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Looking back: Community sees a future in resettlement past

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Rainer Baehre & Tony OxfordTony Oxford is the Mayor of Cox’s Cove, a small community on Newfoundland and Labrador’s west coast. Cox’s Cove has a small, but stable economy thanks, in part, to a fish processing plant and a large mink farming operation.

Mr. Oxford himself is a jack of all trades—along with his municipal role. He’s a tourism operator, a contractor and a volunteer. Clearly, he’s a man who understands the importance of diversification.

In fact, he’s just embarked upon a new research project with Memorial that he believes has the potential to increase the economic diversification of his community.

Tourism is growing along Highway 440, the road leading into Cox’s Cove, and as Mr. Oxford explained, the community has a potential tourist attraction that very few towns in the province can offer—the resettled town of Brake’s Cove, a community that was resettled during the 1960s and is located just minutes from Cox’s Cove.

“You can walk there in 15 minutes,” explained Mr. Oxford. “There aren’t many places in the province where there’s an abandoned village so close to a living community.”

While there are still people who remember living in Brake’s Cove (Mr. Oxford’s wife spent the first eight years of her life there) there’s very little recorded or written information about the place. “We’ve got this abandoned village, but if you look at it you wonder what happened here, what was life like?” said Mr. Oxford.

One person who might be able to answer some of those questions is Dr. Rainer Baehre. An associate professor in Grenfell's historical studies and social/cultural studies programs, Dr. Baehre is working on a major interdisciplinary research study funded primarily by the Humber River Basin Project on the environmental history of a region which extends from the source of the Humber River through to the Bay of Islands in western Newfoundland.

“I’m specifically looking at the interrelationship between the natural and human environments over time. That has meant taking an interdisciplinary approach and placing events and developments into an historical context,” said Dr. Baehre.

"We’ve been connecting the macro-history, for example, the broad history of Western Newfoundland including the French and American’s shores, relating them to the history of the fishery and forest industries, how they in turn connected to local communities, and how so-called natural and human-made changes in the natural resource sector made some communities unsustainable and others sustainable.”

Earlier, with financial support from a Harris Centre Applied Research grant, Dr. Baehre was able to hire part-time a professional website developer and a data management specialist to begin constructing an interactive website. Most recently, he's been focused on Woods Island, located in the Humber Basin, an important fishing outport till roughly 1960 before it was resettled. “Many of its former residents then moved over to communities like Benoits Cove," he explained.

In collaboration with the Town of Humber Arm South and the Benoit's Cove Museum, Dr. Baehre together with the Geospatial Research Facility at the College of the North Atlantic has created a 3-D digital reconstruction of the main harbour of Wood's Island prior to resettlement, part of which will be included on the interactive website.

Once completed, the site will be accessible as an academic, teaching, and practical resource for the region. “This could become a template for how to present this region’s history on the web,” he said.

Mr. Oxford agrees, and can see significant tourism benefits to the information. “What Rainer is doing has a significant advantage to us because it helps us tell the story of our community. For example, if we were fortunate enough to be able to construct a living village in Brake’s Cove, his project would be important—he’s working on finding out exactly what those people were doing there.”

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