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NICHOLAS MERCER: When each trip could be your last

This house is one of several abandoned properties on Little Bay Islands. The residents of the island are in final preparations for resettlement scheduled to take place on Dec. 31.
This house is one of several abandoned properties on Little Bay Islands. The residents of the island are in final preparations for resettlement scheduled to take place on Dec. 31. - Nicholas Mercer

"Is this your final trip?"

It's question I hear a couple of times while aboard the MV Hazel McIsaac. It ferries people from Pilley’s Island, first to Long Island before heading on to Little Bay Islands. 

The dozen or so people aboard this crossing are all going to Little Bay Islands. They're headed there to make last minute preparations before leaving the community for good at the end of the year. 

They’re taking one last look at the place they called home and breathing in its familiar air. A vote earlier this year was in favour of relocation and Little Bay Islands is scheduled to be resettled by Dec. 31.

It might be sooner if everyone is gone before.

The ride from Pilley’s Island to the small island community is rather uneventful. The 25-minute journey runs through some rocky outcrops and it's smooth sailing all the way. 

Except for signage welcoming visitors to Little Bay Islands, there are little indications of a town.

A man waiting to leave the island with a loaded pickup truck and trailer signals the coming change.  

A short distance from the wharf is the Outport Inn, followed by a group of shuttered houses. There is Faith United Church, located across from the now closed Aunt Edna’s Boarding House

Bed and Breakfast. 

A town in limbo where houses for sale sit next to ones with fresh paint and solar panels. People carry moving boxes down their driveways and others ready their homes for the incoming winter. 

They’ll surely be back, but they don’t know when. 

Little Bay Islands is a town on the brink of non-existence.

I visited Grand Bruit in the summer of 2017, seven years after the town was resettled and its residents were scattered around the province. 

As I walked through parts of Little Bay Islands, memories of that trip return.

Each boarded-up house or for sale sign represents sadness, and a feeling of regret permeates the community. 

The people are as jovial as you’d expect of a Newfoundlander, although not all are keen to talk about leaving their home. 

They wave to you as they pass by in all-terrain vehicles and pickup trucks. 

One asks if I’m going to interview Mike Babcock, head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, because of the Blue Jays hat I’m wearing. 

It's a version with the maple leaf on the front, hence the Babcock joke. 

This is how I imagine people from Grand Bruit would have acted in the weeks leading up to their departure in 2010, as their island sensibilities overrode their true feelings. 

For the majority of them, their inevitable departure hangs heavy.

Time doesn’t wait and soon the final days will arrive. 

A mid-sized U-Haul rumbles down the highway toward the dock as the sun begins its descent in the Notre Dame Bay sky. 

Presumably it, and the preceeding pickup truck with the small trailer, are heading for Little Bay islands. 

Another family will spend the next couple of days preparing to leave the island behind. 

They’ll sit on the ferry and talk about the island. 
Someone will ask them if it is their final trip. 

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