Lewisporte will lose its long-standing freight ferry service to Labrador when it officially endis in March 2019.
The freight service to coastal Labrador stood as a staple service of Lewisporte for generations. It’s where the town got its moniker of “Gateway to the North” and signs and artefacts of Lewisporte’s shipping legacy are seen throughout the community.
However, the shipping of goods and supplies to Labrador from the ferry port in Lewisporte has been on a gradual decline for many years. Mayor Betty Clarke says the town knew this day would come, but it still came as a shock when the announcement finally arrived.
“It’s a sad day for Lewisporte when we will no longer have the coastal shipping service here, but we just have to move forward,” Clarke said.
In early September, the Woodward Group and its subsidiary Labrador Marine Inc. unveiled their plans for a new roll-on, roll-off service from Happy Valley-Goose Bay. This service, projected to begin in March next year, will take the place of the freight shipping to the northern coasts of Labrador currently done out of Lewisporte.
Clarke and Lewisporte-Twillingate MHA Derek Bennett were given advance notice of this decision back in May from Transportation and Works Minister Steve Crocker. Since then, discussions have already been held with Crocker and Premier Dwight Ball as to how the town can cope with the loss that will result once the freight service docks its last trip.
“This will have a major impact on our business community,” said Clarke. “We will lose around nine-10 positions at the wharf, and the shipping from supermarkets and building supply stores here will also be affected.
“Lewisporte was told in the past we’d receive some diversification funding once the service did close, and the signs are there that this will still go ahead.”
According to Bennett, the provincial government has indicated their willingness to work with the town and find areas to diversify and create employment. He says a date is currently being finalized to meet again with Crocker and Ball, and it will likely be in late September or early October.
“We would like to have access to the infrastructure already there and find new ways it can be utilized,” Bennett said. “The servicing and maintenance of ships will likely continue there after the freight service shuts down.
“The specifics and details of what will come will be discussed in upcoming meetings.”
Domino-effect through the area
Lorne Jennings has been manager of Pritchett’s Building Supplies in Lewisporte for over 30 years. He says his business has sent everything from plywood, lumber, windows, doors, electrical and plumping supplies to the coasts of Labrador for decades.
“When the freight shipping starts to Labrador and our customers down there start putting in orders it gets pretty crazy in our yard,” Jennings said. “We’re going to feel like a ghost town next year when the Labrador orders stop. It’s going to feel strange, there’s no doubt about it.”
Pritchett’s is one of many businesses that will experience a domino-effect of lost revenue when the shipping of good and supplies to Labrador shuts down. Despite the concerns, Jennings is certain his business will find ways to continue.
‘A sad day’
Bennett knows the legacy of the freight service to Labrador first-hand, as his father worked from the port for more than 40 years. The MHA says he and the town will work to ensure Lewisporte can adapt as the service moves closer to closure.
“As you drive into Lewisporte with the Northern Ranger at our welcome sign you see that history is a part of our community,” he said. “No one was really surprised by this announcement, but everyone knows it’s a sad day.”
Peter Woodward, vice-president of operations of the Woodward Group and CEO of Labrador Marine Inc. was reached for comment but was not available by deadline.