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Staying put: Just two people remain on tiny Newfoundland community of Little Bay Islands after December 31, 2019

Micheal (left) and Georgina Parsons are committed to staying on at Little Bay Islands. The couple are the only residents left in the community after Dec. 31.
Michael (left) and Georgina Parsons are committed to staying on at Little Bay Islands. The couple are the only residents left in the community after Dec. 31. - Nicholas Mercer
LITTLE BAY ISLANDS, N.L. —

Michael Parsons always planned to live his life in solitude when he retired from his job at a California-based software company.

But the Little Bay Islands resident probably never envisioned being the only man living in his hometown.

When the last ferry leaves the wharf at Little Bay Islands on Dec. 31, the home of Michael and his wife, Georgina, will be the only one with the lights still burning.

Everyone else has left — some on the last ferry out, others in the weeks before. 

People packed up their belongings and moved away, in a modern-day resettlement that was more than a few years in the making.

Compensation cheques from the province enable them to relocate to the island of Newfoundland, within and closer to larger towns.

The Parsons didn't meet the criteria for relocation assistance. They had not lived there long enough.

Michael Parsons takes a quick look over the harbour in Little Bay Islands. Parsons, his wife Georgina and their dog Trinity will be the only residents in Little Bay Islands once resettlement hits on Dec. 31.
Michael Parsons takes a quick look over the harbour in Little Bay Islands. Parsons, his wife Georgina and their dog Trinity will be the only residents in Little Bay Islands once resettlement hits on Dec. 31.

Now they are alone on the island — save for a grey fox they feed. 

 “We look at it as an adventure. We’re looking forward to the solitude,” Michael told The Central Voice. “We’ll miss our family and friends, but just the idea of being out here alone, for most people it would be a scary proposition, but for us, it’s not. 

“We have zero anxiety or anxiousness about it.” 

The departure of island residents was bittersweet, especially so since the sadness of leaving was also marked by tragedy just a couple of weeks before.

Town clerk Jerry Weir, who played a vital role in helping prepare people and the community for the move, was killed in a car accident near Robert's Arm on Nov. 24.

Known as a hero for his community, Weir was school principal on the island for many years until his retirement in 2011. 

He had been headed to Springdale on that fateful day, to square away some last minute details for his own move.

His death added another line of sadness to the final chapter of the story of Little Bay Islands.


Settled in

The mid-morning sun streams through the large dining room windows of the Parsons’ homestead. Heated by a woodstove in the corner of the living room, Michael and Georgina are calm as they sit on the precipice of being alone. 

The pair figure they’ve put $50,000 to ready their palace of solitude, adding solar panels, propane stove, cellular phone signal booster, snowmobile, and the aforementioned wood stove.  

 Undated photo of Little Bay Islands, Newfoundland and Labrador.
Undated photo of Little Bay Islands, Newfoundland and Labrador.

They’ve dug a well at the property for water and the house they will occupy is properly insulated. The pair toyed with going without Internet service but decided to keep that modern amenity. 

They have supplies they believe will carry them for two years. They're well-prepared to survive any length of time if they can’t get off the island because of sea ice in the harbour or other circumstances.

“We’ve played out the scenarios in our mind and we’ve anticipated what it is going to be like,” said Michael. 

Admittedly, Georgina is little more social than her husband. In the two-and-a-half years since the couple moved to Little Bay Islands, she developed a circle of friends who gathered weekly. 

“Every weekend, we’d get together for some darts, play some tunes and have a few sociables,” she said. ”That’ll be a bit of a change, but the way I look at it is I’ll still do it, but just not as often. 

“In the winter I’ll plan to go see these same people (but) it’ll probably be once every month or every six weeks instead of every weekend. That’ll be the biggest change for me.” 

This sign of welcome to Little Bay Islands seems ironic now after the resettlement process has been completed.
This sign of welcome to Little Bay Islands seems ironic now after the resettlement process has been completed.

Residue

Little Bay Islands is a town typical of any found in the inlets, coves and bays around Newfoundland and Labrador. 

It is unlikely this wharf will be repaired by the time people are supposed to be off the island.
It is unlikely this wharf will be repaired by the time people are supposed to be off the island.

Built around the fishery, a large wharf represents the epicentre from which the town extends.

There was a time it had three churches, a grocery store and a fire brigade. 

A faded Pepsi sign on the front and some boxes of winter boots in a back room are all that remains of the store. 

Rock of Ages was the last hymn sung at Faith United Church, which held its deconsecration service a year ago on July 17. It had been closed for more than four years.

Tablecloths dress the tables in the basement and Bibles sit in the pews. 

They aren’t the only items left behind. There are boats abandoned on the shoreline and books left in the library of H.L. Strong Academy, the school closed four years ago.

A pair of sneakers lays in the school foyer as if waiting for the start of the next school day when a young child would swap their outdoor shoes for those crisp runners. 

