Columnist calls book a memorial to a beloved community
A well-known photograph hangs on a wall in my office. Malcolm Rogers’ house is moored to the shore awaiting high tide, during the course of its relocation from Silver Fox Island to Dover, Bonavista Bay.
Burton K. Janes
A well-known photograph hangs on a wall in my office. Malcolm Rogers’ house is moored to the shore awaiting high tide, during the course of its relocation from Silver Fox Island to Dover, Bonavista Bay. A boy is flanked on either side by a girl. They are back-on to the cameraman, Mr. B. Brooks, who captured the scene in August of 1961. They are watching then premier Joey Smallwood’s resettlement scheme in action.
According to a note attached to the reverse of the picture, "In the 1950s and early 60s, many remote Newfoundland outport communities were forced to move to more accessible locations under a government program called Resettlement.
"Hundreds of Newfoundlanders, who had built their homes alongside their grandfathers and fathers, refused to abandon them and rebuild. So, by barge, boat, blood and sweat, they moved. Across bays and around capes family homes were floated to their new foundations and new beginnings."
My children, knowing my keen interest in the history of Resettlement, gave me this classic framed photograph as a Christmas gift in 2002. I often cast a glance at it, especially since reading Marilyn Billard’s book, "Grand Bruit: A Treasured Memory."
The Burgeo-born Marilyn Billard (nee Rose) explains that Grand Bruit, which is located east of Channel-Port aux Basques, "was a part of me before I was born. My mother came from that beautiful community with the jellybean-coloured house, green green grass, and a most beautiful waterfall cascading down over the big boulders and running out into the sea."
At 16, Marilyn made her first trip to Grand Bruit, where she met, and eventually married, Bruce Billard. They had two children, both of whom loved Grand Bruit to the fullest.
Marilyn writes movingly and lovingly about aspects of life in Grand Bruit, including the school, medical clinic, church, and local service committee.
The final chapter details the rumours that the community was going to lose their ferries.
"These rumours," Marilyn writes, "went on for a long time until it became a reality."
At one point, John Efford, then minister of services and transportation, visited the community and discussed the ferry system.
"The people were excited about having a ferry every day," Marilyn says, "not knowing deep down that that was the beginning of the end of Grand Bruit."
Efford’s proposal called for the communities of Grand Bruit and La Poile to agree on a ferry schedule.
"Right then and there," Marilyn adds, "we knew it was going to be a battle of words. We wanted what we wanted, and La Poile wanted what they wanted, which made sense. All the government did was upset both communities."
Grand Bruit continued to experience depopulation related to changing economic and demographic conditions in rural Newfoundland, in particular the collapse of the Newfoundland cod fisheries in the early 1990s. By 2010, the last permanent residents had relocated.
"Leaving Grand Bruit was devastating for us," Marilyn writes in an understatement.
Today, writing from her home in Burgeo, she believes that, as early as the mid-90s, the government had a "hidden agenda." She explains: "I truly believe they had in their minds then that after a while, people (would) move, and a community that cost so much for medical and ferry service, plus a few other facts, (would) be no more."
Marilyn wrote her book as a personal quest for personal peace of mind.
"I could not sleep after the community closed down," she writes in an email to this columnist. "If I did, I dreamt about my family, my life there. It was like I had no home to go to. It was very sad for me for Grand Bruit to close down, but I understand fully why it had to. After putting it on paper, I had peace in my heart and mind."
She wants her readers to learn "how an outport community people live and are there for one another and how much we loved living in Grand Bruit. When it was at its fullest, it was awesome to bring up a family there. Everyone was close and worked very well together."
Grand Bruit may now be silent, but Marilyn’s book, which includes more than 25 photos, is a living memorial to a community beloved.
"Grand Bruit: A Treasured Memory" is published by Trafford Publishing
— Burton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His column appears in The Compass every week. He can be reached at email@example.com