Academic journal article Newfoundland and Labrador Studies

The Resettlement of Pushthrough, Newfoundland, in 1969

Academic journal article Newfoundland and Labrador Studies

The Resettlement of Pushthrough, Newfoundland, in 1969

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

One of the largest internal state-sponsored migrations of people within Canada occurred in Newfoundland and Labrador between 1954 and 1975. (1) Some 300 rural communities were vacated and 30,000 people relocated to larger communities, greatly reshaping settlement distributions and patterns in outport regions, particularly along the south coast, in Placentia, Bonavista, and Notre Dame bays, and on the southeast coast of Labrador. Many who moved under the program welcomed their relocation from small, isolated outports as improving immensely their social and economic prospects even if their communities were dismembered in the process. There was little public opposition until the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the program had largely run its course. Resettlement then became a cause celebre of what journalist and writer Sandra Gwyn called the Newfoundland cultural renaissance, led primarily by a St. John's artistic and intellectual class that considered resettlement a misguided policy imposed by callous state elites, insensitive social and economic planners, and ill-informed politicians that recklessly interfered in the lives of ordinary, hard-working people. (2) It indicted Joseph R. Smallwood, the province's Premier from 1949 to 1972, for his failure to appreciate the uniqueness of outport life in his relentless search for modernity and North American consumer culture. (3) His attempt to change the spatial patterns of settlement through the depopulation of isolated settlements did not simply threatened the physical, social, and cultural landscapes of the past, they argued, but was paramount to destroying a people by obliterating its culture, history, and traditions. Resettlement represented social engineering at its most arrogant: it devalued outport life and its pluralistic economy, which had traditionally defined rural Newfoundland, and privileged an urban society with its educated and specialized workforce. Historian Jerry Bannister has observed that "At the heart of this perspective was the belief that the islands golden age lay not in a modern future of material wealth but in an idyllic past of outport culture." (4)

Some of the criticism was also excessively outrageous, even if resettlement did promote particular ways of living. In 1971, for instance, the Evening Telegram compared resettlement to Hitler's treatment of the Jews two decades earlier. Columnist Ray Guy, a native of Placentia Bay, an area much affected by resettlement, termed it "one of the greatest crimes committed against the Newfoundland people," (5) and Canadian writer Farley Mowat, then living in Burgeo, compared resettlement to the harsh eighteenth-century Highland clearances in Scotland. (6) Two Memorial University professors composed a ballad to their colleague, Parzival Copes, an outspoken economist and proponent of resettlement, promising his executioners safe passage through the pearly gates of heaven. (7) Much of the excess of the early critics has waned, and the history of resettlement is now largely in the hands of novelists, playwrights, poets, and songwriters. Collectively, their memory of resettlement fosters a sense of nostalgia about the depopulated outports. Still, resettlement is an important event in Newfoundland and Labrador, and in 2012 the provinces Historic Commemorations Program recognized it for its cultural and historical significance. (8)

An analysis of the political process around resettlement that involved federal and provincial politicians and bureaucrats might demonstrate that the policies articulated and implemented were an attempt to deal rationally with the demands of citizens who lived in Newfoundland and Labrador in the 1950s and 1960s. Perhaps, resettlement yielded the greatest net benefit and achieved the goals and objectives for both state and citizen alike, especially at a time when the role of the state was growing. Resettlement might have been the appropriate policy to deal rationally with the social and economic conditions existing in Newfoundland at the time. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.