I don’t believe there are any Newfoundlanders who aren’t aware of the controversial resettlement programs that government implemented between 1954 and 1974, when 30,000 people were pushed to relocate, and communities were abandoned, because government wanted to centralize populations—a pickle that McCallum folks barely escaped when a government study in the sixties said McCallum was doomed to die in ten years, and offered residents relocation money as a result; a situation that, fifty years later, the majority of McCallum citizens still respond to in the same way that they did in the sixties by saying, “No thanks.”
And while the insensitive programs that brought death to 300 hometowns will probably be remembered for a long time, the communities that were so hardheartedly discarded are gradually forgotten—communities like Pass Island.
A dark and mysterious landmark that is easily seen when looking south from McCallum, Pass Island was, in the mid-seventies, home to 160 residents.
Pass Island is a former fishing village that sits just 250 metres from the southern tip of the peninsula that separates Hermitage Bay and Connaigre Bay.
Resettled in the summer of ’74, Pass Island was the last community to be abandoned as a result of the resettlement programs, encouraging comparison to the last man killed in every war—making me think that if only those incredible Pass Island people could have held on for one more summer, they wouldn’t have had to leave that special place they belonged to, and might in fact still be there today.
Because of its nearness to some noteworthy Fortune Bay fishing banks, and its proximity to St. Pierre’s important political and navigational positioning, Pass Island was one of the southwest coast’s first settled sites. Captain James Cook reported that several English fishermen used the island in the summer of 1763, and that two families actually spent that winter onsite.
In 1836, 56 people called Pass Island home. That population grew to 110 in 1857, and 215 by 1874. An Anglican church was built in 1869 and a school, five years later.
Pass Island’s reputation as a highly successful community saved it from resettlement in the sixties, and a road was eventually built to take goods as far as Pass Island Tickle, but when the town of Grole—a significant stop along the road—opted for resettlement, some Pass Island people became concerned about increasing isolation.
So, with nearby Hermitage being considered for a new fish plant, and newfangled long liners providing fishermen the opportunity to still fish familiar waters, the forces to relocate became too great. Yet, the pride of some Pass Island people was so powerful that the town’s wharves continued to be maintained until almost twenty years later.
I hope to visit Pass Island one day, just to look around—maybe find a cemetery, try to figure out where the old buildings sat, and imagine the lives of those who called Pass Island home.
Perhaps I’ll go next summer. I’ll see if I can talk one of my buddies into taking me over there on a calm day—I’ll offer to pay for fuel, at least. Or maybe I’ll wander down the road past Seal Cove. I’ve no idea what condition that path is in, but I see it’s only 11 kilometres to the Tickle. In the meantime Pass Island, for me and many others, will simply remain a dark and mysterious monument to some of the sadness that resulted from resettlement.