The fishermen of Francois: A Land & Sea archival special

Newfoundland's south coast is isolated — even the people who love to live there will say that. In some cases that isolation meant the end of some of the small towns in the area as people resettled or otherwise moved on.

But Francois persevered. In the early 1980s the isolated town, accessed by boat, was still going strong as a fishing centre. People in the area could make a good living with trawl fishing and worked nearly year round in the deep water of the area's fjords.

It wasn't always an easy life. The area had some of the province's only remaining manned lighthouses, and employees there spent a month at a time alone.

Ronald Durnford, a lighthouse keeper who worked on Penguin Island, figured that every place had its problems but this particular one was just home. The scenery that tourists commented on wasn't striking to him day by day, he said.

"I guess you gotta be from somewhere else to appreciate what we got," Durnford said.


But picturesque cliffs aside, the town did experience some hardships due to its isolation. Fishermen in Francois traditionally sold their catches to Ramea, but that practice ended when it closed in the summer of 1982.

For five months that year, nobody in Francois fished. When they returned to the water, they had to steam out six hours to a collector boat. 

Ramea eventually reopened, but the new owners didn't want to buy fish from Francois. The result was that at the time of the show, fishermen there were icing their catches, which were then loaded up on trucks to travel to Clarenville — a 14-hour ride by boat, then another 60 miles in truck on land. 


Fisherman Morgan Durnford said the situation was frustrating. Fish harvested in Francois could make a good living, he said, but they felt politicians weren't listening and knew that having to ship their catches so far away for sale was ridiculous.

But he said he planned to keep at it. If he had to give up fishing and move into St. John's, he didn't know what he'd do, he said. 

"I think I'd make a poor taxi driver."

Learn more about Francois in this episode of Land & Sea, available to watch in full on YouTube.

Want more Land & Sea? Click here to see a playlist of archival episodes on our YouTube channel, and you can watch more recent episodes on our CBC Gem streaming service here. 

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