Charles S. Curtis Letter, 1957

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The International Grenfell Association

December 12, 1957

On Re-location of people in Northern Newfoundland and Labrador;

I have been associated with the Grenfell Mission for over forty years and know very intimately the condition of people on Labrador, the Straits of Belle Isle and in the White Bay area. These areas have more isolated settlements than any other part of Newfoundland (except perhaps the south coast) and the question of re-location brings in many problems which will have to be carefully considered and carefully discussed by people who know something of the situation.

The disadvantages of living in the small isolated communities that stretch along the coast of Labrador, the Straits of Belle Isle and northern Newfoundland are obvious:

1) Education is deplorable.
a) In many cases they cannot secure a teacher.
b) In some Protestant villages where there are two denominations there are often two inadequate schools.

2) There is no leadership, no roads, no public facilities of any kind.

3) Lack of hospitals and medical attention near at hand.

The advantages are as follows;

1) Most small settlements have a good harbor [sic] with access to the sea from which most of them get their livelihood. (At Roddickton and one or two other settlements in the northern Newfoundland district the people make their entire living; in the lumber woods, working for the Bowater Paper company.)

Advantages of re-locating in larger settlements are:

1) Better schooling.
Under this heading I might say that even in larger settlements on the northern Newfoundland and southern Labrador coast it is even now very difficult to secure teachers with adequate training.

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Mr. Roberts, the Superintendent of United Church Education, informed me last fall that it was difficult to get Newfoundland teachers to go north of Twillingate and if it were not for the Mennonites--very devoted people who come in from Canada and the United States--many settlements in northern Newfoundland and on Labrador would be without teachers.

Under this heading I might say also that in the larger settlements each denomination has a school, instead of combining in an undenominational school, as the denominations insist--and the Government has acquiesced--that there should be different schools for each denomination, which oftentimes results in inadequate educational facilities.

2) Nearer to medical centers [sic], doctors or a nursing station.

3) The larger settlements have a Town Council; there is at last beginning to be in Newfoundland some sense of community responsibility.

Disadvantages of re-locating in larger settlements:

1) When people move into larger settlements with better advantages they must have an occupation, and in northern Newfoundland and southern Labrador the main industry is fishing. In order to be a successful fisherman there must be a water frontage for boats and stages and an adequate place for drying fish. This is a difficult situation in a town like St. Anthony, where a considerable number of people have moved in from outlying settlements. Formerly, when there was a cold-storage plant in St. Anthony, these new settlers disposed of their fish, when it was fresh, to the cold-storage plant, and did not need a stage. But since the cold-storage plant was destroyed by fire (and the understanding is that it is not to be re-opened under either Government or private management) it makes an extremely serious situation as there is no employment except the Grenfell Mission in the town of St. Anthony to occupy people moving in unless they can dispose of their fish to better advantage than at the present time.

It appears to me and others that where the people are dependent on the fishery there must be a complete reorganization of this Industry. For example, in the St. Anthony area and the Straits of Belle Isle, I should say that a large percentage of the fish that was caught this year was exported in “salt bulk” to ports in Nova Scotia where it was dried artificially and shipped out then to the consumers in South America or the West Indies. There was very little fish dried at St. Anthony or the Straits of Belle Isle.

This appears to me to be a very serious economic loss. If there were driers along the coast--and there seems no reason why there should not be if there are in Nova Scotia--it would give employment to a considerable number of people and a better price for their product. It appears to me that there has not been in Newfoundland recently sufficient emphasis on the fishing resources of this Province. Until a few years ago--and I

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speak from long experience--when I travelled on the Labrador coast there were hundreds of Newfoundland schooners fishing on the east coast of Labrador and southern Labrador and on the Straits. Now there is not one.

If there were no fish, or no market for fish, the decline of the fishery would be explained, but the fish is abundant, and last fall there were Norwegians, Portuguese and French trawlers fishing in the Straits of Belle Isle. (This is a known fact as they frequently came to St. Anthony with injured or sick fishermen.) There were 20 French trawlers fishing off Belle Isle in October and their captains told me that they were to remain there until the 15th of December.

If foreign fishermen can cross the Atlantic in well-equipped trawlers from early May until mid-December and make an adequate living, then surely Newfoundlanders should be able to make a decent living from the fishing a few miles from their dwellings.

In my opinion, the re-location of certain settlements is probably inevitable, but the solution may have to be two homes when fishing is the sole means of livelihood--a summer fishing camp on a harbor near the sea--with adequate Government help and encouragement-- and then turn to the larger settlements in winter for education, medical care and leadership.

Sincerely yours,

Charles S. Curtis, M.D.
International Grenfell Association

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