them to become productive citizens.”
Fundamentally, Resettlement was a displacement of a culture and way of life, an economic roll of the dice without thought or respect and adequate compensation for a lifetime of work. The scheme was poorly executed and a crime against the people.
The celebrated Newfoundland song “The Government Game,” written by the acclaimed writer and poet Al Pittman, memorializes that dark chapter in our province’s history.
I wrote my version of “The Government Game” to shine a light on that shadowy chapter in our province’s history. It relates how 4,168 vulnerable and innocent families were ensnared in a shakedown by their government, swindled and, in many cases, impoverished by what transpired.
Fifty years ago, the Hann family of Merasheen was the last to leave their community, on Oct. 9, 1968. I was 18 years old and responsible for shutting off the power prior to our departure. Leaving their home and community ripped the heart and soul out of my parents, the image of them both weeping as we pulled away from the wharf that day is forever etched in my memory.
From within the province, “men who quote figures and count the cause lost” are at it again. It is the responsibility of a new generation to ensure that ugly chapter of our history is never repeated nor forgotten. “History often repeats itself because no one was listening the first time.” Newfoundlanders, in and out of government, would do well to remember that lesson.
Summer resident of Merasheen