A television, couch, glasses and VHS movies sit in the abandoned home used as a bunkhouse for the workers at the crab plant. In the entryway are notices informing workers of problems with people leaving shift early, not having doctor's notes and other reminders. 

The memories of the town live in the items left behind. 

Some people are worried about looters and having their properties ransacked after they relocate. They remember what happened in Petites, a community on the South West coast, years earlier and want to avoid similar things happening here. 

Some residents have installed solar panels and small security cameras in hopes of deterring any possible damage to their properties, which will now be places to come to from time to time for a visit.

Indirectly, Michael has been asked to serve as an island-wide neighbourhood watch. 

“We’re not going to take on the responsibility of anything, but obviously, we see everything and if a boat goes in or out of this harbour, we’ll know about it,” he said.  

Take the Poacher’s Lounge for instance. Otherwise known as the shed of Michael’s father, it acts as a living memorial to the people of Little Bay Islands. 

It was a community gathering spot, sometimes cramming in 60 people for a scuff. There is a fooseball table, stacks of vinyl records of Kenny Rogers and the Oak Ridge Boys, early pictures of the community and plenty of local artifacts. 

There is even a portrait of iconic and divisive Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Joey Smallwood hanging on a wall. It was saved from the local dump by Michael’s father.

And it’s somewhat ironic it would be one of the items to stay, given that Smallwood is considered to be the brainchild behind the original resettlement program of the 1960s.

 “(My father) has a lifetime of stuff there and he can’t take any of it,” said Michael. 

One of the many homes with ‘For Sale’ signs in the window.
One of the many homes with ‘For Sale’ signs in the window.

Favourite place in the world

Michael Konkle discovered Little Bay Islands almost by accident while on a motorcycle trip with his wife Mary in 2012. 

The Hamilton, Ont., resident had just left Lark Harbour in the Bay of Islands on the west coast of the province and had reservations to stay in Baie Verte the next day. 

When they failed to reach their contact in Baie Verte, they took a chance on visiting Little Bay Islands. 

They had initial reservations as they pulled onto island's ferry dock. Travelers to the community are greeted by a short, winding drive through wilderness before the town opens up in front of them. 

What Konkle and his wife saw took their breath away. 

These children’s toys sit on an asphalt lot and are unlikely to be played with again.
These children’s toys sit on an asphalt lot and are unlikely to be played with again.

“I said, ‘I think this might be the spot,’” Konkle recalled.

Not long after they bought the red two-story home minutes from remnants of Eveleigh’s Seafoods fish plant. 

The roar of an excavator fills the air near Konkle’s home on this afternoon as its driver deftly lowers a septic tank into a hole near the ground. 

At times, Konkle grabs a yellow level and ensures everything is being installed as it should be. 

“There isn’t whole lot of time left,” said Konkle, noting solar panel technicians were also expected soon. 

The Konkle plan to return to their home in the summer.

There is an inherent beauty on the island. 

A protected harbour gives way to rolling hills, a dense forest and bay that sparkles in the fall sun.

It is easy to see why Konkle and his wife immediately fell in love with Little Bay Islands, why the Parsons are staying put and why it hurts for people to leave this place, their home.  

“(Mary) loved it here and so did I,” said Konkle of his adoptive home. “This was her favourite place in the world.” 

This bridge connects one part of Little Bay Islands to the other. The fishing gear in the foreground belongs to fisherman from Springdale who plans to return every spring.
This bridge connects one part of Little Bay Islands to the other. The fishing gear in the foreground belongs to fisherman from Springdale who plans to return every spring.

Approaching the end

Michael begins every morning with the same thing — a walk across Little Bay Islands and back. It is something the couple and their dog Trinity do four or five times over the length of a day. 

It won’t be the only thing to keep them busy as winter rolls in. 

As the snow builds and the plows disappear, walking will become more difficult but they’ll still be able to kayak, cross country ski and hike. 

The couple are keeping a Facebook log of their journey on Little Bay Islands. Called "Kintsugi", the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery, Michael and Georgina share feelings and pictures of their beloved Little Bay Islands.

Over the last couple of weeks, posts have been melancholy as they've watched friends pack their lives in moving vans. There were pictures of the last gathering at the Poacher's Lounge and inside an abandoned home where dishes and appliances were discarded.

The Parsons have a car on Little Bay Islands and they have plans to store it for the winter at a residence they bought in Miles Cove.  

A relatively short run in one of their boats from dock to dock, the place will serve as somewhere to stay should Georgina, who still has clients as a chartered accountant, or Michael become snowbound or need to stay the night while off the island. 

Getting the car to Miles Cove might require Georgina to be on the last ferry out with Michael meeting her at the wharf. 

They plann to be there when the boat pulls away from Little Bay Islands wharf on New Year's Eve.

“We want to be there to throw that last ferry line,” said Georgina. 



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